CEO Notebook

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO
Twitter: @shieldsNBOA


Going All-In for Technology ROI

From Net Assets NOW, February 7, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

As technology consumes an ever-larger part of every independent school’s budget, it’s beyond fair for the business office to expect measurable and positive results. Are students learning (and creating!) in personalized and more meaningful ways? Are faculty engaged in these new tools and approaches to content and applying them in the classroom? Is the entire campus community — faculty, staff, students and families — communicating more effectively and efficiently? Are prospective families witnessing a vibrant classroom experience in which technology is meeting students where they are to support doing amazing things with it?

If you can’t confidently answer yes to each of these questions, your school is not alone. Every year, business officers share with me their “What were we thinking?” moment from a previous investment in the latest and greatest app, product or platform, even as they race to purchase or lease the next generation of devices that they hope will deliver the return they’ve long sought.

Yesterday, I came across a case study of a school that in my opinion has gotten it right. Maryville University, a small private college in St. Louis, provides what could be a road map for how independent schools can make financially sustainable investments in classroom technology that deliver and help to personalize a student’s learning experience.

A few years ago as part of its strategic planning process, Maryville’s leaders sought to identify faculty and staff who were “Pied Pipers” of technology, using it in remarkable, results-oriented ways. “We invested in this active-learning system where we would provide a platform, an environment, an opportunity for all of our students to benefit from it,” said Mark Lombardi, the school’s president, to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Among other steps, the school:

  • Enlisted faculty and staff “Pied Pipers” to design a program that would improve the technology experience for students and faculty and get buy-in from both groups.
  • Educated board members during a half-day retreat using research on topics such as learning diagnostics and brain theory, generating full and almost immediate support for the program.
  • Distributed iPads to the entire student body (2,800 students, including undergraduates and some graduate students). The iPads were pre-loaded with 80 learning apps covering various disciplines.
  • Provided all faculty with two weeks of training — one week in May, one week in August — in using the technologies and applying them in the classroom. “We actually added two weeks to every faculty-member contract,” Lombardi said.
  • Provided teachers with a “learning diagnostics profile” for every student, supporting personalized instruction for the “multiplicity of learning styles” that exist. 

Over three years, Maryville University invested $4.5 million in this program. Among other returns, students are more engaged and empowered in learning both in and outside the classroom. Grades are improved. Retention has risen. And “enrollment this past year for first-year students was a 45 percent increase over the previous year,” Lombardi said. In fact, incoming freshmen and their parents identified personalized learning and the school’s “digital world initiative” as key factors attracting them to Maryville.

I admire how Maryville went all-in with its technology program. Is your school willing to take this kind of approach to change, and to invest the time and money to make it work? I invite you to share what you like (or don’t like) about the school’s approach — and what you’re doing to make sure your technology investments are paying off for your school, faculty and students.

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO

Jeff has been NBOA's president and CEO since March 2010. Prior to joining NBOA, he spent almost 10 years at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), serving most recently as senior vice president and chief planning officer. An active member of the American Society of Association Executives, Jeff earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 2002 and was selected as an ASAE Fellow in 2008. He currently serves as a trustee for One Schoolhouse and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.

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