“What I do when I’m designing a room, or looking to design a room, is I look at who’s teaching in those rooms and I set up a meeting for all the faculty. They never show up,” says Stewart. “I would like more faculty input. I don’t have an education technology assessment committee unfortunately. They don’t talk about it. So, unfortunately, it’s me. There are some faculty that will give me feedback, but if I’m not getting calls and complaints, that’s how I know.”
“I’m in the same place,” says Douglas Anderson. “I do a lot of fishing for feedback on what’s working and what’s not working. I’m going to do an upgrade for this building or these rooms, and I’m skimming the faculty contact info for anyone that has taught in that room in the last year. It’s a lot of work to try to stay abreast of what they need, but you’re always going to take the fall because it’s not what they wanted or what they needed.
“It’s not that I’m dying to give up my control of the systems, but I would love to have the faculty own it because they’re the ones using it. I would love to give it to them, and then have a seat at the table telling them what the budget implications are of this huge idea that they have. Because then they’re always designing it the way they want to and I’m just facilitating that.”
A Lack of Understanding
There are two big problems in getting faculty input. Either the faculty doesn’t understand the technology, or they’re unwilling to learn about new technology to use. The challenge for the technology manager then becomes teaching the teachers – explaining to faculty how a new technology can help them teach, while muting many of the bells and whistles attached to a new system.
“The pressure we feel the most is that people want the classrooms to operate exactly the same way their living rooms do,” says Jesse Anderson. “If I can take my phone, wave it, and have it on my TV, why can’t I do it in my classroom. It doesn’t matter that you say these things about wireless access points, total bandwidth and available channels. They just want to get the image up on the screen. They just want it to work.
“If you talk to the faculty and say it’s an array microphone it will interest some people in the physics department but that’s it. You need to say we’re going to teach you how to teach in a room that can do this. It has to be functionally based. We’re not going to tech you anything about the technology. We’re going to teach you methods of pedagogy and the equipment that supports it.”
Ken Stewart agrees. “When I’m training the faculty on new technology in the classroom, I don’t show them everything. I show them the things that will help them. You show them everything and they’re just going to lose interest. Show them the few things that they think will actually help them.”
Faculty Field Trips
How does the technology manager remedy these problems? A theory emerged at our discussion that many of the participants rallied around: faculty field trips.
“We’re OK getting demo equipment usually,” says Jesse Anderson Where it would help us is if there were comparable sites that we could go and benchmark.”
“I totally agree with that,” says Stewart. “It’s very beneficial seeing what other people do, and what works at other places. It’s one thing for the vendor or manufacturer to say this is great. But when you’re hearing from another college what works for them, you can relate more to that.”
“I’d be more inclined to take faculty on a field trip to see another successful installation,” says Imming. “If I’m working with the physics department and we want to do something different, and I can call my integrator and see if they’ve done any installs like that for us to see. It would be a great benefit. I’d be more inclined to read a case study about a college that installed a certain technology than just a marketing puff piece.”
It became clear to me that technology managers want to provide the best technology possible for its faculty. They want to enable teachers to teach and students to learn. They just don’t always know how they can best do that.
The Obligation of the Integrator
For a decision that is very faculty focused, the faculty seems disconnected from the technology decision making process. It doesn’t make much sense. If my job can be made easier or my skills can improve thanks to technology, then I want that technology. I understand immediately that it is naïve to say, but I don’t understand why professors aren’t doing more research into technology on their own.
For whatever reason, they aren’t. So I place the challenge on integrators. A technology manager has to sell a technology to staff and faculty before an integrator can sell a solution to a technology manager. So help the technology manager sell!
Help your customers and potential customers sell new solutions. Set up these field trips. Encourage communication between past customers and prospective customers. Allow faculty to see new solutions and how they’re being used in live classrooms. Then the faculty will put pressure on the administration to procure similar technology. Then the technology manager has buy-in from all parties and is able to do his job to the best of his ability.
As for technology managers – hold your integrators accountable. Make them help you sell the technology to faculty. They want your institution’s money, so make them work for it. Any good integrator is a partner, and any good partner will go above and beyond to ensure success. If you want the best, the reality is that you need to convince people that the best is best for them.