Student Success: A Fresh Perspective from Community College IT Leaders

IT leaders can help their teams understand the goals they're working toward, including student success.

by / January 15, 2016 0
Nazareth College students erased data from recycled cell phones so people in need could use them., Nazareth College/Flickr CC 2.0

While student success may not seem like a top priority on the IT department's list, it is a high priority at some community colleges — the ones that understand how their actions affect students' ability to learn.  

Student success doesn't just mean helping students graduate sooner. It also means they have the technology tools to complete projects, track graduation progress and access learning resources. By telling IT folks the "why" behind directives, IT leaders can help them understand the goals they're working toward, including student success.

"Everyone ultimately is here to serve a student, so if we fail anyone in any way, we're failing a student down the line, which could impact success," said Joe Sargent, assistant vice president of information and educational technologies at Walters State Community College in Tennessee.

This team approach extends to collaborating with the academic side of the college as well. Members of the IT team met weekly with key deans who led a mobile learning initiative to better understand what they needed. They also hired a liaison with an academic background who worked with both academics and IT to bring ideas to reality. And they sent IT staff members into the classroom to understand what problems faculty members and students were facing.

"Technology is here to enhance education, not impede education," Sargent said. "And if we're impeding their ability to instruct, we really need to get out of the way." 

As technology becomes more common in instruction, it's becoming more expensive to keep up to date. On top of that, students who bring multiple devices to campus place a huge demand on networks.

And although this consumerization of IT presents an ongoing challenge for IT teams, it also presents a positive opportunity to make a difference in students' lives. In Salisbury, N.C., many Rowan-Cabarrus Community College students who live below the poverty line struggle to pay for their education, but most of them have smartphones in their pockets that they bring to campus. These smartphones mean that students don't lose connectivity when they go home, so they have uninterrupted access to learning opportunities that will help them continue their education. And that's worth supporting.

In this bring-your-own-device environment, IT support means helping students with their devices, delivering apps and services to students, and building the network and server environments to support student devices. But the key is taking a more modular approach to create a secure environment. No matter what device students use, they should be able to access email, encrypted file storage in the cloud and other services that integrate well.

Supporting these students takes a different mindset for IT leaders who think they're losing control of the environment, applications and individuals. It means taking a fresh look at what the IT team is doing and how they can do it differently. And it means recognizing that no one is ever really in control, because people will find a way to get around what they don't want controlled.

"It's not really a loss of control, it's just a different type of control," said Ken Ingle, chief information officer at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. "And that's a good thing, it's not a bad thing."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.