Identifying Opportunities to Remould Higher Education

Robert Henderson, Assistant Vice President & Chief Technology Architect, University of the Pacific

Robert Henderson, Assistant Vice President & Chief Technology Architect, University of the Pacific

Robert Henderson started his career in higher education right after completing college. He worked in networking technology for a university for six years, after which he joined the University of the Pacific in December 2000. During his years of serving in several IT leadership roles, Henderson has created a results-oriented and customer service-focused organization in the nonprofit education sector. In his role as the Assistant Vice President and Chief Technology Architect, he has been at the forefront of designing technology solutions to improve effectiveness, performance, and end-user satisfaction. Henderson’s expertise in technology architecture services utilize systems, database, applications, digital media, telecommunication, and network technologies, which add to his management skills. For the last five years, he has been building an enterprise architecture practice within the University of the Pacific. Apart from this, he also has several years of experience with IT strategic planning, network design, system administration, disaster recovery, project management, human resources, budget management, and customer service. In addition, Henderson’s problem-solving skills have helped him lead the division toward a common integrated technology vision within the higher education space.

In conversation with Education Technology Insights magazine, Henderson shares his insights about the changing IT infrastructure within higher education and the need for more collaboration within universities and educational institutions. 

How has the pandemic impacted the entire higher education landscape?

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow to all industries across the globe, but the education sector was one of the most affected. During the ongoing whiplash of the pandemic, we had to make several adjustments in the way we communicate and collaborate internally and externally, almost overnight. We adopted several online tools and set them up on short notice to ensure continuous interaction between students and their faculty, in a way that is very similar to the education delivery and the learning pathway for both teachers and students. Besides implementing online technologies, we have also improved our business processes and minimized all paper-based operations. Even though these developments were in our pipeline, the pandemic accelerated all these efforts and helped improve the purchasing processes and other administrative operations.

What were some of the obstacles while making a transition to a virtual work environment?

The challenges were mostly around the tremendous amount of change that happened so rapidly. This shift gave us little time to train anyone on the new technologies, and everyone just followed word-of-mouth and adopted these new tools while facilitating a community-supported change. But it would be wrong to say that this change was only a hurdle and not an opportunity for us. On the contrary, it has allowed us to drastically modify our education infrastructure. We were able to fast-track long-term initiatives and deliver them in the span of three months. It has resulted in several benefits to the students, the faculty, and the overall educational mission. We will reap more and more benefits from these changes in the long term. 

What was important even prior to the pandemic, during it, and more beneficial currently is to socialize IT technologies that are significant transformational changes to operations and workflow

What, according to you, is the right strategy for implementing suitable technology solutions?

What is most vital in this regard is to socialize at all levels of the organization and ensure that the staff, the faculty, and the leadership have an opportunity to weigh in on all available options. With the pandemic, we knew we had to act quickly and engage efficiently to make the technology adoption a reality. What was important even prior to the pandemic, during it, and more beneficial currently is to socialize IT technologies that are significant transformational changes to operations and workflow. We have the attention of all the people within the education space and the willingness to rapidly explore the changes, even post-pandemic. Ultimately, socialization is very important to any proposed change within the higher education space. 

How do you perceive the future of Higher Education?

Students will have a significant need for seamless recording technology while attending classes remotely for easily viewing the content at their convenience. This will ensure higher student engagement and improve their learning and retention. There will also be considerable improvements in the delivery method, which lecturers can assess, review, and make better for subsequent classes. This will result in a more cohesive and easily understood lecture delivered using different models.

What would be one piece of advice you would give to peers in the education space?

I got into higher education because I admired the collaborative nature of the university environment and enjoyed developing solutions that improve students’ experiences, both on-campus and digitally. My advice to career-minded IT personnel would be to get engaged in higher education early on, either as a student assistant or an intern. This will create an opportunity to collaborate and work with people with mentoring and coaching capabilities and help them excel in their lives. In addition, it is important to get familiar with the university leadership and workflow, thereby creating opportunities to become a leader within the education space. 

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