Published on 2014/08/26

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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Readers Comments

Ian Mulder 2014/08/26 at 9:40 am

Looking forward to the second piece of this point/counterpoint. It’s interesting that Scheuermann doesn’t discuss the issue of cost at all. In theory, I agree with the “IT freedom” approach, but I think many institutions end up rejecting this approach when they consider the costs of allowing departments to implement their own technology solutions and then trying to achieve compatibility.

    Lucy S. 2014/08/27 at 10:46 am

    I see what you’re saying about the cost concern, but I think Scheuermann makes a good point that technology nowadays is so intrinsically linked to pedagogical models that it doesn’t make sense for departments to control their curriculum and pedagogy but not the technology used to deliver it. Perhaps what can help is if there’s a vehicle for departments to connect with each other on the types of technology they’re implementing, to see if there are any opportunities for inter-departmental collaboration to ease compatibility concerns or offset implementation costs.

David 2014/08/28 at 10:34 am

I’ve heard this argument before, and I’ll be very interested to see if the counterpoint includes things like a disjointed user experience for students, cost, inefficiency, etc.

More than any of that I want to mention that this is not what academic freedom is. Academic freedom is:

that academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive

Notice how it doesn’t say anything about business practices, pay, sabbaticals, technology, offices, or other accoutrements. “Academic Freedom” is a shield used by faculty to justify whatever they want it to justify, when in reality they are employees of an institution that has every right to make organizational decisions. You can debate whether or not things like technology should be centralized, distributed, etc. etc., but it is not a matter of academic freedom.

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