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Wheaton College Technology Plan

Refreshed annually, this three-year plan provides direction and guidance to the future of technology at Wheaton College.

2021-2023 Wheaton College Technology Plan

Introduction

Although we mourn the loss of life and heavy burden the worldwide pandemic has caused, we find that it has positively impacted Technology@Wheaton by catapulting the campus change acceptance rate to new highs; significantly increasing reliance on technology for collaboration and learning; and bringing attention to key technologies that need immediate attention to sustain our mission and capture efficiencies. The pandemic has also confirmed the real value of Wheaton College’s Christian residential learning model (supported by technology), as a differentiator and core value of why we do what we do. Commitment to investing in many of the initiatives that Technology@Wheaton envisioned in prior years enabled us to quickly pivot to remote learning and working. As Wheaton College realigns resources for the future it is imperative that we continue to invest in strategic technology opportunities to remain relevant and competitive in higher education. The time is now for digital transformation at Wheaton College.

As stewards of the resources which God has provided for the College, we have developed the following document to outline specific goals and initiatives for the next three years. This year we need to focus on developing sustainable funding processes to replace technology as it ages, rather than implementing new technology and leaving the old to break down. These goals will move us in the direction of increased data security, strengthened teaching and scholarship, enhanced student experiences, and improved administrative efficiencies. This document was developed with input from faculty, staff, and students who are committed to seeing Wheaton College flourish, For Christ and His Kingdom, for many years to come.

Drivers of Change

The context for the delivery of technology services at the College is shaped by both the current and rapidly evolving significant drivers in the world around us. The pandemic has only confirmed that people expect to do their daily transactions from a mobile device or on the web. Virtual engagement and interaction for transactional business is efficient and sufficient.

Our faculty have more extensively exploited new tools that will continue to enhance the classroom experience when everyone is back on campus. They are better versed in navigating and using our Learning Management System and their laptop computers. This will increase expectations, by faculty and students, of technology performance in classrooms and for scholarship moving forward.

Cloud computing services are becoming commodities for higher education systems, requiring that we rethink how we “do IT” on a liberal arts campus such as ours. Smaller schools are looking for ways to collaborate and share systems asking, “Why are we all trying to do it on our own?” Data for decision making must be a “push of a button” away and placed into the hands of those who are using the data.

Wheaton College is having to implement new, more efficient business models, while holding on to the fundamental tenets of relational and broad-based learning that are core to an excellent liberal arts education. Graduate programs are increasingly offered online as non-traditional students require flexibility to balance school, work, and family obligations. Undergraduate students arrive on campus having experienced innovative and technology-rich teaching environments as K-12 schools issue laptops or tablets to each student, promote active learning, and foster creative engagement through multimedia projects. These digital natives arrive at Wheaton College with multiple devices and experiences with diverse technology platforms, and many expect Wheaton College to deliver an even richer experience.

With growing regulatory requirements, the ever-changing threat landscape, and continual financial pressure, everyone at the College needs to work together to solve problems and make decisions collaboratively and strategically so that resources are focused appropriately. Every academic decision has an impact on technology as class size impacts classroom technology needs; program changes have an impact on the underlying data structure of our systems; and satellite campus opportunities require careful attention to data security and underlying infrastructure needed to support the endeavor. Through technology governance and relationship building we can work collaboratively to achieve our goals while stewarding the resources God has provided to us.

Responding to Drivers of Change

These drivers impact the demand for technology services and the way they are provisioned at the College. The overarching goal is to support the mission of the College by providing an excellent technology user experience while managing our budget in a fiscally responsible way. To do this, we need to develop and maintain an infrastructure that is secure, reliable, resilient, flexible, scalable, and innovative where strategically advantageous.

The Technology @ Wheaton governance structure (including the Technology & Information Resources Sub-Committee for faculty, Student Technology and Campus Services Advisory Committee for students, and Administrative Application Advisory Committee for staff) meets regularly to identify and advance priorities in a collaborative manner. The College also adheres to a list of Technology Guidelines to support sound decision making around technology issues.

Academic and Institutional Technology (AIT) is fully committed to supporting the institution in meeting its strategic, operational, and educational objectives through leadership, scholarship, and support of appropriate information technology solutions and services. This will be accomplished by:

  • Aligning and stewarding resources to effectively support college priorities and objectives;
  • Investing in the development of close, transparent, and collaborative relationships with faculty, students, staff, and other community members to best serve the campus' existing and future needs;
  • Encouraging and supporting innovation in solutions;
  • Developing our human resources to ensure we are reflecting God’s kingdom diversity and leading in understanding, deploying, and supporting current and future solutions to support the College’s mission;
  • Partnering with other educational institutions and external organizations with similar objectives to efficiently leverage resources.

Existing organizational functions continue to be redefined to improve our ability to deliver services. To reduce budget expense AIT is transferring more technology support work to student employees. This adjustment will require that deployed technologies be reliable and not require extensive professional troubleshooting to be operational.  We continue to search for solutions on platforms we already use/own, and to reduce or eliminate redundancy. Whenever possible we will look to implement an already available commercial solution rather than build a system in-house. AIT is committed to identifying the best value solution, always looking for ways to save money.

As we change our technologies, the skill sets of our people, and our processes for interacting, we will need to maintain a team spirit across all divisions to solve the very difficult and expensive technology challenges we are facing. The load of everyday responsibilities to keep the organization running competes with the time and resources required to be transformational. We need to invest in strategic external partnerships to acquire the skills we need to advance projects quickly.

The initiatives in this document continue to be ambitious. It will take the combined efforts of all campus stakeholders to accomplish our goals.

Priorities

The following are our key priorities, organized by functional area:

Academics and Scholarship

  • To provide a reliable educational experience for our students and faculty we must identify annual funding of $550,000 to replace the technology in classrooms and learning spaces every six years.[1] We must refrain from building new spaces that require technology without first identifying the ongoing funding for replacement in five to six years. We will continue to put the appropriate level of technology into each space without over-building. Under the Provost’s leadership the College may wish to reduce this expense by considering new ways of scheduling classes that would allow us to repurpose classrooms that need a regular technology refresh.
  • We will assess that all learning spaces are flexible, streamlined, easy-to-use, allow for self-operation, and provide video connections.
  • We will shift focus to software solutions versus hardware to provide increased faculty and student flexibility in the classroom.
  • The student feedback system is homegrown, inflexible, labor-intensive, and does not provide the insight that Academic Affairs needs to support faculty development. We need to identify and deploy an external solution. This has been identified as a high priority for 2021.
  • Creating and supporting efficient methodologies that enable Graduate School online education while also providing equivalent access to campus resources is key to ensuring the success of the program. Being able to leverage existing campus technologies and developing support structures that are repeatable will create a scalable learning infrastructure. Providing high-quality instructional design for credit-bearing and non-credit bearing classes will help ensure the College’s place and reputation in Christian higher education.
  • Expanding the use of virtual software computer labs will reduce the expense and need for proprietary computer labs on campus and facilitate greater student flexibility by encouraging the use of each student’s own computer. The student laptop requirement that went into effect in 2020 will assist with this.
  • Digital scholarship is the use of digital evidence, methods of inquiry, research, publication, and preservation to achieve scholarly and research goals. Digital scholarship can encompass both scholarly communication using digital media and research on digital media[2]. Working in partnership with the Library, we will support faculty and students with digital scholarship endeavors as a strategic part of showcasing the excellent work that is being done at Wheaton College.
  • We will install a One-Button Studio to enable faculty and students to self-operate a green-screen video recording session with visual aids that can be used in a course or as a class project. This provides a professional video environment, superior to what can be done on one’s own, convenient for users, without requiring professional staff assistance.
  • Computer -generated imagery, digitally enhanced, virtual, and augmented reality, the digital humanities, artificial intelligence, and robotics are all slowly getting traction in the academy. AIT will continue to work with faculty to find pedagogically appropriate applications for these emerging technologies in the liberal arts setting.
  • In our expanded world we need to continue to support the use of a single platform for video conferencing and chat for the sake of consistency and to reduce confusion for our campus users. This platform will also facilitate large group presentations/streaming for up to 250 to 10,000 participants.
  • The WheatonX platform has ten non-credit courses available to the world at large. AIT will continue to partner with the Dean of the Graduate School to provide a non-credit open education platform to introduce prospective students to the college and allow faculty to share their expertise with the church worldwide.

Infrastructure and Security

  • The College’s online data and other resources should be available, easy to use, and appropriately secured with risk mitigation mechanisms in place. In response to an increasing threat landscape, we know security policies, education, and engagement are critical for success. We will continue to provide services that make “doing the right thing the easiest thing to do” as a necessary element for an effective strategy. One example is implementing the eduroam wireless network that will allow Wheaton faculty, staff, and students to use their Wheaton credentials to connect to secure WiFi at participating eduroam institutions. Similarly, visiting scholars will be able to use their home institution credentials to securely connect to Wheaton’s WiFi network.
  • Fortifying data security across campus is a top priority. Areas of focus include reducing risk associated with administrator privileges on computers; deploying an expanded multi-factor authentication system; and continuing to explore new methods of user security training by audience.
  • The campus wired and wireless network is vital to the functioning of the College. The increased numbers of devices continually added by students, the increased reliance on cloud-based services, and emerging “Internet of Things” (IoT) requires that Wheaton College invest in scalable network bandwidth, redundancy, and re-engineering to meet evolving technological needs. A portion of the aged networking equipment, both wired and wireless, is replaced each year. Upgrading technology to support new protocols and expanding our Internet service to keep up with bandwidth demands is an annual investment.
  • To better coordinate the College’s security management systems in a cost-effective way, we will transition to Microsoft’s Defender security suite and retire Proofpoint and Malwarebytes. This will strengthen our defenses against threats like ransomware by providing Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) capabilities integrated across all Microsoft products and services.
  • An integrated communication platform enables the College community to more fluidly communicate and collaborate whether at their desk, at home, or on the road. As the Cisco phone system nears its end of life, we will transition to Microsoft Teams’ phone system to enable integrated voice, video, and chat conferencing. Employees will have the option of removing the desk phone and using the Teams software client for calling instead. This transition provides significant cost savings as well as expanded services.
  • Increasingly, technology service providers are offering end-to-end solutions, frequently referred to as “in the cloud.” Cloud services allow a vendor to maximize economies of scale across their customer base while investing significantly in ensuring data and platform security. The security level provided by these vendors frequently surpasses the capabilities of Wheaton College. We will place concerted effort toward acquiring new services that are hosted in the cloud and moving existing services to the cloud, as appropriate, which will also allow the elimination of the Jenks Data Center.
  • Wheaton College is a beacon of Christian hope and consequently a frequent target of social discontent; therefore, its applications and systems can be a significant target of hackers or other nefarious people. We must continue to prepare to recover from a potential disaster and make appropriate plans to restore key systems in the event of an emergency. This should include expanding cloud backups, retiring tapes, and enhancing Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS.)
  • AIT plays a crucial role in partnership with campus stakeholders in complying with the growing regulatory and legal requirements for properly securing information and technology resources. With assistance from our managed security service provider, Wheaton must achieve compliance with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and NIST 800-171 to protect student financial data, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) for credit card information, the California Consumer Privacy Act, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), HIPAA for the new Center for Family and Relational Health, and NIST standards as required by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for the Wheaton College Trust Company.
  • Faculty scholarship in the Natural Sciences Division continues to push the envelope with computational analysis of data on the College’s high-performance computing (HPC) cluster. Social science faculty likewise have growing computational needs and are consuming a larger share of Wheaton’s HPC resources. We therefore need to find ways to partner across campus to fund the ongoing need and find creative ways to meet that need, including leveraging cloud resources, especially as the existing HPC facility approaches end of life. 

Enterprise Applications

  • Enterprise and administrative applications at Wheaton College will continue to subscribe to the following design principles:1) cloud-based preferred; 2) user-centric interfaces; 3) Wheaton NetID authentication; 4) accessible to all users; 5) web-based; and 6) an architecture that values analytics, agility, and service focus. Departments must review business problems and possible solutions with AIT before beginning a new solution investigation. AIT is then able to consult on possible existing solutions that can be leveraged to meet the need or to assist with evaluating how a new solution would fit within the College’s technology ecosystem and the workload pipeline to ensure that value is fully realized in a timely manner. Our enterprise applications must facilitate the core mission of the College, provide appropriately secure access to services and information when they are needed, and be as frictionless and adaptable as possible (easy to find, use, develop and support.)
  • A commercial Identity and Access Management system has been successfully deployed with future enhancements underway such as to securely manage Wheaton identities. An enterprise class two step authentication solution has been successfully implemented. The first wave of our Online Passport authentication (single sign-on) has been deployed. We will continue to move all mission critical single sign-on applications to the new Online Passport authentication throughout the year.
  • The College believes that a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is needed to realize significant resource efficiencies and improved functionality. Working with the HESS (Higher Education System & Service) Consortium and other small colleges we are investigating the possibility of a shared service with Oracle Cloud. This transition would include HR, Finance, Accounts Receivable, Financial Aid and eventually our student management systems (retiring Ellucian Banner products, Cognos Analytics, Evisions, Concur, Cognos Planning Analytic (TM1), PayCor, Degree Works, Unimarket, Automic Application manager, Affordable Care Act reporting, and a host of MS Access databases used for reporting).
  • The Chapel attendance tracking system is an old homegrown system that is at the end of its lifecycle. We need to prioritize identifying a solution that reduces complexity and better utilizes today’s technologies.
  • The College has an event ticketing system (used primarily by the Conservatory) that is being retired by the vendor. Interest in this technology across campus has expanded so in 2021 we are prioritizing evaluating alternatives that handle mobile payments securely and facilitate ticketing in many other areas.
  • Increasingly the College community is accepting electronic payment for a variety of activities (e.g., student event tickets, donations, etc.). We will look for an online platform to facilitate these transactions to reduce the risk of credit card processing on our network and to enable automated account crediting.
  • Student Admissions is a very important strategic function that needs a customer-friendly online experience, extensive data tracking and reporting, integration with other systems, and more. Our current solution by Ellucian is lacking in many ways. We will evaluate options and decide as to whether we should switch, in alignment with the ERP decision.
  • Each business area benefits from having a Functional Technologist/Analyst assigned to work collaboratively with AIT to identify business process and system improvement opportunities, to successfully launch new functionality, and to collaborate with institutional reporting efforts. AIT technical staff will focus on the technical aspects of the systems while functional analysts focus on the end-user experience and reporting needs within their areas.
  • Mobile phones are like mobile computers, used to access work-related and social media applications on a regular basis. To stay relevant, Wheaton College must develop systems and applications with a “Mobile First” mindset. This includes responsive web applications and, as appropriate, the development/launch of mobile apps to access institutional tools.
  • Data is collected across the many systems that are managed by the College. We must continue to evolve a strategy for warehousing the available data and providing access to reporting tools that make it easy for administrators to analyze performance, predict outcomes and plan accordingly. The most powerful reporting tool is one that can gather data from multiple sources thus enabling reporting managers to create and run their own reports that are most helpful to their needs.
  • The Wheaton College ID system has aged and needs to be replaced. A replacement system will need to be accessible to many different services (e.g., building access, dining, library, Thunder Bucks, etc.) We will consider how identity can be verified, as well as how transactions can be processed using mobile devices.
  • The College has a commitment to reducing paper administrative processes that are error-prone and highly inefficient. Work is underway to expand the deployment of OnBase for document/image management and form processing that will integrate with Ellucian solutions or other ERPs.
  • Technology for the College Post Office operation has advanced considerably. With a mail and package processing automation system the footprint of CPO can be reduced, and students would be able to use their mobile devices to manage delivery.
  • Scheduling classes is currently a manual process at Wheaton College. The deployment of an automatic scheduling system will allow the Registrar to focus valuable time on directly supporting students and faculty. To do this effectively we need to agree as a campus to new space standards that open access to available rooms.
  • As students gain valuable credentials from Wheaton College, we need to monitor and investigate evolving technologies in support of facilitating life-long learner credentials. Block chain technology is emerging to facilitate just-in-time official access of earned credentials from a personal mobile device.

Support & Service

  • Effective technology organizations develop service strategies (referred to as IT Service Management) that align with the overarching mission of the institution. We will continue to document any repeatable processes to increase service reliability at the desk and in the classroom, resulting in improved customer satisfaction. Processes supported by an IT Service Management System will advance coordinated efforts within AIT and across the Technology@Wheaton community.
  • To reduce support complexity and provide a common experience for our faculty, staff, and students we will standardize on the O365 platform for email, document sharing/storage (OneDrive), team collaboration, chat, video conferencing (Teams). This will also involve transitioning our alumni accounts to O365 as an email forwarding service, to reduce the security events that are created by the current Google Apps alumni system.
  • Technology standards for end-point devices ensure that faculty and staff can consistently and reliably access services provided by the institution. Typically, enterprise applications are developed primarily for Windows operating systems. Funding models need to be developed to encourage standardization and consider the ever-changing device landscape.
  • Virtual applications and desktops facilitate access to College technical resources from anywhere or any type of machine (Mac or PC). They can also make cost-prohibitive software available to students who only need it for a short period of time. We will seek to create a strategy to virtualize applications and desktops that will create value for the campus community.
  • Technology support is a shared responsibility across campus. Developing a technically curious community across all departments and leveraging social media will create new communication pathways that enhance understanding and promote effectiveness in the use of technology.
  • We will look for opportunities to leverage existing tools and resources to support incidents and requests which occur outside of AIT. These resources could include a unified ticketing system, integrated support phone system, and centralized student support.
  • When a new employee arrives, many events happen in a short time as they begin work. We will continue to enhance the employee onboarding process with improved computer deployment, technology training, and a recurring reminder regarding resource availability to assist with questions.

Conclusion

The priorities outlined in this document may be ambitious, but, when achieved, will provide Wheaton College with an excellent technical infrastructure that is user-centric and aligned with best practices within the industry. These plans will be reviewed annually and adjusted as needed to remain relevant.

[1] Industry best practice is to replace classroom technology every 4-5 years. Extending the time results in newer mobile devices not being able to connect to the displays.

[2] http://www.lib.washington.edu/digitalscholarship/about