Saturday, 6 November 2010

Leveraging technology to raise productivity in academia

University life is diverse and multicultural by design and underlying these attributes are key roles that support learning and research. Most institutions have an elearning strategy but something more over-arching in technology strategy terms is be useful in that it should capture more academic/administration activity. By thinking in this way, the silos of learning, research and administration merge into a single seamless environment. In such an environment knowledge flows between areas of the organization seamlessly. Information is made readily available to those that need it and this leads to greater operational efficiency overall.

As technology is leveraged to this end and people become accustomed to its presence whole new ways of working emerge that simply could not be done before. For example, linking departments or even other institutions becomes a real possibility with relatively minor software adjustments. This alone fosters conditions for easier collaborations that lead to increases in the knowledge base. Cloud technology provides us the conduit to make this a reality at a relatively low cost. For example, there is a project in the US called Kuali. This is an open-source modular architecture designed for universities by universities (e.g. Indiana and Michigan). It contains modules on finance and web-based student management (among others modules). It is free software with solid open-source support mechanisms. Kuali is now gaining traction. It also ties into other open-source platforms, like the Sakai collaboration framework, which is useful because people can move about the environment but not feel or see the barriers between the various tools they use. And why should they? After all web conferencing (e.g. BigBlueButton)is useful for academics to communicate with co-researcher but also administration and students. So the tools should be accessible in all aspects of the environment.

Underlying any technology deployment are people's activities. A key learning in the academic domain of Information Systems is that people are the key resources in any organization. This means technology serves a particular purpose, that is, to help people do better than they could do before. So, in terms of an overall strategy institutions should focus on understanding human processes in the organisation and then develop new technological approaches that raise productivity, improve the flow of knowledge (across students/academics/partners/admin/alumni) and simplify the human-computer interface of the technology; that is, make the technology more seamless.

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