Faculty Liaisons: better technology collaboration at UB and beyond

UB Provost Charles Zukoski joins in an exercise where faculty members write "wish list" items for email on post-it notes and categorize them by type of feature on large poster sheets.

Published May 2, 2018

After its first semester, the Faculty IT Liaison program has helped us identify gaps in IT services by bringing faculty together with IT staff for collaborative design sessions. But the project’s future holds even greater potential for research and scalability.

This program grew out of the results of last year’s faculty IT survey. It was clear there was a disconnect between faculty and IT staff. This wasn’t a surprise—after all, many faculty don’t interact with their IT support team unless they encounter a problem.

So VPCIO Brice Bible and I have been working to change that. We built collaborative teams, based on a participatory design model I developed with colleagues at McGill university. In a previous blog, Brice has already talked about some of the exciting things we’ve discovered in our inaugural sessions.

Something we haven’t discussed is the potential of this program as a formal research opportunity. There’s so much to be learned here from an information behavior perspective, about the different approaches people take to using, learning about, and troubleshooting technology.

We’ve already observed differences in this respect between IT staff and faculty. In discussion with IT staff, faculty tend to focus more on the pitfalls of technology—which is perhaps not surprising since, again, their interactions with IT staff are usually problem-based, and they’re likely used to being told “no, this isn’t possible.” IT staff, on the other hand, are more readily able to imagine and describe their ideal solution. Everyone has a lot to learn from one another.

With future sessions, we’re poised to explore these differences more, not just between IT staff and faculty, but between faculty groups with different experience levels, different academic backgrounds etc.

With this kind of research focus, the program will yield richer data than any one survey could, which will better inform decisions about how to meet the technology needs of faculty at UB.

But it goes beyond that. If successful, the approach we’re pioneering here at UB could be adopted by other learning institutions, as well as industries and other organizations all over the world.

Building a research component into this program not only allows us to keep our methodology consistent and ethical, it also allows us to more easily share what we’ve learned.

This has already begun. In April 2018, VPCIO Bible and I presented findings from our inaugural groups at the iConference in Sheffield, England. This is a conference that brings together information science scholars from all over the world. Having Brice as a VPCIO attend was a welcome addition to the conference and perhaps a first. In fact, during our presentation, one audience member raised his hand to tell us he hadn’t even known the name of his institution’s CIO until our presentation inspired him to look it up. He was curious how to get a dialog going like the one we have here at UB.

The idea that people both on the academic and IT professional sides are responding positively to this work by interacting with and learning from each other is indicative of the potential of this work, and why it’s needed. I’m so excited to see where it will go from here.

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