Last year’s EDUCAUSE Top IT Issues list included information security strategy, student success, privacy, digital integrations, data management/governance and integrative leadership.
Collectively, the list represents a blend of challenges and opportunities within the further and higher education IT community. Perhaps most poignant within the list is the theme of building communities of practice, networking within one’s own campus, and creating partnerships with vendors. The importance of user groups both inside a campus community as well as across the sector cannot be overstated.
User groups are an important community for CIOs and IT professionals. It is within these group conversations, either virtual or in-person, where insights are shared that lead to transformational improvements within institution’s IT systems.
Sharing stories, strategies, and solutions at annual conferences, online forums, and via social media fosters a shared experience. It’s no surprise that some of the best technology solutions providers in the sector offer up robust user group experiences.
If your college or university is looking at a new IT system, the best place to go for real talk on issues impacting the sector is the user group. You’ll get a taste for what’s happening in real time. The best vendors provide user group access or create spaces of opportunity for peer to peer conversations by way of annual events.
Connecting with peers about common issues and creative solutions is something that is both unique and refreshing in further and higher education. Whilst the atmosphere can sometimes be competitive in terms of enrolment, marketing, and recruitment, the camaraderie that exists within IT is a vital source of encouragement, innovation, and practicality.
Product-focused user groups allow for multi-institutional assistance that can supplement formal vendor support channels. If everyone is having similar issues with a product’s functionality, the community of users can use their shared platform to push for widespread changes. These changes often benefit IT departments, vendors, staff, and students.
Additionally, user groups often serve as incubators for product solutions. A strong partnership between campus-based users, IT departments, and product representatives equates to an ongoing generative experience where ideas are shared and updates are made.
There will always be questions whenever a new technology-based solution is brought to campus. In addition to the usual product support channels – knowledge bases, vendor support teams, and technical documentation – user groups represent a plethora of experience/contacts in an environment that is both collegial and supportive. As Walter Payton once said, “We are stronger together than we are alone.”
Eric Stoller is a writer, consultant and speaker. He is a keen proponent for teaching students (and staff) about digital identity development and is especially interested in the interplay between organizational culture and the adoption of new technologies for teaching, learning, and enhancing the student experience.