The rootless ed tech units
One common complaint when I hang around with ed tech/learning technologist people (to be fair, we have a few) is that often universities don’t know quite what to do with them. They know they want them, but they’re not quite sure what for. If you look at where learning technology units are placed in organisational structures, this uncertainty is highlighted – sometimes they are aligned with the library, other times they are part of IT, or inside the education faculty, or sit on one side under the direct aegis of a PVC.
My own unit, IET at the OU, has been reviewed at least six times since I’ve been there. We have been with the PVC students, now with the PVC research, we’ve been in with a bigger grouping including learning technology production and the library, and briefly, in a faculty. With each move comes a new set of priorities and direction. Most people I speak to have similar tales of being moved around organisationally (and sometimes physically).
This results from three causes I think. Firstly, as technology is increasingly viewed as the means by which strategic change is realised, and its significance has increased, where units sit and what they do is subject to political, financial, and tactical changes from senior management. The second factor is that ed tech doesn’t really have a long history for many campus universities, therefore people are still exploring how best to view their role, so this is still evolving. The last factor is the most significant, which is that learning technology units often perform a strange mix of functions, which varies across different institutions, and so there is no agreed structure. In some institutions they are a service unit, responsible for ensuring things like lecture capture & the VLE work. In others they may also have a role in learning design, or researching new technology, or being experts in pedagogy, or staff development in technology.
This means there is probably no single solution for overcoming the rootless, shifting nature of learning technology units, but if I was to offer some suggestions for at least making it less of a problem, I’d go for:
- Involve the team in any decisions – they will understand how best to realise many goals.
- Trust them to have ideas about effective implementation
- Think longer term rather than immediate responses. Ed tech isn’t going away, so what you need is a unit that understands what is happening and can respond appropriately.
- If you’ve implemented a new strategy, direction or organisational structure, leave them alone for a few years to do it before deciding on a new one. Nothing wastes people’s time, energy or enthusiasm more than continuous reshuffles.
- Give them lots of money (ok, it was worth a shot).