Organizational Systems Subcommittee Report

Organizational Systems for VT2020

The Organizational Systems Subcommittee of the Task Force on Instructional Technology was asked to respond to the questions “Where is the edge?” and “Who is on the edge?”  License was granted to alter the questions, and the subcommittee has chosen to do so.  This response focuses on broad, high-level requirements, leading to opportunities, for organizational systems that will be driven in some form by instructional technology.  Organizational systems are considered to be broadly defined and encompass, at the least, academic support organizations, infrastructure support organizations, organizations that support training and use of technology, and academic units.  The subcommittee chose not to consider details of specific organizational structures or how the requirements should be implemented, but rather on the needs and the opportunities related to organizational systems.  The subcommittee also focused on organizational issues rather than the technology itself, although there is often close coupling of the organization and the technology.  The horizon considered is open.  Some requirements, if realized, might be able to make a difference today.  Others might be associated with future instructional technology or future teaching and learning needs.

These requirements identified represent two types of relationships between instructional technology and organizational systems.  A common theme is that organizational systems will need to respond, adapt or change to remove barriers, provide incentives, or better support teaching and learning that more fully leverages current technology or leverages future technology.  Another theme is that current and future instructional technologies can enable new ways to realize and improve organizational functions.  The committee has not considered the costs and benefits associated with the requirements.  While the subcommittee has attempted to identify requirements with potential value, the necessary cost-benefit analysis needed prior to implementation are beyond the current scope.


Administrative Functions – Removing Barriers

“Individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factor in any decision to adopt — or not to adopt — any given technology.” [The Horizon Report, 2011]

“Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.  The twin challenges of providing high-quality services and controlling costs continue to impel institutions to seek creative solutions.” [The Horizon Report, 2011]

1. Provide a comprehensive and flexible course scheduling system.  Such a system would do the following.

  • Provide for students to obtain needed courses in a timely fashion.
  • Predict future course offerings based on current student enrollment and progress through plans of study.
  • Notify departments of the need for additional sections or courses.
  • Allow for IVC, online, blended and face-to-face classes.
  • Indicate opportunities to offer courses in non-traditional schedules (short fall/spring semesters, summer, inter-session).
  • Be accessible by both academic advisers and students.
  • Accept new, special study and independent study suggestions.

2. An efficient, easy to use system for registering for classes via cross-institution and perhaps public/private partnership agreements.  The push for cross-institutional courses within Virginia, let alone programs shared by national and international partners, requires systems that allow for easy registration, graduation requirements tracking, and low administrative overhead if the scale is to go up.

    3. We need more adaptable and flexible models for registration.  Such models define a student is and when is a student enrolled.  There will be growing pressure for such flexibility based on a growing diversity of students in educational backgrounds and scheduling needs.  Instructional technology offers ways to let us be flexible in when, where and how students learn.  Administrative functions need to remove barriers to doing this.

      4. Provide secure hosting for content, including copyrighted materials.  Key features are as follows.

        • Library resources should be available, online, to all students regardless of location.
        • Ensure adherence to copyright laws with reasonable time and expense.
        • Provide the legal, financial, and technical processing functions to enable secure digital delivery right at the request of the faculty.
        • Provide authentication, authorization and tracking inherently as part of the system.

        5. A comprehensive, easy to use catalog of courses, degree programs, and faculty expertise. Using the Arizona State University course description system ( as an example, a student can view the description and schedule of courses of interest, the price of the required text, and the biographical information of the instructor of the course. Going beyond that, tying this information in with what Virginia Tech calls the Pathways Planner (akin to a graduate plan of study) with the student’s current level of degree attainment (Virginia Tech’s DARS) would allow for program mapping for the student, warn of prerequisites, and, if tied to a learning analytics system, suggest remedial courses if the student’s record shows risk factors for failure in any planned courses.

          6. We need mechanisms to integrate external content and/or classes into a Virginia Tech degree program, beyond just course transfer.

          7. We need mechanisms to share and/or sell our content developed at Virginia Tech.  We need mechanisms to share and/or buy content developed by others.  The IP issues must be clarified.

          8. Using hybrid courses.  Classroom space, and increasingly parking, are  a limited commodity at the Extension Center in Northern Virginia. Moving appropriate classes to a hybrid model, in which courses alternate between physical classrooms and online classes would be one means to address space and parking limitations while accommodating access for part-time students. Some programs are reportedly already using or considering adopting a hybrid format for select courses at the extension campuses. The model would entail scheduling classes so that one week would be a face-to-face class at a scheduled time and the alternate week would be an online class/lecture with online assignments. Scholar can be used for the online sections of the hybrid class.  Hybrid courses are particularly popular in part-time graduate programs where time and access are important considerations for working, adult students. For example, the MPA Program at Roger Williams University, a part-time graduate program, offers a mix of classroom-based, on-line, as well as hybrid courses to accommodate the different learning styles and demands of their adult student population.

                Training and Technical Support – Enabling Effective Use of Technology for Teaching and Learning

                “Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike. New developments in technology are exciting and their potential for improving quality of life is enticing, but it can be overwhelming to attempt to keep up with even a few of the many new tools that are released. … There is a greater need than ever for effective tools and filters for finding, interpreting, organizing, and retrieving the data that is important to us.” [The Horizon Report, 2011]

                “Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession. … Although there is broad consensus that digital media literacy is vitally important for today’s students, what skills constitute digital literacy are still not well defined nor universally taught. … The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital technologies morph and change quickly at a rate that generally outpaces curriculum development.” [The Horizon Report, 2011]

                1. Provide seamless technology support for all faculty and students.  Key features are as follows.

                  • Provide a single point of contact with high-functioning tier 1 support to alleviate confusion and reliance on faculty to respond to technical issues.
                  • Provide configurable training elements or modules to support software and computer skills required by classes.
                  • Integrate distributed expertise across the University.
                  • Track technical issues and problems by course and/or topic and automatically create course-specific FAQs.
                  • Offer a high-level 24/7 support.

                  2. Provide coordinated and collaborative instructional development and support resources, as comprehensive as possible, to inform and serve improved teaching and learning, in varieties of design/access formats such as blended, hybrid, or conventional.  Adequately distributed and accessible.

                  3, Developing additional web-based resources to educators in improving student learning.  In thinking of learning supports that extend beyond the classroom or particular course, there are web-based resources to support student learning that are applicable to a broad range of students and educators across disciplines. One example, are the video tutorials produced by The LearnHigher Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) a UK partnership of 16 Universities. The videos offer information to assist instructors in supporting study skills and academic skills development in an accessible format.  Looking at this from an extended campus perspective, the videos provide a means to obtain resources that are not tied to specific scheduling needs.  See:

                  4. Peer teaching evaluations.  Peer evaluations of online courses necessarily differ than classroom observations for traditional courses. How do we ensure that teaching evaluations are comparable? How do we assess and compare student participation in a classroom and in an online environment? In my own experience, I needed to provide access to one week’s class because class participation occurred over a longer period as opposed to a traditional class period. Penn State has developed a Peer Review Guide for Online Courses which can be accessed at the following link:

                  Infrastructure – Technology Support for Teaching and Learning

                  Ubiquitous access to high-bandwidth networking in the classroom.  The type of connection (wired or wireless) is not as important as the ubiquitous access. Students and instructors must know that they can enter a physical learning space on campus and get access to the Internet easily (perhaps through a token-based system to alleviate logins) and for free. The bandwidth must be robust enough to allow for advanced computing/visualization, communication modalities, and collaboration. When everyone has instant, wireless access to the Internet from any location on a wide array of devices, they will expect something in the classroom that they can’t do on the sidewalk with their handheld.

                  5. Mechanisms that support innovative technology in the classroom.  A balance must be struck between volume and flexibility so that innovative pedagogies as well as technologies can be incorporated in physical learning spaces while maintaining the throughput required of high-enrollment courses. The ability to include hybrid courses, multiple sites, be they international or down the hall, in a classroom can increase the value of that space without hindering the in-person teaching experience.

                  6. An identity management system that allows for seamless access and credentialing (effecting transfer credit for example) that would allow students to move between institutions or programs within institutions in a flexible, simple manner.

                  7. Network connectivity is a critical resource today, and will become even more important and more heavily leveraged in the future.  This requires the organization commitment and structure to deploy and maintain network infrastructure that removes barriers to the effective use of instructional technology.  Such infrastructure should be at least one step ahead of the capacity and functional needs of emerging instructional needs.  Ever-changing perspectives, organizational agility, and cost models are likely needed to provide network and computing infrastructure that is unobtrusive, pervasive, extensible, a platform for innovation, and context aware.

                  8. Provide centralized authentication through a single sign on and identity management across multiple institutions sharing content and resources.  Authentication should support:

                  • Registration (advising and course enrollment)
                  • Email
                  • Courses (academic and professional development)
                  • Financial aid
                  • Department-hosted systems
                  • Calendar
                  • Grades
                  • Student services
                  • Medical
                  • Technical support
                  • Course and teaching evaluations

                  9. Provide a logically unified and coordinated (though probably physically distributed) comprehensive technical infrastructure to streamline and improve efficiency and communication, and to enable R&D staging and evaluation of advanced learning technologies.  Comprehensively coordinated management of distributed functions so end-users see services and functions that are (and work) cohesive, synchronized, standards-based if possible and as interoperable as possible.  Notwithstanding the above, we should also seek to facilitate approaches and models that leverage innovation and/or creative problem-solving techniques (such as mixing or mash-ups of applications or web services), especially in ad hoc cutting-edge areas of both emerging technologies and/or organizational recombinations or reconfigurations.

                  10. Recognize and support the melding of the “cyber” and the “physical.”  Instructional technology and, more broadly, information technology is not just about the “virtual,” but also affects the “physical.”  For example, Lasercams and 3D printing allow physical artifacts to be rendered from computer-based models.  Also, various pervasive computing technologies allow physical interaction to be integrated with computation and communication.

                  11. Widely distributed and coordinated online services to enable faculty to record what occurs all or part of classroom activities and make available for review and study.  Similar approaches may be useful for faculty-produced new media content (e.g. modules, case studies, practice materials) to facilitate broader forms of pedagogy.  Multiple levels of power should be available in such tools or systems so relatively uncomplicated media products can be produced simply, without complications.

                  12. Mobile platforms (or mobile-capable) will become the primary enterprise application clients, particularly for students. Enterprise applications should sense mobile browsers and provide platform-tuned website rendering. Platform-agnostic versions to provide less-tuned but adequate results may be another less costly approach. Mobiles will also gain more visibility as data-capture devices for field experiments, field study, etc.

                  13. Repositories – multiple purposes (research, archival, individual), flexible, probably mix of centralized and decentralized, to encourage and enable access to and sharing/reuse of artifacts.  Some local, some cloud based.

                  14. Cloud systems at enterprise level to provide more efficient, more economical services particularly at commodity-levels, in order to assign central IT resources to more critical, strategic and specialized local deployments of high-value and/or sensitive applications and services.

                  15. Infrastructure to support testing/assessment methodologies – secure authenticated alternatives outside the classroom- recapture classroom time, convenience, proctored, remote.  (Learning subcommittee may also speak to more creative assessment techniques that can be incorporated into pedagogy.)

                  16. Simulation tools for easier development, and expanded to narrative/ stories so humanities & social sciences can use, beyond science and engineering oriented simulations.

                  17. Collaborative platforms that are available to all, not limited to classes. Beyond obvious travel/time/cost savings, some areas or projects may benefit from continuous presence collaboration, enabling remote workers to be on-site virtually.

                  18. Classrooms, labs, study areas such as the library, etc to be equipped for dense and deep wireless network access appropriate to enable high-network-demand settings such as intensive visualization, interactive simulations or intentional gaming. These environments need an enhanced and ubiquitous envelope of connectivity, as electricity and lighting is present now and funded across the board. Ironically, this extends beyond wireless (congested) to wired ports at least for instructors in classrooms so as to insure uncongested access for high-volume services like telepresence, remote video, Skype or WebEx in the classroom (used to bring-in distant researchers, remote guest experts, etc.).

                  19. Classrooms facilities need more appropriate funding levels for maintenance and replacement schedules involving furnishings and infrastructure. Upgrade classroom AV to 16:9-format projectors (instead of 4:3) and screens for better display of modern computer output and HD video. Other infrastructure support might include easily accommodated student/faculty interactivity.

                  Learning Analytics – Leveraging Infrastructure and Data

                  “Learning analytics promises to harness the power of advances in data mining, interpretation, and modeling to improve understandings of teaching and learning, and to tailor education to individual students more effectively.  Still in its early stages, learning analytics responds to calls for accountability on campuses across the country, and leverages the vast amount of data produced by students in day-to-day academic activities.” [The Horizon Report, 2011]

                  1. Student and faculty support through learning analytics systems that help students, faculty and advisors know a student is in trouble in a course, particularly early in the course.  Various approaches to this are in early development stages, but all leverage data captured in course management systems, student demographics and history in SIS systems, advising and portfolio information, etc. for action/intervention where useful / appropriate.  Evidence from prototype systems at Purdue and UMBC shows results like reduced student failure rate, improved retention, better direction towards major, better integration with advising, extended the data captured in a course planner for longer-term planning and forecasting.  Building student self-efficacy through performance feedback (individual and comparative to rest of class) under the umbrella of continuous quality improvement.  Recent EDUCAUSE meetings profiled several projects in this area.  Here are links:

                  Educational and Instructional Technology Research – Inventing the Future

                  The University needs to nurture and develop transdisciplinary educational research that integrates educational research with technology innovation, and the practice of faculty teaching and student learning.  This environment is to be the leading edge of innovation in higher education.

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