Break the Tech Habit
I am quoted heavily in the recent article “Break the Tech Habit” in Education Executive by Deborah Geering. It is a good recap and analysis of our “Connected Across Campus” program in which we have provided a computer to our new students for 20 years with the option for an iPad this year. I have given many interviews focused on why we decided to offer the iPad and what we hope to gain from it. I call your attention to the article because it accurately addresses the real reason for the program and its termination. But it also identifies the more important IT response that “If there were ever a time for IT to get out of the business of defining what the technology is, this is it.”. This concept may be a difficult adjustment for Higher Education IT. Defining and then supporting a computing environment that we somewhat controlled seemed critical for our success and value at least in our eyes. But this article helped me to reinterpret what I was really saying which relates to how this is starting to change.
Change, as in not committing to device/platform policies because we don’t need to. What if support of these computing devices reaches a point where we can’t really control them anyways, so why try. Aren’t we almost there. Is that what we fear most about these mobile and cloud based solutions? Higher Education is fearful of this change because Higher Education does not like to change. Faculty don’t need to require that all students turn in written assignments in MS Word, it is just the best option that they currently control. But it is this type of culture that holds us back. We force a common denominator that caters to the norm but restricts the innovator.
This all points to more radical changes that I see for IT’s role in Teaching and Learning. In some situations technology should take on increased importance, say for example, with professional programs like engineering or graphic arts. What if we had a stripped down Microsoft OS that allowed Matlab and Solid Works to perform optimally. Or an Apple OS that was optimized for Final Cut Pro. And maybe we accept decreased role for technology in Liberal Arts where a Pad device is perfect. This could mean a return to public computing labs because they are needed for final packaging of assignments but otherwise we let the students and programs use what ever best fits their most important learning needs.
This may happen if we can overcome our fear of change. Sure we would fear that reduced support would negatively disrupt our customers. However, simplification of computing overall may finally allow us to easily offer a choice and adapt our support role accordingly. I think we may be ready to allow freedom for our programs to work with the best tools for the job. The way things are going with respect to our academic competitiveness in the world, it can’t hurt to try some new approaches.