The cost of technology downtime in the classroom is more than you think

Unproductive meeting time accounts for around $37 billion in yearly waste.

Talk of the weather, for many in higher education, is the clearest sign that time and money are being wasted while faculty members and students wait for IT staff to hustle to their lecture hall and fix a projector, or computer, or microphone.

David Siedell, senior IT director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said that like the private sector, colleges can lose hundreds of hours of scheduled work time thanks at least in part to technical difficulties.

And now, college and university officials can see just how much money is going to waste caused by technology shortcomings with a free online calculator – made by audio-visual company Cenero — that takes into account the number of campus employees in the room, those employees’ salaries, and the length of the delay.

Many professors and instructors have vamped while IT staffers scrambled to fix problems with wires and web connections, Siedell said, but it’s when the conversation turns to the wind, rain, and sun that educators know their class time is circling the drain.

“If you get to the weather conversation, you know you’re running out of small talk and wasting a lot of time,” Siedell said with a chuckle. “Calculating just how much these delays cost can be an eye-opening experience for a lot of people. It gives you a numerical argument for what is really a human problem.”

The annual costs of meeting and lecture downtime can be stunning. “Unproductive meeting time” accounts for around $37 billion in yearly waste, according to A/V industry estimates.

Rob Gilfillan, president of Pennsylvania-based Cenero, said the “meeting cost calculator” – launched last month – would give campus IT decision makers hard numbers showing how much money the institution is spending on technological downtime

“What people will hopefully realize is that there are analytics involved that can help you improve your classes every day,” he said. “Because other than a gut feeling, they really don’t know how much is being wasted.”

Quantifying the massive annual costs of classroom and lecture hall downtime, Gilfillan said, could encourage campus technology leaders to consider outsourcing at least some of the A/V maintenance to companies tasked with keeping an eye on the school’s A/V systems.

“People should not just think, ‘Well, that’s the way it is,’” he said. “There are real costs to these delays. There are ways to save quite a bit of money.”

Unreliable presentation technology can also come with enormous institutional costs if school officials shun their campus’s A/V equipment for face-to-face meetings – which often include the price of airfare, meals, and lodging.

“If you start to lose confidence in your system, you’re going to get on a plane and do it because you feel like you’re more in control of the whole situation,” Siedell said. “If you don’t feel like your school’s technology is going to get your message across, you’re not going to leave it in those hands.”

Gilfillan said many campus technologists are hesitant to contract with an outside company for A/V help because they fear a partnership would cost IT staffers their jobs. Outsourcing even a part of education-technology upkeep, Gilfillan said, would give campus technologists more time to focus on faculty’s most critical IT needs.

“A lot of colleges and universities put people in charge who feel that if they move toward a managed service, they’re going to put their job in jeopardy,” he said. “They hold off on that because they want to see how it might impact their employment.”

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