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Downsizing Ourselves
September 5, 2013 - 9:00pm

I'd like to make a modest proposal:

The goal of academic technology departments should be to downsize ourselves.

That the purpose of higher education is for learners to learn and researchers to research - and that anything that we do that is not directly contributing to those two goals we should endeavor to do no longer.

Why would anyone in their right mind try to eliminate their own job?  

I'm a security minded guy, a dad who will send one daughter to college in 2015 and the other in 2017. A dude with a mortgage and a car payment. Besides - I love my job. 

I think us educational technology people do pretty good work. I know that the demands on our time are bigger than we have hours in the day.   

I know that my department and yours is probably short-staffed. That there are more tech projects and more tech demands than you can possibly meet with the resources that you have available.

The fact that academic IT demands are increasing faster than campus IT budgets is precisely why I'm setting out this self-downsizing goal.

What if we consciously did everything that we could to make our services no longer needed?  

What if we designed systems that faculty and students could use without our assistance?

If we moved to a model faculty and student selected learning platforms, platforms that they had responsibility for running?

Is the idea so far-fetched? How many of us manage to make our web platforms work without the help of an IT department? If our enterprise systems did not exist would faculty and students suddenly stop using technology?   

No campus wide LMS? No problem. Professors and students will use DropBox, Discourse, Lore, or whatever platform that they want.

No campus provides e-mail and calendaring? No worries. Last time I checked there are plenty of free options that our community can choose from, and does everyone really need to be on the same system?

No lecture capture. Not an issue. Everyone can use their iPads to record and YouTube to share.

Should running enterprise level academic IT systems be the core competency of higher education?   

Should we be doing everything possible to set up a structure where all of our efforts and attention is devoted to teaching, learning, and research?

Am I worried that I'll be out of a job anytime soon? Not particularly.   

A shift to full technology self-service for faculty and students may be too much to ask. But perhaps we can nudge things along in this direction?  

We might find that our faculty and students get along pretty well without us.

Freed from selecting, running, and supporting e-learning platforms we would have more time to partner with faculty on course design. More time to work directly with students on projects that involve technology.  

Greater opportunities to participate more directly and more often in the hard work of learning and knowledge creation. 

Can this argument be extended from academic to administrative systems?  Perhaps through a system of shared IT infrastructure across campuses, or a greater willingness to source IT functions that are not within our core competencies of teaching, learning and research?  I don't know.

Are we brave enough to work towards making our services unnecessary?

 

 

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