Kenneth Pierce is a motivated, visionary, people- and goal-oriented individual with over 30 years of experience in Information Technology management, including twenty years of experience as a CIO at higher education institutions. Currently serving as Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, he is responsible for all aspects of institutional technology, including business administration, academics, research, and the university libraries. Pierce has also served as the CIO for the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at El Paso.
In an interaction with the Education Technology Insights magazine, Kenneth Pierce focuses on the implementation of cutting-edge technology solutions, including cloud-based tools, which have increased the efficiency of faculty and staff members while improving the educational experiences for students.
What are some of the major challenges impacting the education space currently?
One of the major challenges impacting the higher education space is finance; the entire system is based on a set of rules being challenged nowadays, both morally and politically. For example, the cancellation of student debts is a point that needs to be checked. Those funds go somewhere, so who won’t be funded in the future? Say, in the future colleges become free, what happens then? Do we allow past student debt to continue? If not, how do we change that? How would this scenario affect the higher education finance model in new institutions like mine? These are some of the questions I frequently ponder and have not received satisfactory answers to.
What are some of the new kind of trends that are emerging in the education space?
Augmented and virtual reality are perhaps one of the most exciting trends today. In fact, we recently put in an immersion studio for AR and VR in our library, and we are only touching the surface. The possibilities of what the future of course materials and studying could be like are staggering. These technologies going hand in hand with some online education and some face to face could make for a killer educational experience. Many of those topics that have been difficult to teach can become more easily delivered with these technologies. Even today, I cannot imagine us teaching human anatomy or other subjects like that without a virtual or augmented reality component to the curriculum. The resources are already there, we just need to make the leap.
Could you highlight some of the recent initiatives you’ve led at the Texas State University?
As an IT organization, we consider every technology venture a business one. But, if I have to select a trend we have set, I would choose the recent migration of our student information system—a part of our ERP system—to a managed hosted platform. Although it may sound mundane, it is not, since not many institutions of our size have done this yet. On the contrary, most of them are acknowledging our implementation. However, we cannot call it a trend unless it brings in some success stories.
I would also like to point out the fact that although some smaller institutions have made the move recently, none to the extent as ours. I believe technology plays a huge part in an institution's success. In our case, we have a myriad of local and cloud-based applications implemented in our system; and being a complicated architecture, the system requires proper management, which has prompted us to redesign our reporting processes and take advantage of new functionalities. Even though the software licensing and information security strategies have continued to complicate these models, I think it will be successful in the end.
What do you believe the future hold for this industry?
In current times, various forces and uncertainties are pulling different institutions in different directions. Due to this, people will see a lot of changes happening in the higher education sphere. During the pandemic, we made extensive use of online education, which garnered mixed responses. Some of our students faced serious difficulty as this whole process of shifting to the online world was new to them. Furthermore, some students have also realized they do not prefer this online mode; it might be because of bad experience stemming from underdeveloped courses or similar scenarios, but that is only one section of students. On the other hand, some students have thrived during this pandemic. They have made the most of these online study sessions and have now somewhat been voicing against the need for on-campus life. But this particular outlook would greatly affect an institution's traditional approach of offering accommodations to their students. So, to make the proper implementation of these emerging strategies, the higher education industry must hike up their standards of online education, making them stricter, more consistent, and more understandable to deliver quality online classes. Institutions like mine, which primarily offer in-person classes, need to take great care in balancing the on-campus as well as the remote approach of education for the betterment of students.