Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lessons on the Use of Academic Technology

Lately I have been thinking about generalizing my experiences over the last 5+ years with using various forms of academic technology.  I have come up with two broad lessons for users (especially faculty):

1.) Be prepared to incur switching costs, and
2.) Expect the unexpected.

I have also come up with two policy lessons for university administrators:

1.) Avoid unannounced technology changes, and
2.) Strive to provide relevant information.

Several experiences have forced me to incur switching costs.  The most dramatic example is our campus' experience with Learning Management Systems.  There have been several in the last few years, and each switch to a new LMS involves costs to users.  Here the lesson is, if you're not in control of your technology, don't be surprised if it is not there for you when you plan on using it.

My experience with eBooks through the SJSU library was one that taught me that eBooks come under all types of access rights.  Some allow printing of the entire document to PDF and unlimited numbers of users, while others allow no printing and access to only one user at a time.  The lesson is simple--if you're doing something new for the first time, like telling you're students to read the eBook rather than buy the hard copy, you shouldn't be surprised if something unexpected happens.

These lessons certainly should inform how I and other users make decisions regarding how we use technology in the classroom, especially regarding the critical decision of how we invest our time.  However these lessons might also inform administrative policy.

In the case of the LMS switching, universities can provide users with information about upcoming changes.  Luckily our Provost did a good job of preparing us, I felt at least, for the new LMS, but the switch to other LMSs was not always easy.  And indeed, there have been other technology switches which I was not notified about and which affected me rather negatively.  Anyone at a university who is involved with technology that others use should avoid unannounced technology changes whenever possible, in order to avoid the high switching costs that users would have to incur.

With regard to reducing uncertainty, universities can strive to provide relevant information.  In the library eBook example, this means clearly stating the rights associated with our subscription.