Othot Talks Higher Ed with Casey Green [video]

At our first Othot Talks Higher Ed, Fred Weiss, President and CEO of Othot, spoke to Casey Green, Founding Director of The Campus Computing Project. When Green and Weiss originally scheduled the interview, COVID-19 was just starting to impact campuses. Now, campuses are closed, millions of students have returned home, and classes are being delivered online. This conversation would have been different had it been recorded a few weeks ago.

Given the seismic changes COVID-19 has had on higher ed, Weiss and Green couldn’t ignore its impact as they talked about trends in higher education technology, the use of data and analytics on campuses, and the human element of technology.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

Higher Ed Technology Trends

Green’s annual campus technology survey identified several trends in higher ed tech (pre-COVID-19).

  1. Hiring and Retaining Talent on Campuses – Campuses are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring and retaining talent because of the competition for talent off-campus.
  2. Innovation and Infrastructure for Instruction – Some campus leaders are not engaged with digital learning and that is raising concerns about preparedness for instructional infrastructure, instructional support for faculty, and user support for faculty and students.
  3. Budget Cuts – Despite being 10 years out of a recession, campuses are still reeling from budget cuts. That has compounding consequences for IT resources and services on campuses.
  4. Analytics Angst – Institutions are making investment in analytics and there is a real concern that they are not getting bang for the buck. Green calls it analytic angst – institutions are not harvesting the benefits of their investments in analytics when it comes to campus policies, programs, and planning.

With COVID-19, campuses rushed to move in-person classes online and that’s revealed significant issues and challenges related to instructional support. “Now we have this point in between teaching and essentially remote teaching, and no one should confuse that with a well-designed, well-planned online course,” said Green.

COVID-19 also brought to the forefront the digital divide. Students who are at home may not have access to WIFI, technology, and the platforms they need to complete their work.

“It's going to be a lost term,” said Casey.

Why Aren’t Campuses Using Data to Inform Policy and Decisions

In Green’s survey, CIOs ranked greater investment in data and analytics as a top priority. Some universities are having success using data and analytics for student success initiatives. For example, Georgia State University’s (GSU)s investment in analytics has had a tremendous impact on retention and graduation rates. Green attributes some of that success to the “morning after strategy,” or how schools have harnessed data and analytics to determine where and how to help students and faculty.

The Balance for Human Intervention and High Tech, AKA Tech Enabled, High Touch

Green and Weiss talked about the best implementations of technology on campuses balance high tech with human intervention. Technology can help with recruitment, admissions, and yield, but that human overlay – the knowledge about cultural aspects of an institution and the student experience – provide a better understanding and enable decision makers.

In the COVID-19 environment, the rush to stream and screen is creating challenges for students, faculty, and administrators. It's more than just having great content on screen. “There’s not one technology that’s the panacea, that the silver bullet for this thing,” said Green. Schools need a supporting infrastructure for their students, and that requires both technology and human intervention.

AI beyond the Chatbot Box on Campuses

In EDUCAUSE’s Horizon Report, AI and Machine Learning were essentially defined as chatbots. It’s a very narrow definition around AI and Machine Learning on campuses and leaves aside the further aspects of predictive and prescriptive analytics.

The chatbot is a common application of AI and easy for people to understand – think about Amazon or Netflix. “It’s tier-one level service,” said Green. Yet, AI is driving a lot of what goes on behind the scenes at Amazon. “Amazon and Netflix are category killers, and I think that’s coming to higher ed,” said Weiss.

Green said, “Early implementation of AI on campuses are those that are baked in. They do not require an individual’s involvement and it’s fast and easy to do.” He mentioned a few ways that AI could help campuses - faculty could use AI to look at what's going on in their classes and deans and administrators to see what’s going on in departments and across the academic enterprise.

Advice for C-level Administrators in Higher Ed

“Change the data culture from data as a weapon to data as a resource.”
“Digital transformation is not just the responsibility of the CIO, but also the CAO.”

COVID-19: Is this the big one?

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way campuses operate and that change happened in a short amount of time. COVID-19 isn’t like other disasters that have caused campuses to pivot quickly. “It’s a seismic change,” said Weiss.

Green said, “COVID is not a snow day or a short-term interruption. The rush to stream and screen has consequences for faulty, for institutions, for students. How do we change the conversation about instructional planning and allocate resources to instructional infrastructure? The larger issue is - this is the lost term.”

While Green proffered that he had no great wisdom to share, he raised many questions:

  • How do institutions confront instructional experience and assessing a student’s performance?
  • How do schools plan for fall balancing instructional infrastructure and planning courses for fall?
  • What’s orientation going to look like?
  • What’s the first day of class going to look like?
  • Will campus closures be accelerated?

Green’s opinion, “Don’t cut IT. Figure out how to invest more in the infrastructure because that instructional infrastructure is going to be essential moving forward.”

Thank you to Casey Green for being Othot’s first guest on Othot Talks Higher Ed. If you’d like to hear to the full interview, visit Othot’s YouTube Channel or watch the video below. A transcript of the interview is also available.


There were several articles and reports referenced in today’s interview. Please visit these sites to read more:

Throughout the year, Weiss will interview higher education thought leaders and experts. We welcome your suggestions for future guests or topics. Contact us at othotteam@othot.com.

By Karlye Rowles | April 21, 2020