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School Models Issue 4 3

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School models issue 4 3

The EDUCAUSE 2023 Top 10 IT Issues help describe the foundation models that colleges and universities will develop next year and beyond, acting on what was learned in the pandemic and framed by the three building blocks of leadership, data, and work and learning.

Recent times have brought about a Great Rethink that is upending previous models of management and working. Higher education is no exception. In 2023, institutional and technology leaders are ready for a new approach. They are responding to what we've learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, what we were beginning to address before the pandemic, and our shared, enduring beliefs in the power of higher education:

This notion of foundation models is inspired by recent developments in artificial intelligence. Foundation models are the basis of a new AI approach that applies vaster scale and scope to existing AI techniques.Footnote1 Previous approaches were limited in flexibility. They were task-specific. They worked with prelabeled datasets and examined the data element by element. Each model learned the rules for its particular purpose and was optimized for that. AI foundation models develop new capabilities on their own. This makes them flexible and reusable beyond the original, specific purpose for which they were used. Scale matters: the bigger a model gets, the better it works.

But something as powerful as foundation models carries serious ethical risks, and these risks need to be considered now, rather than when it's too late. The risks include biased algorithms and incentives, uses that replace rather than augment people, investment and development needs on a scale that edges out small organizations, and imperiled privacy and cybersecurity.

The concept of foundation models needn't pertain only to artificial intelligence. We can apply it, metaphorically, to higher education. Many institutions are working to address such issues as enrollment, affordability, and graduation rates and to improve areas such as decision-making, staff engagement, students' success, and diversity. Ongoing structural challenges can make this work more difficult and expensive. Data is often siloed, but the questions leaders need data to inform transcend the siloes. Systems are focused on addressing specific tasks and thus provide a splintered, perplexing experience for the students and other people who use them. Scaling solutions across the institution, or beyond it, by adopting cloud services could increase efficiency, but many existing processes or locally developed technologies don't easily lend themselves to off-the-shelf solutions. As hybrid forms of working and learning take hold, existing technologies, support models, and learning strategies need to be broadened beyond their original purposes. As staff bring to their work changed expectations influenced by the pandemic and socioeconomic concerns, new models of leadership and management need to be fostered. Progress in all these areas could be accelerated with more flexible, reusable, and scalable models.

In 2023, the Top 10 IT Issues focus on acting on the results of what we've learned and on the challenges that institutions are facing.Footnote2 The issues describe the foundation models that institutional and technology leaders are developing. We're moving from task-specific and silo-specific work and strategy and infrastructure to institution-wide, flexible, reusable models for running the higher education institution and achieving its missions. We're outsourcing technologies and integrating data to achieve the benefits of scale. We're embracing our humanity and our needs for purpose, connection, and trust. And we're continuing to recognize the ongoing duty to safeguard privacy and cybersecurity.

Taken together, the 2023 Top 10 IT Issues form a basis for the new foundation models, structured by three building blocks: (1) leadership (Leading with Wisdom); (2) data (The Ultra-Intelligent Institution); and (3) work and learning (Everything Is Anywhere.)

Like AI foundation models, higher education foundation models are "critically central yet incomplete."Footnote4 They carry enormous benefits but will not be cheap or fast or risk-free. Yet because they do carry enormous benefits, these foundation models for higher education may represent our best path forward.

Challenges exist for both the institutional leadership and the IT organization. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, but many institutional structures and governance models are still following pre-pandemic models. Those models will not work in the current and future hybrid world, but not every institution is ready to change.

Time and money are among the biggest challenges ahead. Many colleges and universities struggle with fiscal uncertainty stemming from precarious business models. These institutions will find it especially difficult to stay (or become) competitive with salaries or benefits. A recession could worsen financial challenges.


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