Taking Control

I don’t remember what an IT organization was like “back in the day” and I don’t have a clue what an IT organization would due during times of smooth sailing — everyone uses the same software, same operating system, same devices etc.  From the moment I set foot as a full-time employee in Wharton Computing there were talks of mobile support and then shortly after the tablet craze began to rear it’s shiny app-like face.

I do know that since I’ve been working here, I have read numerous articles about the changing landscape of the university and how universities should take steps to avoid becoming obsolete.  I’ve read enough and heard enough to ascertain that our previous notion of school is changing and I’m not sure where that leaves long established universities who have always relied on their reputation, outstanding faculty, and research as a means of attracting students.

Not surprising, with the collision of rapidly changing technology and the changing definition of higher education … it seems that the definition and role of a higher education IT department has been in flux since I arrived in 2007.  There have been many articles about “Reengineering IT in Higher Education” and even more articles outlining the strange, interesting, and exciting experiments that IT organizations are doing on their campuses.

There have been times where I felt that it is a difficult and uncertain time to be working in Higher Education IT, but more and more I’m thinking that now is one of the most exciting times to be working in such a sector.  Because it’s changing so much, that has opened up an enormous opportunity for redefinition and experimentation.  Now that are foundations are being shaken, perhaps it’s time to rethink the entire structure?  I know that Higher Education as a whole is going through a similar transition and many schools are rethinking their curriculum.

I think now is the time to either get swept up and washed away in the changing tide … allowing culture to redefine us.  Or we can take control and set our own definition of what an IT department should be now and in the future.  That thought lead me to read up on the 2011 Campus Technology Innovators to stay up to date with what other universities are doing.

It also had me thinking about how we are always trying to accommodate as many devices, software, operating systems and calendaring options as possible.  While I think that’s nice and very open-minded, I’ve often wondered why we don’t control our environment more so that we can optimize that specific much smaller controlled environment.  It seems to me that the technical landscape is becoming so large that it’s almost a necessity for Higher Ed IT departments to pick, choose, and mandate certain devices and programs.

I can envision as a student instead of shelling out $500 for textbooks at the beginning of the year that I could shell out $500 for an iPad pre-populated with my course materials.  Then the organization would have directions for how I can set up my email, calendar, contacts, and accessing the various university websites all from this one device (and maybe a list of recommended apps).  I don’t think I would view it as them trying to control me … in fact, I think I would view it as a relief that they made the decision for me.  There’s so many devices to choose from these days that I would rather put the choice into more capable technical hands.

Maybe I am just the type of person who prefers less choices … I’m not really sure?  What did universities do back in the day to mandate the purchasing of textbooks?  Should a university control it’s technical environment or completely give up control and try to support as many different options as possible as best as they can??

I’m not sure, but for some reason lately I keep leaning towards control.  Any thoughts?


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2 Responses to Taking Control

  1. Joe Cruz says:

    It would be fantastic if we could somehow hone in on a single platform. I suppose we have been doing it for centuries with books, pen, and paper.

    The contrast is the books and the like never become obsolete. Is all the content on your new iPad going to be useful to you (even rudimentarily speaking) in 10, 15, or 30 years? Perhaps we’re in this awesome flux because the ultimate destination (the cloud?) hasn’t been ironed out yet.

    Interesting ideas, though.

    Oh and the Top Tech innovators? They seem so pedestrian in light of innovation powerhouses like Google, Facebook, even Microsoft. But it’s sometimes the simple adjustment that means the most innovation around here, a slightly different way of thinking rather than a tectonic platform shift.

    Your role is a great example; a team dedicated to the needs of the student technology experience? You guys should be up there on the Tech Innovators Site!

  2. Erin Murphy says:

    Thanks Joe! I had the same thoughts about books, pen, and paper as our once mandatory and original “platform”. You’re right though, we haven’t fully ironed out the details of digital content yet to present it as a new platform. I can see the cloud really changing things.

    One thing I have been experimenting with at the Whartonization sessions is offering to help students get their course materials set up using instructions that a WEMBA student sent to us. He starts by creating folders for each class on his laptop and then he pulls down all of his materials from WebCafe and Study.Net. He then drops those folders into SugarSync and syncs his SugarSync with Good Reader on his iPad so that he can access all of his materials from SugarSync anywhere and he can annotate them on his iPad. He also converts all of his materials to PDF first so that he can annotate everything in Good Reader (which currently only supports PDF annotation). (You can also use DropBox instead of SugarSync)

    This small tip that I’ve passed along has really impressed the MBAs. Sometimes it’s easy to get excited about delivering students the most innovative and shiny new toy, when really the advice that matters most to them is how to get their courses and calendars set up! I guess it’s a case of moderation — keep an eye on the burgeoning powerhouse technologies but also make sure that your existing technologies at the very least don’t get in the way of student life and at the most maybe make student life easier and more organized.

    Sometimes I feel like the students really want to look to us as technology experts. They want our app recommendations, they want to know which devices we like and why, and they want to know how WE would set up our course calendars if we had the option. We’re almost shifting into the roles of technology advisers as well as technology implementers.

    I always appreciate your thoughts and input so feel free to keep this discussion going! I think the role of Higher Ed IT is changing and it’s good to start thinking about the descriptions and boundaries of our new role.

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