Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Navigating Generational Diversity in Higher Ed

I just participated in the Educause Live webinar, "What Do Newer Generation Faculty Want from IT Services?" and have some reflections to share.

First, I participated through using Adobe Connect Pro Mobile, a free app for iPhone.  The experience was excellent.  Rather than sitting at my desk, listening, I was able to go for a walk and get some exercise at the same time which I really enjoyed. 

The hour long event involved an insightful and very relevant discussion between Bruce Maas, CIO and Michael Zimmer, Assistant Professor, both of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  I was most impressed by the importance placed upon the effective development of "dialogue" between IT and campus stakeholders about the social media and instructional technology tools faculty are using/want to use.

Zimmer, self-identified as a lat Gen Xer, considers himself an early adopter of technology and spoke candidly about his use of the campus supported LMS, Desire 2 Learn, as well as external sites (like Tumblr) which facilitate a more seamless sharing of content with his students. Maas shared his thoughts about the challenges involved with staying in dialogue with faculty to keep a finger on the pulse of the technologies they are interested in seeing supported with the campus services.  The two of them also posed some very provocative questions that I thought were really important points.  For example, is it important, in this day and age, to provide campus supported alternatives to the tools faculty are using?  How do we select which tools to support and, then, does it become a requirement or an option for faculty to use them?

This conversation has left me wondering about how characteristic this close collaborative relationship is of campuses across the nation.  Is there a disparity between institutional type?  That is, do community colleges have as much IT support and dialogue with faculty as at 4-year universities?  Does it come down to the robust staffing levels which are, in generally, limited by campus budgets (as well as hiring priorities)?

The single most important takeaway I have right now is how refreshing it is to see "generational diversity" be considered in such an authentic and professional manner.  Too frequently I hear comments that suggest college faculty are not interested in integrating technology into learning.  This discussion focused on an observed interconnectedness between "newer" generation faculty and the student population.  In the conversation, it was noted that younger faculty are more in tune with the engagement and learning benefits of integrating emerging forms of technology into a class experience than their Baby Boomer colleagues.  Y

Year over year, the proportion of Gen Y and Gen X to Baby Boomer faculty will continue to shift.  How are campuses preparing for this shift? Is it a priority at your institution?  If not, should it be?

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