Are Our Old IT Systems Ready to Graduate?

A new school culture found in the cloud.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jo Ellen DiNucci

CREDIT Boise State photoTechnology is permeating every market – and higher education is no exception as institutions work to replace aging infrastructures and establish a modern IT climate and efficient business environment on campuses across the country.

The higher education culture is one that fosters individuality, diversity, and growth – and the technologies and processes that support these institutions need to accommodate this culture. However, in the past and continuing today, higher education institutions struggle with disparate legacy systems and antiquated business processes that have fueled a cumbersome and paper-based experience.

While it’s easy to stick to the old, tried, and true, change is good and necessary in today’s innovative market.

Today, academic enterprises do not have a comprehensive approach to providing a frictionless administrative experience and they should invest in a strategy to build critical relationships with their constituents.

Boise State University, a public research institution located in Boise, Idaho, found that its legacy on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) environment, which required ongoing investment as well as time-consuming and expensive upgrades, did not enable it to keep pace with changing needs.

In addition, the system was built around poorly designed processes. As important, it prohibited the university from quickly adopting and benefiting from powerful new functionality.  The growing university needed to find a solution to move into the future with greater agility – enabling it to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics in higher education and at its own institution.

Out with the Old, In with the New

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks – and it’s no different trying to re-configure a legacy on-premise ERP to handle today’s rapid pace of change in higher education. Today’s institutions face a multitude of challenges such as restricted state funding, and more expensive programs (i.e., research PhDs) as well as a complex, ever-changing regulatory environment. Boise State is looking to spend less on infrastructure while improving service in order to re-allocate funding to strategic needs that better serve its students. To do so, Boise State is making the move to the cloud. By implementing Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Cloud, Boise State will streamline all financial processes campus-wide.

With its ERP system in the cloud – which is slated to go live in spring 2016 to more than 800 users, including the central finance team, university administrators, departmental staff, and academic faculty – Boise State will transform core business processes and advance strategic goals. The new solution will provide much stronger reporting capabilities to deliver information that is timely and valuable to its end users – including managers and division heads – who do not have accounting experience, ultimately enabling them to make better decisions about how to manage their budgets, and more.

In addition to replacing the on-premise system, the campus is using this opportunity to redesign processes that interact with the technology. A customizable on-premise system, by its nature, plays to the unusual transaction. The system becomes the tool to meet all needs, rather than truly adopting best practices. The result is a cumbersome and expensive exception based environment. The entire campus has embraced the cloud concept whereby a consensus is developed around process and the technology is used in its vanilla state.

Change is Good

Through this approach, the university will automate all of its financial, purchasing, and payment transactions – including consistent approval workflows and usage of attachment functionality, eliminating a heavily paper-based process, and driving new operational efficiency. Boise State also expects significant improvements in grants management, redirecting efforts to serving the research faculty; a capability that is increasingly important as the organization rapidly expands its research and graduate programs. Improved reporting and data access, including dashboards, will allow researchers and scholars more time to work in their disciplines.

By choosing to implement this cloud-based solution, the university will also eliminate the initial and ongoing costs of purchasing, building out, and modernizing hardware infrastructure, reducing its data center footprint and IT burden while delivering a robust, flexible, and reliable system. Once fully live, Boise State University’s IT ERP resources will be free for mission-critical activities in learning, teaching, and research.

While it’s easy to stick to the old, tried, and true, change is good and necessary in today’s innovative market. It’s time for higher education institutions to further demonstrate innovation by moving to a sustainable IT design and truly examining business processes to shift focus and resources to projects that drive institutional innovation and excellence – offering students and staff new agility to advance educational opportunities.

Jo Ellen DiNucci is Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration at Boise State University. She has over 30 years of experience in industry and higher education. She joined Boise State University in 1998.

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The Future of Studying

The process of studying is broken, but technology alone isn’t the fix.

GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Cohen

CREDIT BrainscapeCharlotte Davis couldn’t figure it out. Her Biology lesson plans were fun and engaging. She ran such great lab activities where her students enthusiastically collaborated to solve real-world problems. And she assigned all the great online homework activities that the publishing company had provided her school. Why were so many of her students still bombing her midterm and final exam?

The problem, as many learning scientists could tell you, is that the very process of studying is fundamentally broken in today’s education system. While classrooms have tremendously evolved in terms of technology, access to information, and management systems — the way people study has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. Even the majority of today’s

While classrooms have tremendously evolved in terms of technology, access to information, and management systems — the way people study has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. 

technology-based study activities tend to simply replicate the same linear “review” exercises that students have traditionally done on paper. Billions of collective student hours are wasted due to knowledge “leakage” that could have been otherwise prevented by using better, more adaptive study methods.

This is a minor tragedy. Considering the rapidly increasing amount of knowledge that students need to succeed in today’s complex society, we educators should be doing everything we can to help students acquire and understand more information in ever shorter amounts of time. No search engine or reference app is a substitute for having readily accessible information in our brains. We desperately need to help students develop better means of internalizing the knowledge that they acquire in school.

Stated differently, optimizing the way students study – i.e. the way that they review previously introduced concepts– is arguably the most promising opportunity in education today. Slashing the time students spend on the tedious but necessary “surface learning” can free valuable class time for the types of critical “deep learning” activities that we so often neglect.

Technologies to Improve Studying

In the past decade, new web and mobile technologies have helped studying evolve more than it had in the previous 200 years. The ability to collaboratively create, find, and share great study resources at scale – and to access them from anywhere (without always remembering to bring your materials with you) creates a more convenient study process that can be much easier to integrate into students’ busy modern lives.

One could roughly divide study enhancement technology into five categories: (1) Concept mapping software (e.g. Inspiration); (2) Mnemonic imagery enhancement software (e.g. Picmonic); (3) Games (e.g. Quizlet); (4) Note sharing/collaboration tools (e.g. CourseHero); and (5) Spaced repetition systems (e.g. Brainscape).

All of these technologies make studying significantly more convenient than the traditional paper & pencil variety. Yet only Spaced Repetition Systems — aka “adaptive flashcards” — fundamentally advance the implementation of cognitive science in education.

Why Adaptive Flashcards Work

Think back to a time when you met a new person and tried to remember their name. As memory experts have long suggested, you’ve probably had the best luck when you immediately repeat the person’s name aloud, then review it in your head after 15 seconds, 1 minute, 3 minutes, etc. What you are essentially using is a system of spaced repetition, which is indispensable for remembering names and other bite-sized concepts.

We all intuitively understand this about memory but often need a bit of prodding to remember to use the tactic in the real world. Research shows that using the right pattern of spaced repetition is, in fact, the single most important contributor to our ability to remember something. You are essentially optimizing your learning.

To build upon on this proven phenomenon, startups like Cerego, Anki, and Brainscape have created web and mobile study ecosystems whose foundation is based on the concept of spaced repetition. These study platforms allow both students and educators to break concepts down into their bite-sized building blocks, in the form of “smart flashcards,” which can be accessed on any web or mobile device. And because digital flashcards can contain any type of media, they can allow almost any subject to be studied in an adaptive pattern that is dynamically determined by the student’s pace of learning.

Brainscape already had millions of students of all ages using a mobile spaced repetition software to study topics as diverse as Spelling, Chemistry, Spanish, Medicine, Music, Astrology, Law, Bartending, Geography, and Sports Trivia. And the market is only just beginning. Educators can get ahead of this trend by encouraging students to incorporate spaced repetition software into their study habits as early as possible.

The Future of Studying

As Robert Fan wrote earlier this year, the advent of the mobile “card” is slowly transforming nearly every consumer web and mobile industry on the planet. There’s simply something so damn consumable about the combination of text, images, video, audio, meta tags, likes, shares, and comments into a single unit of meaning.

We’ve recently seen card-based products like Tinder (dating), SlideShare (corporate white papers), Twitter (microblogging), Instagram (photos), Pinterest (pinboards), and Google Now (real-time personalized information) enrich millions of lives while creating billions of dollars of investor wealth. But Education is only just beginning to be transformed by cards. I predict that flashcards will be among the most important disruptors of Education for the next millennium.

The next several years will likely see a continued proliferation of adaptive mobile flashcard tools with various waves of consolidation. Constructivist educators will also begin to realize that flashcards do not have to mean “drill and kill”, but rather that digital flashcards are powerful tools that can support any media and that can be closely tied to broader educational resources. Going forward, the word “flashcard” does not have to mean “trivial fact”, but rather, it can mean “the smallest unit of knowledge that can be efficiently studied, shared, or tied across various curricula.”

Study tool solution providers and software developers must continue to apply the latest cognitive science research into the timing, format, flexibility, and delivery of study experiences in order to create the education future that we all deserve. We’ve made great strides in recent years, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Andrew Cohen is the founder of Brainscape, a web and mobile education platform that helps people study more efficiently. Brainscape has raised over $2.5m in venture capital from top Silicon Valley angel investors. Write to:

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An EdTech World Tour

Two curious students set out to learn from and share best practices in education innovation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Audrey Jarre and Svenia Busson

CREDIT edtech world tourWe wanted to make sense of the hyped-up buzz surrounding edtech by bringing together stakeholders from around the world who have different understandings of the market, and to share our collaborative journey touring edtech clusters and seeing best practices to scale innovation. To this end, during the course of a five-month period, we intend to travel to tech hubs, interview movers and shakers and create open-source resources for edtech professionals and enthusiasts — a grand adventure and a worthwhile cause, our edtech world tour is a way to connect the dots for a whole lot of learning about learning worldwide.

The problem with the technology narrative

Education is an industry with annual spending figures in trillions of dollars, yet its delivery remains largely traditional in nature. In the past decade, a large number of edtech companies have emerged to enrich the teaching and learning experience.

However, many of those products have been developed without input from or support from teachers and students. The gap between the realms of education and technologies can be bridged if we learn a bit more about both components. We must consider evidence-based presentation of the impact that a given product has on learning over demonstration of product bells and whistles. The market proposition is not in line with the expectations of teachers. When entrepreneurs use the word “disruption”, one would rather look for something you can build on: the technology narrative isn’t taking into account the specificities of the powerful experience of learning or teaching.

Perspectives must be global but fuelled by local insights

What makes a given edtech ecosystem flourish? Is edtech adoption related to cultural factors and elements and shaped by the country and broader education environment one is raised in? Is it the capacity to attend a meetup, a hackathon, a summit — and be inspired — a particular state of mind of policymakers, the valuation of edtech startups in one’s immediate environment, or the privileged access to funding because of local success stories? We wish to amplify the voice of a large community of education innovators and share their philosophy, ideas, findings, innovations, and achievements with a broader audience. What works, or the value and effectiveness of digital innovations in education isn’t easy to evaluate globally beside very local metrics.

Cutting through the noise and linking communities

Language, time and distance barriers hinder effective communication between edtech influencers. Different key stakeholders live in the same ecosystem without collaborating effectively because of the lack of a common platform to share experiences, concerns and best practices. During five months, we will interview teachers, students, edupreneurs, policy makers, and locals to get a good understanding of the state of Edtech in a given country from all perspectives. We will be visiting London, Berlin, Paris, San Francisco, Santiago, Cape Town, Sydney, Seoul and Bangalore and trying to make sense of those cities and their environment in relation to learning technologies and how they foster change initiative in this sense.

Our Country Reports will encompass their specificities in culture, policy, overall ICT adoption, education system. Our Edtech World Tour blog will display various interviews, product reviews, videos as we go to shed light on relevant local initiatives in order to raise awareness on great edtech products, policies or trends that deserve global attention. The third part of our work will be create an Global Edtech Index, open-source and community driven. Everyone will be able to contribute and propose new initiatives, influencer, or edtech clusters as long as the proposed item corresponds to our core value of expanding the impact of education technologies for learning outcomes. The geographical scale won’t be limited to our itinerary – as it will be crowdsourced it should help us to maximize and refine our coverage. We will also be organizing pro-bono workshops for education social enterprises following the MakeSense model as we go along to help social entrepreneurs refine their business models.

Audrey Jarre and Svenia Busson are two curious students at HEC Paris and Freie Universität Berlin who are also fond of arts, geopolitics, running, bretzels, innovation & TED Talks. Learn more at Write to: or follow @edtechworldtour

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Cool Tool | icurio  

CREDIT icurio KnovationAs many educators increasingly turn to digital resources as an effective way to meet the needs of all learners, the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) continues to be an upward trend, presenting both opportunities and challenges. When it comes to OER, there is a wealth of resources ready to use, but they tend to skew toward middle and high school classrooms. Additionally, not all materials are vetted and aligned to standards. Sorting through OER takes time that most teachers don’t have. One of the key advantages of OER is the opportunity it brings to use digital resources as an equalizer in the classroom. OER are relatively inexpensive (many times even free) and are more timely, engaging and flexible than textbooks. When properly implemented, organized and maintained, OER present endless possibilities. To fully leverage the benefits of OER and save teachers’ time and headaches, Knovation developed solutions, including icurio, to deliver a dynamic collection of over 360,000 educator-evaluated, standards-aligned digital resources. By providing easy access to a wealth of comprehensive, vetted OER, icurio helps teachers select and organize digital resources to personalize instruction, supporting a smooth and successful transition from print to digital.

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Cool Tool | The Week in Rap Junior

Used by over 35,000 schools to engage students and increase achievement across the curriculum, Flocabulary creates educational hip-hop videos, interactive activities and online assessments for students in grades K-12. For back to school, Flocabulary launched The Week in Rap Junior, a new weekly program to engage elementary students in cross-curricular learning through age-appropriate news stories. With a new video and standards-based exercises each week, the series provides a unique platform to teach core subjects through real-world news and promote the development of important skills like reading, writing and critical thinking. Each weekly unit also includes a contest with an interactive challenge to engage students in the creative process. Beyond The Week in Rap Junior, Flocabulary continues to create new content across subject areas, while building out entirely new subjects for 21st-century learners. With now more than 600 videos and corresponding resources to supplement instruction, some of Flocabulary’s latest content supports lessons in social & emotional learning and geography. Over the summer, the company also debuted auto-graded assessments and data tools to help educators use Flocabulary for planning, differentiation and intervention. Created with students in mind, they’re now offering a free 30-day trial for schools right here.

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