Selecting an Academic Technology for Support

We are often asked how the Center for Teaching and Learning selects academic technologies and why only some technologies are supported. Let's start with the word supported. For RIT faculty, "support" for a tool means that they can bring their questions about tools such as myCourses, Slack, Zoom to our help desk for a quick answer. It also means that RIT faculty can ask for a consultation with our instructional technologists who will help them integrate the tool into their teaching or help them develop more efficient teaching workflows. Our staff can do this because they have spent time learning about all aspects of this tool--they can teach you how to use the tool and they can help you troubleshoot your use of the tool. This knowledge takes time to acquire and it takes time to keep current, as tools and devices are updated. It also takes our staff time to create and update the documentation for these tools. This is also why, as we have begun supporting a greater number of academic technologies, we have relied on some vendors to produce (and keep current) the documentation associated with their products.

In addition to the time it takes to learn tools so that we can support your teaching work, "support" also means that the tool has been through our selection process and has met all criteria in the academic technology life cycle. This includes security audits that conform to RIT’s information security policies and accessibility audits that conform to WCAG 2.2 AA. We are committed to supporting tools that can help all instructors at RIT. There are many interesting technologies that may serve an entire college but don’t rise to the level of university-wide interest or relevance. Conversely, there may be a technology that is first adopted selectively within a specific college. The use cases generated in that limited adoption suggest that a life cycle evaluation by the instructional technology group within the CTL may be warranted. The goal of this life cycle evaluation is to rapidly determine the level to which a technology warrants broad adoption by RIT’s community. Just as important is the framework we have in place that helps us understand when a tool may no longer be useful or relevant for RIT. What follows is a description of our academic technology life cycle.

The Academic Technology Life Cycle at RIT

The academic technology life cycle consists of six phases. The length of time spent in each phase varies from a few days to many years. These phases cover every aspect of technology adoption starting at the recognition that a technology should be evaluated all the way through the end of life after a technology is no longer going to be supported for use at RIT. Typically the results of the life cycle include a white paper regarding the use case a technology addresses and this white paper is continuously refined throughout the process. The life cycle process is designed to reflect five core values as described in Values Reflected in the Academic Technology Life Cycle.

The Center for Teaching and Learning's academic technology life cycle. Phases described in text of this page.

1. Analysis and Funding

The analysis and funding phase of the academic technology life cycle starts with clearly defined use cases for technology adoption across campus or online courses. A use case is essentially a description of what teaching problem a faculty member is trying to solve with a given technology. In this phase, staff in the CTL investigate the problem the technology aims to address. By focusing on the problem, we can then determine whether existing tools at the university could meet the need. We can also evaluate a new tool for its ability to solve other outstanding problems across campus. While recommendations for specific technologies are always welcome, there is a better chance to fund the use of a technology if overlapping or additional uses can be identified.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Identify teaching use-case scenarios across campus or online
  • Collect preliminary data on use-cases
  • Determine alignment with RIT’s strategic plan
  • Understand scalability based on campus/online data
  • Perform benchmarking, if appropriate
  • Decide whether a specific use case should be funded for further exploration

This phase ends with a report that includes an analysis of the scalability of this technology, projected funding requirements, projected users, a description of use-case(s), a list of possible solutions and tangible comparisons, a list of faculty for the exploration phase, and a recommendation to the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) for approval. The report is used to make a decision to move to exploration. This report is updated throughout the life cycle.

2. Exploration

Exploration is the act of experimenting with one or more technologies to understand their suitability for use at RIT. This can include a small group of interested faculty, and always includes the academic technologists at RIT using the technology. The goal of this phase is to identify a likely technology candidate for adoption at RIT. The hope during this phase is that the evaluated technology will be tested against any questions raised during the analysis and funding phase.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Evaluate one or multiple solutions at a smaller scale
  • Decide on one solution that best meets the use-case and the institute’s needs
  • Decide if the solution(s) evaluated provide adequate benefit

Exploration comes to a close with a revision to the report started in the analysis and funding phase. The report now includes a summary of faculty and student feedback, a comparison of technology (if needed), a discussion on the feasibility of implementation, an understanding of support requirements and costs, projected users, and infrastructure requirements. This report recommends if we should move to the pilot phase of the life cycle, and if so, seeks approval from the director of CTL for additional funding for the pilot.

3. Pilot

The pilot phase of the academic technology life cycle addresses the need to scale a technology and receive feedback from a larger constituency across the university prior to a complete implementation of the technology. This phase represents a time when larger groups will be asked to weigh in on the implementation and significant changes to the implementation may still be made prior to implementation.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Test the one solution at a larger scale with intent to implement across the university
  • Prepare for implementation.
  • Confirm a technology should be implemented university-wide.

At the end of the pilot phase, the report is revised with the findings from the pilot. These revisions typically refine the faculty and student feedback, support requirements, projected costs, projected users, and infrastructure requirements. After this phase, staff in the CTL can make an informed decision around KPI data to assess the future health and usage of the technology. The exploration and the pilot phase are similar in the fact that they end with a recommendation to proceed in the life cycle or not, and a request for funding from the director of CTL when required.

4. Implementation

The implementation phase represents a significant milestone in the technology life cycle because it is the point where a technology has made it through all of the analysis and testing to reach widespread adoption at the university.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Generate an implementation plan
  • Generate KPI data collection plan and/or agreement to assess the health and usefulness of the technology
  • Generate a support plan and/or agreement if necessary
  • Implement the technology institute-wide

Deliverables from this phase of the technology life cycle include:

  • A communication plan to announce technology to the institute
  • A support plan
  • Support documentation
  • A maintenance plan
  • A KPI data collection plan
  • All necessary infrastructure/software in place and tested/functioning

5. Maintenance

This is typically the longest phase for any technology and for many technologies, this has lasted for a decade or more. This time period represents the technology being officially “supported”, and has a lot of maintenance associated with it that is typically not seen by the faculty or staff.

For a technology that is hosted in the cloud, staff in the CTL will meet regularly to review any updates or configuration changes the vendor has made available to us. Sometimes we have the ability to defer those changes and sometimes we need to accept them as part of the maintenance conditions in our contract. In both cases, we work to minimize the impact to the RIT community. For a technology that exists on a more traditional update cycle (e.g. software with quarterly or yearly updates), staff in the CTL will meet prior to every release to test it for bugs and address any implementation changes that need to be made prior to the update being made available to the university population. Typically CTL has more flexibility in when to make these changes available to the RIT community.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Keep technology functioning for widespread use
  • Apply necessary updates
  • Track the health of the technology portfolio
  • Understand new feature updates and overlapping feature introductions
  • Track KPI data
  • Continue marketing technology to faculty

Deliverables from this phase of the technology life cycle include:

  • Regular academic tech review meetings
  • KPI updates
  • An addressing of overlapping feature issues
  • Decisions on new tech explorations in the grant phase
  • End-of-life decisions, if needed
  • End-of-life plan, if needed

6. End of Life

The final phase of the technology life cycle is the transition from use in the classroom to a technology no longer being supported. This can happen for many reasons including a lack of continued funding, a newer technology replacing it, a vendor ending support for the technology, or many others. For many faculty this will mean it is no longer feasible to continue to use the technology because the license has not been renewed and ongoing usage would require additional funding.

Typically this phase involves communicating the end of life to faculty and looking for replacement solutions should there be a need to migrate faculty users to a different tool. In certain instances it may be necessary to shut down the technology with no obvious alternative available because the costs do not justify the small usage numbers at RIT. In that instance the technology may be transferred to a specific department for ongoing support at the college level.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Transition technology out of use
  • End CTL support for technology

Deliverables from this phase of the technology life cycle include:

  • A communication plan for phase out
  • Updated, transferred, or deleted support documentation as appropriate
  • A transition plan for faculty where appropriate
  • The end of CTL support for a technology

Technology Adoption and Support at RIT

How faculty desire to use technology in their teaching is the primary driver of the technology life cycle at RIT. These use cases provide staff within the CTL with the ability to understand how faculty would like to use a technology in their classroom and then discover how prevalent this use case might be across the university. Once there is enough interest in a certain use case, then technologies can be investigated, sourced, and ultimately supported for use across all of RIT.

Contact the Center for Teaching and Learning with any questions you may have about the information in this article.