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Oral Roberts University CIO Mathews’ Visionary Instincts Pay Off

The new "Global Learning Center" on the campus of Oral Roberts University is the product of significant financial investment, and a bit of a leap of faith in the vision of CIO Michael L. Mathews.

The Internet of Things’ will go down in history as the worst named technology in the world, and simply because we made it about things and not about people,” stated Michael L. Mathews, CIO at Oral Roberts University (ORU), some time ago at the United Nations. Our ability to convert smartphones into flashlights or to use them to open our garage doors may be considered nifty tricks by some, but, as Mathews explained, “that’s really not how the advancements in technology will improve society.” 

Observing that we live in a fluid world — fluid economies, fluid governments, fluid jobs, fluid people — ORU's administration established a challenge: “How to make technology in education fluid?” They decided that, if they were somehow able to conquer that challenge, they could reach the needs of a fluid world. To be considered a truly global university, they needed to find a way to extend their reach to all seven billion people on the planet.

“At the time,” recalled Mathews, “there had been much talk about ‘flipping the classroom,’ which we saw as something that could easily be accomplished. But, ultimately, we knew that, to reach the needs of seven billion people, we needed to ‘flip the university.’ These are the origins of the philosophy that led to the construction of the Global Learning Center on the Campus of ORU. During this time of planning and strategizing, we received $8.5 million to develop a 'Global Learning Center' to begin doing the things we’d been discussing.” And so, their theories of “reaching the needs of a fluid world” and “flipping the university” began to take grand physical shape. 

Of the $8.5 million that went into the construction of the center, which opened last January, approximately $2.5 million was spent on technology, $1.1 million of which was specifically spent on augmented and virtual reality. “We refer to the combination of the two,” explained Mathews, “as ‘mirrored reality.’” Students from all around the world, whether they’re remote or physically on the premises of ORU, can start immersing themselves into up to 500,000 different environments. “And that's really what we consider to be a university that’s flipped around,” he said. 

“It's not about learning objects anymore,” continued Matthews. “It's about learning environments into which they can now immerse themselves. And then they begin to start seeing themselves in different ways.” 

While Mathews feels that most people understand the term “artificial intelligence” to some degree, he also concedes that completely understanding the concept will always remain a bit illusive to many. “The real truth is at the stage of Augmented Intelligence, he said. really augmenting intelligence around the world by distributing augmented virtual reality, or mirrored reality, for people.” 

During the planning and development of the Global Learning Center, the terms more or less merged into what Mathews and the university now refer to as “GeoVision Technology.” “Our single sign-on platform allows students to gain access to everything,” said Mathews, “and now we know that education can be nimble, and we can pass intelligence around the world. 

In the end, Mathews is highly gratified by the resounding success that this new facility has realized almost immediately upon opening its doors. Asked to articulate his satisfaction, he told a story. “About three years ago, I started using terms like ‘mirrored reality,’ ‘teleportation,’ you know, instead of web conferencing, and ‘quantum entanglement,’ and people would say, ‘Mike, what are you talking about?’ Then, about a month ago, there was a report that ran about some Chinese scientists who were able to teleport a photon to a satellite over space and back, and, in that article, guess which three terms they used: ‘mirrored reality,’ ‘teleportation’ and ‘quantum entanglement.’ So, you know, I'm blessed, more than anything, to be at a university that allows me to sort of go off on the deep end a little bit. But, really, this serves to prove that, truly, there is no other discipline in the world that has as many educated people as education. So why are we the last ones to embrace transformation? We should be the leaders. I’ve never been in a place where the faculty was more embracing of that which we're doing. And I think the credibility that we've driven for three years now, for great service, uninterruptible service, the art of technology, understanding academic technology and piecing it all together … it's quite the story to tell.”

Quite a story, indeed. And that’s probably the biggest understatement Mathews has ever made.