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Working with Academics Who Have Migrated to Campus Tech Administration
June 20, 2011 - 9:01pm

Perhaps you have the good fortune of working with academics who have migrated from their disciplines and department into academic tech leadership positions. If your career has been on the technology side, with a background in system administration, media production, programming, or audio/visual services, these former faculty refugees may present a different set of challenges than your collaborations with other campus technology professionals.

As someone who has spent much of his career as a college teacher, (in on-ground and online environments), and who has moved into academic technology administrative roles, perhaps I can shed some limited (and admittedly biased and non-representative) light on how academics think.

5 Tips for Campus Technology Professionals Who Work with Academically Trained Educational Technology Administrators:

Conceptual and Abstract Thinkers: The main thing to know about most people who get Ph.D.'s is that save for those in some disciplines in the sciences or engineering (who work in a lab), most of graduate training is largely conceptual and abstract. Put another way, we spend years playing with ideas, and living inside our heads and the heads of others. Conceptual and abstract thinking is in contrast to the hands-on and practical work essential for running computer systems, administrating servers and databases, and wiring up classrooms. Some academics are able to transition from the abstract to the practical, for many other of us this is a challenge. I don't have a good solution for this, only the hope that we recognize and value the different experiences we all bring to the table.

Critical Orientation: In graduate school we are expected to develop our own line of research in which to add new knowledge to our disciplines. Part of this socialization into the role of knowledge producer is becoming well versed in our discipline (coursework and prelims), where another part of the training prizes independent thinking and a critical stance towards the conventional wisdom. If you are working with someone who came from a teaching and research career, and who appears overly or needlessly critical, it may just be that she or he is falling back on communication behaviors common in the seminar room. A critical orientation may be a sign of engagement, take it as a compliment.

Talk, Talk, Talk: Many academics love to talk, to ponder, to consider, to debate, and to think - and may perhaps be somewhat deliberate (read slow) in taking swift action. It takes many years to get a Ph.D., we are patient people. Sometimes explicitly limiting debate, and setting clear expectations for rapid decisions (even if all information is not known), is necessary to move things along. Go for it.

Curiosity: I can guarantee you that if you work with an academic type that she or he is more curious about your job (especially if that person was trained as a social scientist) than you are about her or his job. What you do seems really cool to the academic, as you get to do real things that result in real actions (programming, building servers, integrating applications, getting classroom built), where the typical academic in ed tech administration goes to meetings and talks about technology (without actually putting our hands on the technology to make it run). Indulge your academic colleague by showing her or him what you do all day, and don't hesitate if asked to speak in detail about how you do your job.

Transparency and Sharing: In working with people in ed tech who come out of academic disciplines, it is important to understand that the two values academics often hold most dear are transparency and sharing. Academic research is built on the principle of peer review, collaboration, and dissemination of knowledge. A good academic is trained to say what they do not know and do not understand, and to seek out those who have better methods for finding better answers. Open communication and lots of sharing of methods and techniques is essential for working with academically trained campus technology administrators. And it is great to challenge ideas, as we look for strong arguments based on evidence (and take these much more seriously than rank in a hierarchy).

What other guidelines or advice would you offer technology professionals who work with academic types?


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