New Faculty IT Liaison group united for better collaboration

Published December 11, 2017

by Blake Cooper

A group of UB faculty and IT staff are building an innovative new approach to technology in higher education.

Blake Cooper is UB Information Technology's IT Communications Specialist.

Not just another committee

The Faculty IT Liaison program began in 2017 to address disconnects between UB faculty and the technology they use—technology that is often designed and implemented with little or no feedback from faculty.

By uniting technical staff with faculty for a series of hands-on design sessions in which solutions are evaluated and refined in stages, faculty provide insight and focus to IT staff, and vice versa. Those faculty members then become liaisons for their school or unit by helping communicate the lessons learned during the design process.

The result is better communication in implementing IT services for faculty, from start to finish.

Valerie Nesset, Ph. D, an information behavior and information literacy expert with interests in usability and participatory design, is an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies within UB’s Graduate School of Education, and has been named UBIT’s inaugural Faculty Fellow. The model being used for the Faculty IT Liaison program is adapted from original research by her and colleagues at McGill University.

“While faculty at UB have access to the support resources offered by UBIT and the Center for Educational Innovation,” Nesset said, “only faculty can really understand the ways we use technology in our work.”

According to Dr. Nesset, the hands-on approach is critical. “This is not a committee where people talk and talk but never get anything done. In these sessions, we will be playing with technology and solving problems together, relying on each other’s expertise.

“The faculty members are experts in what they need the technology to do and how they use it, and the IT staff are experts in how the technology was designed to work and the affordances it provides. By working together, we can learn from each other to design protocols and procedures around technology that will benefit everyone.”

Now more than ever

When UBIT began seeking applicants in September 2017, the response was overwhelming. “We received over 60 applicants to fill roughly a dozen positions,” said Nesset.

Applicants were selected in part based on how proficient with technology they were—with an emphasis on selecting novices. “We don’t want experts,” said Nesset, “because we want to see how typical people hack their way toward solutions.”

One reason for the enthusiastic response may be that, for faculty in all areas of higher education, the need for competency and mastery of technology has never been greater.

“I’m going to be teaching online for the first time next semester,” said Shauna Zorich, MD, MPH, a Clinical Assistant Professor with UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professionals and one of the group’s inaugural members.

“I’ve discussed with members of my department the possibility of just recording my entire three-hour seated lecture, but I can tell intuitively that that’s not the best way to deliver online content to students”, Zorich said.

“Right now I’m using UBlearns and Digication,” said Marieke van Heugten, Ph. D., an Assistant Professor with UB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “I know I could be so much more efficient if I knew what other systems we had, and how to best use them.”

Vuk Vujcic is a Client Technologies Technician with UBIT Customer Service, and a member of the group. He sees great potential for collaboration.

“I got involved because I saw this as a good opportunity to learn,” Vujcic said. “For us, understanding the needs of faculty improves our skills, and hopefully our knowledge can improve theirs.”

At a recent planning meeting, VPCIO Bible encouraged the group to think big. “We don’t want to keep doing things the same way as before just because it made sense in the past,” he told the inaugural group, “I want this team to know that nothing is off-limits.”

Doing more, going farther

The first set of teams will be active through the Spring 2018 semester, after which the process can be refined and, if successful, continued and expanded upon.

UBIT, in collaboration with Dr. Nesset, has produced a series of new avenues for faculty input at UB in 2017, including the first-ever Faculty IT Survey and Faculty IT Town Hall event. More events are currently being planned for 2018.