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Remember the Little Things

Small-scale IT efforts can make a big difference on campus.

small ideas, big results

At the Educause annual conference last month, I sat in on a fascinating session, "Think Small, Get Big Results," led by James Kulich, vice president and CIO at Elmhurst College (IL). The premise: Small-scale IT initiatives can produce unexpected value on campus. And since small ideas are easy to implement, they can have an immediate positive impact.

Kulich asked his audience to break into small groups for a brainstorming exercise. "Please share an example of a small way you used technology that yielded a bigger result than might be expected," he instructed. "You might describe a one-off smaller-scale project. You might describe a particular set of small-scale steps you took as part of a larger project. You might describe your use of a particular piece of technology. You might describe a process you followed. Be creative." A few of my favorites from the discussion:

Eliminating charge-backs. By dropping the administrative fee for its main data center, the University of Victoria (Canada) was able to convince most of its "closet server rooms" to move to the data center — cutting down on power use, reducing duplication of service and dramatically improving security.

DIY document camera. Lacking the budget to supply faculty with document cameras in all classrooms, IT staffers at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts built their own devices out of magnifying desk lamps and webcams.

Profile pics. To help people distinguish between personal and institutional Google accounts, a campaign at North Carolina State University encouraged users to include an NC State logo in their profile pictures to indicate their work account.

Through the grapevine. Since students just don't read e-mail announcements, St. John Fisher College (NY) rolled out its mobile app by presenting it to the student government and letting word-of-mouth do the rest. Usage climbed to a peak within five days, with no other advertising needed.

Student talent. In one summer, Trinity Christian College (IL) had two student workers develop a computer services Web site to house FAQs, how-tos and other resources. The site has become a valuable communication tool for students, faculty and staff.

While the group shared plenty of clever ideas, it's also interesting to note how difficult it was to actually think "small." Some of the topics that rose out of the brainstorming session — remote desktop support, adaptive Web design, virtualization, desktop videoconferencing — tended to be a bit larger in scale. When considering ways that technology has impacted a campus, it's understandably the big stuff that comes to mind first. But sometimes the little things merit equal attention.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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