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 have been keeping up with our Why is Higher Ed Different? series, you know that we’ve already discussed how the work environment, culture, and — in our last article — users are unique in the field of Higher Ed. In this article, we’ll be discussing how unique the software development process is in Higher Education.
There’s More Than One Opinion
This collaborative approach to decision-making allows for everyone to feel heard.
Think of a traditional corporate IT development setting: what comes to mind? Typically, a centralized team working with users, but making most of the final decisions as to the new system’s functionality. Now, depending on the field you’re in, that method may be just what is called for. But in Higher Ed IT, highly collaborative decision-making is preferred and much more common. Most products that are being developed for an institution usually involve a committee of university employees, both faculty and staff, as well as IT representatives to make decisions. This decision-making process ensures that the new system will be able to effectively service different departments of the university. A portal would lack practicality if a professor can’t search for their advisees’ transcripts as easily as the registrar accesses how many credits a student has earned. This collaborative approach to decision-making allows for everyone to feel heard. In a place where academic freedom is so highly valued, having all viewpoints heard, dramatically improves buy-in from the most influential users, thereby increasing the chances of product rollout success. Further, given that one university may have many different schools or colleges, there is a legitimate need for their varying work processes to be accounted for when designing new software.
It’s Open & Iterative
You can thank academic freedom for an open way of development. This approach allows universities to communicate with each other, leveraging best practices and experiences from peers who have implemented similar technologies. There is also quite a trend towards using open-source development tools. This also promotes the sharing of code and inter-university collaboration. There is also a trend towards the iterative method of development as opposed to the waterfall method. In many universities, it is common to see elements of the Agile methodology everywhere. This includes daily stand-up meetings, storyboards, and scrum masters.
Coming Full Circle
Having students assist with Higher Ed IT projects allows the development team to be closer to part of their user-base.
As in corporate environments, team members at universities are busy with different aspects of a project. Because of this, a development team may call upon undergraduate and graduate students to work on the project, as students are often readily available and willing to get experience in their field of study. This allows Higher Education to come full circle: having students assist with Higher Ed IT projects allows the development team to be closer to part of their user-base. Additionally, allowing a student to work on a project may allow them to form a mentorship relationship with a developer, which, as we’ve stated, can have positive effects on both the mentor and mentee.
Allowing for Unique Systems
Higher Ed’s unique work processes require specialized systems. In many cases, a vendor must produce a special version of the product for Higher Ed as otherwise it would be unusable at a university. Examples of this are many ERP software packages which have both corporate and university versions.
The highly collaborative development processes of Higher Ed IT allow for many things to happen that may not happen the same way in a traditional business setting. These processes, such as getting students to work on products, tending to work more with Agile methodologies, and having a diverse committee, are what create the unique system that Higher Ed IT is.
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