I recently returned from EDUCAUSE, the national conference for higher ed IT. It was held in my old stomping grounds, Philadelphia, so I was able to see family and eat at my favorite restaurant, which was delightfully unchanged from my first visit there 15 years ago. Transportation and conference planning, on the other hand, had both changed quite a lot. I made frequent use of Lyft and Uber and met many interesting and diverse drivers. The conference had a terrific app, with nuanced searching, the ability to add (and then export) notes, submit session evaluations and to add my own appointments with vendors and former colleagues to my custom conference calendar. Another reminder of how technology, applied well, can enrich our lives. It’s not about the technology, it’s about what it can do for us — and knowing when it’s worth it.
The ways in which technology can enrich the lives of our community members was a strong theme of the conference. There were many sessions from institutions using cloud-based services to facilitate faster, client-driven implementations of new services. There were also several sessions about emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality that are being used for simulations that aid student visualization of complex topics. And of course there were numerous sessions about bread-and-butter IT issues like data security and how to provide good and sustainable support in an ever-growing technology environment.
Attendees reflected on the overall “value proposition” of technology. Just because a technology can be beneficial doesn’t mean everyone should use it – or should start using it at the same time. That question of how and when to change Carleton’s technology environment is always forefront in my mind.
Dean Bev Nagel recently asked me to speak with the academic department chairs about a question that one of them had raised: “Could we please talk about managing risks that come with the complexity of technology?” From a short survey to chairs, some possible interpretations of that question emerged: securing critical data, investing in a new technology that might change later and the risk of technology not working when I use it in class. Click here to see my slides (including a joke that cars would get 1000 miles/gallon if Bill Gates ran General Motors followed by an anti-Microsoft punchline).
Learning How to Learn
I would propose that the biggest issue for all of us, is figuring out how to leverage the beneficial, or sometimes just plain necessary, new technologies. ITS staff explore these opportunities in gradual ways, whenever possible, in order to assess which technologies to pursue. Community members sometimes initiate these experiments and other times IT staff take the lead. The findings of these scouts are essential in determining which paths are fruitful.
Individual exploration is also important. Those who have learned how to learn new technologies will be the most nimble in responding to them. Some institutions have adopted a broader umbrella of “information literacy” to support community members in identifying what they have learned and how the pieces fit together. We’ll be talking more about that over time. For now, I hope that you find the final push of email and storage to the cloud is easier because of the learning you’ve already acquired.