Building New Communities: The Community College CIO
We live in an age of expanding disruption. I might as well add accelerating to emphasize the time dimension and, while we are at it, throw in geometric rather than linear to quantify the rate of change. About the only thing not changing at warp speed are people. Obviously the expectations of what we need to do is caught in the warp speed accelerator but we are all still jogging along in good primate fashion one step at a time. Things do seem to be coming apart around us and that is starting to get people upset but maybe that’s just to be expected at this speed. In any case the bills need to be paid, the kids need clothes and we all want to get ahead.
Beyond the mundane
This array of conflict, change, mundanity, hope and fear meets on the community college campus. And as these things now work, there are layers of conflicting change in the community college as well as arriving on the campus from the communities that it serves. The communities themselves are changing structurally as they become more diverse in ethnicity, gender, generation and expectation and the means by which they arrive on campus fluctuates between physically present to virtually present. The process of education that needs to happen, the purpose for these institutions, must link people, in all their diversity, to the information they seek to master to achieve something they may not even yet know. Increasingly the community college has become the microcosm and training ground for finding what we need to survive, get ahead, or use as a springboard to whatever the future may be. The one thing that has come to link these things and people all together is the technology that is both the medium and the information, the data and the metadata.
When technology is everything
Obviously working as a Chief Information Officer (and the titles vary widely) on a community college campus presents great opportunities and nearly permanent frustration. Structurally educational institutions in the US are conservative and slow to change. This is comforting to many people and has value in elementary education as basic levels of education are instrumental in setting the personality of a culture. As change accelerates and becomes more complex this comfort and organizational conservatism becomes problematic at the high school level and fully negative at the community college level. This may also be the situation in the four year college or university but those institutions are more research and investigative in nature so the problems are more specific to the institution and its mission.
People in need
Community Colleges are directly driven by people in need of education, direction, hope, skills, jobs, careers, and resolution of conflicts in their lives. Speed is of the essence in the community college ecosphere. Students are young and struggling because they don’t have money or any idea what to do and understand that the old world of careers is disappearing. They need to explore and may lose interest and then come back again because this takes time but financial aid doesn’t last. This can often occupy five, six or even eight years. This group blends into those who have been working and taking classes over those years and know they need to understand and get skills to have a better life but things aren’t getting any clearer. Some traditional crafts are still based in union controlled occupations that pay well and give hope (for how long?) of security but they may take a while to get into and complete the required training. But for others this is difficult because they don’t want to lock themselves into a life that isn’t what they dreamed. And the gig economy keeps changing and a quick training session may give them a leg up into the IT world. And this goes on through life for a large portion of our population who need to make changes in skills and attitudes and it becomes more and more important for them. But everyone is in hurry and juggling work, school, children, parents, grandparents and life at warp speed. The community college has become the staging area and changing room.
Training for a virtual world
Education is no longer about learning things. It’s about developing skills and attitudes about change with knowledge of how to get to the latest information that you need and how to judge the value and validity of the information that surrounds you every hour. To achieve this we need to build and maintain an ubiquitous learning environment that is able to blend virtual and physical reality with on demand information. We are now in the beginning stage of greatly expanding the virtual to full virtual classrooms and project learning environments. This still includes the maintenance of 20th century PC technology for older faculty and administrators to supporting mixed reality classrooms with high density wireless networking at various levels of security. The ability of the traditional community college faculty, staff and administrators to handle constantly evolving technology and virtual information delivery ranges from non-existent to aggressive but unskilled. Students have close to the same range dependent on their age, socioeconomic, and ethnic background. While all educational IT professionals know that students, whom older faculty assume “know” technology, may be comfortable with using the information flow around them they often have little understanding of the technology. The interrelationship of these groups can be confusing and counterintuitive.
Technology for the traditional
Working in the community college environment we have students from indigenous cultures with programs to support their traditions. This can give rise to conflict with information technology as the both faculty and students may assume that online communication and social skills are not appropriate for the traditional culture. This despite the fact that we know that at any given time almost all of the students are picking up at least two IPs linking their intelligent devices to the campus networks. At the same time the constant problem of declining incomes in post industrial societies creates challenges for students to have adequate information processing power for anything other than the most basic services. This is a challenge that is not yet being addressed successfully in most state community colleges. This is rapidly becoming a larger issue as Mixed Reality classes can allow student to be present in virtual reality if they have the headsets needed. We need to steadily widen that opportunity for our communities.
At the center
From an organizational perspective the success of a community college increasingly is dependent on the ubiquity of its virtual presence for the students and for its community. This puts the CIO position at the center of shaping the strategic direction of the college while supporting all levels of interaction in diverse areas of knowledge and skill training. And this also includes the full range of business support that defines the CIO position in non-educational organizations. As it has for universities this will require a growing range of strategic oriented staff positions to support virtual reality design and development by academic teams and support of student management through every possible range of life challenges. With success at this the communities, both virtual and physical, served by the community college will find a lifetime refuge and resource for dealing with the constant and growing disruption that this century will bring. Needless to say it is an exciting but all consuming job.