Making a technology decision at any institution isn’t easy. There are multiple parties involved, budgetary needs to consider, and processes already in place that could be changed. Nowhere is this difficulty more apparent than in universities, where faculty input is critical but not always easy to come by or implement.
I learned this directly from a group of technology manager’s from several universities around New England recently. TechDecisions has teamed up with AdTech Systems to hold a series of roundtable discussions with end users. We discuss everything that has to do with the technology decision process, from budget concerns to pain points to working with integrators to get systems up and running. The first of these discussions focused on technology managers at universities.
One of the running themes I recognized throughout our discussion was just how much faculty play a part in the technology decision process. A theme that ran alongside that was the difficulty that comes with gathering faculty input.
Setting the Standards
Let’s start with the pre-installation process – a staple for any institution, university or otherwise. At universities, budgets can be set by the registrar, a committee typically made up of faculty, or a designated individual. Similarly, standards can be set by any combination of the same groups or individuals, depending on the institution.
“We have a group on campus, the Educational Technology Assessment Group, that meets far too infrequently,” says Jesse Anderson, Audio Visual Services Manager at the College of the Holy Cross. “But, I work with the registrar, and I have people who work with the dean, and we determine what the current needs are. We also watch the faculty that are out on the edge to know what the approaching needs are.”
It works a bit differently at other institutions.
“We have a similar setup,” says Douglas Anderson, Classroom Technology Manager at Lesly College. “We have a committee called TLTech with the associate provost, faculty representatives, the library, IT, and they meet monthly to talk about a lot of things related to classroom technology design. That’s where our standards go. Any deviations from that standard, like if you want to remove DVD players from a building, it’s got to pass that committee.”
So immediately, we learn that standards aren’t always standard, as Jesse continues to explain.
“One of the difficulties is that, for four people from four institutions that do essentially the same thing, I would wager that if you walk into our classrooms there would be similarities, but a whole lot of differences as well,” says Jesse Anderson. “So it’s hard to say this is a standard 2017 classroom install. Because what meets my needs won’t necessarily meet others’ needs. We set a standard every year, and we build every new room to that standard, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another institution.”
Instead, every institution decides on its own needs. Which sounds like a good idea at first glance. Every institution of higher learning is going to operate differently. If I want my institution to run to the best of its ability, then I should customize everything to aide how my institution runs. Especially with technology that will help faculty teach and students learn.
Working with the Faculty
The problem for technology managers is that not all teachers teach the same. Not all students learn the same. And not all technology is installed for teachers and students, while there remains only a set amount of budget to go around.
“As far as the budget, I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to get every year. But there are other projects that aren’t my projects,” says Ken Stewart, Classroom Technology Manager at Curry College. “For example, new construction projects. They’re putting two new classes in and they want an AV quote. I’m not running that project so it’s hard for me to get it down. You’re dealing with all these other decision makers. It’s a lot more difficult. Classrooms that I can forecast every year are easy. It’s those other projects that other people own, with other people getting involved, that become difficult. Because they don’t understand the AV process.”
“Are you designing to meet the needs of the faculty or are you designing to meet the potential needs of the faculty?” asks Chris Imming, Director of Media Services at Gordon College. “I know I’m designing a room that meets the needs of the entire campus. But I know, at my institution, I don’t have a bunch of people that are pushing up on that limit. I might have a physics professor that says he wants surround sound. I can turn around and tell him that he has no pedagogical reason for surround sound.
“Honestly, I find over the last three years I met less one on one or in group sessions with faculty. Like many schools, we have a center for teaching excellence, and I meet biweekly with their director. They’re the ones working within the sphere of the provost’s office on pedagogical development, course curriculum redesign, and back end support for the faculty. So, in doing proof testing of classroom technology plans, layout, and future casting, we find that we can satisfy the needs of the faculty but also work towards an institutional directive.
The technology manager becomes just that – a manager. In charge of taking input from a number of sources, working within the frame that he is given, and delivering to the best of his ability. For someone that is hired to work with technology, there is a stunning amount of internal relations work that goes into designing and installing a system.
Getting Faculty Involved
How does the technology manager manage to meet the needs of a diverse staff that teaches in different ways? You involve the staff. This isn’t always easy.
Believe it or not, technology managers want faculty input. It’s a fun caricature, the technology savant with his myriad systems, insistent upon total control and unwilling to bend to the requests of the imbeciles that use the systems. That’s far from the case, however.