In Chapter 5, the book examines some of the organizational models developed to support the integration of technology. It is argued that there needs to be ongoing mechanisms in place for dealing with technology issues as they arise, and that a clear and coherent governance structure for technology is required in every institution, which should be a prime responsibility of the executive team.
At the start of Chapter 5, a VP Academic is meeting with a VP Administration to determine whether or not to renew the license for the university’s learning management system, and how the extra cost should be handled. We suggest that this could have been handled differently and better.
Dr. Angela Dubrowski, Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Provost, Eastern Seaboard State University
Dr. Dubrowski has been vice-president of academic affairs for nearly nine months. Before that she was dean of the faculty of arts. She is a respected scholar specializing in modern American literature, with two highly acclaimed books to her name. She had also earned the respect of her colleagues as dean by successfully protecting the budget for the faculty of arts when faculties of arts and humanities in similar neighboring state universities had been cut drastically. She is decisive, communicates well with her colleagues, and works in a very collaborative manner with the deans and her colleagues on the executive team. Her priority over the last nine months has been the integration of a former community college into the state university, as a result of a statewide reorganization aimed at saving money. But today she is facing a different problem.
She is having lunch with Michael Blackstone, the VP of administration. The university’s contract with a commercial learning management system company is coming up for renewal. The CIO, who reports to the VP of administration, has recommended renewal of the contract, at a cost of approximately $1.2 million a year. However, as usage increases, this cost will also increase. Up to now, the cost of licensing has been absorbed wholly within the Admin VP’s budget as part of IT infrastructure. Now, however, Blackstone wants this budget to be split 50–50 with the provost. His argument is that this is mainly an academic cost, but he is also constrained by the fact that the new contract represents an increase of 40% over the previous contract, and he has no room to maneuver in his own budget to absorb this extra cost.
Dr. Dubrowski’s problem is further compounded by a memo from 25 faculty in education, who had argued that the university should move to other forms of electronic delivery, such as Web 2.0 tools, to “improve learner-centered teaching and more constructivist ways of learning,” and by a very unpleasant meeting with the dean of science and the head of the computer sciences department, who had strongly criticized the CIO’s decision to renew the commercial contract. They had argued that the university should be using an open source platform, such as Moodle, which would be much cheaper and better for teaching.
Adding to Dr. Dubrowski’s anxiety about this decision was the fact that she herself had not much experience in using technology in her own teaching, which was largely classroom based, although she had used the learning management system for students to access her list of recommended reading, curriculum information and sample assignment questions. She privately dreaded the thought though of having to move all her “stuff” to another system, and she sensed that many faculty would also have the same fear.
She was also concerned about how to find another $600,000 a year from her own budget, which was already stretched to the limit. Furthermore, this issue is one she could really do without, as there were many academic issues to be resolved with the merging of departments across the two campuses. In this context, and given the fact that she may need some financial support from the VP of administration for the merger, she decided to support his decision to renew the commercial contract, and would try to find “her” $600,000 from perhaps the modest increase in tuition fees that she was proposing for next year, which the VP of administration also supported. However, she knew was going to have to face some unpleasant meetings with some deans and faculty as a result of her decision—and possibly from students too, given that tuition fees would have to go up. But at least Blackstone had the decency to pick up the tab for lunch.
There is certainly discussion in Chapter 5 of governance, i.e. how decisions should be made about technology. However, Chapter 4, on leadership and strategic planning, Chapter 7, on resources and money, Chapter 8, on preparing administrators, and Chapter 9, also on governance structures, all provide ideas or suggestions that might assist in thinking about how this decision might have been better handled.
Points for discussion (use comment box below for your response)
1. Is this a realistic scenario for you? Do you think that some administrators would really make decisions like this? What is your experience?
2. From the above reading, how would you have managed this decision if you had been Dr. Dubrowski?
3. Do you have a technology committee or committees in your institution? What is their mandate and decision-making authority? Does this work well? If so why, or if not why not? What could be done to improve its work/their work?
4. Does your institution have a learning technology support unit? How does it relate to faculty development or distance education? How well does this organizational structure work? How does it relate to academic departments? What could be done to improve support for learning technologies in your organization?
5. Can you draw a map or diagram of where decisions are made about learning technologies in your organization? What does this tell you?