Monday, 3 August 2009

Biassed by Risk and Ignoring Opportunities

The other week I was at an event where an IT Manager from an educational institution announced he wanted to find 'better ways of saying "No"'... As the room was full of IT Managers, I was a little saddened to hear a murmer of agreement.

I used to be an IT Manager myself and I know something of the pressures they face. There's an explosion of both new technology and student expectation that hardly looks likely to disappear. Some of the new technology carries with it some risk to the organisation.

However I suspect that the risk to the organisation is not always fully or realistically assessed and sometimes the risk to the IT Department takes precedence - or even is the only risk assessment before the use of a technology is denied or blocked.

Worse, I have heard too many examples of institutions blocking access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo because students have been criticising lecturing staff or facilities. The response doesn't stop students from making those criticisms - because they will do it from their homes or laptops when they get a chance. All the blocking of such sites achieves is to fuel the reasons for criticism and takes away the organisation's ability to monitor and police it.

Would you confiscate the pen of a student who wrote a critical letter to the local paper? Would it not be better to search out comments and investigate them? The onus would then, of course, be on teaching staff and senior management to act... because the real issue here is one of quality assurance more so than abuse of college IT facilities, but where there is abuse it should be the responsibility of teaching staff and senior management to invoke disciplinary procedings. The IT Team are not there to be used as either a police force nor a sentencing judge and most certainly not to appoint themselves to such roles.

What gets lost in this one-sided use of Risk Management techniques, is any assessment of opportunity and benefits to be gained from institutional use of Web2 sites. What mechanisms exist for the enthusiasts amongst the teaching staff to try out, experiment and then disseminate good practice? What lines of communication exist between teaching staff and IT, so that Web2 use is not just something asked for by a (string of) lone lecturer(s) that get(s) an automatic 'no' - regardless of how well the refusal is given?

One university recently told me they had considered whether to have a formal presence on Facebook at institution level and decided against it, fearing that such a presence might be looked at by students in the same light as 'a dancing dad'... However they went on to say that where students were looking to use such facilities to set up course or lesson-related resources and wanted staff involved in those, then that involvement was encouraged.

The fact that they had had those discussions at a high level helped to promote such use and gave a steer to the IT Department.

Has your university or college had the conversation; made any decisions, identified both risks and opportunities and consequently given any steer to the IT Department?

1 comment:

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