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Who's Out Front with Technology Innovation on Campus?

The Web 2.0 wave on campus may have left academic computing units in its wake.  Is anyone in charge of technology innovation?

At the Point of No Return

The Oxford English Dictionary and the Encyclopedia Britannica will not be published in print form again. At home, I alternate between nostalgically reading the New York Times in print one morning and online the next (see "New York Times API Coming": We throw out one or two boxes of books a week, painfully parting with old print friends we never talk with anymore.

Shakeup at the Core

And, on campus, the ancien regime of technology administration mutates. Central computing keeps the technology utilities running, networking and telecom is enmeshed in the national communications grid, and academic computing -- the stepchild -- has become, well, what?

Who is in charge of technology innovation for education? Would that be academic computing on your campus? If not, where is systematic technology innovation occurring?  

One answer: Technology Innovation is Distributed

Part of the answer may be that just about every academic department is involved in technology innovation in its own knowledge domain. Departments may have a faculty or staff position, or part of a position, that has been dedicated to technology support for Web site maintenance, lab spaces and technology, administrative functions in the department, tech support, and education technology innovation for the department.

Web 2.0 technologies, functioning through your browser as the "client" software, offer new adventures to this emerging distributed technology constituency on campus -- these new positions and their colleagues. They check out the latest buzz-worthy sites and savor these possibilities:

 - Set up a new Web site for the department in minutes.  
 - Add to your collaborative capabilities.
 - Offer incentives for people to visit your Web site.
 - Build a community for your department.

And, if you want tips on which sites to explore, check with your library.

As has become apparent in the last couple of years, technology innovation has escaped the cage and is proliferating on campus.  

Who's Steering?

A few paragraphs back, the question was "where is systematic technology innovation occurring?" Who is testing, piloting, examining the value propositions, strategizing about sustainability, and assessing impact? Is anyone looking for duplication, triplication, quadruplication of effort on campus? Who is helping to institutionalize the support for popular Web 2.0 gadgets, widgets, and sites?

Web 2.0 is inviting enough that a majority of academics can and will be drawn to using some aspect of Web 2.0 for an educational purpose and therein, of course, lies the rub for academic computing units.

What Does Innovation Mean Now?

How can academic computing be in any way innovative when innovation no longer means simply using technology? It can't be just that, since "everyone" is doing it. And, if it's not about simply using the technology, it must be about something more, such as using the technology in educationally valuable and sustainable ways over time. Or about building new capabilities based on Web 2.0 architectures, protocols, languages, definitions, and tools.

At this time in higher education, we need a technology innovation unit. If academic computing on your campus has become locked into production, it may be time to create a new breed of systematic technology innovation unit that consults, selects, pilots, assesses, and hands off to technical operations. This must be a unit that can manage the innovation cycle so that adoption of Web 2.0 technologies on the campus is not willy-nilly.

But, the innovation unit can't continue to support the new technologies once they've been vetted and implemented. That last part of the innovation cycle, the "hand off," allows the unit to continue to innovate. No innovation unit can survive without always "going out of business."

Web 2.0 is pushing us toward a full and deep enculturation of the new default technology in higher education, and it's time for technology units to get out front once again.

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, 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: E-mail: [email protected]

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