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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.

Supporting Academic Success

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 and infrastructure.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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."

About the Author

David S. Bowersox, MBA, is associate dean, finance and administration, at the Duke University School of Nursing.

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