Last Spring, I wrote Giving educators the tools that they want (and need) and now I think it is time for a bit of a refresher. That original article was about engaging faculty and students in the deliberations of Education IT. But as I look back on that piece I see that we need to do more than just ask them what they want and need before we go spending our limited budgets.
Our educational and political leaders (a.k.a. administrators and school boards) are often clueless about IT and seem to have little interest in what we do (or can do) for our schools. All they seem to care about is that we stay under our budget! It seems to be so bad in some places that staying under budget early in the school year means that what's left of your budget will be redirected (some might say stolen) for some other use before the year is out.
This problem seems to be the worst in K-12 but can also be a problem in higher education. Unlike the local school board though, where everyone is elected, university administrators have a much better opportunity to make well thought-out choices based upon the advice they get from the faculty, staff, and students whom they serve as well as Education IT.
Like any other enterprise, the university -- out of necessity -- has a substantial investment in IT. Whether it is centralized into one large IT unit or it is it completely decentralized into a large number of departmental IT units has a considerable impact on the university's ability to leverage that investment to maximize the benefits to all of its faculty and students. A mostly centralized IT organization with augmentation by departmental IT units in partnership with the centralized organization seems to offer the best mix for meeting the discipline-specific needs of faculty and students as well as their general computing needs.
With this model in mind though, it is still up to Education IT to make recommendations as to how best to use limited resources in the context of the larger needs of the university. Sadly, far too many of us in Education IT have been trained to think in terms of up-front costs with little vision regarding the impact of our long-term decisions. When we narrow our search to only low-upfront-cost solutions, without regard to those solutions our faculty and students need (or will use) we end up wasting resources. Instead, we need to expand our understanding of the needs of our constituents -- faculty and students. Further, we need to be cognizant of the tools already at our student's disposal -- tools that they use everyday and which can be leveraged to enhance their educational experience.
It's time to broaden our perspectives as Education IT professionals so that we may better serve our faculty and our students.