University CIO Discusses the Future of Education

The State University of New York (SUNY) of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, also known as SUNY Cobleskill, has an emphasis on technology degrees, as the name suggests. Not so surprising, the CIO of SUNY Cobleskill, James Dutcher, not only manages the school’s technology, but he also is involved in thinking about using information to enhance the experience of professors and students alike. In this interview with CIO Insight contributor, Peter High, Dutcher describes his vision as a university CIO, the future of education technology and the topics he likes to cover in his much-read blog.

CIO Insight: Please describe your role at SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology Cobleskill.

James Dutcher: I am the CIO here in SUNY at the Cobleskill campus where my team’s responsibility is both providing and facilitating all IT/business services regardless if these originate on or off campus. Starting with the “T” in IT, this means providing and maintaining the infrastructure of the campus data center, wired/wireless network, phones, computers, tablets, printers, 3D printers, wearable tech and so on. On the “I” (information) side of “IT,” we provide services and support for our portfolio of applications around local and remotely provided services in our Student Information, Course Management, Website(s), Portal, HR, Financials, Email/Collaboration, Storage, systems, and more. Of course, there is also strategy, governance, budget, personnel, vendor, policy & security, and project management details that are important to pay attention to.

CIO Insight: What are your priorities for the foreseeable future?

James Dutcher: The priorities can be summed up in two ways: “being the change” and “leading the change” for my organization. In today’s world the reality is that no organization can achieve success without IT. This means that there is a strong, inseparable union of the organization, IT and our collective strategy, goals and objectives. So my role as CIO and my IT team will continue to emerge and be the digital guides & the co-thought leaders/contributors for the university, partnering across divisions and providing key strategic leadership to drive transformation needed and able achieve the university’s vision, goals and objectives. My obligations have been, and will continue to be, managing highly available IT and its effective/efficient use. More importantly will be managing rapid change as IT is very quickly evolving, impacting the organization, and involving massive cultural changes in the way we think about what we do, how we teach, learn and conduct research, and how we will help our students achieve success. Balancing the ever-present push and pull from early adopters and keeping the maintenance of mission-critical services upon which thousands rely is critically important. As CIO, this also means keeping ITS department staff actively, forward leaning & learning as it is imperative for the ITS dept. to continue to assist communicating, leading, and transforming the university in areas of teaching, learning, and research as these models shift in our continuing flattening world. Key to leading and managing in our flattened world is working across the organization in advancing the strategic vision of the institution by identifying technology implications and opportunities.

CIO Insight: Education technology is one of the hottest fields at present, especially in light of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). What is your perspective on these developments, and has your university made any bets, so to speak?

James Dutcher: We are living in very exciting times where education is critical, so important, and continuing/life-long education more so. Everyone is VERY education (and other) content rich, both free (think the already mentioned MOOCs, but also Kahn Academy, Social Media, YouTube, iTunes University, PBS, TED, MIT OpenCourse, the History Channel, Search/News aggregation, blogs, etc.) and by for pay/subscription (as with Pearson,, Safari books, Amazon/Kindle, Boundless, Kytabu, LexisNexis, Digital book world, etc.). There is both challenge and opportunity for educators and learners alike using the plethora of new/disrupting tools/technology in combing rich, vast content and curated materials available in creating learning opportunities that match the university’s mission and meet the high demands of digitally enabled learners.

For example, our campus mission and what we pride ourselves on is providing world-class experiential learning opportunities. Since we are all content and tool rich, we can rapidly, readily, cheaply (a lot times freely), experiment and innovate at VERY low-to-no risk in combing content and tools in creation of world-class experiential learning environments. One of our efforts is partnering with another SUNY campus on a project/pilot where the goal is to improve student learning outcomes through creativity, by establishing interdisciplinary opportunities using hands-on 3D design and 3D printing tech at our respective campuses. Sounds oxymoronic for sure, but certainly VERY experiential where the success of pilot will be from sharing content and having the same 3D printing equipment and services available at both campuses.

CIO Insight: You have created a significant web presence for yourself and your team. What has been the rationale behind creating your own site, and developing a social presence for yourself and your team?

James Dutcher: With the rapid and continua change in IT along with IT being tightly integrated with organizational strategy and success, there is the need, the requirement, for IT have as much openness and communication possible. Using the multitude of web and social media channels available is a great way for open, continuous communications with the added benefit of getting great feedback and advice from others on what we do. It is a very beneficial learning/teaching way of communicating, creating debate and dialog in addressing and vetting critical issues in order to find ideas, partners, and solutions for getting things done.

CIO Insight: What topics do you cover more than others on your blog?

James Dutcher: The topics I cover more than others are “The New IT, the New IT Organization, and the New CIO”. The New IT pertains to cloud technologies and approaches the New IT organization can take and use in adopting a cloud strategy. The New IT Organization is about adopting DevOps and Agile skills along with other cultural good habits of being dedicated disciplinarians, applying calibrated creativity, being open, communicative, and sharing knowledge and experience. The New CIO is about believing, trusting and empowering in your team, fostering openness, collaboration, and building communities by partnering with divisional leaders in joint strategy development and decision making, and creating an empowered environment of discipline, experimentation, and innovation that scales from the small to large organizations.

CIO Insight: Your University has a technology bent, as the name would suggest. By having a student body that is weighted toward tech savviness, does this change your approach to your job?

James Dutcher: It is a positive reinforcing vicious cycle having to keep up with both rapidly changing technology AND ever increasing student tech savviness. I think that having a technology bent gives all of us (students, faculty, researchers, and staff) purpose in having innovation as part of our regular university culture and habit. What great times we live in being able to practice calibrated creativity using very low cost technology, at low-to-no risk, where failure is a learning experience reward encouraging us to try and try again, leading to definite, eventual innovation and overall advancement of the university.

CIO Insight: What do interactions with your students tell you about their use of technology and how it is evolving?

James Dutcher: Whether it is working directly with students, or from teaching in-person/online, the interactions with students have shown me how their technology use over time is evolving which then challenges, me, my team, and the university to equally adapt and evolve our IT/services, to improve teaching, learning and research. Younger students readily assimilate tech. Their use of tech is a natural habit combining multiple devices/screens, social media, etc. So it’s neat being able to experiment and see what is successful in what they use and incorporate that into learning and teaching WITHOUT them being distracted by so much available technology. The next step in their/our evolution will involve integrating the social, gaming, entertainment they expect of the tech they use with experiential, collaboration, learning/teaching tools, new tech that’s coming (think Big Data, IoT – Internet of Things), with equally important old school storytelling, critical thinking, and analysis skills. As is common in university settings, we’ve incorporated students into our ITS Dept team, not only to get them valuable experience, but to also learn from them seeing first-hand their technology use. I do the same with my non-profit startup ( where I engage university and high school students in STEM/Art programs that we conduct in local elementary schools. Because of this community building outreach, I am fortunate where I can also observe quite the age range in how technology is assimilated and used.

CIO Insight: Are there any other trends that particularly excite you?

James Dutcher: Big Data and the Internet of things (IoT) certainly do. “Big data” are the TWO words of advice that today’s Mr. McGuire would bestow upon “The Graduate” Ben of today. The R&D benefits and opportunities are as big as big data itself. The IoT is the third wave of computing (The 1st wave being computers: mainframes, minis, PCs/Servers, Mobile, Cloud; The 2nd wave being Networking, Internet, SDN/NFV). IoT means IoE the Internet of Everything connected, churning exponential amounts of even more big data all at evermore decreasing IT costs, at lower risk than ever before. Imagine the experimenting, the creativity, that will take place at faster than ever velocity cycles. I can’t wait, so bring IT on!

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.

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