Patterson’s ties to innovating with technology started back in the mid-1990s, when she took over leadership of the University of Michigan’s ERP system implementation. So it was a natural fit when the university decided to consolidate the administrative information services and central IT teams and appoint Patterson as CIO. Soon after, Patterson and the newly consolidated IT department launched an initiative that promised to bring major IT transformations: NextGen Michigan.
Launched in 2009, the goal of NextGen Michigan is to create shared services, consolidate commodity information technology and build a shared infrastructure so the university can invest more in emerging technologies that advance teaching, learning and research.
With the leadership of Patterson, the IT providers across the entire campus have since made great strides in achieving the goals of NextGen Michigan. They have already consolidated 44 email systems running across campus, end-user computing in central administration, network and storage services. The team is now working across the 19 schools and colleges to consolidate commodity services. “We already have a hard documented savings of $11 million annually and we will be saving more than that in this next year when we consolidate across the academic units,” says Patterson.
While the consolidation was under way, university leadership identified four domains of the university’s mission - research, teaching and learning, knowledge (digital content) and patient care - to develop a vision for what each of these domain areas will look like 5 to 10 years down the road with the help of technology. This vision turned into a university-wide IT strategic plan already in its second iteration and an investment roadmap for the adoption of next-generation technologies. There are some notable next-generation achievements, along with many faculty-driven efforts, that central IT will assist in improving so more campus community members can leverage the innovations moving forward. A few examples are:
• Cloud-based collaboration platform: The IT team moved the university from siloed email services to a consolidated, cloud-based email and collaboration platform. “When you think about teaching and research that occurs on a global scale, a cloud-based service makes more sense because it removes the barriers to collaboration,” says Patterson. “This collaboration platform is a very significant piece of our future teaching and learning environment.”
• GradeCraft: This faculty-developed gamification tool allows students to drive their own engagement. Using analytics, students can conduct what-if analyses on how an increase in their level of engagement in various aspects of the course will impact their grade. GradeCraft and the following four tools (all faculty-developed) described are being piloted in a limited number of classrooms with the intent of implementing them university-wide in the near future.
• e-Coach: As a personalized messaging system, e-Coach holds past and present data about a student’s performance and sends tailored messages alerting students of what they can do to improve. It is especially targeted to students at risk.
• Student Explorer: Similar to e-Coach, Student Explorer is a system that will send a red, yellow or green alert showing a student how much his or her performance is deviating from the class average. In addition to early warning features, Student Explorer provides academic advisers with detailed information on the history and performance of individual students.
• Academic Reporting Toolkit: Based on 10 years of collected data, the toolkit uses predictive analytics to determine the success of students in university science classes. Before a student even starts a class, it tells professors who has the best chance for success and who will potentially struggle, enabling an instructor to proactively put the proper support structures in place.
• Lecture Tools: Lecture Tools allows professors to completely flip the classroom experience for students, so lectures are available on-demand for students to view before class and class time is spent on what would typically be considered homework. Students access the system via their mobile devices in class and it allows them to take notes on the material being covered. Professors can also see students’ notes and poll students to determine areas of struggle so they can update the lecture in real time and assist students during class.
The other initiative that Patterson is excited about is the university’s involvement in the newly formed consortium called Unizin. “Unizin is a consortium of universities that have come together to create a next-generation learning ecosystem at scale,” she says. “This is critical if higher education is going to meet the demand for global learning and cost containment.” The ecosystem will have three significant components: 1) an online content repository of learning materials and resources; 2) a learning analytics platform with the potential to make student data available to all universities in the consortium; and 3) a learning management system that acts as the delivery mechanism. All of this will be based on open standards, as the consortium believes that is the only way forward in the future.
After many years in education, Patterson is most excited about the transformation currently taking place: “I do believe that education is in a period of disruptive change. There’s no question about it,” she says. “As an industry, we need to respond appropriately and come through this thriving and reinventing education. I don’t see my role so much as a leader of technology, but as a leader of change - trying to help, facilitate, encourage and lead change in my university and in the industry as a whole.”