A Service Orientation in Ed Tech

What do you think are the most important attributes for a successful career in educational technology?

June 21, 2012

What do you think are the most important attributes for a successful career in educational technology? 

The starting place is clearly a passion for education and strong interest in technology, and the desire to work at the intersection of both. An orientation towards change and an impatience with the status quo are probably essential as well.   But the longer I work in educational technology the more I think that the attribute most important for success in this career is a service orientation.

A service orientation is fundamentally about putting the needs of the people we work with first. 

In broad terms, a service orientation can be contrasted with a traditional discipline based orientation. Newly minted academics, particularly academics looking to have traditional tenure-track degrees at research oriented institutions, place their professional identity within the discipline that they trained. 

In a career in education technology our professional identity is squarely located within our institution, and our constituents within our institution are our primary concern. 

So what does a service orientation in educational technology look like?   

Alignment: The first and most important element of a service orientation is an alignment to the mission and goals of your institution. If you don't believe in what your college or university is trying to accomplish then you are in the wrong job. For technology folks it is very important to really understand and buy-into the larger mission of a potential academic employer. The day-to-day work life of the unit, division or department that you join will ultimately be about contributing to larger mission of the institution. Be sure that it is a good fit.

Empathy: The need for empathy may seem like a strange requirement for success in the world of technologists. For most of our careers our professional success has been built on what we know, our technical and managerial skills. On our organizational and project management abilities. The training and experience we have gained in specialized technologies, information science, learning design, etc. etc. While it is true that all these skills are necessary, they are no longer sufficient for success in education technology. We need to learn to empathize with the people who use our technology services. Can we understand the world from their perspective? Can we put ourselves in their place, and then use this knowledge to design our services and systems that responds to that knowledge?

Partnerships:  I like to view the relationships that we have in education technology with students, faculty, and staff as partnerships.  A successful partnership requires us to understand the desires, needs, and constraints of the people we work with.  In practice, this means a willingness to listen to what our students, faculty and fellow staff actually want and need with technology - as opposed to what we are most interested in providing.  Building these relationships and understanding these needs is time consuming and challenging.   The technology world moves so quickly that it feels impossible just to keep up with the day-to-day demands, much less take the time to engage in conversation and relationship building with our constituents.   If we fail to develop these partnerships, however, we will end up providing services that are a poor match for the diverse needs of our academic community, or only meet the needs of the vocal few.   

Perhaps a service orientation is one of those attributes that is hard to define, but obvious when you see it.  Increasingly I look for a commitment to service when I am involved in hiring or promotion decisions. 

A service orientation is an attitude that can pervade every level and rank within an organization.   It is critical that our education technology leaders model service leadership, the idea that the higher up in the organization you go the more your job is to provide the staff that ultimately reports to you the tools and support they need to be effective in their positions.   

How would you define a service orientation with education technology?  

How do you think people who work in education technology can evolve towards this goal?   

Do you see a service orientation in the technology leadership and with the technology people that you work with on your campus?

What other professions within higher education also share a service orientation?


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