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Faculty Training? Head to Bee School

Faculty take the fall for too many failed IT initiatives. It's time to focus on what IT departments are doing to drive faculty away.

This story appears in the May 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology.

Few in IT will admit it, but faculty serve as tech scapegoats way too often. When a promising initiative founders, knowing heads in IT invariably mutter about faculty intransigence. And I can't remember how many times I've sat in sessions at higher ed IT conferences where attendees make sly allusions to faculty obstinacy--wink, wink, can you believe those chumps?

Sorry, folks, but blaming faculty is simply not fair. Sure, there are difficult professors in every school, just as there are stick-in-the-mud employees in every company. But to assume that faculty as a species are somehow incapable of running with your latest tech solution is self-defeating.

At the risk of sounding like a hayseed, let me throw in an agricultural analogy. I live on a farm where my wife and I keep bees. When we inspect the hives, the bees will respond based on how we treat them. If I drop a frame, or squash some bees, they get mad--really mad. But if we do our job, moving calmly and quietly, working with their flow, they go along with the plan.

Isn't the same true for faculty? Instead of blaming them for reacting badly to IT initiatives, IT might ask itself how it could work differently with faculty. In our May cover story, "5 Keys to Engaging Faculty," writer Linda L. Briggs explores how some schools are rethinking ways to bring faculty into the technology fold.

I was most impressed by the efforts of the University of the District of Columbia to use data analytics to identify areas where individual faculty need help. It's the kind of initiative that bears fruit because the participants recognize that IT understands their individual needs. One-size-fits-all training, on the other hand, tends to be convenient for IT but not the most helpful way to reach a diverse group of faculty.

Even though faculty members are famously individualistic, it's important to remember that these same professors are also part of a tight-knit campus community--which brings me back to bees. Treat an individual bee carelessly or neglectfully, and she will react defensively. But it doesn't stop there: Her mood rubs off on the rest of the hive and--before you know it--you've got a full-scale rebellion on your hands. Sound familiar?

While you're never going to be able to keep every faculty member happy, it makes sense to ensure that the negative effects of any discontent are minimized. Just as a queen uses pheromones to communicate her wishes to the 60,000 bees in her hive, IT departments must be in constant communication with their constituents, whether through focus groups, surveys, e-mails, or outreach programs to ensure that training is effective and responsive. This two-way flow of information is vital to keeping your hive healthy--and you from getting stung.

About the Author

Andrew Barbour is the former executive editor of Campus Technology.

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