3 ways of leveraging STEM expertise for ed tech success
When it comes to successful integration of technology — whether it’s a new learning management system across multiple campuses or video capture tools in the classroom — poor implementation or haphazard rollout can end up costing the institution more than the initial investment. Recently, for example, the state of Washington paid $2.6 million to settle a dispute after it canceled a contract with an ed tech company following its inability to effectively install a computer software program.
But leveraging the talents of faculty and students with STEM skills in the ed tech decision making and adoption process may help alleviate some of the challenges. In some cases, as suggested by Virginia Tech CIO Scott Midkiff in conversation with Education Dive, integrating campus members can also cut costs the might come from hiring more IT staff and build technical expertise among technology users.
Because more students want STEM skills to be more valuable to employers, integrating them into some ed tech decisions and rollouts offer them hands-on learning experiences without necessarily having to implement a special program. Aside from potential problems that come from poor ed tech decision making on the front end, CIOs and their IT teams still struggle with obtaining faculty and staff buy-in and making sure that technologies are secure — the consequences of which could be mitigated, or even avoided, by looping campus members into conversations.
Here are three ways faculty, staff and students with STEM skills can help bolster ed tech integration and provide additional learning and financial benefits.
1. Cybersecurity breaches are expensive — train students to mitigate risks
Employing artificial intelligence and online learning collaboration applications for mobile and desktop devices and data collection are top ed tech trends, but these technologies also come with potential negative consequences. For instance, an IT Risks Survey of 723 IT professionals this year showed that nearly 80% of higher education institutions are vulnerable to cyber attacks, partly due to the sheer amount of personal data that circulates around college campuses. A report from Digital Citizen Alliance, "Cyber Criminals, College Credentials, and the Dark Web shows that there are about 13,900 000 email addresses and passwords belonging to faculty, staff and students that are available for purchase on the Dark Web, parts of the internet where often illicit activity occurs.
Industry observers say institutions could integrate students into some IT system operations, creating opportunities to train them in handling software and tools. Considering that users are the top threat to technology security, providing students training serves to teach them how to avoid common mistakes — like clicking on phishing emails or putting in a less-than-secure password for an application — while also building their skills in computer science and engineering, which are lucrative traits for the job market.
2. Obtain faculty-staff buy-in, especially from those with STEM expertise, to improve tech integration
Virginia Tech’s Midkiff earlier this year mentioned one of the biggest challenges of ed tech adoption is making sure there is a clear understanding of what purpose new technology serves.
"I think what's really important is to have pre-established relationships between those different functional units between academic units, the provost office, administrative units — between those units and the information technology organization … so that the IT organization understands what the functional needs are, what the academic needs are, what the research needs are,” Midkiff said. “That will help distinguish between what's going to be a successful product and what's going to be perhaps a failure."
Administrators say that it's important for the CIO and his or her IT team to establish connections across all parts of the institution. Leveraging insight from campus faculty and staff — particularly those with tech expertise, like computer science instructors — can give institutional tech leaders more insight into the limitations of ed tech from a practical and an academic perspective.
This also serves an additional purpose: Helping these difficult-to-retain faculty members feel they have a vested interest in the trajectory of the campus. Because some professors in STEM fields opt to enter industry for better pay, offering more chances to connect them to the institution could help build their desire to stay put.
3. Spread new tech know-how while building hands-on learning opportunities
Creating programs for students, faculty and staff that help them learn how to better use technology being adopted on campus, rather than quickly implementing it, may help alleviate students and faculty not knowing how to safely or properly use new tools, while also building their excitement around using the technologies.
Having programs through the IT team is one way of doing this, and is a good way to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students both in and outside of STEM fields — which could mean having students on a team of experts working on user interface for a new phone app for the institution, for instance. This creates both knowledge and hype around tech, while lessening the need to hire more staff around this particular purpose, wrote Dave Hutchins, vice president of higher education and K–12 education for CDW•G, a tech provider for education and government organizations, for Ed Tech Magazine.
Hutchins mentions the University of California, Berkeley as one school that has managed to do this effectively. By implementing a student technology council, it has created a model for collaboration between students and the university’s CIO. Students help staff the IT help desk and are included on IT committees. This program integrates students into campus decision making on technology, while building their workforce experiences.
Lynn University, which successfully launched an iPad initiative that helped it build its technology infrastructure two years ahead of schedule of its 2020 campus plan, is now integrating students and faculty into the planning process for future initiatives. Lynn University’s leadership spoke with Education Dive last week, with CIO Christopher Boniforti explaining the process helps students think of creative, interactive ways to consider how technology might better the campus.
"We've been using design thinking activities, some of the basic methodologies we brought in about 250 individuals including boards of trustees members, faculty, students, staff … that don't traditionally go together," said Boniforti, who added the process really "allowed faculty and staff to dream."
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