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The drawbacks of adopting technology too early

University Business, October 2013

Although universities are under intense pressure to keep up with tech trends, being an early adopter is not always the best option. The launch of Windows Vista is a good example. In 2006, many higher ed institutions jumped on the new operating system when it came out, only to find it loaded with security issues and bugs.

“There are obviously disadvantages to being too far ahead of the curve,” says Sammy Elzarka, an expert on technology adoption and the Director of the Center of Advancement of Teaching & Learning at University of Laverne, a 7,500-student school in Southern California. Adopting a new technology requires careful planning and a well-developed infrastructure to support and monitor implementation. “If the university rolls out an untested technology, glitches and setbacks will leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth,” says Elzarka. “In the end, this can lead to less innovation in the future.”

Universities that may not have the resources to seamlessly implement new technology can benefit from hanging back and letting larger schools work out the kinks. “It’s important to have the time and resources to support and nurture new technological initiatives,” says Elzarka. “Not all universities have that option.” Even at big universities like Arizona State U, early adoption comes with some
risk. When ASU outsourced the hosting of Blackboard to a third-party provider in 2010, students had a hard time accessing the service. The outsourcer struggled to accommodate the sheer volume of traffic generated by ASU’s 72,000 students. “When we first outsourced Blackboard, we had some glitches and setbacks that took a while to work out,” says Gordon Wishon, ASU’s CIO.

Ultimately, ASU worked with Blackboard to address the server volume issues, and the system has been running smoothly for the past three years. As a large university, ASU expects to stretch the capabilities of new education technologies. “We sometimes expose weaknesses in certain services that may not be exposed [in other schools that can’t do the comprehensive testing ASU can],”
says Wishon.

To mitigate risk to students, ASU always deploys pilot programs and makes sure to build an infrastructure of training and support for all new initiatives. “In the end, we are pretty deliberate when it
comes to technology in the classroom,” says Wishon. “We do not want to expose our students or faculty to the risks of an untested technology.” ASU’s IT team carefully assesses the track record of a new technology solution before purchasing, to ensure it will be a good fit at ASU.

Ultimately, both Elzarka and Wishon say that the adoption of educational technology should be driven not by a race to be a first adopter, but by genuine student and instructor demand. “The passion for a new technology has to be ignited by the faculty and students,” he says. “Sometimes that takes time, but often, a slow process can be the most successful.”