In 1979, Wojtek Adamek, the CIO of University of Bedfordshire, started his career as an IT consultant and since then he has made many great career inroads holding executive positions at several major companies. Adamek has developed and deployed an IT strategy for the university and deployed major business and infrastructure projects including business intelligence, SharePoint, mobile apps, networking, wi-fi, customer service support and delivery.
Digital technology is revamping the entire education sector. Wi-Fi, virtualization, bring your own device (BYOD), and mobile computing among other modern technologies have been redefining the functioning of educational institutions as well as how teaching and learning are done. And yet, despite being at the forefront of technology adoption, the education sector has lagged behind in the utilization of software, which has dampened the pace of digital transformation.
Having worked for various blue-chip companies for nearly three decades followed by 12 years in the education space, Wojtek Adamek, CIO at the University of Bedfordshire, shares his insights on technological advancements in education sector.
What are some of the technology challenges prevailing in the education space?
Unlike other industries such as manufacturing that have a tailored enterprise solution in the market, there is no such solution built specifically for the education sector. We still use old systems, although the scenario is changing gradually. However, there is significant reluctance from not just the governing bodies but also the teaching staff—they have been resistant to change. It’s high time these stakeholders supported and welcomed digital transformation, thus paving the way for automation in education. We need to offer students a seamless experience that’s relevant in today’s digital world. For instance, nowadays, hardly anyone purchases a holiday package by going to a shop or seeks a travel agent to book air tickets; everything is done online. We must emphasise delivering the same level of simplification and ease of use to students—something that the new generation is more comfortable with. To this end, we must shift to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that are gaining traction or even introduce chatbots to answer students’ queries round the clock.
What according to you are the best practices that the education sector must embrace to ensure faster and more effective digital transformation?
To bring about a positive change in any business, all the decision makers in an organization, from executives to middle managers, should be driven—and you also need to appoint your best people to convert ideas into desired outcomes. Quite often, major projects fail because organizations don’t focus on selecting those most suitable for the job. In the same vein, when you approach technology and software vendors to propel the digital transformation, you must not only focus on the capabilities they offer but also how well they understand the intricacies of education. They need to possess a thorough knowledge of how the education sector operates in order to be effective.
Another important aspect is that the education sector has gradually started to wake up to the fact that it is a business. Although many prominent schools and universities argue against the idea of educational institutes as businesses, what if you don’t get enough number of students? Your income would surely take a dip, posing a serious challenge to the organization’s survival. Hence, more than ever, we need to start thinking commercially. Similar to what manufacturing companies or sales organizations have been doing for years, it is essential for us to practise high-level reporting and analysis. We must evaluate the || December - 2019
results of the technology/software we have newly installed and its impact on teachers and students alike. Further, by pinpointing which courses fetch more income and those that score low, we will be able to better manage our resources, resulting in more appropriate investment in technology and in turn, seamless experience for students.
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Could you elaborate on the importance of evaluation and feedback in helping students reap the maximum benefits of technology?
Analysis and reporting help identify and address the prevalent pain points promptly and more effectively. By accurately measuring what we are doing and taking decisions accordingly can surely do wonders to the digital transformation journey of the education sector. If students’ progress is monitored continually along with early identification of their issues, we will certainly be able to engage them better and significantly lower the dropout rate. This makes student feedback extremely crucial—understanding what’s working for them and what isn’t must be at the top of our agendas. For instance, there has been an increased emphasis on the use of tablets for learning, but how many students own a tablet? Most of them prefer to work on a laptop and look up information on their smartphones.
"Neither technology nor software, but students are our real products—how we educate them and shape their careers is what we must constantly concentrate on"
Digitization has also led to the growing adoption of flipped learning—a pedagogical approach in which the conventional notion of classroom-based learning is inverted. Students are introduced to the learning material before class, with classroom time then being used to deepen understanding through discussion with peers and problem-solving activities facilitated by teachers. This is another positive outcome of thinking and strategising along the lines of what today’s generation of students desire—they are showing a keen interest in flipped learning as opposed to the traditional method where teachers simply regurgitate what they’ve been teaching for years. Furthermore, evaluation is of paramount importance in the case of students from non-traditional backgrounds who don’t necessarily have the educational qualifications required for a course. Enabling them with technology and modern student-friendly educational practices will encourage them to attend lectures, enjoy the learning process, and become successful in their careers.
What is your piece of advice for the aspiring CIOs in the education space?
As I mentioned before, CIOs, as well as CTOs, must focus on comprehensively understanding how the education sector functions. During my time with the French cosmetic company L'Oreal in the early 90s, I used to go out on the road with a salesman twice a year trying to understand how they sold the products, which, in turn, helped me in knowing our business better. I practised the same when I worked for Gillette. I think understanding the intricacies of business is critical for CIOs in every industry. Aspiring CIOs in the education sector must, most importantly, focus on the relationship between technology, teachers, and students. These CIOs need not be experts in technology and software, but if they’ve picked what works in education and what doesn’t, then their success is assured. In the end, neither technology nor software, but students are our real products—how we educate them and shape their careers is what we must constantly concentrate on.