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Point/Counterpoint: Does Academic Freedom Imply IT Freedom As Well? (Part 1)

Point/Counterpoint: Does Academic Freedom Imply IT Freedom As Well? (Pt. 1)
Academic departments must have the freedom to select the IT infrastructure and tools that best meet their specific needs.
This is the first of a two-part series by Mike Scheuermann where he will present both sides of the argument regarding whether academic freedom implies IT freedom as well. In this piece, Scheuermann presents the affirmative argument, discussing why academic units should be free to choose the IT solutions that map closest to their needs.

Academic units need the ability to select (and fund) the applications and even devices they will use in their specific teaching and learning environments. Their students, faculty and administrators are better served if these can match their specific academic and departmental needs.

One-size-fits-all is seldom, if ever, the best approach in academia. It doesn’t work with pedagogy, it doesn’t work with classroom or lab spaces and it doesn’t work with textbooks or content — so why would it work with IT?

Some academic programs, for example, are Mac-centric while many others are fine with Windows machines and applications. Some academic programs (or practitioners) gravitate to open source offerings while others eschew them. Both groups have their reasons and both seem sound, in situ.

Discovery is one of the foundations of higher education and this needs to carry over into the IT realm. Emerging technologies are exciting, engaging and energize student-instructor relationships and initiatives. Not only should freedom of choice and adoption in IT become part of the higher ed fabric; it should be encouraged and supported. It’s what we do.

Departments can experiment with small numbers of licenses for software, run pilot programs, determine if their assessment of application value in their academic setting was accurate and take it from there. They have their internal discussions, evaluations and assessments along the way. They call the shots. They determine their own next steps. They are engaged and active. The model works well.

Academics do this all the time, with new pedagogical constructs, fresh course content, team teaching approaches and student group work in class, to cite just a few examples. They want to try out 3D printers, emerging applications and apps, simulations, handheld devices of every stripe, virtual spaces and meeting rooms, file-sharing software, drone-based video cameras, anything in the cloud and much more.

Today’s practitioners are bombarded with possibilities and they actually need to try out some of them; their students certainly will. To remain even remotely relevant today, one could argue we must all — but academic practitioners especially — keep up-to-speed in the IT space. To do so, they require the same freedom there that they’ve always enjoyed once they close the classroom door and begin today’s lesson; to restrain them or control them places all of academe on a slippery slope indeed.

Please click here for the counterpoint to this argument, where Scheuermann argues that the institution must take control over an institution’s IT infrastructure and devices.

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