There's no room for bias in academia

Academia is about finding the truth -- no matter how much we like (or dislike) the truth that we uncover. But how can we expect to find the truth if we start out down a path laced with our own biases? Is the story any different for Education IT?
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor on

Whenever I sit down to review the comments posted about an article written by one of my fellow bloggers, I am struck by the level of bias that abounds among our readers.  To be sure, there are zealots on almost every subject under the sun but sometimes our readers simply miss the point. 

Case in point ...

On February 22, my colleague, Chris Dawson published an article entitled Should I have bought those Macs? in which he questions his own decision to deviate from a standard he had established for his own school in order to meet the unique needs of one of his teachers.  Well, that article started a small firestorm among the Macintosh zealots and the Windows zealots -- each claiming that anyone choosing the other guy's solution was somehow mentally deranged, or worse, morally bankrupt! 

In a follow-up article, Chris asked his readers Do we want Mac in the enterprise when we have Linux?  His point of course touched upon the fact that a good solution in one setting is not always a good solution in another setting. 

And, in Chris's most recent article he asks Tablets? Notebooks? PDAs? Mac Minis? Supercomputing grids? What should you buy your users?  Tongue-in-cheek?  Of course.  But it does beg the question: Who best defines the user's needs -- and distinguishes them from his wants -- and who best determines which tools are right for the task at hand?  Bias has no place in addressing these questions. 

In an environment with well-established policies, life-cycle funding, and discretionary IT budgets for all interested parties, a collaborative effort between IT and users can usually address the needs of all. 

But, in an academic environment, some or all of those pieces are often missing -- and often replaced by politics, desperately under-funded initiatives, administrators armed with no more technical expertise than their neighbor's kid, and educators who have no idea how to determine which tools are best capable of meeting their needs and the needs of their students. 

We all need to remember that each IT tool is suitable in some settings but no single IT tool is suitable in all settings.  Standardization contributes to a more manageable formula for establishing TCO but the need for well-documented cost controls must be tempered by the specialized needs of some. 

For instance, I cringe at Chris's mention of thin clients.  (I simply do not 'believe in' the thin client model.)  But I have to admit that Chris knows his environment and he has constructed a hybrid model which permits him to meet the bulk of his students' needs with thin clients while providing robust standalone workstations for those heavy-duty applications and still have money left over for his not-so-tech-savvy English professor to have a new Macintosh lab. 

This hybrid approach serves Education IT equally well in K-12 as it does in higher education but it cannot be accomplished unless the decision makers are thinking like CIOs -- relying on objectivity in the light of the task at hand -- rather than consumers looking at the 'sexy' new computers from their favorite vendor. 

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