We are a ship with no port…. so get used to it

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Last week I spent 3 days with people just like me…. instructional designers… teachers… IT support people… and we all had one thing in common:  we all are trying to figure out how we can use technology and the fruit-basket of tools available today to deliver high-quality education while meeting the needs and desires of today’s students.  Not an easy task, for sure.

I have been going to these conferences for years and it provides me a great opportunity to see what others are doing, what new tools are available to me, and networking opportunities to meet others like me.  And it occurred to me this year that I have been listening to the same problems/issues over and over again, year after year.  The session titles change from year to year, but the problems are the same.  And no matter what new-fangled tools are the ‘cat’s meow’ this year, the same problems keep perpetuating and never seem to get solved.  For all of technology’s promise, I can’t help but think that those of us who carry the banner of technology in higher education are like a ship without a port, and we better get used to it.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

I work in higher education at a state supported university in Tennessee. (www.utm.edu).  We are very much like hundreds of other universities around the country… trying to do more, with less, and keep attracting students at the same time.  We also understand that if we don’t offer a product that is attractive to today’s students, who are more and more increasingly tech-savvy, that our days are numbered.  So that means we have to make sure that our faculty are prepared and ready for this challenge.  And that is a problem.  Why?  Because so many of today’s faculty aren’t interested in changing the way they are doing things.  Of course, not all of them are like that.  But too many of them are.  So one of my tasks is to find ways to get them excited about learning new things and helping them add to or enhance what they are doing in and out of the classroom.

This is a common theme among the sessions that I participate in every year at this conference, or that conference.  As I said before, the session titles change but the topic is the same… what the heck are we supposed to do?  And this year I had an epiphany… a moment of clarity and the same time… of stark fear.  There is no answer.  There is no magic bullet.  I don’t care how successful that this university or that university has been.  You can listen to their wonderful story about they transformed their campus, but it ain’t gonna work for you.  Or, at least, it probably won’t.

I have come to the realization that every campus of higher education is a living, breathing organism that is similar, yet wholly different from others.  Why it took me this long to have this wonderful epiphany is beyond me, but I did.  Each campus is made up of individuals with different motivations, desires, and needs.  Every campus has its own culture that fits the mix of backgrounds and personalities of the people that live on that campus, and the sometimes political environment that is in place.  It really is utter madness to think that all faculty are the same, are motivated by the same thing, or will respond to the same incentives.  Just like today’s society in most respects, in most areas of our lives, is moving toward ‘mass-customization’ for everything.  Where everyone wants a customized view… a customized product… a customized service… made especially just for them.  Higher education is no different.

So if I want to be effective at motivating my faculty to try new things… to enhance what they know… to provide things for students that they want… then I have to figure out a special recipe of initiatives and incentives that the faculty on my campus will respond to.  No cookie-cutter approach will do.  No sir.

It truly is liberating to have finally, after 10 years in this world that I work in, come to the realization that I am on this ocean of technological maelstrom in a ship that has no port.  I must always be moving, always be changing course to get where I want to go.  It forces me to stay sharp.  It forces me to pay attention to where I am going.  And it makes me appreciate the successes that I do sometimes experience when the waves aren’t so big.  And I am getting used it to.  And I’m ok with that.

{ 1 comment }

Chase D. July 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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