There have been many interesting discussion points on the concept of what is a digital university. My simplistic view is the analogy of in health care in moving from X-rays to CT or MRI scans. I know this is a slightly superficial approach but it helps me to visualise and articulate what comprises a digital university.
At GCU we are still at the X-ray stage in so far as we have learning technology, administrative processes, communication tools and people with a wide range of skills which contextually provide a learning and teaching environment for our students. These major components combine, if at all, in different ways to somehow enable our students to pass through university life. Yes we do have some degree of systems integration, various type of reporting and mobile access but we still send e-mail attachments, lots of different logins and passwords and browser dependent software. While this appears to be mainly a technology and systems outlook, our staff and students as part of the institution need to think and act digitally. So the question is do we develop a digital strategy based on technology integration plans and implementation or do we “Think Different” to use an annoying advertising phrase from the Steve Jobs Apple re-birth period?
So if you go with my X-ray / MRI analogy, what does this mean in terms of identifying and developing the digital university concept? Rather than try to define this term, my thoughts have been influenced by my thorough research into Magnetic Resonance Imaging . The main lesson for me is that while the X-ray is still of great value, the real benefits for patient care lie in its digital presence. Yes it requires technology, cultural change and capable users but the benefits for everyone are more rewarding for everyone in its adoption. The digital university should develop and emerge from a more holistic approach to Higher education using the data it creates and owns to help inform this transformation. My colleague Sheila MacNeill has blogged as well as presented on this topic
So while this is high level stuff, what can be done at the micro level now to demonstrate some changes which can be made? I’ve been aware of a project which has been going on for some time in GCU and it concerns the issue of marks entry and data reliability. Currently, we are able to export modules and student and staff attachments from our student information system (SIS) into our VLE which we call GCULearn. Even though we still get requests from academic colleagues to allow them to manually attach students to modules, this integration has been a great success in terms of time-saving , resources and data reliability. So how do we handle marks entry into the student information system from a variety of sources? Yes it is all done manually with sometimes the same data entered twice. This means we have major issues with data accuracy, pressure of time, system instability and staff stress at a critical period in the university calendar.
The university set up a process improvement team was set up to look at how GCU could become more efficient and more effective in getting marks and grades stored in the student record system. Two approaches were identified for piloting based on either direct entry into the student record system or the creation of a standard form to allow a paper record of assessment results per module and student. All very X-ray!
Over a year ago Blackboard announced that they were releasing the Grades Journey building block which would be able to extract marks from GradeCentre and place them into your Student Record system. Our SIS is supplied by UNIT4 and is not compliant with LIS2.0. This is a key consideration in terms of cost, but this is the solution which we decided to pilot because of the more effective means of ensuring accurate marks entry.
The diagram above outlines the high level process concept of what we are trying to do. Earlier this week we have managed to complete the circle by extracting grades from Blackboard into the correct areas within the SIS. So the technical aspects have been accomplished. The next stage is the detail with regards to staff development, change management, and simplified but effective workflow. These have already started to varying degrees as we move towards the actual pilot with 19 modules which will run in December. Will this prove to be One Step Beyond?
I’ll be blogging more on this topic over the next few weeks and hope to produce some preliminary results at The Blackboard Users Conference in Durham (#durbbu) from 7th January 2016. There are many aspects to identifying what constitutes a “Digital University” but I would like to think that this approach to marks integration demonstrates a practical contribution to the debate. Higher education needs to move on from the X-ray.