Viewpoint

Can Campus IT Outsource to Web 2.0?

Campuses are starting to outsource e-mail services to popular Web 2.0 mail services such as Hotmail (the pioneer), or to gMail, Yahoo Mail, or others. (See http://www.emailaddresses.com/email_web.htm for a thorough guide to and reviews of the various Web mail services.) Will various office functions also be outsourced? How far will outsourcing to the Web go?

Web 2.0 is touted as the new "platform." You launch your work on the Web, communicate, collaborate, teach, learn, create, research, present, and store your work on the Web. The first thought is, perhaps, how nice it would be to reduce on-campus overhead for managing basic technology services. The second thought is, but how do you then support and manage users in this new "cloud?"

As Andy Powell suggested in his recent post, "Institutions, Web 2.0, and the Shared Service Agenda," http://efoundations.typepad.com/, campus IT organizations might start thinking of themselves not as "service providers," but as "service enablers." In other words, the IT unit should help campus constituencies get the technology services they need, whether on campus or on the Web.

But will a land-rush start? Are we at that tipping point? Will campus central IT units start shifting to services 'out there?'

Probably not. Here are some reasons why the great land rush into Web 2.0 won't happen soon:

 - The Innovation Cycle. Campuses innovate over years -- the typical grant project takes 3 years to complete, a book may take at least a year, courses are finalized and scheduled 4 to 8 months in advance -- while the Web innovates at least monthly. Can persistence co-exist with evanescence?

 - Turnover. Campuses experience an annual constituent (student) turnover that few large organizations could manage, and so must train large numbers of technology novices continually (yes, new students are mostly novices regarding use of technology for higher education purposes). Therefore campus IT leaders are invested in minimizing the number of applications available and maximizing use of those few applications. Web 2.0, instead, is invested in maximizing the number of applications (market growth), the prospect of which presents IT leaders with a training nightmare.

 - Stability. Campuses, because of their long innovation and short turnover cycle, need technology stability at the basic services level. Web 2.0 is beta-land, almost by definition, since many applications depend on users to improve the value of the sites. Stability and perpetual beta-releases seem incompatible.

 - Obsolescence.  Not only is Web 2.0 beta-land, even those applications that are still building-out are constantly superseded or at least challenged by new start-up technologies, either open source or proprietary. Campus IT leaders think of a year for planning implementation, but after that year, the Web landscape is completely new and the planning process must start over.

Still, at the same time, most Web 2.0 applications, sites, and spaces are ideal for educational purposes if faculty members use them appropriately and imaginatively, without bias just because they are popular, but with full knowledge of how the sites work. Just as faculty are at stake to stay current with traditional course materials, they are at stake to adopt Web 2.0 technologies not because of a felt obligation to use technology, but because these technologies are the best teaching/learning resources.

On the one hand, central IT units cannot support a short innovation cycle. But on the other hand, faculty and their departments must adopt new apps for their research, labs, and classes.

Central IT units will provide only limited support for most Web 2.0 tools. But faculty members are not on their own with Web 2.0. There is a place to turn. We've learned over the past year that cutting edge technology help on campuses may now belong to librarians. For librarians, Web 2.0 is home turf, where they find an abundance of new learning resources that are just begging to be organized and accessed. It's notable that at recent conferences we've found, among the most tech-savvy conference presenters and participants are our old friends the librarians.

As they say, if you need to know, "ask a librarian."

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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