Inchoate Agency: Technology, and the Liberal Arts

Inchoate Agency: Technology, and the Liberal Arts

Fail Whale

A few weeks back, I shared a few thoughts on being a Social CIO at a Liberal Arts College. The post had its genesis in a magazine article that I had been working on, and generated many subsequent conversations, offline and on… like the one below:

Twitter Convo

Which begs the question – why is it that at liberal arts colleges, those who have the biggest stake in the role of technology – faculty and students – are disengaged in the decision processes that govern institutional technology decision making?

Naturally, each school’s unique situation will be fact dependent and history-bound. But I’ll make a run at what I see to be the obstacles that keep stakeholders from actualizing their decision making agency.

The following are observations I’ve made directly, and are informed by my interactions with instructional technologists and CIOs at other liberal arts schools. My biases as an administrator are undeniable and unhideable.

  • Faculty experience technology from the perspective of their classroom… and personal abilities. Faculty members (like the rest of us) frame their views on technology from personal experience. Their comfort with technology informs their attitudes – pedagogically and professionally – with regard to the (proper) role of technology in their classroom. It is the role of instructional technologists, instructional designers, and professional technology services staffs to not dictate how and when technology is to be used in the classroom, but rather to support and inform faculty in their self-directed pursuits to effectively utilize technology, as driven by deliberate pedagogical purpose.
  • Student engagement is variable and inconsistent. Dawg-gone students. They keep wanting to graduate on time. Just when you train ’em up, they’re gone. Or: you go from one year of extremely high and talented engagement with student representatives on committees, to the next year when your students are MIA from each and every technology committee meeting. This is – and will remain – a perennial problem. Your only defense is to identify, and then develop, engaged student leaders for roles in technology steering committees. Once selected, you have to engage them not only during committee meeting times, but in a prolonged and cyclical process of discussion and positive reinforcement. They need to understand their importance – and stake – in the process. To be effective, you as a technology leader have to put in the time to help them recognize how their input and work matters.
  • Little opportunity for institutional conversations regarding technology. Honestly, we’re all focused on our jobs – or graduating – and most likely aren’t sitting around and thinking about the “big picture.” Especially, “big picture technology thinking.” And yet, how will faculty and students understand institutional effects of technology decision making, if there are never opportunities or outlets to hold those discussions? I’ve used two approaches that have yielded good results in the past: periodic surveys of students and faculty regarding attitudes and experiences with technology on campus; and, many, many conversations held directly with faculty department heads (usually, over lunch or coffee) to talk about how their technology needs were – or weren’t – being met, and sharing ideas on technology strategy as it related to budget, student experience, and teaching outcomes. You have to make time, and intentionally pursue opportunities for these conversations to happen. Otherwise, neither side of the dialog (admin and faculty) will be even relatively close to being informed about the real efficacy of technology on your campus.
  • Institutional / strategic priorities often don’t translate into immediate action. By their very nature, strategic initiatives are long-lived in scope and execution. Needless to say – so I’ll say it – It is exceedingly difficult to maintain focus and continuity, when projects span multiple funding years, experience drastic changes in leadership, or undergo non-trivial changes to scope over the life of a project. Enthusiasm and buy in can leech away, just when it is need needed the most. Poor decisions creep in, when tactical expediency overrides the overarching institutional strategy that you’ve thoughtfully put into place. Worse than that, a pattern of this type of disintermediation sabotages future efforts at getting institutional buy in for long range objectives. Keeping the main thing, the main thing, is a lot harder than it looks.
  • Governance is simply under-exercised and under-developed. This, I believe, is the number one challenge – and the number one reason – faculty exercise little voice in setting institutional technology priorities. Faculty workloads – advising, teaching, and committee work – naturally have an impact on levels of governance and committee participation. It is vitally important that faculty get – and remain – engaged at the institutional level, on matters involving technology, if a semblance of shared governance is to be maintained – and believed. Trust – and distrust – contributes or detracts from enthusiastic (or at least, willing) participation. The fact remains – faculty wield a tremendous amount of power and responsibility in helping set institutional priorities – not just technological ones – that go unactualized, unacted upon; faculty inaction effectively abdicates responsibility in their role in the outcomes. I say this not as an indictment, but rather as a recognition of a serious obstacle to effective governance.

In short, it’s complicated.

But not really.

The key to addressing inchoate student and faculty agency, is to promote, support, and maintain high levels of engagement at all stages of the institutional technology decision cycle.

Ultimately, without prolonged and intentional engagement and exercise of shared governance by students and faculty, lasting and sustainable technology delivery will be seen as dictatorial, rather than collaborative and collegial – which will lead only to further disengagement.

What do you think? Do these observations reflect what is happening at your institution?


Shadow IT: Solve, Overcome, or Endure?

Everyone who has ever been in a position of authority in IT has run across Shadow IT – those pockets of automation throughout your enterprise not maintained, supported, or “sanctioned” through the front door of your IT organization.

Is it a problem to be solved, overcome, or merely endured? Here are some of my thoughts.

Technology Services Nick Nack – A 3D Project

Technology Services Nick Nack – A 3D Project

Since we put our MakerBot Replicator 2 in our Oathout Technology Center, I’ve been itching to do a 3D project that I could repurpose for a number of different campus scenarios – teaching, design considerations, fit-n-finish, etc.

The project I decided upon was to take our Technology Services logo (seen below) in 2D, sketch it up, and make it into a 3D object thingy (wall hanging, coaster, knick knack, whatevs).

Technology Services Logo

Admittedly, I’m not the “go to” Photoshop / Design guy. I know enough to be able to do enough – given enough monkeys banging on keyboards and the lifetime of the universe to do it in.

That said, I ain’t skeered. So I jumped in.

I downloaded a copy of Sketch Up Pro, because I knew that that was what my colleagues on campus were using to design stuff. So far, so good.

Next, I knew at some point that I would be needing to convert my Sketch Up file from .skp format to .stl, for use in our printer. So, I googled around, and found this plug in and installed it into Sketch Up. Ok… what next?

I then opened a new project in Sketch Up. I won’t go into all the boring details – but in short order, I:

  • Imported an image of the Technology Services Logo
  • I traced all of the major sections of the logo
  • I colored my sections to match the color scheme of my original logo
  • I pulled the 2D design “up” to have height (about a half inch), and thus, 3D.
  • I sized the nick-nack to be about six inches across – about as big as our 3D printer build plate would allow.

I then sat back and admired my work:

Screenshot 2014-02-13 11.24.39
That’s a fine looking nick nack you’ve designed there.

Hold on, Hoss – you can’t go printing that as it is. Our printer will only print one color at a time (“Nice monochromatic puck you have there, Sport”). How can we make this work, Tim Gunn?

Ok. I obviously need to decompose like colored sections, into separate files, so I can build those all at once.

And so, I copied each section into its own separate sketchup space (below).

Screenshot 2014-02-13 11.23.00
The Black Pieces
The Orange Piece
The Orange Piece
The White Pieces
The White Pieces

We are almost there. But before going on, a short aside.

I built my original design in one file originally, to insure that my final build would have a tight fit-n-finish (i.e., all the pieces would fit together without falling apart). That’s the theory, anyways.

Ok. Moving on.

Now that I have three sets of pieces, I need to go into each file, and export the design from its native skp format to stl format, that I will later import into our MakerWare design package, in order to ready our design(s) to be printed. This is where that extension I mentioned above will be used.

Export to STL
Export to STL

I should note that when saving, you should save in mm (millimeters) not inches – otherwise, your design will look tee-tiny.

Elapsed time to design and get ready to build: three hours. Without using Sketch Up before. So, really. You can do this.

Once you save all of your files to STL, you’re ready to layout your design in your printer software (in our case, MakerWare – your mileage may vary), and see how long this sucker will take to print.

I’ll update our build process later. Watch this space!

Need Help? Get Help.

Need Help? Get Help.


Hendrix College Technology Services: 2012-2013 Recap

A short recap of some of what we accomplished last year, and a short preview of what the Fall holds in store.

New Technology Services Stickers!

New Technology Services Stickers!

Somebody called me a “Schwag Hag.”

I’m totally owning it.

Technology Services Stickers