BY DAVID HINSON, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, CHIEF OF STAFF, COO, CIO
This spring, I had the pleasure of speaking to a class of accounting information systems students in the Breech School of Business about how technology is supported here at Drury. During our question and answer session, a student asked: “How has technology changed campus in the last twenty years?” The answer to this question is that technology has radically altered the rate of change and uncertainty we face as leaders in strategic planning within higher education.
Technology has drastically altered the way we shop, the way we move from place to place, the way we entertain ourselves and the very way we communicate with one other. The most popular technology brought into homes this past holiday? Smart speakers, like Google Home, the Amazon Echo and the Apple HomePod. Our homes and offices are now hubs of automation, equipped with an army of cameras, doorbells, thermostats and control systems responding at the beck and call of only our voices.
Are we living in an automation paradise or a technological purgatory? That remains to be seen. The consumerization of technology hasn’t stayed home – it has gone to school, with extreme prejudice. Those selfsame devices are finding their way to campus offices and student residences and are now expected necessities.
While technology has not changed our underlying educational mission at Drury University, it has altered our collective expectation – and even impatience – about the ubiquitous and immediate access to information, news and entertainment. Ready access to technology is no longer “nice to have” – it is a competitive advantage essential for our faculty to deliver the best professional and liberal arts education available in the Midwest (or anywhere, for that matter) and a necessary part of our DNA for developing our students to be inquisitive, lifelong learners.
More Mobile, More Wireless
When I began working at Hendrix College, our 1,400 students were served by a single 100-megabit internet circuit, and most students had only one, or at most, two devices that they would connect to the network. By the time I left Hendrix, our internet circuit was a one-gigabit pipe, and each student had four or five devices (each!) that they were connecting to our network.
When I arrived at Drury, the campus converted from a 400-megabit circuit to a one-gigabit circuit because of the demand for ever more bandwidth. What is driving this? Ever more wireless devices in the form of phones, tablets, laptops, and in more gaming consoles, smart televisions, and entertainment devices (like Apple TV, Google Chrome and Roku). Our current infrastructure planning is for each student to be able to comfortably use up to seven devices within our residence halls with satisfactory user experience.
This quickening crush of new devices coming to schools has brought us to a clear realization: we need to radically rethink the way we are capitalizing our technology investment and better aligning our resources with the institutional mission of the school.
Improving the Student Experience
Realizing that we were in an escalating “arms race” of technology expectations, and the budgetary realities of a small, private liberal arts university, we have decided upon a new way forward with regard to our student residential network through a new partnership with a company from Austin, Texas called Apogee. Since 1999, Apogee has been in the business of outfitting and serving campus residential networks across the US, allowing universities and colleges to align their critical resources to the educational mission of their institutions, while providing their students with superior network support and entertainment.
Beginning in May 2018, Apogee will install new networking infrastructure in the vast majority of Drury’s student residences with new switches, and 802.11ac wireless networking across all spaces at a density to more than support our students’ appetite for devices. They will also provide a 24/7 support help line, exclusively for our students, and onsite repair when necessary. Additionally, Apogee will provide an expanded offering of local cable channels, 80 extended channels, and four premium channels (as well as HBO GO) distributed through a new cable headend within the Olin Library on campus. Our cable savings alone will be $49,000 annually.
Finally, in order to be able to maximize these infrastructure upgrades, our student residential network will have its own internet circuit, isolated from the administrative network. All of these enhancements will be funded through our existing student technology fees, with no increased financial burden on our students. Our students will enjoy enhanced technology infrastructure and expanded entertainment options, while Drury is able to focus more fully on enhancing and improving technology in the classroom.
A Classroom Platform for the Future
This year, Drury’s Office of Academic Affairs and our faculty have been hard at work, positioning a new academic platform. You’ll be hearing much more about it in the coming months, so I won’t steal their thunder.
But, what I can say is this: there will be an emphasis on smaller, reflective, personalized learning experiences, adaptive learning environments, and seminarstyle spaces. And we will be devising spaces and technology to fully support this new platform, when it is unveiled this year.
Dr. Cloyd reflected in his inaugural address on the scripture excerpt, “We have all drunk from cisterns we did not dig – we have all taken shade under trees that we did not plant.” While technology leadership at Drury struggles with digging and planting metaphorical wells and trees in all the right spots, all we can know with utmost certainty is the only constant that we can count on is change itself.
It is my sincere hope that in some far-off time, when my successor is addressing future students on how we prepared Drury for technological change, that the answer will be delivered with a smile, for the legacy we are creating today to water and shade those dreamers and learners of tomorrow.