Supporting Academic Success
Duke University is a national leader in using technology for nursing
education, and it wouldn't be possible without a top-notch IT team.
THE DUKE SCHOOL OF NURSING IT TEAM: (back row, left to right) Jackie Gottlieb, Scott Neal, Kristy Chu,
Leisa Bolles; (front row, left to right) Jeffery Dowell,Wes Tatum, Eric Nails, David Bowersox, Brandon Stone;
(not pictured) John Carbuccia.
IN THE MID 1980s, a faculty member at the Duke University
School of Nursing (NC) installed the school's very
first computer. The school had just one audiovisual support
technician-- mainly to ensure that slide and overhead
projectors worked properly.
Today, the top-5 private school of nursing offers sophisticated
multimedia presentation and lecture recording
technology in every classroom; distance-based instruction;
simulation laboratories that let students practice on
robotic patients; and a virtual School of Nursing in the
Second Life online world.
How did the school make that technological leap forward?
Key to the process was developing an IT support
infrastructure to help faculty, staff, and students use technology
tools effectively. The school created the Center for
Information Technology and Distance Learning, or CITDL, to
provide leadership, support, and development to integrate
and promote the use of instructional and computer technology
for the School of Nursing community. CITDL operates
as the school's internal technical support group, separate
from the university's Office of Information Technology.
Here, Duke School of Nursing shares its strategies for
creating a successful IT support team.
- Recognize that it all starts at the top. Top administrators
must understand that IT is essential, and that high-quality
IT will pay for itself. Leadership must then make IT a
priority. Duke School of Nursing Dean Catherine Gilliss
does: "I believe that in order to continually expand the level
of quality within our academic and research programs, we
must invest substantially in technology, including, for example,
computer equipment, software, infrastructure, and IT
staff," she explains. "Continual refinement of our IT processes
is one of our ongoing priorities." The school has cultivated
strong relationships with the CIOs of Duke University
and its health system, and is involved in
campuswide IT initiatives.
- Set strategic priorities. With the
reality of limited resources, IT leaders
need to ruthlessly tailor the infrastructure
and support priorities to the unique
needs of the school. Some 35 percent
of Duke nursing courses are taught
online, and most are web-enhanced. So
the school realized that a recording studio
and staff trained in lecture capture
and production were early priorities,
alongside course management software.
"It takes both the content and the
technology working together well to
deliver a premium product to our students,"
says Jeffery Dowell, the School
of Nursing's director of IT support services
- Be worth the money. "Investment"
is the correct word to use when asking for
IT resources, and it's also the right word
to keep in mind while using them. After CITDL proved a good steward of early school funding,
the center has grown into a staff of eight full-time equivalents
handling about five percent of the annual Duke
School of Nursing operating budget. It takes significant
funding to build a team, and it's OK to build that over time.
- Recruit 'well-rounded squares.' Tech know-how is
only the beginning of an ideal IT staffer's skill set, says
Dowell. "An all-star team needs to hire and cultivate customer
service skills and dedication to customers, a curiosity
that fuels innovation, strong team cohesion, and most of
all, extreme flexibility." Over time it is important to crosstrain
IT staff-- especially in smaller IT shops-- so that the
team can meet the wide variety of customer needs.
- Get off to the right start. Once an initial investment has
been won, it's important to shine. But because a school's
needs are broad and complex, the IT team must start by
meeting only the biggest needs, protecting against the greatest
risks, and then outsourcing or cutting the non-essentials,
Dowell advises. A top priority must be "high-impact customer
personalization centered around careful communication."
Over time it's important to cross-train IT staff so that the
team can meet a wide variety of customer needs.
- Lock it down, or you'll be sorry. An IT support team's
top job is to secure networks and data. Duke uses hardware
redundancy, off-site data storage services, and robust
IT management tools such as McAfee VirusScan ePolicy
Orchestrator and Microsoft System Center Configuration
Manager. But, cautions Dowell, "There's more to security
than technology. You have to educate users continually and
create a smooth and practical interface between users and
proper procedures. Then make sure they are doing the right
thing through audits." One of CITDL's most popular user-education
materials is the quarterly Security Watchdog,
which features an IT staff member's dog and son (dressed
up as a police officer) on the cover and reminds users of
important security steps.
- Remember: silo foolish, partnership wise. As much as
possible, make use of and integrate with enterprise systems
on campus. This affiliation reduces upfront cost, promotes
campuswide collaboration, and builds synergies with IT colleagues.
"Go ahead and cold-call someone on campus who
is using technology you are interested in potentially leveraging,"
advises Jackie Gottlieb, the nursing school's director of
web and technology solutions. "Meet with that person to learn
about his or her system and how he or she supports it." Also,
solicit and hire the services of internal university web development
and hosting operations, if those resources are available.
These internal vendors often can provide a bridge of
support to other campus resources. Check with colleagues
on internal vendors' effectiveness, and with new centers,
start with a smaller or lower-priority project as a test. "We've
had great success working with Duke on-campus vendors to
absorb some of our web development and hosting needs,"
says Gottlieb. "It really has become a partnership."
- Translate into your customers' language. Customers'
perceptions are their reality. Hire and train IT
staffers to speak about technology tools in customers'
terms. Learn the priorities and the language of customers'
work, and then show users how to apply the features of
technology tools to their most significant needs.
- Get better on purpose. Duke uses a continuous quality
improvement (QI) program that relies on surveys, forums, and
"grapevine chatter" to monitor user satisfaction. It's important
to focus improvement efforts on new needs and opportunities,
as well as use them to detect problems. The QI results
showed CITDL a need for new lecture recording capabilities
and highlighted which features would be most important.
- Live on the edge (just a little).While it's advisable to
rely on proven technologies and tools, you mustn't let your
tool set get rusty because you're afraid to fail. "Taking some
measured risks is necessary to offer the most useful technology,"
Dowell says, noting that adopting the Lectopia lecture
capture software early was such a calculated risk for Duke.
- Look to the future. Invest in emerging areas where
you can meet an identified need, such as enhancing teaching
or improving a business process. There's some trial and error
here, so choose options that allow for migration and flexibility.
For example: To help address current challenges in nursing
such as a shortage of nurses and lack of space for clinical
instruction, Duke School of Nursing is looking for tools to
help train more students faster, and virtual simulation tools to
enable the broadening of clinical experiences.
- Reward your quiet warriors. The faculty and leadership
of your school may get the headlines and awards for
research discoveries, academic successes, and other wins,
but they could never have accomplished those things without
the support of your IT team or a secure server to manage
their e-mails and data. Publicly acknowledge and
reward the team's contributions to your school's success.
Invest in their training. Offer your techies job satisfaction,
and you won't have to worry about losing them to some IT
startup. "If I was given a job offer to make $10,000 more a
year somewhere else, I wouldn't take it," says John Carbuccia,
network administrator of CITDL. "I just have too
much fun at work."
David S. Bowersox, MBA, is associate dean, finance and administration, at the Duke University School of Nursing.