Preaching Again Without a License

Social software like blogs and wikis, and perhaps more importantly, rss feeds change the processes of academia. This includes administrative processes, as well as teaching and learning. [I wonder who’s more resistant to change: faculty or administrators & staff. I know that faculty have had the opportunity to be exposed to the potential of social software. I also know that most haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity. I don’t know if administrators/staff have even been exposed, except for the IT shop.]

I don’t care for the old processes anymore. They seem so inefficient; they just take too long to get things done. I remember working on a committee last year, where we needed to brainstorm and circulate our various ideas. For the second meeting we all brought our ideas in on paper and we spent the entire meeting, reviewing each others’ work. In fact, we didn’t even get through the majority of it. For the next meeting, we circulated our ideas in advance via email. This was an improvement, but still lacking—everyone printed copies of the documents to bring to the meeting. We have wireless now—why not just bring your laptop or other portable device? I can’t imagine a work group anymore without a digital space in which to work.

Forget what you think a blog is. Pretty much any periodical publication could use a blog format. All those handouts from Academic Services or the Registrar. What’s the advantage over say email? Well, aside from the ease of publication provided by the blogging software, you don’t have to address your documents. Rather, they only go to individuals who want them. Imagine students or staff subscribing to rss feeds from academic or administrative departments with information of interest to them. Imagine how this could be integrated with other software the subscribers are already using. Information about advising and registration deadlines could be fed into e-Portfolios, which could provide another incentive for students to regularly using them.

It seems so natural to process committee work as it gets posted (i.e. as members do the work and make it available on-line), rather than waiting until right before the meeting to read it all and hopefully have time to reflect on it. Imagine being able to actually do work, access resources, create documents in real time in meetings. We ought to be able to do that today.

Maybe we need to rethink the purpose of meetings, as we’ve been rethinking the purpose of class sessions. Meetings shouldn’t exist merely to disseminate information. Their purpose should be to conduct business that needs to be done face-to-face. Time is too valuable for anything else. How about if, instead of meeting, we task staff to do their jobs and then cut them lose to do so?

Question: Academic departments each have an Instructional Technology Specialist assigned to them. How do administrative departments get their IT support? I don’t mean desktop support but rather the systems support faculty get from their ITS.

Another Question: Is there a plan for how to address the needs of any faculty workgroup that comes along looking for digital tools to enhance their work processes?

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6 Responses to Preaching Again Without a License

  1. Laura says:

    Steve, at my school, I’m it! I am the Instructional Technology Department. Granted, there are a few desktop support people who know enough to muddle through, say, a Blackboard problem, but they can’t set up video conferencing or blog software or podcasting. I’m it. Often I support administrative departments. I’m working with admissions to do some video to send out to incoming freshman. I’ve set them up with blogging. I’ve worked with our resources department to do email with links to multimedia presentations that have resulted in thousands of dollars in donations in 2 months. And I’ve worked with Career Development to talk about eportfolios, rss, and multimedia information sessions that are streamed via the web.

    But all of this is very ad hoc. It’s a small enough place and I’ve been around long enough that people ask me about things. And I ask about what they’re doing. Otherwise, there’s not much of a plan in place. And certainly, there’s resistance to using digital tools to improve workflow. But we’re getting there.

    One thing I’m often concerned about is the way my own department resists these tools. Of all people, we should be using wikis and blogs to collaborate and distribute information. There’s nothing I hate worse than going to a meeting that could have happened virtually.

  2. Gardner says:

    “I don’t know if administrators/staff have even been exposed, except for the IT shop.”

    Yep, they’ve been exposed, but not systematically. It’s hard enough to stretch our ITS staff to cover the academic needs. But that’s no excuse. You’re right that these tools could make a huge difference in all our business processes. That’s one reason I’ve tried to introduce wikis into DoIT work, etc.

    If faculty adopted these tools for their committee/governance work, I think we’d see some quick uptake in the classroom as well. Is there a plan? Well, would you like there to be one? I’m sure we can come up with something. Who will support these faculty workgroups? Offhand, I’d say that the chair of a particular group or committee should contact the ITS who supports their department. Regular academic work will get first priority, but these workgroup efforts are important and I’d like to support them too.

  3. Gardner says:

    Laura, I understand completely about the internal resistance. It’s surprising and sometimes downright odd.

  4. rick hurley says:

    My experience is that the only administrators who think about using technological tools in their work are those who have a keen interest in the subject. Most of us begin to use the technology when we notice everyone around us is using it also. PDAs are a good example as are Blackberrys. You see more and more of them everyday and their use has reached a point with me where I think it is time for me to get on the bandwagon especially since our new President uses a PDA. Using blogs to conduct our business is another matter. I agree that committee meetings should be held to conduct business but do I really need a blog to get the information I need prior to the meeting?

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