Systems are important, but so are the people
In 2017, there’s very little we can do without technology — it is literally transforming the way we all do our jobs every day. Whether the conversation is about cybersecurity or emergency response preparation, recruitment or financial aid, applications and other technological aids are re-shaping the entire higher education landscape. Many of today’s students will never fill out a paper form, and most want information delivered to their mobile devices.
Campus technology teams vary greatly from full staffs of 40 or more people at some institutions to one or two people who are responsible for providing both IT support to the campus and securing systems. In some places, the CIO is considered a likely pathway to the presidency, because of the high level of analysis required and increasing oversight from simply technical support to providing cabinet-level oversight on budget and strategic planning. No longer is the campus CIO simply a middle-man between the IT staff and the president’s office; increasingly, this individual is required to mobilize rapidly to help solve complex problems on campus.
As with any new strategy, product or process on campus, the technical operations of the campus require intense training and attention to details. As important as the actual platforms chosen is the investment in professional development for all those who will be touched by the new platform. After all, the ground-breaking product designed to make your job easier only actually achieves that goal if the individuals on campus responsible for deploying it both understand how to use it and buy into its necessity. Otherwise, your golden ticket becomes simply a waste of money— a bad investment.
In Campus Technology's nationwide 2017 Teaching with Technology Survey, released earlier this year, 71% of faculty said their IT departments provide adequate support and training, but 37% say they prefer solving problems on their own through an online search. Only 21% go to IT and 0% get help from students.
This suggests that the best professional development may come from their peers, not from outside consultants. Empowering individual faculty members and others on campus — including, perhaps, students, because students are often more nimble and agile than many on staff — to use and train others how to use a particular platform not only saves money on training costs, it promotes buy-in. And, as an added benefit, it provides leadership opportunities for individuals on campus who may not traditionally get the opportunity to be seen as a leader, which shows them they are valued by administration.
Providing faculty members and institutional staff with the resources and allowing them to shore up any gaps themselves may be helpful, but it is also important that they are consulted on the front-end about what types of technologies might be helpful, versus those which will only complicate their jobs. In many cases, vendors are driving purchasing decisions on campus, rather than individuals on campus.
In fact, in a recent survey of campus technology professionals, 80% of them said their primary source of information on technology products and services is vendors themselves. However, ideally, deployment of any new technology on campus should involve consultation with individuals from multiple areas on campus, rather than a sole reliance on those outside — especially since respondents of the same survey express dismay that vendors are often only interested in selling their products, rather than offering an idea which can actually address pedagogical needs. In all cases, identifying the need must precede identifying the solution.
University of South Florida President Sidney Fernandes, in his comments about how the institution used low-code technology to deploy a rapid hurricane response application, said if he didn't have a team of flexible, agile individuals who understood how what they were doing impacted the overall operation of the campus, the process may not have run so smoothly.
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