2014 EDUCAUSE Conference

by Donna Petherbridge & Lou Harrison

From September 29 – October 2, we attended the EDUCAUSE Conference in Orlando, Florida. In addition to our attendance at the conference, our DELTA colleagues participated via a virtual conference pass and took shared notes on the sessions attended to promote shared learning across our organization. Other colleagues from NC State also attended the conference, including CIO Dr. Marc Hoit, (OIT), Stan North Martin (OIT), Tina Bennefield (HR), Greg Kraus (OIT) and Keith Boswell (Engineering). We enjoyed spending time with them!

Certainly a favorite presentation was the keynote, Clay Christensen (Harvard Business School), who talked about disruptive innovation and the future of higher education. He was an excellent speaker (dry sense of humor) that kept us engaged for the entire presentation. He talked about the modularization of higher education – something we have seen as services for students and the delivery of educational materials get specialized (e.g. you can string a class together using content from other’s lectures). He talked about his own experience in recording lectures for the University of Phoenix where models were hired to pretend to be students so that he would have an audience to speak to, where all of the “uhs” were edited out of his speech and there was lovely music playing in the background. It certainly made us think about the products we create for educational use and how they might be used.

Donna, Marc, Stan and Tina gave a presentation on Tuesday, September 30, about NC State’s journey in creating an IT Strategic Plan. To emphasize our point that strategic planning truly is a journey, we dressed as characters from The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, complete with a skit to start our presentation. I can guarantee they will remember our presentation. We had about 150 people attend and our pictures were probably taken and then tweeted out by half the people there. Btw, Donna noted that wearing a beard while speaking is somewhat difficult, and she appreciates that her colleagues are good sports when she comes up with ideas about how to get an audience to remember you!

Just as we did last year, once again we attended several sessions (as well as had some discussion with vendors) about Learning Analytics. A few highlights here included:


We also met with Josh Baron from Marist College in New York and are working to bring his team here to meet with our team to see if we can partner in some of the work that they have been doing in this area.

As always, we took time again to look at other Learning Management Systems while walking the vendor floor, including Canvas Instructure and Blackboard (not to worry anyone right now about our current use of Moodle, but just to take a look). The takeaway for us is STILL that while each system may have a few different pieces that are interesting/useful and slightly different from the other systems, that LMSs in general, whether commercial or open source, are very similar in what they allow instructors and students to do, and while it is definitely worth keeping an eye on this market and maintaining an awareness, there is certainly not a compelling reason to deeply investigate another LMS tool at this time. Rather, we would continue to encourage our user community to continue to suggest features that we can implement into our existing LMS to meet user needs.

We will, though, be keeping an eye on what the Unizin project does with their LMS – right now, Indiana State University is moving their faculty from Sakai to Canvas as part of this project – which is interesting in that they have been a proponent of Sakai for a very long time. Unizin is something we will need to keep our eyes on. Lou, Marc and I also met with Cisco as they were interested in what we thought about their changes to WebEx – we noted that the accessibility improvements were appreciated, but that there would need to be additional, considerable focus on the academic features of WebEx before it could seriously be considered as a possible alternative to Blackboard Collaborate. Right now, the University is hosting both products, and in collaboration with OIT, we provide information about when it is best to use each product and what the capabilities of these products are. The Cisco representatives were certainly receptive to our feedback, and acknowledged the areas we identified as lacking in their WebEx suite, and said that the issues we presented are all on their roadmap.

Lou spent some face time with representatives of the companies we work with most, Pearson, Blackboard, Sonic Foundry, and explored other companies that might be interesting to know about. In particular, he met with Unicon, a partner with Marist College, and a potential outsource development provider.

Overall, it was a packed week of sessions, meetings, and conversations, with many opportunities to catch up with colleagues from other institutions doing similar work, from our perspective, well worth the time.

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