Friday, October 21, 2011

Transformation from within...or from outside?

I have to say that this week I haven't been as active on the main topic of Change11 but rather following side-threads or catching up with previous weeks.  I think part of it has been my own frustrations with institutionalized information technology, even though I work for "the man" (the man being IT).  As an instructional designer and educational technologist my job is not to be some sort of technology pusher but rather to try to figure out what technology best complements and augments the instructor's learning goals and help them implement this technology in their classroom.  As a corollary to that, if we don't happen to have this technology; if there is a lot of demand; and  if these services need to be campus provided for better access, my job is to lobby, on behalf of these instructors, to get my institution to pony up for these services.
What we see however (not all the time, but enough times) is that technocracy takes hold in institutions. The process of getting the technology and justifying it is much more important than the need for it.  Take for example a technology which we already have access to, but it is not enabled. We don't need more money to access it, the button needs to be pressed for it to be enabled. Even to just press a button, we need to go through the motions of providing justifications, work flows and other rigamerole to gain access to it. Learning management systems (LMS or VLE depending which country you're in) seem to be a sore point in many institutions. These things are expensive so we're in VHS vs. Beta Max debates again and again. Once a technology has been adopted, there is a push to get more people to use it, even if it's not the appropriate technology.  I think this just shows how problematic change is within the IT department.
I think that change in the university will occur form within, but it won't come from the IT department. I think that change will come from the faculty and students themselves.  In a recent CIT (center for the improvement of teaching) forum I heard a faculty say that they don't count on technology being present because they don't know what the school supports and what they don't. At the same forum another instructor indicated that they don't use Blackboard (our LMS) because it is too complicated.  At last year's EdTech conference I saw faculty who were openly flaunting the fact that they don't use any IT supported by the campus and instead opted for free Web 2.0 alternatives for their Web Enhanced classes.
If campus IT is providing tech that is hard to use, or is erecting barriers for their use, the non-tech savvy people are not going to use them and the tech-savvy people are going to find other alternatives. One thing is clear: technology which is paid for won't be used. Wouldn't it be better to return to basics and (1) examine the  current pedagogical needs on a class-to-class basis and recommend tech based on those needs, and (2) make ourselves friendlier and more flexible to our users needs...or else we'll go the way of the mainframe and remote terminal.
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