images.jpgSaint Richard (Dick) Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute and founder of the concept of “life-work designing” suggests that one key step in preparing for an uncertain future is to sit down at the end of each week and answer one fundamental question: “what have I done this week that added more value to my organization than I took away from it?

As fallible human beings, all of us will have weeks when we take away more than we give, but if that becomes a pattern, we’re in danger of either losing our jobs or wasting our lives in doing work that’s not really meaningful to us. Saint Richard believes that if we find ourselves in that situation we either change the way we do our jobs or that we change the jobs themselves. (We’ve seen several of our colleagues in the blogosphere make those kinds of changes over the last year or so.)

One of the hardest things for those of us in the academic IT world is to figure out actual value we add to our institutions. In some strategic planning work that I’m doing, we’re trying to identify a few fundamental questions that we think need to be addressed by the institution in evaluating the importance of technology in teaching and learning. Here’s one of the first that I’m proposing:

Ongoing studies by the Pew, Kaiser and MacArthur foundations suggest that students entering our colleges today bring fundamentally different expectations, thinking styles–even basic literacies–than generations before. To what extent to you agree with that assertion?

As I’ve been raising that question with colleagues, responses have ranged from “Duh” to “Poppycock”–though most are quick to identify at least surface changes in classroom behavior, etiquette or expectations. Few are as convinced that these changes are as essential or significant as some of us in the technology arena believe they are. One potentially fruitful area of conversation is to try to come to some common understanding of the types of shifts we’re seeing in the capability of our students and the magnitude of those changes.