2.Create a Sense of Ownership
The most fervid support from the top can accomplish only so much if the end users feel as if they have no stake in a project’s success. “Whatever you’re trying to do, you need to get your faculty members and all of your stakeholders to understand the problem and take some ownership of it,” said Jarrod Morgan, chief operating officer at ProctorU, an online proctoring company that he cofounded while working as director of technology at Andrew Jackson University. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen initiatives that are really well thought-out struggle because the communication from the administrator—the one who understood the problem they were trying to solve—didn’t get all the way down to the implementers.”
In Morgan’s view, faculty and staff must have an opportunity to talk about the issues and grapple with the implications, either in face-to-face meetings or web conferences—it’s not enough to send out an e-mail blast. It’s a message echoed by UMUC’s Young, who encourages schools to undertake a consultative phase with faculty and staff. “You need to understand their operations, understand their challenges, and then figure out a way to help them solve those problems,” he said.
At the same time, Young cautioned against giving faculty a chance to blue-sky their desires. “You never want to start from a blank sheet when you’re trying to build a new capability,” he said. “You’re better off asking, ‘Would you find this useful? Could you use this?’ Then they’re more likely to say, ‘Wow, that’s excellent, but what if we did it this way?'”
3.Focus on the Problem, Not the Technology
For all but a few faculty members, the technology angle is probably uninteresting or, worse, intimidating. To build a sense of ownership among faculty or staff, keep the focus on the problem that needs to be solved rather than on technical nuts and bolts. “If you can get faculty members to understand the problem, then you’ve opened the door to conversations that would have been a little more difficult otherwise,” said Morgan.
It’s an issue with which Otto Benavides is all too familiar. The director of the Instructional Technology and Resource Center for the School of Education and Human Development at California State University, Fresno, Benavides has plenty of experience introducing faculty to technology as part of the Collaborative Classrooms program, which is designed to put students at the center of the learning experience.
“For faculty who are technophobic, if you begin talking about this button and that button, or how you connect Apple TV to the Wi-Fi, you’ve lost them right there,” he said. “I try to emphasize the pedagogical use of the classroom rather than how the technology works.”
During training sessions, for example, Benavides broke faculty members into groups and gave them a team task to complete. One exercise involved collaboratively researching various South American countries online and then creating a presentation, while Benavides monitored their progress and provided assistance as needed. “At the end of the session, everybody knew how many buttons there were, they knew how to get into the Mac, and they could select the Wi-Fi for this or that,” he recalled. “We never talked about Wi-Fi. We never talked about Apple TV. We just talked about the way to share what they were doing.”
4.Be Prepared to Change the Organization
At Fresno State, technology is aiding the transition from the old sage-on-the-stage pedagogy to the concept of the guide on the side. Changes like these are fundamentally altering how faculty and staff work in higher education, and it’s important for institutions to adapt to these evolving roles. Otherwise, schools run the risk of simply layering new responsibilities and duties onto old job descriptions.
“Everybody defaults to the work trickling down to the faculty member,” said Morgan. “With education technology changing as fast as it is, you can have a ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect, where in a few years you’ve got faculty doing all sorts of things that were never really intended at the beginning.”
To avoid this scenario, study the possible impacts of any technology initiative on individual positions, departments, and the organization as a whole. “A lot of schools are asking the questions, ‘What exactly is the role of the faculty member here? What do we take off their plate and entrust to other staff and faculty?'” said Morgan. “As a result, we’ve seen new job titles pop up in the last few decades, such as education technology specialist or curriculum developer.”
If new technology can inspire dread in faculty and staff, it’s nothing compared with the fear that often comes with organizational shuffles. That’s why it’s vital that everyone understands in concrete terms what any new technology initiative means and why it’s needed. The more open the communication, the better. Like employees at any organization, campus faculty and staff don’t like surprises.
“Any rollout has to be done very carefully, with a lot of user education and conversations with folks who may have significant concerns about the process, so it’s not perceived to be top-down,” said Kenneth Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which studies the role of technology in higher education. “There needs to be a clear statement about why the school is doing this and how it benefits the institution in aggregate, as well as academic units, departments, and individuals.”
(Next page: IT tech rollout tips 5-8)