Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's Time to Stop Blaming the Faculty

Imagine an enterprise that believes it has created a wonderful, transformational new product. It offers that product to its intended audience, and instead of seeing its product adopted, it finds that after some initial enthusiasm, product adoption stalls and even goes backward. To get its target audience to consider it, the enterprise offers incentives – food, money – and these seem to work for a while, but still, they can’t get most of their potential customers to participate.

How does the enterprise respond? One possibility is to look at the product they’ve designed and honestly analyze its strengths and shortcomings. Perhaps it doesn’t do what it’s intended to do? Perhaps it’s too costly? Perhaps it’s too hard to use? Perhaps they have over-promised and under-delivered? Using the benefits of this analysis, the enterprise could try to redesign and create a better product, one that’s better able to meet the needs of its customer and drive more adoption.

Or perhaps, the enterprise could simply blame the intended customer. “They’re just too lazy. They don’t know what’s good for them. They don’t want to change. They won’t come learn about our product when it’s convenient for us, even when we pay them or give them food.” Surely any enterprise that takes this approach is incompetent and ought to go out of business, right?

Sadly, the later approach has characterized many educational technology initiatives over the last 20 years. Well-intentioned instructional technology departments hire staff, create services, buy and install products, and provide training courses that they believe ought to be attractive to faculty and enable them to use technology in new ways to improve teaching and learning. In too many cases, they hire the wrong staff, build the wrong services, buy the wrong products, and provide ineffective training. Too often, the educational software and products industry has made things worse by creating mediocre tools that are marketed aggressively to unsophisticated academic technology departments. Then, when the initiatives fail or are less successful than projected, the blame is placed on the faculty.

Of course there are many hard-working professionals in the technology field that try to understand and meet faculty needs – some of them are faculty themselves. Making change in any profession is difficult. Of course some faculty are resistant to change – but understanding why this is so is the first step to making change happen. Creating great academic technology services is hard work, and not always appreciated. Most academic technology shops have resource challenges, and many do the best they can with little financial or moral support.

Regardless of the challenges, blaming the faculty just doesn’t work. Educational technology professionals need to look first with unflinching honesty at the quality of what they are providing. If we can’t provide tools that make instructor’s jobs easier and help them reach students more effectively, why should they use them? If we can’t provide effective, concise training at the point of need, instead of long, inconveniently-scheduled in-person training, why should we expect anyone to make use of it?  

If faculty won’t use what we have to offer, perhaps we’re offering the wrong thing.


Welcome to the Edtech Curmudgeon. Hope you like it. A tip of the hat for inspiration in naming the blog to Stephen Budiansky whose Liberal Curmudgeon Blog I enjoyed very much. All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of any employer past, present, and future (except when I'm self-employed).