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We Don't Know and They Don't Know
May 16, 2012 - 6:55pm

Very few professionals in higher education really know how to use our information systems to their fullest capacity. A bold statement? Perhaps, but have you ever really met a large number of Student Affairs practitioners who are fluent with tools like Banner, Blackboard, or PeopleSoft? It took me several years before I felt comfortable using Banner. Now that SunGard and Datatel have merged into Ellucian, I'm hopeful that the two companies can create interfaces that are more friendly to humans. Blackboard has always been all about trial and error. The latest iteration of Blackboard's LMS has a few changes under the hood, but c'mon, cosmetic changes are not the same as significant UX modifications. Thank goodness Blackboard Mobile is still on my cool list. And PeopleSoft, well, it's really not oriented towards "people" nor is it "soft." Everyone knows what I'm talking about. Our tools are complex. They require a learning curve that requires time.

Administrators, as part of our work, have the luxury of time. We get paid to learn how to use the systems that support both our work and the students who attend our institutions. However, how do our students learn these tools? Orientation sessions are not necessarily structured for learning. Orientation is a massive brain dump of information that takes place during a one or two day process. Incoming students (first-year or transfer) are juggling so many mental processes during this time in their lives. Orientation programs generally do not offer enough time for students to learn how to use the "tools." Advising sessions are focused on getting students signed up for classes. Brains are filled to the brim long before the day is done.

It might be a little bit disruptive, but here's an idea: What if we had continuous (and required) technology learning sessions for students? Even better, what if our students were invited to the same technology tools learning sessions that administrators have to attend. Both groups of learners could share with one another. Students would know what academic advisors know and faculty would know exactly what students know. Because, right now, it seems like a bit of a guessing game. We hope that our students have a thorough understanding of the tools by the time they graduate, but there aren't any guarantees.

How are you teaching your students the technology tools at your campus? How are you measuring learning, competency, and fluency?


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