The “Trouble-Free Semester” Challenge

Recently I sat down with our Faculty Senate steering committee to discuss ways to engage faculty in short and long-term IT strategic planning. While we had a protracted conversation on the subject, one comment stood out—both for the insight it provided me and for the subsequent conversation and thought that it has sparked. Roughly paraphrased, it was this: “I can’t even begin to think about what technology I may want in the classroom in the future when I can’t trust that the technology that’s there now will work [and she gave an example of a classroom that wasn’t functioning properly]. Give me a semester without any technical problems, and then we can talk.” My gut reaction and immediate answer was, “it’s not possible.”

I can hear you faculty-types now…typical IT answer, always “no.” Guilty as charged, on this one anyway. But in fairness, my thoughts raced to all of the different types of reported “IT issues” we encounter in any given week. A fair number of them aren’t really technical problems—they range from power issues (something was turned off) to user “tinkering” (in a classroom another professor or student may change a setting), to just plain old user error. There are a decent amount of truly technical problems mixed in, of course—and we can, and should, minimize those. But when all issues are lumped together as “IT” problems, well, I feared we would never be able to meet the “trouble-free semester” (TFS) challenge.

I’ve thought about this comment a lot since that meeting, and have revisited it several times in conversation with our Senate chair. Underlying it, I believe, isn’t just a frustration and lack of confidence in the technology, but with the IT department itself (based on tenuous faculty-IT relations with several previous IT directors). So I know, and accept, that my first job must be to cultivate relationships with our faculty and build trust based on open communication, collaboration, and accountability.

With stronger faculty-IT relations, a “trouble-free semester” is not at all out of the question. Together, we can discuss our respective roles and responsibilities in resolving both real and perceived technical problems, and use real data—via Help Desk tickets—to quantify our current level of IT issues, and set targets for reducing/eliminating them. Already, as a result of these initial conversations, we (in IT) are discussing maintenance measures, from regular classroom “check-ups” to automated nightly restarts of classroom computers to reset key settings, to prevent problems *before* they occur.

And so, dear faculty…I believe we *can* create that trouble-free semester, after all. Will you join me in accepting the TFS challenge?

1 Response to “The “Trouble-Free Semester” Challenge”

  1. 1 Mark Hager January 5, 2010 at 5:23 am

    It’s great to be working with one of the few, the proud, the high heeled female CIOs. I accept your challenge for a TFS with the added commitment to post appropriate helpdesk tickets and own my own tech challenges, not quickly blaming on IT what is rightfully a user error. Your Monday Memo and data-driven approach give me hope for IT-faculty relations. Who knew faculty could make mistakes? 😉

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