In his piece K-12, Higher Ed, Apples, Oranges… Chris Dawson reminds us that Education IT does not look the same from all perspectives.
From the perspective of K-6, students are viewed as being the 'charge' of the school district, who first and foremost, must be protected. While this is a 'no brain-er', there was a time where education came first. Today, the schools are charged with far more responsibility for our children (for a whole host of socioeconomic reasons) and unfortunately education often takes a back seat -- at least in the minds of our school boards and our politicians, who are continually bombarding our schools with more and more unfunded mandates and unrealistic expectations.
By the time our kids reach seventh grade, our schools find themselves trying to 'corral' the same students they were trying to 'protect' just last year. Instead of keeping external threats away from our kids, Ed Tech finds itself trying to protect them from themselves by keeping them away from web-based resources which might be viewed as 'controversial' by parents or which may have the potential for attracting predators.
Never mind the futility of these efforts, the bottom line is that the day these kids enter a college or university setting, the coddling is over. They are responsible for their own choices -- and suddenly, our obligation is to our students, not the school board, the parents, or the politicians. Instead of trying to keep information from our students, we have an obligation to provide as much information as we can regarding the services we provide.
In a university setting, Customer service refers to a whole host of services:
- A comprehensive user rights and responsibilities policy to which students agree when they are issued computing accounts,
- an online Knowledge Base with information about the services and software that your university supports,
- a telephone support help desk available any time that a student might need assistance to use your IT resources to advance their academic goals,
- on-site support personnel in your computing labs during the bulk of the hours your sites are open for student use (preferably with 24-hour support in some locations),
- on-line self-service tools to permit students to monitor and manage their own university computing accounts,
- network security sufficient to prevent hacking of your network or your students computers,
- robust firewalls to protect your students and your network from others coming in -- not from your students going outside of your network,
- free or low-cost software available to your students to protect their personally-owned systems when working on your network -- it's good for you and it's good for them,
- VPN to protect sensitive institutional data (especially student records) from identity theft,
- robust e-mail systems for official communications with students, and
- comprehensive communication with students keeping them apprised of what they need to know.
This is certainly not a detailed or comprehensive list -- there are undoubtedly some points that I have overlooked entirely, and some universities would dismiss the entire list -- believing that requiring their students to bring a computer to campus absolves them of all responsibility beyond providing a network connection. Such institutions do their students a grave disservice.
Our responsibility is not to provide these student/customers with everything they want -- rather, our obligation is to provide them with as comprehensive a set of information technology tools as we can reasonably provide. The four years they spend with us will shape their futures in ways they can only imagine. Our obligation is to give them the resources they need to make the most of those four years.