Dogpile.jpg One of the notes that I found in my dogpile was a folded index card from the now-defunct Seminars in Academic Computing. I participated in a discussion with a group of colleagues on the topic of What Do Faculty Expect From Higher Ed. IT? The discussion was described in the program:

Traditionally faculty have needed technical support for the ways in which they use computers in teaching and research. Innovative faculty may also have required support in instructional design or general teaching and learning technologies. Are these expectations changing? Are IT staff becoming more siloed or more symbiotic? Can faculty and IT leaders truly collaborate on transformative projects, or do faculty expect a service bureau only?

When I came back from SAC, I wrote some notes about the session:

Participating in the discussion make me re-examine my current framework for understanding those questions. It also made me realize that my perspective has changed dramatically in recent years. While I’m still fascinated personally by the potential new computing and communications technologies hold for enhanced learning, I’m less optimistic about the ability of IT staff to be the leaders in capitalizing on that potential–no matter how hard we work at it. As someone commented, institutional transformation really isn’t an IT function–though we can help other leaders with the process if they want our help.

Transformation isn’t a high priority for most faulty, since their plates are overflowing with teaching, research, reading, writing, parenting–you name it. These faculty members value an IT organization that is:

  • Transparent: They want to be able to find all the services available to them without having to rely on special favors or insider knowledge of the IT organization.
  • Efficient: They want to get their questions answered or their issues resolved as quickly as possible–even at night or on the weekend.
  • Empathetic: They want IT staff to demonstrate through words and actions that they understand the unique demands of faculty life and that we’re doing what we can to help alleviate those pressures rather than adding to them.
  • Responsive: They want IT members who returns phone calls and email and who communicate clearly–even when we don’t know the exact answer. Caveat: They do expect us to know the answers more often than not.

The vast majority of our faculty are perfectly happy with what at SAC we called service bureau model–as long as we are really good at being transparent, efficient, empathetic and responsive.

Some times the stars align–as they seem to have recently for the dream team at the University of Mary Washington, and I think those of us in the academic IT business have to be tuned in and ready to pounce on those magical moments. For the most part, though, our institutions will be best served if we stick to the knitting and focus on doing the best job on the mundane, non-transformative services that keep the place running.