Graham Anthony--Over the past few years, RIT faculty have adopted new teaching tools and rapidly transitioned from one teaching mode to another. During this time, you may have attended a workshop or had a consultation with staff in the Innovative Learning Institute to learn how to use Zoom and Slack in your classrooms. You may have talked with our staff or student workers about myCourses discussion or quiz tools. The public-facing work that we do is important, but it is a small part of how we support the teaching work you do each day. In this post, and in Selecting an Academic Technology for Support, I want to shed light on the systems we have in place to support your work, and how we are working to make these systems more transparent.
Academic technology at RIT goes through a detailed review and selection process. The phases in the process are described in Selecting an Academic Technology for Support. This process is designed to reflect five core values. These core values were identified and described before we designed our technology life cycle. They have guided the approach to technology investigations on some level since 2016 and help us to select technology that will meet the needs of RIT’s diverse faculty and students.
Transparency is important in that it allows the ILI to clearly communicate the process by which technology is selected. Transparency consists of the following components:
- The technologies currently being evaluated are clear
- The process used to choose the technologies for evaluation is clear
- The metrics used to evaluate the technology are clear
- The process and data used to arrive at the final decision are clear
Inclusiveness as a term can represent many different things, but in the evaluation of technology at RIT it specifically refers to the inclusion of different viewpoints during the evaluation of a technology. Ultimately, any technology that is implemented will need to be inclusive from the standpoint of both accessibility and diversity/inclusion. Inclusion consists of the following components:
- The process takes into account faculty, staff, and student input where appropriate.
- The process is open to tenured and tenure track faculty, lecturers, and adjuncts.
- The process includes outreach to stakeholders.
- Technologies supported by the process must be accessible, which can mean many different things depending on the technology, but at least they should meet level 2.1 AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines help define base accessibility principles to help provide access to those with disabilities.
Nimbleness is a value that enables the team within the ILI to move quickly through an evaluation process and on to the next evaluation if necessary. Nimbleness is an asset because it not only frees up the staff within the ILI to perform other critical tasks at the University, but it also allows interested parties to quickly receive feedback on their requests and plan for their next steps. Nimbleness includes the following components:
- The ability to quickly choose what to work on
- The ability to quickly decide when a technology doesn’t warrant continued investigation
- The ability to scale appropriately depending on the phase of the investigation
Multiple Drivers of Process
It is important to recognize that there isn’t one easily categorized rationale for adopting new technology university-wide. There is a lot of complexity in the reasons a technology may be adopted or evaluated. Technology is deeply integrated in teaching, and this raises issues in our technology assessments that go beyond the merely technical. We may reject a tool suggestion because it does not have proper security protocols in place. We may reject a tool suggestion because the tool is inaccessible to all learners. We are still, and always, committed to supporting teaching at RIT, and yet sometimes drivers other than pedagogical weigh in our decisions. While the impetus to investigate a technology will often be pedagogical in nature, staff in the ILI will look at the technology from many different perspectives. You can come to us with a range of issues if they impact your teaching, but at the end of the day a new technological solution to a problem needs to serve the entire university's needs to align with our service model. Having multiple inputs to initiate the technology evaluation process implies:
- Technological or pedagogical drivers are an acceptable reason to evaluate a technology
- Both technological and pedagogical drivers will be considered as the process moves forward regardless of the starting point
Sustainability in the context of the academic technology life-cycle serves two purposes. The technologies selected must be able to be supported university-wide should they be adopted. Additionally, the process must be capable of resulting in a quick decision on when to continue an investigation into a technology and when to halt the investigation process. A sustainable process values the following:
- The process takes into account the long term support of the technology should it be adopted
- The process allows for disposition of technology decisions (to move forward or not) that are accepted and enforced
- The process ensures that the frequency and length of evaluations are achievable given staffing and other resource constraints
- The expected longevity of a given technology is considered.
Academic technology selection is also constrained by several factors external to the process. The academic technology lifecycle attempts to take into account these external factors. The reality is that these constraints are in many ways the true judgement of whether further investigation, and ultimately, adoption are justified. The analysis phase of the lifecycle attempts to address the following factors:
- Cost/Funding: Typically there is little to no discretionary budget for additional academic technology acquisition within the ILI. As such, it is important to understand the costs associated with a specific academic technology. Should the cost prove to be something beyond the means of the ILI alone, discussions about creative funding methods can be had.
- Demand: Many faculty request specific technologies that end up serving one or two faculty members or one specific college. In these instances the college is a location better suited for acquisition and administration of the technology. Many colleges have their own IT department and are willing to support specific college-level use cases.
Contact Graham Anthony, manager of instructional technology and media development, with any questions you may have about the information in this post.