April 1997 // Commentary
Shared Misery/Shared Solutions: Major factors inhibiting the accelerated adoption of technology in higher education
by James Garner Ptaszynski
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: James Garner Ptaszynski "Shared Misery/Shared Solutions: Major factors inhibiting the accelerated adoption of technology in higher education" The Technology Source, April 1997. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Last fall, the Higher Education Group at Microsoft held a meeting of its Scholars board in Redmond. The Scholars help Microsoft better understand the needs and concerns of higher education as they relate to technology. The central question posed to the group last fall was "What are the major factors, which inhibit the accelerated adoption of technology in higher education?" At the end of the three-day meeting, the Scholars used the nominal group technique to brainstorm a list of factors, which inhibit the use of technology. After the elimination of duplicates, the Scholars agreed upon 21 items (see Table 1).

I have been collecting, through my travels, conversations with faculty colleagues and my research, all the different reasons why the adoption of the appropriate use of technology in higher education is such a "slow revolution" (Green & Gilbert, Change Magazine, March/April 1996). I am finding that many campuses are undergoing a rigorous and sometimes gut-wrenching analysis of this issue over a span of months or, in some cases, years. While such a process is useful, and can encourage the necessary ownership of the problem, many faculty and administrative committees are fatigued after the problem identification stage and have little energy left to discover robust solutions.

While the Microsoft Scholar’s list is not exhaustive, I believe that it does come close to identifying the major issues that exist on most of our campuses with regard to the factors inhibiting the use of technology in teaching and learning. When I visit with universities, one of the activities I sometimes do is share the list (and my observations from other colleges) and ask them to select the top five inhibiting factors in order of importance for their own campus (they are also encouraged to add issues parochial to their campus). The results of this activity are often twofold. First, using the list as a starting point, the participants quickly develop an assessment of the factors germane to their own campus. The fact that other institutions are experiencing some of the same factors tends to validate their thinking and experiences and helps them to delineate their own major roadblocks.

Second, this allows them to begin to focus on possible solutions to the inhibiting factors. Realizing that they share some common ground with other institutions, they are often open to the idea of borrowing or sharing solutions to their concerns. In this regard, Microsoft is beginning to work with PATH to assist in this sharing of information among colleges and universities.

In the next issue of the newsletter, I will identify the activities Microsoft is initiating in order to assist colleges and universities to overcome the factors inhibiting the accelerated and appropriate use of technology in higher education. In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing from readers as to major inhibiting factors that they have identified on their own campus but which do not appear on the Microsoft Scholar’s list. In addition, it would be helpful to know which five factors are most critical. Comments will be collected and discussed in a future newsletter. Please mail comments to jimp@microsoft.com and put "Inhibiting Factors" in the subject line.

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