Why is Higher Ed Different? is a multi-part series where we’ll be exploring the unique needs and requirements of Higher Ed IT. We’re passionate about Higher Ed and feel that it’s unlike any other industry out there. Whether you’re a newcomer or an industry veteran, it can be easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle and forget to really take note of these idiosyncrasies. Paying attention to them, however, will make a world of difference in your projects.
If you’ve been keeping up with the series, you know that we’ve been systematically walking you through the ways that Higher Ed Institutions are just plain different — with different goals, different processes, different people, different demands. In our last article, we discussed how team members are different, which makes for a special kind of collaborative environment. Another one of these major differences is that when you’re working on a Higher Ed project, you’re creating something for a very unique set of users. Since user satisfaction is the goal, this has a sizable effect on how you choose to proceed.
You’re Working for Faculty, Students & Administrative Staff
In corporate or government environments, you would likely be developing projects for a largely homogenous group of people. In Higher Ed, you’re dealing with a more diverse group of users. Your audience will be students, faculty, and university staff: three groups that not only have overlapping needs, but also tend to have very different preferences. A major part of being successful with Higher Ed system implementations is being sensitive to the needs of each group.
Faculty Are Hard to Reach
Knowing how to work around their schedules to get feedback on their needs can be challenging.
Higher Ed faculty are typically difficult to reach. Unlike corporate or government employees, where most are easy to locate, professors keep inconsistent office hours and are moving all over campus—they’re often engaged in research that requires deep focus, without interruption, or they’re pulled away to conferences and committee meetings. From sabbatical leave, outside consulting, or traveling to other universities and locations across the world, faculty members can be difficult to reach. Knowing how to work around their schedules to get feedback on their needs can be challenging. Later on in the series we will discuss some of the best ways to communicate with faculty.
Students Are a Unique Breed
To reach students, you must think like a student, and use their preferred communication methods.
It’s no secret that students are using email less and less. They are much more likely to be texting or using social media, and less likely to spend their time reading through a wordy email. Students are a group that we must constantly keep up with. They’ve grown up surrounded by constantly evolving technology, so their tolerance for outdated IT is lower than most other groups. To reach students, you must think like a student, and use their preferred communication methods. If you’re not sure of the best communication methods to reach them, ask.Inquiring about their preferences directly, may be the best way to find out.
The Third Piece To The Puzzle
University staff require additional consideration to ensure that their perspectives are represented in your project. Thankfully, they’re usually the easiest to communicate with, often through email. The increased accessibility does come with its own set of things to keep in mind, however. University staff are experts in their fields and will have high expectations for your project to address their specific needs. Their willingness to help must also be approached with care, as, more often than not, the staff are asked to perform both their everyday jobs and be subject matter experts for your project. When someone does turn out to be too busy or unable to answer your questions, they can also work as a connection to other staff members. Take care to work around their busy schedules, though, because your cooperation with the staff is instrumental in the success of your project.
Never Forget the User
The users’ needs (whether faculty, staff or students) are what drives the whole project, from the deliverables to the final implementation. Although users need to listen to the advice of IT professionals, their needs must constantly be at the forefront of our minds. Include them in your planning and implementation phases. Listen to their opinions and incorporate their preferences as appropriate. Make them collaborators and partners. In doing so, you will significantly increase the chances of project success.
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