The Wonderful Mistake

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By Craig Cox
Senior Systems Specialist
Delaware Technical Community College
Office of the President

I had an opportunity earlier this year to help design a class in Blackboard. In my role in IIT, I don’t often get into the Blackboard LMS, even though I once helped manage that system behind the scenes. Much has changed in just a few years, so I thought I had better brush up on my skills.

I signed up for IDTG22, “Foundational Technologies”, hoping to get the cook’s tour of Blackboard. Here’s a blank course, here’s the feature set, here’s Delaware Tech’s common look and feel, let’s all make a quiz – that kind of thing.

Week one was kind of a surprise, as we introduced ourselves on a Blackboard discussion board, and then took a really deep dive into learning theory. By week three, it was clear that we would be casting a very wide net, incorporating all kinds of technology into the classroom experience. But there was still no mention of Blackboard operations.

Instead, there was a wealth of insight into the people whose work I support.

Traditional IT service involves assessing the needs of employees and delivering systems that meet those needs. Expansion and upgrade are orderly, planned processes. The introduction of unexpected and unauthorized hardware and services is viewed with some hostility, because securing and supporting technology requires technical staff to be trained.

Having five (or 20, or 100) different custom setups puts a burden on support staff to stay competent in that variety of technology. You end up with a “jack of all trades, master of none” level of support. Maintaining and enforcing standards puts boundaries on the amount of training time and money needed to keep staff proficient; it also keeps the workload manageable.

As it turns out, this model doesn’t always mesh well with academic needs.

I had known in a vague, background sort of way that colleges had to compete for students. What I picked up from IDTG22 was an idea of the depth of thinking that goes into reaching and keeping those students through graduation. I learned that in order to accommodate diverse learning styles and needs, educators are actively pushed to experiment with diverse technologies.

While I have always known about the rapid pace of change in the technology fields, the class I’d taken by mistake brought home just how that pace challenged and drove educators to constantly seek new techniques and solutions.

Stagnation never was an option. The orderly process of evaluation, selection, approval, training and deployment of technology might not always be the best option. While I would love to wind up this post with a bold vision of a new understanding between those who do the educating and those who provide the infrastructure, I don’t have one of those. I will certainly be working to find one, of course; but that was never the central point.

The central point is, my job perspective was improved in a way I didn’t expect. Sometimes professional development is deliberate; sometimes, I found, it sneaks up on you. I challenge anyone reading this to look for opportunity in mistakes. If you’re digging for silver, don’t close the mine if all you find is gold.

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