No one sends a press release when a school decides that a technology it once raved about has failed—or outlived its usefulness. And sometimes they just can’t seem to quit devoting resources to zombie tech.
As the number of tech tools proliferates, many higher-ed institutions are struggling with winding down support of older or little-used software.
That was the focus of a session at the annual meeting this week of WCET, which brought together hundreds of college-technology leaders. The session’s description captured the dilemma: “part of dealing with failure is knowing when and how to move on.”
“We talk about resistance to change” at colleges, said Richard Nelson, president of Nicolet College. “We don’t often talk about the resistance to stop doing stuff that no longer makes sense.”
The session was led by Amy Haston, an education technology consultant at Purdue University, and Margaret Wu, educational technologist at the university. They began by using a tool Purdue developed, called HotSeat, to let audience members text in with how their institution knows when enough is enough of a tech tool on campus.
Among the answers:
- Not used by faculty
- Costs exceed benefits/Students not seeing benefits/Better tool shows up
- Periodic critical evaluation
One challenge discussed at the session is that often college tech leaders have spent time convincing professors to try some new tool or approach, whether it’s software they developed or features in a learning-management system. Once those same professors have adopted something, they often don’t want to let it go, even if something more robust comes along to replace it. That puts pressure on a college’s tech support to continue supporting old technology no matter how many new tools they add to their list.
Sometimes the answer is offering to provide support to just a few holdouts of an older tool while otherwise discontinuing support, said Wu. That’s what happened when Purdue stopped supporting software it had developed called Mixable (partly because the Hotseat tool it built later had some similar features).
Faculty resistance to phasing out
David Thomas, director of academic technology at the University of Colorado at Denver, said that he still hears from professors complaining about his office’s decision to switch from Blackboard to a competing LMS, Canvas. The decision was made after a long process that included plenty of faculty input, and he says about 85 percent of professors voted for the switch. But that means 15 percent preferred the old software.
That can cause a hassle for Thomas, but he says the bigger impact is on students, who face a large and confusing mix of technologies as they move from class to class, based on the whims and preferences of each professor.
“We bury our students in tools and they hate it,” says Thomas. “I almost wonder if academic technology’s job is to weed the field sometimes. I’m always interested in how we drive toward a more student-sensitive view of technology.”
After all, he says, the goal is to provide the best education, not make professors and administrators happy.