Weighing In

The Next Phase for Academic Computing

The largest and most disruptive cultural technology of this century is information technology. Most vital within this technology revolution are consumer electronics and Web 2.0. The electronic devices provide access to the new cultural main street that we call Web 2.0. Technology users on campus increasingly look to this main street and not to the computer center for its technology choices. How do campus administrators strategize in this new landscape that seems so alien and dangerous?

Organizational Reluctance to Embrace Innovation and Risk


Those who advocate for innovation and risk in the use of information technology toward improved learning face a cultural barrier. In the lexicon of the existing campus computing establishment, "innovation" and "risk" are not a top priority. Central computing, now, and very necessarily, pursues stability, management of large numbers of resources, incremental change, testing, auditing, reliability, disaster recovery, vendor contracts for service and maintenance, sustainability, and quality of service.

At a time when the most startling and exciting learning environments are being created in Web 2.0, the computing establishment has enough to do just to keep the big pipes and big iron running.

Since academic computing should be pursuing Web 2.0, where the action is, its placement within an organizational structure not suited to venture into Web 2.0 territory, perhaps it should be moved. Academic computing units have never fit comfortably within central computing administrative units, and perhaps now they should not be so positioned.

How To Administratively Recognize Innovation and Risk?

Web 2.0 is decreasing the importance of central computing. IT-savvy folks on campus now see, in some cases, they have a choice between an application supported on campus and a similar application offered on the Web.

In a world where the apps are "out there" and the browser is the portal to information technology resources, and where the subscription model continues to grow, and especially where Web 2.0 is evolving into the new desktop, the gap between existing commitment to central computing and exploring new learning opportunities becomes all too clear.

We see now in higher education that innovation around teaching, learning, research, and technology has moved to academic departments, research centers, and the library. We are now, historically, at a very different point in the evolution of technology on campus than even just 2 or 3 years ago. Campus computing strategy should no longer start and end with central computing, albeit with gestures of recognition toward educational uses of technology. Such traditional thinking would now miss the real action and also miss some real needs for strategizing.

Academia Is About Innovation and Risk

How do you institutionalize innovation and risk? Academia has always done so through projects, often through funded projects. At its core, academia as an enterprise is all about innovation and risk, and this must include innovation and risk regarding information technology for learning. Yet, a troubling fact is that top administrators can no longer reliably look to the traditional computing administrators for direction. "Keeping things running" and "innovation in learning around technology" are now separated by such a cultural and existential gap that there is little common ground.

Innovation in learning around technology, therefore, needs a separate administrative support structure and a top-level advocate who reports in parallel to central computing. We are in another of the de-centralizing phases on campus, such as when the PC was deployed, or the network segmented, or projects set up their own servers. But this new Web 2.0 de-centralizing phase involves going off campus. It's a paradigm shift that campuses must recognize and organize around.

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (http://www.aaeebl.org), serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: http://trentbatsoneportfolio.wordpress.com/ E-mail: trentbatson@mac.com

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