Sunday, August 09, 2009

1. Be the First to Buy Hot New Technology (#1 of Ten Things I No Longer Believe)

(Revised November 22, 2009)

This series of posts begins with five goals for programmatic change, each of which can be advanced by some use of technology (e.g., digital technologies, new buildings, academic resources -- in this series we focus mainly on the digital technologies but the logic will often apply to other facilities as well.) Those five goals are using technology to:
  1. Attract outside attention, good people (students and faculty), and money to the program
  2. Improve learning outcomes (results)
  3. Enroll more (and more kinds of) students
  4. Save money
  5. Save staff time
We begin with using technology to attract attention, good people and money to your program. The old strategy for doing so: Be the first. Your program should leap to spend big bucks on the hot new technology that everyone has just started talking about. Be #1 before your competitors can claim that honor. Use the purchase to identify your program with that technology in order to make your program more visible and thereby attract good people (students and staff) and gain financially (grants, gifts, discounts from the vendor of that technology).

For example, promise that every new student or staff member will get popular technology X, or have access to service Y. Or, if technology Z is in hand, publicize how many of your people or courses use it. Cite the amount of money spent on the technology to dramatize your program's commitment. Use the name of the technology or its vendor in conjunction with the name of your program in recruitment and grant proposals (e.g., "We are the Z University").

Obviously, programs also hope to use their technology somehow for educational gains. But what distinguishes this strategy from the four I'll describe in coming weeks is the hope that the acquisition of the technology will itself lead to visibility and thereby to material gains.

More often than not, this strategy seems to be associated with an educational theory that might be labeled, "Technology is magic." Advocates might simply assert, "This technology is so exciting in its potential and is easy enough to use that faculty and students are bound to embrace it and do any number of good things with it!!!"

HOW TO EVALUATE THIS STRATEGY'S SUCCESS: Did your program actually achieve lasting gains in visibility and thereby material gains, relative to its competitors? (Each of these posts will include brief notes about how to evaluate its strategy.) That's strategy #1.

Think back five or more years ago; do you know of an academic program that has followed this strategy? Did they achieve the results they sought? To write about it (and feel free to leave the program anonymous), click the 'comment' button below and respond to any of the following questions:
  • Were there gains in visibility, staffing or money? Did those gains diminish quickly as some competitors waited for prices to drop and then bought the same technology? Did other competitors wait until the buzz about technology X faded, and then buy hot new technology Y?
  • Worse, were their efforts to use technology X for programmatic improvement sabotaged by technological change itself? For example, if hot new technology X was great for visualization, two years later did the program's innovative staff shift focus to a newer technology Y, a technology that promised a very different educational improvement? Did each of these promises whip by so quickly, each new one distracting attention from the last new one, so that none were ever fully realized?
  • Once the program bought into the new technology, was it difficult to find enough qualified support staff who also understood education well enough to help staff learn to use it effectively for teaching?
In most programs I've seen over the last thirty years, these big investments in a hot new technology often failed to produce the material or educational gains that been the topic of such much hype a few years earlier. My next post in this series suggests an alternative way to use technology to increase a program's visibility and thereby to attract people and resources: a strategy much more likely to produce lasting gains.

1 comment:

  1. Thankfully, I always thought that the "be number 1, be the first" belief was bunkum, so I didn't subscribe to it.
    In fact I spent some time and energy trying to resist conversion to this belief from technology enthusiasts, (including elements of TLTG!)and trying to help senior colleagues (typically Vice Chancellor or President status)see the error of such a belief!
    Sorry - makes me sound rather holier than thou, but it is a timely reminder that cutting edge should always be treated with scepticism.


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