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NASPA Needs a Technology Core Data Service, and Why This Matters to You

Who You Gonna Call?

Who do you call when you have a burning question about technology? Chances are good you have a picture of “that one techie” in your mind right now. You know their name, and you probably have their extension memorized. Beyond that, your knowledge of who does what with technology on your campus likely gets hazy. If you’re part of a system of universities, you may rely on “birds of a feather” colleagues at other campuses you meet with on a regular basis. No doubt you have colleagues who use the same software as you to administer departmental programming, can quote verse about the hoops you have to jump through to get the data you need, how your staff deals with social media, and so on. If you’re lucky, you get to go to conferences and have an informal network of professionals to lean on. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an unbiased resource you could rely on to provide benchmarking information about technology-related topics germane to higher education? Something like this actually exists…sort of.

What’s a Core Data Service (CDS), Anyway?

The idea for a multi-organizational technology assessment in higher education is not new or original, nor did it materialize out of thin air. Since 2002, EDUCAUSE – the world’s largest community of IT leaders and professionals in higher education – has conducted an annual assessment of hundreds of campuses. The activities around this assessment culminate in a product they call the Core Data Service, or CDS. What’s in it? Benchmarking data on staffing, financials and a variety of technology services. It’s a fantastic reference for higher education technology professionals, especially leaders who need to know where they stand with respect to their peers. The problem with the EDUCAUSE CDS is that it does not collect data or provide insights that are particularly useful to student affairs professionals.

Why NASPA Needs Its Own Version of a CDS

Members of the Technology Knowledge Community (TKC) recognized the importance of technology to the profession many years ago. They believed it was such an important part of our work, they were able to successfully add it as a NASPA Professional Competency Area in 2010: https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/ACPA_NASPA_Professional_Competencies_FINAL.pdf Unlike EDUCAUSE, NASPA has no benchmarking tool focused on technology that we are aware of. We believe that a NASPA CDS would be a valuable resource for any NASPA member who needs to make decisions about the use of technology in their programs. A Core Data Service is a natural extension of the assessment culture that has been built in our profession; we think it should be a core product of the organization.

You might be asking yourself “why don’t we just ask EDUCAUSE to adapt their instrument so it can collect this data for us?” First, the overlap between NASPA members who participate in EDUCAUSE and vice-versa is rather small…the connection between organizations is probably not where it needs to be to make this happen (yet). Second, the vast majority of the technology we use in student services – particularly software-based – is not universally important to everyone in our organizations. Third, technology staffing models vary drastically from campus to campus. Hopefully, EDUCAUSE will continue to evolve and the data needs for student affairs will be more fully included. Until that time, however, adapting the concept for our needs at this time makes a lot of sense.

Enterprise Versus Niche Software

You may have heard the term “enterprise” invoked in hushed tones during campus meetings with IT and wondered what it meant. The way the word is used implies great importance. Generally speaking, “enterprise” refers to a product or service that everyone (or nearly everyone) in an organization depends on to do their job. When enterprise services go down, everyone panics. In the higher education software world, enterprise usually means the SIS (Student Information System), HR/Finance, portals, and email/calendaring tools. Enterprise software is expensive and complex, and requires a significant investment in professional IT resources. For many campuses, the responsibility for managing these systems lies with a Centralized IT department. As a general rule, enterprise software feeds, stores, and works on data that is considered to be the “source of truth” for an organization. They’re critical systems by definition.

Doesn’t every operational area in student affairs also depend on software? And isn’t that software just as important to what we do? In terms of complexity and usage, some of our systems rival enterprise software. Do you lead a Career Services department? There are software systems for you. How about Student Housing? You have multiple software options to choose from for managing residential life. Health Services? Check. Judicial Affairs/Student Conduct? Check. Clubs & Organizations? Disability Resources? Assessment? Check, check, check. Our software is important to us, but it isn’t universally important to everyone on campus. That’s what makes student services software niche software.

The bottom line here is that you probably want to know which software packages your peers use most often. It’s a reasonable question you’ve probably asked more than once.

Student Services Technology Support Varies Widely

Despite the fact that technology is enshrined as a NASPA professional competency, there’s little consistency around how we fund and staff it. Support models used by campuses to deliver student services technology vary widely (and wildly). Some campuses have a highly centralized IT division that coordinates services for every functional area on campus. Other campuses have multiple, decentralized technology units. Student affairs divisions may have a large or small technology department – or none at all – depending on the services needed. It’s fair to say that there are as many technology delivery models as there are members in the TKC!

We Have an Instrument That Just Might Work

In 2017, David Sweeney of the Texas A&M University system published the results of a system-wide student affairs software survey. This assessment provided TAMU’s Senior Student Affairs Officers with information about “…the distribution of ‘student affairs’ typical software packages and platforms…” and “…contract data with the aim of finding opportunities to share software across multiple units if indicated and desired.”* David’s survey spurred interest among several of us in the TKC in developing a similar but more expansive survey, with the intention of incorporating other pertinent details. After much discussion, we decided to measure the following:

  1. Institution (size, basic demographics)
  2. Student Affairs organization (services offered)
  3. Student Affairs IT (staffing level, type of support)
  4. Applications and Services

As a group, we felt that all four of these components would be useful for SSAOs (Senior Student Affairs Officers). We also felt that they would present a host of emergent benefits, such as improved collaboration between universities, leveraging our combined voices when communicating with vendors, providing hard data for NASPA’s assessment team, and so on. To that end, we developed a Qualtrics survey, currently hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. The survey is accessed by a link on the SAIT Pros web site at www.saitpros.org. SAIT Pros is a free “non-denominational” association for people who do technology work in student affairs. You don’t have to be an IT geek to join, membership is free, and we host a Slack team where people can share what they know about products, services and processes, all without having to worry about vendors listening in. In our first year of running this assessment, we had 27 participating campuses, which indicates to us that our idea has merit. We asked for TKC sponsorship for a session to talk about this project at the national conference in Los Angeles, which the TKC granted. Thank you, TKC!

Our hope is that the TKC and the broader NASPA community also see value in a “NASPA Technology CDS.” Next steps include reaching out to the Assessment, Evaluation and Research Knowledge Community (AERKC) to identify potential improvements for version 2 of the survey and possible areas of collaboration with the TKC.

Paul Schantz is Director of Web & Technology Services for the Division of Student Affairs at California State University, Northridge. He currently serves as the EdTech representative to the TKC (NASPA), is the Chair of the Student Affairs IT Community Group (EDUCAUSE), and a co-founder of SA IT Pros.

A version of this post was originally published on the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community blog. This project was discussed during a technology session at the 2019 NASPA national conference in Los Angeles.

Resources


Next Gen vpsa

Presenters

  • Josie Ahlquist, Research Associate and Instructor, Florida State University, @josieahlquist, josieahlquist.com
  • Dr. Ed Cabellon, Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management, Bristol Community College, @dredcabellon, edcabellon.com
  • Mordecai Brownlee, Vice President of Student Success, St. Philip’s College, @ItsDrMordecai
  • Angela Batista, Vice President of Student Affairs and Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Champlain College, @drangelabatista
  • Dr. Tim Miller, @JMUTimMiller

Resources

This is my first session of the 2019 NASPA conference, and I’m well-rested and ready to learn! When I saw the title “Next Gen VPSA,” I knew I needed to attend this session 🙂 Today’s agenda: facilitated discussion around ” purpose-driven digital leadership.” Any omissions or errors are mine.

Change: digital leaders accept and embrace change, calling on others to fill knowledge and skills gaps with technology.

Connection: digital engagement for campus leaders is built around relationships for genuine community building

Personalization: A holistic approach humanizes both a leaders’ campus position and their use of social media tools.

Strategy: campus leaders need to have a clear, yet flexible strategy that aligns their values and personality, as well as university objectives.

Legacy: the theory, practice, and pedagogy of leadership can be applied in digital context to create meaning, build community and leaves a legacy.

Question 1: How do you define “Next Gen VPSA?”

MB: more courses are moving online. SoMe is important for providing a level of representation of who you are and what your institution is about. It’s going to be a norm soon.

EC: I’m an early adopter and my research was around use of SoMe and tech by leaders in higher ed. When I became a VP nine months ago, I thought I’d be able to continue using SoMe the way I’d always used it…that came to a screeching halt! I’ve had to rethink how and why I use SoMe. It really helps when your president and board “get it.” I’m using MailChimp to help measure staff and student interest.

AB: being intentional and strategic is important. We need to be there for our staff and we need to keep learning. Our communication tools are most useful when we’re intentional about HOW we use them. Using it to share your true self is important because it appears in how you “show up.” I was able to respond to a student recently who had a less than ideal experience who said the campus did not care about students of color. Because I was on SoMe, I was able to respond directly to that student’s post.

MB: we’re able to respond in an immediate way…our students want to hear from us. These are opportunities for us to share that we see our students’ concerns, we hear our students’ concerns, and we care about them.

How do you balance your personal and professional accounts?

EC: I’m in a state role now. Because my FB account is intertwined with my personal life, I had to separate things. I do have an assistant that helps me out with things, but it’s still a lot of work to have multiple accounts.

JA: FB and Instagram allow you to have “branded pages” which are underneath the main institutional account.

AB: I intermingle my personal stuff with my professional stuff. I often will share articles, but that does not necessarily mean that I endorse them. If you’re going to do a branded page, make sure that it actually has value.

MB: make sure your SoMe has purpose! Really look at it! You need to evaluate what you’re looking at…ALL of it. You’re never “off” as a VPSA. SoMe is not a place to rant and rave.

EC: if you’re on Twitter, have a look at what lists you’re on. This is a good measurement of how people view you online.

MB: You need to have purpose behind your presence. You also need to be aware of what kind of interaction opportunities each platform presents. Some do not allow you to control things beyond the initial post. I am not an endorser.

JA: Instagram stories are the biggest ROI for younger people. Different intents for different platforms.

How much time do you spend on your SoMe?

TM: I have an assistant who I’ve given all my favorite books, and she provide motivational quotes M-Th, and I do things on Friday. I spend about an hour a day on mine.

AB: I spend most of my time on FB. I post at every event that I go to on campus, which helps with the student voice. Students who want me to amplify their voice, I ask them to tag me so that I can help them. It’s not about quantity, it’s about intent. It’s my way to build relationships.

MB: I spend less than 30 minutes a day on average. I check at the end of the day for sure.

How do you intentionally connect with staff and students?

AB: I don’t invite my staff to connect with me. If someone wants to connect, I really think about what that person wants from the relationship.

MB: if you’re a VP or senior student affairs officer, you should definitely have a conversation with your PR department. Be prepared to review your own personal material aligns with that of your institution.

How do you interact with your leadership team?

EC: Bring data to the table. Pick a platform that works best for your institution…even if it’s just one thing.

MB: I’m the only member of my cabinet that has a SoMe presence. You need to understand your campus culture…I push my president to be engaged with video and SoMe pictures.

AB: most of my colleagues are on SoMe, and they are growing their presence as a result of the posts that I’m making. In my opinion, it’s important to keep your opinions to yourself.

TM: I was the first on my cabinet to be on SoMe. Our PR team had an intervention with me. Students will pull you into very specific concerns…SoMe back-and-forth isn’t the place to resolve their concerns. However, I DO tell the students that I will meet with them individually to resolve their concerns.

Building Your Digital Transformation Ecosystem with LTI Advantage

This session moved pretty fast (and included some very dense slides which were impossible capture in text), so any omissions or mistakes in my notes are entirely my fault!

Presenters

  • Rob Abel, CEO, IMS Global Learning Consortium
  • Michael Berman, Chief Innovation Officer and Deputy CIO, California State University, Office of the Chancellor
  • Vince Kellen, Chief Information Officer, University of California San Diego
  • Jennifer Sparrow, Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Technology, The Pennsylvania State University

Resources

What is LTI Advantage and IMS Global?

LTI Advantage (and Insights – for analytics) is a strategy as much as an interoperability standard. It’s an integration standard for LMS and tools that connect to an LMS.  It’s based on OAuth2 and JSON web objects, plus extensions for names & roles provisioning, assignment and grade services, deep linking and custom extensions.

There are 25 LTI Advantage early adopters, which include the usual suspects like D2L, Canvas, etc.

LTI Insights

Which LTI-enabled tools are being launched?

  • How frequently and when?
  • For which courses?
  • Are the tools actually being used? By how many unique users?
  • What are the usage trends?
  • What types of devices? Mobile?
  • Which LTI-enabled tools received PII, and what information is shared, exactly?

Why is this important?

LTI addresses 5 of the top 10 EDUCAUSE 2018 top 10 issues. Our orgs are often working with hundreds of suppliers, and integration is a BIG challenge.

JS: If a tool is IMS-compliant, it’s much easier for us to fast-track tools into our ecosystem.

MB: in our case, our system is a lot more decentralized so we’re trying to explain the value that LTI brings to our campuses.

VK: we want to make sure that our entire edtech ecosystem is LTI-compliant. It’s complicated and it’s not owned by any one entity. Standards of integration will help us to deliver a better teaching and learning environment.

JS: having the data streams come out in a way that does NOT require a lot of manipulation is a huge benefit for us and allows to be more precise with our predictive analytics and help us get our students to graduation.

RA: integration and analytics together – which LTI provides – allow us to do our jobs more effectively. Any supplier or institution can participate, which is probably unique to higher ed.

VK: data integration is a real rate limiter.

Question: what about extending LTI beyond the LMS, say, to the SIS? We’re working on that via the IMS EduAPI. EduAPI a set of industry standard extensible APIs to support user provisioning, common source ID and administrative data exchange.

 

Gravitas and Grit: How IT Leaders Inspire Peak Performance

Presenters

  • Dianna Sadlouskos, Strategic Alliance Partner, Next Generation Executive Search
  • Joanna Young, Principal, JCYCIO
  • Melissa Woo, Senior Vice President for IT & CIO, Stony  Brook University
  • Brendan Guenther, Director for Academic Technology, Michigan State University
  • Russell Beard, Vice President of Information Technology, Bellevue Colllege

NOTE: any errors, omissions or inadvertent misrepresentations are completely my fault. This conversation moved quickly and there was a lot of audience participation my fingers weren’t quite quick enough to catch – I beg your indulgence, dear reader. – Paul

DS: No powerpoint today (yay!), we’re focusing on conversation today. Provided definition of “Grit” by Angela Duckworth (too long to capture).

DS – Question 1: How would you translate grit into your own personal path to leadership?

MW: “stick-to-it-iveness” was the key for me. I went through so many search committees, it was crazy. I incorporated feedback from coaches. Ask for feedback!

JY: first CIO job I applied for was an abject failure. The search consultant’s feedback was really helpful…it was tough, but amazingly helpful advice. Over prepare!  Every meeting you have with your president is a new interview.

RB: you have to have the ability to be patient and learn to breathe.

DS – Any essential grit stories to share?

(Audience member) It’s not only about grit, it’s about the people surrounding you. So many people said “you were great!” which was not helpful as I needed. I interviewed for 13 jobs before I got the one I have now. Just keep going.

DS: just because you don’t get a job, it’s OK, you may still be a very good candidate…you’e not a failure!

DS – Do you think that Grit is something you can develop in people?

BG: I think so. Everyone hits bumps in the road, sometimes you don’t bring the right people onto your team, you have to be able to adapt.

MW: you have to consider tough love. I tend to force people into projects that they are not comfortable with so that they have the opportunity to grow.

JY: job for life is no longer the case. You have to be able to force yourself into a role you’ve never had before. I had no telecom in my background, but I ended up running the largest broadband project in my state (having “wicked smaht” people around me was a great help).

DS – Interest and Practice: is there a difference in how you guide development of these attributes in mid-level managers versus millenials?

BG: the things that you are (where and how you grew up, etc.) have a lot to do with how you think.

JY: I now work for a millenial, someone I hired as an intern. We are learning so much from one another…he is completely fearless. People earlier in their career tend to have a higher degree of confidence (let ’em fail fast and learn fast). However, I want to give them guide rails to keep them from crashing and burning.

MW: at a conference I was at last week, keynote was about “radical candor.” Millenials are not as delicate as you think! Treat them as they are early career.

DS – is there advice you can give the group about how you inspire practice in aspiring leaders?

(Audience member) I don’t give advice, I ask a lot of questions. People with good social IQ pick up on what you’re doing, and will work through things in their head. Set parameters “here’s where I don’t want you to go.”

(Audience member) Give the person permission to fail, but coach them back to success.

DS – How to inspire mid-level managers to engage and re-invigorate their interest?

JY: get a different job and/or a different team.

RB: you’re prepared and need to manifest the presence to perform.

How does talent versus effort impact leaders?

JY: effort is great, but you need to apply effort effectively. Don’t use a teaspoon when a backhoe is the tool you really need. Talent is like a big “T” – you may have depth in tech, but you need to have breadth in business, how your campus works and more.

BG: you have to have the ability to identify talent. For effort, being able to identify the right talent sets among different people to work together.

DS: Can you share examples of staff who were talented but struggled?

DS: Tiger Woods vs. John McEnroe

JY: some of those staff are people who run with scissors who are very talented but are a danger to themselves. Often these people think of themselves as the smartest people in the room.

(Audience member) the smartest people in the room biggest issue is the fact that many of them are unable to be coached.

(Audience member) Coaching those team members is really helpful. For my team, when hiring, the skillset comes second to the ability to work within a team.

JY: rhetorical question: what’s more important: technical skills, or ability to work with faculty? (scattered callouts of “faculty”).

MW: you need to be able to have the difficult conversations to people.

RB: Honest feedback is important and one of the most important things we do as leaders.

How do you encourage staff to take risks and grow?

JY: influence your environment to make failure acceptable, so long as learning occurs.

BG: our role as coach/mentor is to help our staff pull the layers of failure apart so as to teach lessons that they can grow from. You HAVE to be there when your people fail.

RB: questions like “you should think about” were great, not prescribing solutions was important for me.

Is Cloud Identity Ready for Higher Education?

Presenters:

  • Jon Allen, Assistant VP & CIO, Baylor University
  • Kevin Phan, Associate CIO, Pepperdine University
  • Mahmud Rahman, Director of Systems and Banner Services, Mills College
  • Dennis McDermott, CMO, SVP Global Marketing, Fischer International Identity LLC

Level Set

What was the state of your IDM efforts prior to your recent project? What were the biggest challenges you were addressing with your IDM deployment?

JA: we didn’t have a lot in the way of IDM. We had scripts, and Oracle database and batch files. Life cycle becomes difficult in situations like this! We knew we needed to manage it much better than we were. Should we build the car or drive the car?

KP: we’re similar to Baylor: disparate systems, everything was manual, Peoplesoft as system of record, AD authentication, batching and scripts for accounts management; no meaningful events for updating accounts. Going to an off-the-shelf system helped us manage things better.

MR: we had a pretty good system, fed data from Banner into LDAP. However, our system would breakdown, and our system didn’t do deprovisioning well.

Setting a Course

What components did you look for in an identity management solution? Which were most important to you and why?

JA: our search happened about four years ago. Traditional on-premises solutions were great and polished, but they didn’t necessarily work well with the systems we had on our campus. It was more a business and knowledge problem than a technical problem. Very few consultants understood our systems or what we do. We understood the routine functionality of in/out and when things were supposed to happen, but our edge cases were killing us. Audit was made difficult because access forms were being sent by email.

KP: it took us over a year to review the various vendors. Fischer’s system worked simply and easily for us…one connector to our Peoplesoft tables and we were ready to go.

MR: we’re a small school and we had to rely on others’ research to help guide us. We’ve been on hosted platforms for years now with Blackboard and Google, so our fear level was low. Vendors that understand the specific needs of students (meaning of stop outs, incompletes, etc.) was very important to us, and it’s surprising how few vendors actually do get this.

Resistance to Change?

How much resistance did you receive regarding outsourcing your IAM infrastructure? Who was resistant and how did you win them over? What would you say to those who prefer home-grown solutions?

JA: since I was the one bringing this project to the table, there was little resistance (I’m normally the one who slows projects down!). A big part of getting people on board was sharing what it would do for them as stakeholders, i.e. HR provisioning of new staff and faculty. Once HR saw what it would do for them, they were completely on board.

KP: we had political resistance. We overcame that by demonstrating cost savings with our CFO. We also were able to translate business value by showing reduction in number of help desk tickets. Convincing internal IT folk was the hard part…giving up control was WAY more challenging than it should have been.

MR: we had no resistance. Most people don’t see IDM as something important unless they can’t access resources. Sysadmins are no longer the ones who have to deal with the day-to-day ordinary functions. Our time spent on IDM is a lot smaller now.

Deployment

What was your approach for deploying IAM? How did you mitigate risk to achieve project success?

MR: we should have had more conversations with HR and Admissions first (there was turnover at the time, which continues). The people responsible for setting flags and attributes initially have moved on, so IT is playing a significant teaching role for the organization. The process allowed us to get a lot more granularity with respect to roles, which we accomplished before through creating exceptions (build exceptions into patterns).

KP: learning what our customers’ pain points were guided what we did first. Password management was a big problem, so we tackled that password self-service portal first. Second phase was the top 30 action codes in Peoplesoft. Most of the time, I had to “be a parent” to the project team when addressing challenges around control.

JA: we limited the scope of the systems to key systems first, including Banner and O365.

Sharing Outcomes

What are the top factors that made your project successful? What would you do differently? What would you say about home-grown IAM?

MR: we have a very smart Banner programmer! We also had a lot of cooperation from other IT staff, particularly sysadmins and the help desk. Our vendor also understood Banner well, which helped a lot. Also, my boss backed me up (huge). If I had to do anything differently, I would probably create more role granularity and more conversations with certain groups on campus like the provost’s office.

KP: top factors were understanding business value and translating to the business units. Understanding systems and data, looking a few steps ahead, identifying potential issues that might come up, having honest conversations with your team, all of these were important. What would I change? It took two years to complete because we didn’t apply enough resources to it.

Baylor Case Study

Why IDM? Security lifecycle, compliance, one of the main controls left. It’s the who, why, what, where, when of people accessing your systems. It’s the keys to the kingdom, it’s nothing sacred, it’s security.

IDM is hard! It’s the ultimate of integrations and it’s something we must have. Project failures are rarely technical. Systems worked where people understood higher ed and IDM. Consultants must know your business.

You need to clearly understand integration, UI (for follow-through and understandability), and you also need some flexibility to address special use cases.

Six months from start to Go Live. Staff must be bought in; testing is critical. Timelines are achievable if stakeholders are available and willing to work in a collaborative way.

Full provisioning: account creation, licensing managed and authorization. However, it doesn’t have to be completely automated. For example, we have a termination list: replaces non-interactive emails, allows for audit trail, deprovisioning the most critical part of the IDM. When we flipped the switch, we had to deal with the edge cases, which allowed us to clean up a lot of the data (source of authority).

IDM is a life cycle. Identity is constantly changing, and perfection is not possible.

Lessons learned: communication (need more of it), wrong assumptions (you can’t assume that HR understands their role – they’re worried about payroll), we want real time access (mistakes like name changes or account deletions are real-time too). Testing is good, but you’re not going to catch everything.

Going forward: more integrations, further refinement, expanding reach to applicants.

Great results: account provisioning/removal smoother, processes are documented.