University kicks off long-term technology implementation

Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the college of design, spoke during Donald M. Norris’s presentation. Donald M. Norris spoke at Gerdin Business Building on Wednesday, March 9 about the future of learning, research and collaboration.

Michael Craighton

Dozens of faculty members filled the Richard and Joan Stark Lecture Hall in the Gerdin Business Building on Wednesday night to hear a keynote address by Donald Norris, president of Strategic Initiatives Inc., a consulting firm specializing in creating plans to navigate large-scale change in organizations. Norris is a nationally recognized expert on navigating change in universities.

The purpose of the lecture was to kick off an ongoing dialogue with ISU faculty, staff and students on how the university will facilitate learning, research and external collaboration in the future.

Following the event Wednesday night, work groups composed of university faculty and staff will begin meeting over the next six weeks to explore how the university responds to the integration of technology in the future.

“We will be looking how learning, research and, external collaboration will be conducted in the future with emerging technology,” said Elizabeth Hoffman, ISU executive vice president and provost.

She said that one major focus will be on the reconfiguration of physical space, such as classrooms and labs, and the integration of communication technologies into lecture halls.

“We’re working on a 20-year capital plan right now,” Hoffman said.

The plans for future technology integrations and updates will take place during the next several years. For a more contemporary example, she talked about the renovation of Gilman Hall, specifically the reconfiguration of some of the labs.

In his keynote address, Norris spoke on a broad range of topics. One of the biggest points made in the address was that there are many possible futures that may occur and that the university must prepare for all of them, not just the possibilities that would be most preferable.

He cited examples of leaders in technology who made predictions about the future of their fields and how in the end they vastly underestimated what would be possible with technological advancements. Norris correlated that to the university, saying that the university leaders are responsible for helping usher in the new technological innovations on campus.

“Everyone in any leadership position, not just the university president and the provost, but members of departments and even students, has the responsibility to be an intelligent agent on behalf of the institutional leadership,” Norris said.

He added that this is because the changes are first experienced by those in the labs, classrooms and collaborative spaces.

The main focus of the future technology integration project is how the new technologies, including both upcoming innovations and concepts far down the line, will be integrated into the university’s physical space.

Norris gave the example of the Biorenewables Complex as an illustration of the technological integrations to come. The complex includes collaborative spaces with meeting rooms featuring white boards for physical attendees, as well as projector screens and communications technologies for virtual collaboration.

Norris also spoke at length about how the physical and virtual spaces of the university are combining. By 2015, Norris said, some predict that advancements in telepresence and automatic translation will make it possible for every university around the world to be connected.

Additional examples of the collision of the physical and virtual spaces of research universities include the increasing collaboration of the “computational and convention sciences.” Norris illustrated this by giving examples of research in areas such as biology and medicine being aided by computer simulations.

Norris was giving the faculty involved with the project a sense of how much the landscape of technology in education will change over the next 50 years. He compared writing about cutting edge technology from 1995 with writing from last year, illustrating the tremendous advances and changes in the world of information and communication just in those 15 years.

He finished his address by talking about the role of the university of the future. Much of the economic recovery since the recession has been jobless. Many machines and technology have taken the place of “knowledge workers” — those employed in jobs typically requiring a college education.

In order to still provide necessary service to students and technological integration in the employment world increases, universities must get students engaged in research and problem solving, and the universities themselves must also engage in those things.

Technological change will bring about several “game changers” for the university, as Norris called them. He cited “personal ubertools”: devices that essentially create a connection between people and their machines.

“The man/machine connect will be a major, major game changer,” Norris said.

Another game changer is the shrinking resources of the United States, which will inevitably result in a lack of investment in higher education. Universities and parents alike will have to begin making tough choices as tuition and costs rise.

Revolutions, such as those currently happening in Libya and other areas of the Middle East, must also be taken into consideration when planning for the future of the university, Norris said. Other parts of the Middle East, China and even the U.S. will almost certainly experience a revolution of some kind in the not-so-distant future.

Finally, Norris discussed the challenges inherent in trying to change large, complex organizations. He compared the university to a symphony: In order to change the sound of the whole, the individual parts must be worked on.

Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the ISU College of Design, delivered a short response. Rico-Gutierrez said the primary aim of the university will be to augment the physical space with information technology and to get the maximum possible benefit and use from what physical space the university has.

When augmenting that physical space, Rico-Gutierrez said, it should be done in a way that is specific and unique to the purpose and values of ISU. He continued by expressing that as a land grant university, Iowa State has a particular commitment for advancing knowledge for all of the public.

Most of the faculty and staff involved in the process have not started meeting yet. Cinzia Cervato, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, is involved in the external collaboration work group.

“I’ve been involved with collaborative projects before,” Cervato said. “We are mainly looking at how we can do what we do better. We are going to be looking to be proactive about changes in the future.”

The working group will also be looking at creating more flexible, adaptable space.

“What should we be building into things for thirty years down the road?” said Jim Twetten, director of academic technology for IT Services.

That is just one of the many questions the working groups are going to be trying to answer.

“For now we’re looking to brainstorm where we want to go,” said Jim Davis, Iowa State’s chief information officer and a member of the research working group. “Tonight was actually the kickoff.”

He also said that part of what his working group will be doing is determining what facilities are needed for supporting future research activities.

This will be an ongoing project for years to come, as the university attempts to prepare itself to deal with changing technology.