Educause Institute – Learning Technology & General Leadership Programs

I have been working away at a post about my experience at the Educause Leadership Institute for weeks now.  In particular, I have been trying to contrast it to the Learning Technology Leadership Institute, a similar program from the same group, but with different faculty, curriculum, and type of attendees. I have realized that I just need to get my review out so here goes…

There are a lot of good things about the Leadership Institute.  Unfortunately, a lot of them are outside of the actual proper curriculum.  Most of the benefits came from the discussions at our tables, in the break areas, between attendees and with the faculty.  Over dinner and lunches as well, and during the building of our team project.  The sessions themselves, when the faculty – all CIOs at major universities – made presentations, were less useful.

This was not a clean split, of course.  Some of the times during group discussion we got off-track and it was less useful.  And certainly some of the sessions and presentations by the faculty were very, very useful.   But in truth I found the overall experience underwhelming, and actually much less creative and energized than other experiences (the LTL Institute in particular).

The single biggest issue, I felt, was the tendency of everyone (myself included, I’m sure) to “get into the weeds” and talk about the tactical, rather than the strategic.  If we were discussing, say, cyber-security, many times the conversation would go towards specific tools we’ve implemented and how difficult they were to setup.  We didn’t talk about how that tool was chosen vs. another because of a strategic reason, or why certain measures taken at one institution were ignored at another because of some larger issue.

This wasn’t just my table, either – the faculty did do a great job switching us up, getting us to interact with others.  Each day we changed table combinations – I feel confident saying that I met and had “real” interactions with just about everyone at the institute.  This tendency towards the tactical wasn’t universal, but it happened a lot.

What’s odd about this is that our “pre-work” before coming to the institute was to interview 2-3 senior executives at each of our institutions.  CFO, Provost, VP, etc.  To ask about what kind of strategic plans and ideas they had in place.  The idea was to get us thinking…strategically.  Yet we didn’t capitalize on this, to be honest.  The very first session, for instance, on that Monday afternoon, was on the changing role of the CIO.  This is of course a very important topic, but perhaps not as important as that of the first session on Tuesday morning – the role of the CIO in developing strategic plans.

We also didn’t have as much time to discuss as I would have liked.  There was, to be completely honest, a lot of powerpoint slides.  It was just about “death by powerpoint” for me – I even got up and just caught my breath, so to speak, in the break area for several minutes.  Not a quick trip to get a soda, but a serious 10-minute break to clear my head so that I could actually learn again.  I had hit a wall.  That’s how much powerpoint there was.  As a result, the tables only talked about topics and issues for maybe 10 minutes, then discussed with the entire room for another 10.  That wasn’t nearly enough.

The team project was an interesting experience.  On the one hand, the faculty were kind enough to build in teamwork time, rather than have us cram during meals, evenings, etc.  The LTL didn’t dedicate time to such work and it was just jammed the whole time.  We could actually breathe in the Leadership Institute.  On the other, when you put people that have all proactively come to an intensive leadership program into a group and expect them to work together smoothly…you can hit a few bumps.  I acknowledge that I butted heads with some of my teammates a bit, and there was some legitimate friction that was counterproductive.  Could the project have been designed differently?  Or perhaps we could have just spent a bit more time discussing how we would set ourselves up for such an effort.

The population of attendees were largely from the administrative side (ERP, systems, security, etc).  At first, I was surprised by this.  But then I realized that for most institutions “IT” still means specifically those parts of the enterprise.  Servers and networking, administrative applications, etc.  Just because I think that any institution that splits up academic from administrative computing is making a mistake doesn’t mean that others would agree.  But I think that did have an effect on the overall character of the group.  Again, especially in comparison to the LTL attendees, this demographic similarity probably caused some effect or another.

Overall, the experience was a mixed bag.  I would have loved to have had more discussion and interaction with other attendees.  Maybe break up into small groups and work in a case-based curriculum.  I think that encouraging creativity would be a great idea, and offering methods for connectivity, such as a Yammer site (which was used by the LTL Institute), would have been very helpful.  We spent a lot of time just sending out mass emails, which just wasn’t efficient.

Between the two separate institutes, I probably ultimately got my money’s worth.  But if I had gone to one or the other, I might not be feeling the same way.

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