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Q&A with #GeckoForum keynote speaker, Eric Stoller

Earlier this week, we took the opportunity to catch-up with the Gecko Forum keynote speaker, Eric Stoller, to learn about what’s in-store for next week’s attendees.

For any of our attendees who might not be familiar with this Eric Stoller guy, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure. I should probably admit straightaway that I’ve already had a deep-fried Mars bar…

I’m originally from the USA. My higher education consulting work has taken me around the globe from events/universities in the USA, Canada, Ireland, the UK, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and New Zealand.

My first HE job was at the University of Illinois in Chicago. After that I went on to study a post-grad degree in higher education administration (student development/learning) at Oregon State University. Over the past 9+ years I’ve worked with universities, colleges, technology providers, and sector agencies/associations.

I’ve always thought of technology as being a key aspect for student success. My work has almost always been focused on digital transformation in the context of student experience/journey. I’ve also done a lot of speaking/writing on using social media for digital engagement. Most of my writing takes place at insidehighered.com and I also do a lot of sharing/curating via Twitter and LinkedIn.

I’ve always thought of my work as being mostly about organizational change with digital transformation as the introduction to a deeper conversation. Technology is a tool…it’s the people who make things happen.

What will you be sharing with our attendees at the 2019 Gecko Forum?

My talk at the Gecko Forum will be on why digital transformation is the new normal for the modern university. Every single aspect of the student journey is impacted by a variety of digital technologies that must be joined up to ensure a quality experience. I’ll of course be sharing a lot of best practice examples from around the sector.

By digital transformation, are you primarily talking about modernising an institution’s internal processes? Or do you focus more on the students’ perspective, and how they experience what the institution has to offer?

A bit of both really. There are quite a few institutions who have let their campus technologies get a bit dusty and they are in desperate need of a refresh. However, the student experience is just as important to this conversation. Students are exposed to a lot of high quality user experiences on the web and on mobile apps. University leaders are competing in a space that requires an attitude that innovation and change are a regular (and welcome) occurrence.

Anyone who has followed your work will see that this is a topic that’s close to your heart. Why is it a big deal? Why can you get so passionate about it?

I get so passionate about this work because it’s what started my consultancy. When I was an academic advisor at Oregon State University (after I completed my Masters degree) I was constantly faced with having to use outdated systems that were less than friendly to humans. I started using social media as a way to connect with students at a time when it wasn’t yet commonplace. After a while, I started blogging at Inside Higher Ed as an outlet for my ideas on how HE could change in terms of using new technologies. In short, I’ve turned my passion into my career and I would say that this topic is a big deal because every single aspect of the student experience is connected to digital in one way or another. And, digital doesn’t stand still. It’s a constantly moving, swirling, evolving mix of experimentation and functionality.

Finally, rumour has it that you love a good HigherEd acronym. If you can share whilst protecting the innocent, what’s the best (and I really mean worst) acronym you’ve stumbled upon?

There are some really fascinating acronyms out there. Sometimes the funniest thing to do is to go around a room and see how everyone pronounces an HE acronym differently. My personal favourites include: SCUP (facilities and planning in HE), PACRAO (a regional AACRAO group), and CHEMA (an association for US HE associations).

Many thanks, Eric. We’re all looking forward to learning more on Tuesday!