As I See It: #2 on Academic Technology, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my second in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #2: Optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning in collaboration with academic leadership, including understanding the appropriate level of technology to use

The first email in my inbox this morning? Coding with the kindergarten crowd [www.eschoolnews.com/2014/10/10/coding-in-kindergarten-653/], an article tying student success to kindergarten use of programming. “Teaching coding in kindergarten helps young students learn important creativity and problem-solving skills that will position them for success as they move through school,” says Amanda Strawhacker from Tufts University in the article.

As an IT leader, of course I see the value in technology within the academic realm. Admittedly and quite obviously, I’m biased. It’s not uncommon for me to step back and try to view a situation through the lenses of someone not in an technology-related field. With confidence I can state I do this weekly at a minimum. Why? In order to be effective, it’s important that I look at technology realistically and remove any barriers that may exist between myself and the academic side of the house in reaching a consensus on the best way to move forward with an initiative.

It has been shown that technology helps engage learners at all ages. It seems as if we’re going at this a bit backwards as we should have captured the interest of teachers and professors first. Now students are demanding something that not all faculty are on board with. So now what?

This is where the relationship between your academic technology team, your administrative technology team, your faculty leadership (power users, deans, associate deans) AND your technology leadership becomes really key. If the relationships aren’t there, if there’s a gap to be bridged, get on it. These relationships are a powerful ally. As a cohesive unit, you should be living and breathing your mission, developing a plan on how technology will help facilitate and drive that mission and setting a course and following it. The more you think about it, the more difficult it’s going to be to get started. So just start. Baby steps are a great first step. What are others doing? If you’re like me you want to establish attainable goals  that make sense to your institution and in the process just might be better than anyone has ever seen. Have I mentioned I’m competitive? What’s the saying, ‘Go big or go home’. But don’t misunderstand, that doesn’t mean go gauche or overboard.

Identify your needs and craft a technology solution that is more powerful than intended with a smaller footprint than ever imagined. Remember when it was cool to have a giant, clunky hunk of technology in the classroom? Yeah, me neither. But apparently that used to be the goal. Streamline your needs, make them mobile/agile/scalable/(insert another buzzword here) but with serious power. Think intuitive, plug-and-play classrooms where a professor can walk in with their personal device of choice, click a button and be ‘connected’ the the classroom. It’s doable. And never forget: every school, college, program has different needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Never stop with the implementation. Technology selected and installed? Now you’re on the never-ending reunion tour – reintroducing, retraining, and reselling this technology in a new way to all faculty that are willing to listen. After all, technology will only get used if it’s beneficial and easy. A professor doesn’t need to be embarrassed at the front of the classroom by a piece of non-functioning technology.

The value of technology in the classroom I believe is known or minimum ‘heard of’ by the majority in the academic world. But there’s a sweet spot that needs to be hit – where teaching is effortless via the use of the technology, where the delivery vehicle knows its place as the facilitator but not the educator, and where continuous training and learning ‘new ways’ is comfortable, accessible and beneficial.

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