Category Archives: IT Support
Be Supportive not Restrictive
I was outside recently watching our Research Support Student employees fly our helicopter drone over campus capturing some great autumn video.
I also had my dog, Abby, with me since I designated it to be “bring your dog to work friday”. Well Abby was generating some interest from students homesick for their pets while I got into a conversation with a couple of our IT Support Services Student employees about their programming ideas. These ideas come from our encouragement for our student employees to explore ways that we might improve our business processes. The idea was about a web app that the student workers could use to trade shifts with their coworkers. The gist of the conversation quickly focused on their perception that IT only recommended development based on Perl. Well he mentioned this to the right guy, actually the boss, but really what a ridiculous perception that obviously had roots from the past. But that type of preferential influence will not fly today.
Perl does have a significant development presence here and there is nothing wrong with Perl, but that should not dictate the requirements of future development. The student asked if he could develop in PHP but was told that PHP was not secure. Well maybe that a general statement with some merit but probably not of concern for a student employment shift sharing application. The student actually wanted to use Python and then our conversation steered toward new ideas like the possibility that WordPress might be utilized. My major point with bringing this up is that we in IT have to be cognizant of the influence we convey and that our way is not the only way. IT should remember when they were the radical adopters of new application platforms. Consider the fights they must have had with cobol and fortran proponents.
Disruptive IT for Higher Ed
The blog post by Ian Cox about his new book “Disrupt IT” motivated me to offer some reflection on the type of IT Disruption that I have needed to employ for my slice of Higher Education. I have not read his book but I can tell that I would agree with his premise that IT has become the change agent. It is easy to connect technology to why change has accelerated in recent years. But change is not accelerating in Higher Education. Be clear, we do not need to change because of technology, but it is technology that has highlighted the need for change. And that is where IT may be the perfect change agent for Higher Education.
Higher Education is still avoiding the real technology elephant in the room, the “Internet”. We deal with a whirlwind of questions about how students learn and why does college cost so much and why isn’t it about students getting jobs. Maybe we should use more technology in the classroom or software to manage our student success. But it does just come back to the fact that Higher Education no longer controls the data which is converted into information which can become knowledge for anyone motivated enough to absorb it.
OK, back to disruption. I came to Missouri S&T because I wanted to make a difference in Higher Education for the STEM segment that I feel is critical for our future. I do believe IT needs to be the change agent and doing so at such a technology dominant university is the perfect challenge. Yes, I inherited an IT service model that was catering to our traditional decades old higher education culture. And Missouri S&T is facing the same challenges stressing many public research universities in the US. Challenges of serving increased enrollment with an aging infrastructure using an outdated business model. How can IT help?
First you have to change the culture of your IT staff while also laying the groundwork to change the university’s relationship to IT. This is all done by building trust. IT staff that are working in the traditional control service model may be reluctant to breakout of that comfort zone. IT staff love to be needed and that old model offered that, but what about innovation? IT staff should be the innovation leaders or at least they should want to be. I believe that path to a successful IT culture change has to build from IT being innovative and gaining pride from how that innovation can impact the university. And the key to unlocking that innovative spirit in your IT staff is to show them that you mean it. Invest in their ideas or at least let them own your ideas. And above all, assure them that it is OK to fail.
Gaining trust from your university is more tricky since some of your customers are very content with the old IT support model which may still support their outdated business model. However, the important customers are the faculty. The reality for them is that their job has only gotten more difficult to perform. Teaching loads have not decreased and research funding is more and more scarce. IT offering support for teaching load tends to point toward the utilization of technology and exploring online delivery. But IT does not need to push any of that, IT just needs to offer assistance in utilizing it. IT does not need to push online learning to secure their value in EdTech support. They just need to offer support, faculty need the help, leave the politics of course delivery to the Provost. And IT support for research needs to come again as the assistance model. A researcher used to get a grant that outfitted their lab with technology that was managed by a grad student and had enough fluff to allow some breathing room. Today it seems like more time is spent submitting grant proposals then actually fulfilling the research of the successful grants. IT has to find a way to be a trusted partner so that researchers can sell that support to win their grants. This is a budget dance, but IT has to find a way to free up researchers to actually do research.
When IT appears to be achieving positive repositioning, some strategic disruption can put it all together. IT departmental reorganization will inevitably be needed, but turn it into an opportunity. Gain some visibility for IT on campus by offering support to a much needed service. That might be a service to students it might be supporting another service provider like the library. Don’t lead with a software service disruption, that will come later and will probably be IT’s greatest contribution, but total trust is needed for that.
3D Printing for our Students
We have just pulled the trigger to offer 3D Printing to all of our students here at Missouri S&T. It was not difficult to confirm that 3D Printing is about to explode in use and availability so what better venue to make it available then at a university full of engineering and science students. Plus I have faculty who are renown for their work with 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing as they call it. They have provided me with the advice I needed to select the appropriate 3D printers for student access.
I will write another post when we open our new 3D printing service in a few weeks but for now I will give you the basics of our plan. We bought 2 Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printers, the same models that UPS just ordered for their leap of faith into this business venture for their select stores. We will place these printers in our library print media area where we can manage them with IT tech support students. We have a lot to learn about the business process but it appears we can let our students pay for the objects printed with their PaperCut account. All the students need to do is submit their 3D drawing file and the uPrint CatalystEX software will help us to choose the most effective positioning and calculate the materials cost. We have a regular and an ultrasonic washer with a good sink area for cleaning off the lattice support, so here we go. The goal is to make this printing available to everyone at the most affordable price. We know that the increased access to the printers will be beneficial to our engineering design classes and I am hearing that it will be invaluable for supporting our graduate student researchers so I am hopeful that this will turn out to be a wise decision.
Will 3D Printing Change the World?
Video story by Springfield, MO, KY3 TV’s Lindsey Henry