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Editor's Note

Getting Past Roadblocks

University Business, Jul 2005

How important is technology to your institution? Is it a deeply ingrained part of the educational environment? If not, then why not?

At our EduComm '05 conference, held last month in conjunction with InfoComm in Las Vegas, those questions were an undercurrent to a panel discussion by industry representatives during the opening day general session before nearly 1,000 attendees.

The panelists--David Martin of Smart Technologies, James Diaz of Sonic Foundry, and Mike Merrill of Dell Computers--spoke at length about the power and wonder of AV/IT convergence on education. During the Q&A session that followed, however, one audience member described a still familiar roadblock to this convergence, especially among smaller institutions. Explaining the trio of issues he faced, Steve Douglas, media assistance engineer for Central Washington University, said, "We have some faculty that refuse to give up their 45-year-old overhead projectors, and we have faculty that want to take their teaching beyond PowerPoint. And then we have an administration that says, 'Here's a $1.95--make it go as far as you can.'"

The panelists had given him many reasons for adopting new technologies, he said, but he still didn't know how to get past the administrative roadblock. "Their reply would be, 'We gave you $1.95, what did you do with it?'"

The panel offered varying advice on getting buy-in. Dell Computer's Merrill, for example, suggested that seeing is believing. "We often talk to customers who tell us they don't have funding, but once they understand the application and its impact on learning, they suddenly find funding," he said.

Sonic Foundry's Diaz challenged the audience to "think out of the box." Some institutions, particularly community colleges, justify technology spending by adopting an entrepreneurial approach. "They begin to understand they are part of a supply-and-demand system," he offered. "They supply education and they develop people who go into the workplace. This has created some very effective business partnerships with the local economy which, in turn, helps fund more technology."

And let's not forget the argument that today's students not only expect things such as high-speed internet access, but won't even consider a college that doesn't offer the latest technology.

"We're seeing an arms race in larger universities--especially in AV/IT--where they are building up technology and using it as part of their recruiting," noted Merrill.

That claim is certainly true. Visit the website of just about any university and you'll find a list of technologies offered, from wireless networks and notebook computers, to school-issued iPods.

It's a recruitment come-on for today's technology-savvy young people. And it's a must for the "Nintendo generation" that, having grown up on technology, is now increasingly at the front of the class, teaching the next generation of students.

A school that isn't riding the technology wave probably does so at the risk of losing not just potential students, but also the community partnerships that can help fund further advances in technology, which, in turn, will attract more students, which... well, you get the idea.

So, let me pose my original questions again: If your campus is behind the curve on technology--and I know that you're out there--why? Is it a funding issue? Is there faculty resistance? Or hasn't the value of technology-enhanced learning been brought home in a meaningful way? And, for those institutions that have found their way past the roadblocks, why not share your experience? Drop me a note and tell how you did it.

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