Home Administrative Solutions Interview with Innovative Higher Ed CIO and Thought Leader Phil Komarny (Part...

Interview with Innovative Higher Ed CIO and Thought Leader Phil Komarny (Part 2 of 2)


Seton Hill University CIO Phil Komarny: Powerful Ideas for Professional Development, Innovative Service, the Most Effective Uses of Digital Technologies in Education, and more.

On Sunday we shared Part 1 of this interview with CIO Phil Komarny, learning about his formula for Mobile Strategy success, enhancements in the iPad program at the forward-thinking university, the power of Social Media, and many other great observations and ideas. Today we continue our interview with Higher Education's leading Social CIO.

Phil Komarny CIO Seton Hill University

We pick up where we left off on Sunday …

5.The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be rather overwhelming to teachers. In your department’s work supporting faculty, do you see any particular uses of technology that are emerging as being the most meaningful for instructional use?

Our faculty development program, named ELITE, teaches concepts instead of applications. Since the world of educational technology will continue to see applications being developed and delivered at a dizzying pace, this ‘concept’ based program is the key to our success. What is most meaningful to me in my instruction may not even fit well within your’s — Instructional designers and faculty concierge services help bridge the never ending gap between current and emerging technological capabilities. Leading everyone through a learning experience, toward a shared, technologically enhanced vision, and positive student experiences, are the new roles for IT leaders in higher education.

I feel that this concept based approach to exposing our faculty to the world of educational technology has been a success. By taking this approach we can support the creativity of our faculty and allow them to find what is most beneficial to their teaching and the students learning.

Let’s face it, mobile devices, and their capabilities, have forever changed the classroom dynamic. Providing a stable, scalable and secure platform for the devices to engage on, is what I see as the most meaningful ‘thing’ that IT leaders can deliver to their organizations today.

I call this ‘a platform of engagement’. At Seton Hill that consists of our dual cored network, with multiple fiber pathways, redundant internet connections from multiple vendors that take diverse paths from our campus.

All coalescing at the login to our portal, GriffinsLair. It has become our ‘language of engagement’. With this new found language IT can deliver value to all the users that we service. From single sign on capabilities to the over 100 mobile applications that mash up data from multiple, siloed, data stores and turn it into actionable interfaces that drive the learning and the business forward.

6. If you had one recommendation to make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would it be?

1) Don’t be afraid to fail or if the technology fails you.

2) Please don’t integrate technology just to say you did it.

3) Focus on the users experience, better yet… OWN IT.

4) Think game, not course.

5) Think fun, not boring.

Look at the demographic of student and align the technology with their expectations. This is where an great instructional designer can work wonders. The best ones create a ‘culture of curiosity’ and leverage that to unlock the creativity in each faculty member. New tools will become available that give educators and instructional designers the ability to create these environments themselves.

A great example is an iPad app that consists of accredited entrepreneurial curriculum coupled with a lemonade stand simulation that gives the student instant feedback on concepts they learn and then apply.  Providing an engaging and immersive world in which the concepts are taught and outcomes are tested.  For instance, Olds College in Canada is using the application and the corresponding simulation (game) is a graduation requirement.

7. How about the same question, for administrators? What recommendation would you make to administrators and leaders at other institutions regarding the integration of technology and education

Think Mobile First, or Mobile Only.

This is hard to fathom for some administrations, for instance, when I arrived at Seton Hill the university had a total of 20 access points and a WiFi network managed by a third party vendor. How could have my predecessor thought ‘Mobile First’. The only instruction that I was given by our late President, Dr. JoAnne Boyle, was to create a learning environment that would support the modes, both current and emerging, in which students learn. I saw mobile as the key, and the first initiative I started when I got to the Hill in 2009 was to replace the entire network from core to edge with new Enterasys (now Extreme Networks) equipment. It was the foundation of which we would create the Mobile Learning @ the Hill program.

I also look at a vendor’s social footprint. I have found that this is a telling metric or alignment with my vision, and is a good measure of how well the company will be able to help you embrace and own the user's experience.

You need vendors and solutions that are enhanced by mobility and understand the power of social. A great example of this is Extreme Networks and their approach to social media. From their CMO Vala Afshar to the front line technical support folks of GTAC, they all understand and participate in conversations online, daily, in multiple networks. With that type of corporate ethos it is no wonder that they create socially connected devices, like ISSAC (Intelligent Socially Aware Automated Communications), that extend the abilities of social to the hardware layer. I can tweet my switches, and they tweet back.  

All of the hours saved by these types of applications are repurposed to support our product (the students and their learning) not our antiquated procedures.

The results of this vision dramatically affected how the student’s ranked their experience with our technology and it’s related services through our Solution Center, our positive context for what is known on most campuses as the ‘Help Desk’. Before our mobile learning initiatives were in place IT was ranked very low, as low as student accounts or financial aid. Let’s face it, these three departments take all the guff, something is broken, you are in debt, or are about to go further into it. It is even more impressive to me to see that our students now rank our technology and the way we service it #1 and #2 out of the 11 departments on our campus. Like I said, in the end you will be assessed on the experience of your users. I am very proud of our team and their devotion to this shared goal.

8. What do you see as the most exciting technologies for academia in the next few years, and why?

1) Student centered platforms
The LMS that is currently being delivered ‘to the university’ will soon be a thing of the past. As new models of education are developed, they will be scalable, competency based and adaptive, the focus of the platforms will be on the learner. The learner will manage and curate their learning, content and product. It will travel with them and be added to over a lifetime. When you vision these environments and add a social context to them you can only imagine the possibilities.

2) Competency based adaptive learning environments
Competency based degrees are not new. The Western Governors have been doing very well delivering this form of education, enrolling over 33,000 students and graduating 19,000 in a little over 15 years. When you add in new adaptive learning algorithms the ability to scale the process becomes a reality. This will take years, but with people like Knewton making huge progress in this field the results may come sooner than expected.

3) Data driven – predictive analytics
The benefits of big data are about to be realized by the mid-market of education. Civitas Learning is a prime example of a company that will be leading the predictive modeling field for higher education. When you can give university administrators access to 10-years of data and the tools to realize the trends, you have a transformational platform that can drive positive change.

4) ‘Maker’ Tools
I believe that we will finally see tools that give educators, designers and plain ‘ole people a way to create engaging environments that will captivate people in the way video games do.

5) MOOC v2.o
Look at what Udacity is doing now with their new courses that they are bringing online very soon. Projects, guidance from coaches, and certificates while learning very relevant skills like Intro to SalesForce Development, Mobile App Development, and MapReduce & Hadoop. All of these skills are needed in our market but there are very few universities that are embracing this training as quickly as the MOOCs are. Add a pay as you learn model and companies (like SalesForce) might be very interested in people who move through this specialized curriculum toward proficiency. Maybe a business model will emerge after all. Stay tuned.

9. Any additional thoughts or news you would like share with EmergingEdTech readers

I am leaving my post at Seton Hill University in mid-February to take on the role of CEO, USA for Robots and Pencils, a mobile application development company based out of Calgary, Alberta Canada. I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with such an innovative and creative group of people.

Robots and Pencils logo

As it pains me to leave my team and colleagues at the Hill, the future is mobile. The ability I will have to work across vertical markets is one reason that I made the choice to change careers. Robots and Pencils have created some very innovative applications for education and they share my belief in the user experience. I hope to continue to service our market, just in a different role, as I believe that the only way to move humanity forward is through education.

Thanks so much to Phil Komarny for sharing some of his valuable time and experiences with EmergingEdTech.




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