A Digital University is not defined simply by its implementation of digital tools; a Digital University is an eco-system with a distinguishing set of values and operations.

A process of transforming a traditional university into a digital university often times becomes a discussion of merely adding digital tools to existing practices. As a quantitative (rather than qualitative) change, it adds workload to existing processes rather then transforming them to be more effective by creating a new eco-system. Only in considering the entire eco-system, including the evolution of institutional function, sociopolitical context, and transformational opportunities, can a digital strategy be meaningful and successful.

The “digital university” faces additional challenges and opportunities the traditional university does not. A digital university is meant to respond to an environment and a context, which is an existential threat to the traditional university. A traditional university that attempts to simply modify its traditional practices would be like Shakespeare going to Broadway today to sell blank verse drama—what may be there may be of the highest quality, but it needs to be adapted to the current modes of production and aesthetics. For Higher Education Institutions (HEI) this means adjusting to contemporary means of delivery, economic models, and pedagogy.

Any strategy for an organization should be focused on aspirations and competitive advantage. Thus, the digital strategy should seek ways in which a university can distinguish itself. All universities are gradually moving online—that is not a strategy, that is an adoption of existing practice. The digital strategy for a university should determine how they go above and beyond other universities and assume a leadership role. The literature is increasingly indicating modifications in existing HEI curricular practices (from the MIT Report on the Future of Higher Education to the reports of the American Council for Education’s Presidential Innovation Labs) and changes in how HEI service models will function. The Digital Strategy must look to core operation and modality, not on adding the appearance of tools. It must ask the question of what will a digital university be in 2020, and how do we get our University to that point.

In our next post, we will consider some suggestions on qualitative changes in digital strategies.