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Can you envision UNC-Chapel Hill’s digital future? How will the University use information technology in 44 years or even 14 years?

To begin exploring these questions, Carolina administrators and faculty members brainstormed, collaborated and gained big-picture context from experts at the “Envisioning the Digital University” conference on November 21. Carolina’s Information Technology Services department and the Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee organized the engaging half-day event, held at the Carolina Club.

The goal was to envision how technology of the future can help us in all of our missions, including teaching and learning, research, development and operations.EnvisioningThinking

Attendees split into three groups to collaborate on ideas. The group facilitators were Michael Schinelli, Chief Marketing Officer at Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business; David Kiel, Leadership Development Coordinator at the University’s Center for Faculty Excellence; and Gene Pinder, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Centennial Campus at North Carolina State University.

Dan Russell hears question on the future of learning at Envisioning.stionPresenters highlighted educator challenges

In between breakout brainstorming sessions, participants gained inspiration from morning and afternoon presenters. Gary Marchionini, Dean and Boshamer Distinguished Professor at the School of Information and Library Science, presented, “Information Technology in Higher Education: Disruption or Transition,” while Daniel Russell, a Google research scientist who specializes in search quality, discussed, “The Future of Learning: How will people learn the skills they need for academe, work and life?”

Higher education is in crisis, Marchionini told participants. The crisis is partly due to escalating costs. But bigger culprits are valuing college primarily for the outcome of a job and pushing education to return to basics. We must also value higher education for its ability to produce intelligent, well-rounded and good people, he asked.

Nature of learning is changing rapidly

We’re living in an interesting time of new ways of learning, fast information and vast amounts of information, Russell said. People spend much of their time looking at their phones. With these supercomputers ever-present in their hands, students can learn on their own 24 hours a day, and parcel out what will and won’t grab their attention.

Student don’t need professors standing on a stage in front of them. “They all have alternatives to your presentation,” he said.

We need to understand the structure of content online and how to access it, Russell said. Students need these skills, but educators don’t offer such instruction.

“You must be literate about your own literacy,” he said.

Envisioning launches dialogue about future

In an interview, Marchionini affirmed the value of Envisioning. It’s easy to keep doing what we’ve been doing, he said. This is a chance for us to get out of our heads-down mode and understand how higher education is changing, he added.

Gary Marchionini at podium at Envisioning discussing the future of learning.“I do feel it’s really important for us to have faculty and administrators talking about these things,” Marchionini said. “It’s a good way to begin and extend that conversation about what we want to be doing.”

The event generated tremendous energy and sustained passion, ITS CIO Chris Kielt said. “It was a great opportunity for us to hear directly from faculty and academic administrators where they would focus in the IT technology space,” he said.

During a break in the brainstorming, Glaire Anderson, Art Department Associate Professor, said the members of her breakout group were “generating more ideas than we can even think about.” Coming up with ideas wasn’t difficult when participants got together in their groups, she added. “It just sort of ballooned when people started talking to one another.”

“If anything, there wasn’t enough time for all the ideas,” added Kelly Hogan, Biology Department Director of Instructional Innovation. Her group, she said, came up with “fun ideas that were almost mind-bending.”

Ideas worth exploring

Each of the three breakout groups were tasked with creating a short list of five ideas, which were later shared with all Envisioning attendees. Everyone then selected the top five ideas among the collective 15. Participants selected their individual choices by “investing” their five wooden coins, each of which represented $5,000, into the ballot boxes of the projects they supported.

Envisioning attendees consider ideas on the future of learning.The five ideas and the investment amount each garnered are:

  • Immersive learning environment—fund and create; $195,000
  • Learning spaces, major retrofitting to support active and virtual learning environments; $145,000
  • Large-scale collaborations with commercial global leaders in technology; $140,000
  • Campus-wide awareness and shared resources—preservation of digital assets; $125,000
  • Support and reward evidence-based creative teaching; $125,000




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