EDUCAUSE 2019: Multiple views into educational technology conference

Last week we (Kevin and Phil) attended the Educause conference (#EDU19), the EdTech event in the US for higher education. As always, the conference leads to a flurry of meetings and social connections – with ~8,300 attendees it can be difficult to not have meetings – as well as the opportunity to get a sense of what higher education administrators are talking about and seeing from vendors. This year was particularly interesting as we were able to have multiple views into the showcase at the exhibit hall – from our consulting & market analyst role and from an academic administrator & staff role.

View of EDUCAUSE keynote session at #EDU19 in Chicago

Market Analyst View

One theme that emerged as soon as one entered the exhibit hall was the (Re)emergence of Big Tech. Attending EDUCAUSE a decade ago, it was difficult to not view technology as primary by large companies selling IT infrastructure and ERPs (student information systems in particular). The marketing spend on ERP has gone down in the past five years or so, but this year ERP is back – big booths for traditional Oracle, Ellucian, Jenzabar suppliers as well as newer ones like WorkDay, Unit4, and Unifyed. These booths were mostly clustered at the entrance, and the level of spending on the booths and the general interest were markedly greater than previous years. Add to this the increased presence of Big Tech such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. And the mood of these companies seemed to be more positive. As we heard at Jenzabar, they think schools are not taking transformation seriously and want to re-engineer their business processes.

Another theme goes beyond exhibit hall booths and hallway conversations – Data and Analytics. This year EDUCAUSE started taking an activist role in pushing for the usage of data and analytics as the way to enable transformation, best described in their recent article “Why Data and Analytics Matter—and Why They Matter Now“. The italics for Now is intentional, and EDUCAUSE is pushing it:

EDUCAUSE, AIR, and NACUBO created a Statement on Analytics that describes the urgency of a cross-enterprise approach and outlines actionable recommendations for heightening analytics’ role in an institution’s strategic efforts. We’ll present the statement and help you develop ideas for collaboratively moving analytics forward at your institution.

There was also a heightened sense of pushback on this idea of data and analytics as all-important drivers of change, both from a privacy perspective and an equity perspective. We’ll devote a follow-up post to the provocative counter-argument about ”Digital Redlining” posed in a concurrent session led by Chris Gilliard from Macomb Community College (Detroit, MI).

There were a large number of exhibitor booths related to Cybersecurity, reinforcing both emerging higher education needs, such as addressing ransomware and cyberattacks on college IT systems, and recent higher education trends, such as addressing workforce and statewide needs in the cybersecurity arena. Just a few specific examples of higher ed cybersecurity initiatives to watch include a) University of Albany launching its first-in-the-nation College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, b) the CalState system targeting cybersecurity as a career path, and c) University of South Florida hosting and leading the Florida Center for Cybersecurity (aka Cyber Florida).

Oh, and continuing a marketing trend from last year, business cards are getting thicker.

Academic Staff View

While MindWires consults with higher ed institutions every day, it’s been around eight years since Kevin managed two academic technology teams on a campus. Kevin found it quite instructive to make a pass through the exhibitor hall with colleague Crista Copp, Director of Loyola Marymount University’s Educational Technology Services & Support. For sure, she had typical conversations about mission-critical systems and common campus technologies–for example, before she even got to a booth, a rep from an LMS vendor stopped her to see if LMU is happy with D2L (they are). However, in the span of 15 minutes, the two made a number of stops that highlight the increasingly diverse needs that today’s campus ed tech units support. Some of the topics that Kevin encountered with Crista that we would likely have overlooked on our own are described below.

Additional Coverage

Additional EDUCAUSE coverage worth reading:

We plan to make a deeper dive in future post(s) on the topic of data and analytics, and in particular on the push for data and analytics. Stay tuned.