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Mind the Gap

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This summer, we in CLA-OIT have been asking ourselves, "Who are we? What do we do? Why are we here?" Some may think we have amnesia, or possibly a newfound interest in philosophy. Actually, we've been taking time to reflect on the challenging issues we face as technologists in a liberal arts college.

Last year I wrote about the impact mobile technology is having on the IT profession. Both the technology devices and the expectations of those who use them are rapidly changing, causing technology support organizations like CLA-OIT to adjust. In higher education, we are beginning to experience new competition from online universities, strange new ideas like massive open online courses (aka MOOCs), and even other colleges within the University of Minnesota. At the same time, our college continues to face a large structural budget deficit. In light of all this, I think it is important that CLA-OIT take time to consider how we can increase the value we bring to this college.

Why Do We Exist?

This was the first question we posed to ourselves in CLA-OIT. Our answer: "to elevate liberal arts teaching, learning, and research." We realized our purpose is not to fix computers, write software, or even put a course online. We aren't here to provide technology services. We are here to elevate liberal arts education. Yes, technology is our niche, and it is our responsibility to create and support technology solutions for the faculty, staff, and students in this college. But if technology becomes our focus we lose sight of what is most important--the academic mission of the college.

How Will We Succeed?

There are countless opportunities to explore and create, but how do we know which serve our purpose of elevating liberal arts education? How do we know we are making the right decisions? We developed the following statements, or anchors, to guide the decisions we make in CLA-OIT.

First, we will have a positive impact on the work of our faculty, students, and staff. Ultimately, is this going to improve or serve the needs of our academic mission? Will the people we serve in this college experience a benefit?

Second, we will bridge gaps between commodity services and the needs of the college. Is our service duplicating a service that is available from other providers on campus like central OIT or the rapidly-growing services one can find on the Internet (generally called "cloud services")? If so, are we spending the college's money wisely? It is our mission to seek out and fill the gaps between the needs of our faculty, students, and staff and what is readily available from other sources.

Nimble, For the Future

What was acceptable one day may not be necessary or important the next. We must be agile and adapt to changing expectations. We will need to probe for understanding and seek the solutions that will help CLA instructors teach better, CLA students learn better, and CLA faculty conduct better research. To be successful, we will need a continuous cycle of listening, reflection, and change.

What ultimately becomes most important is strong relationships with those we serve. It is here we find our true strengths as an organization. We may be pretty good with computers, but from the compliments we receive, how we empathize and listen is valued the most. Relationships, not technology, are the foundation of our services and where we will invest.

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