A big-picture moment

John Haeger

By John D. Haeger, President

Today more than ever, I believe that the foundational transformation of higher education is taking place before our eyes, and technology is the driving force.

Northern Arizona University must adapt to be successful and must innovate to be a leader.

These are ideas I have expressed repeatedly, especially over the past several months, and they formed the basis of my presentation at a public forum Monday at the High Country Conference Center.

Yet in a scene that has become cliché, a presentation about the virtues of technology found itself undercut by the vagaries of technology. A moment scripted to highlight the instructional advances of three faculty members became an awkward exercise in what can go wrong in the digital world.

And I hear that the web stream didn’t go well, either.

I must point out that the technology that failed Monday is not the educational technology of which I spoke at length. A production error should not impugn the meaningful advances that we’re seeing around the nation in course delivery and effectiveness.

So this is an opportunity to remind ourselves of two important considerations as we navigate the transformation that is occurring here and around us at a dizzying pace.

First, innovation carries an inherent risk, and we need to maintain a high tolerance for setbacks of any sort, even if they are more annoyance than substance. But real risk must be taken—indeed, encouraged—at all levels of the university if we are to stand out and excel.

Second, the university is, at its core, a human venture. It will always depend on human insight, talent and compassion.

Technology can help us soar and occasionally will cause us to crash, but in the end its success—our success—comes down to the people who teach, research, and advise. The people who each day, by their individual effort and in their own way, provide the pulse of NAU and make it a place that students and their parents enthusiastically choose.

In fits and starts, and in great leaps, we will use our personal abilities and ever-changing technological tools to move this university into the forefront of modern higher education. I cannot wait to see the results.