Jul 03 2017

Partner Up: One of the Best Moves You Can Make in Higher Education

Collaborations between IT and campus departments yield big benefits.

We’ve written previously in this blog about the importance of partnerships with off-campus organizations, especially future employers of college graduates: companies, nonprofits and other organizations. But there is another set of stakeholders that can be equally good partners with IT: on-campus departments that have a shared stake in IT’s resources and concerns. When IT professionals partner with these groups, they can help staff gain efficiencies from technology solutions and ensure they follow best practices in key areas, such as information security.

IT has the unique opportunity — and sometimes challenge — of collaborating with virtually every academic department, business unit and student services center on campus. Technology touches every aspect of campus operations, so IT can no longer be a remote player that emerges solely to resolve technical problems. Cross-campus partnerships are vital opportunities to get IT experts involved in helping colleagues to solve problems, improve services and streamline operations.

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Tech Support for Higher Education Research

At the University of Maryland, IT staff faced a challenge that’s likely familiar to other professionals, particularly those at research institutions. Researchers would receive a grant and then request IT support, often on tight deadlines. From IT’s point of view, they could do more to help researchers with tech support if they got involved in projects much earlier.

In cases like this, the key to resolution is to recognize where disconnects are happening. At UMD, researchers often didn’t know where to find assistance with computing, data management and the like. To fix that, a team of IT, research and library staff created a searchable database to make it easy for researchers to access university resources as they pursued proposals and managed grants. The resulting database (IRRoC, or Integrated Research Resources on Campus) was a success, garnering 10,000 page views in its first nine months. Such a resource was especially important for an institution like UMD, which hit a record $550 million in external research funding in 2015.

Yet, as with most new partnerships, the path wasn’t without bumps. The beauty of a cross-campus partnership — that it brings together individuals with various specialties and different needs — can also be the biggest challenge. The UMD team members had to learn to work together: getting familiar with new terminology, identifying shared goals and committing to good communication. These efforts paid off: IRRoC worked so well that it sparked additional collaborations.

Capture Experiences Outside the Classroom

The University of South Carolina had a similar need for a cross-campus partnership, in its case between IT and the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support. In keeping with a universitywide program that encourages students to pursue learning opportunities outside the classroom, Student Affairs needed a central, standardized way to track involvement in activities ranging from educational enrichment programs to on-campus support services.

The problem? The university had more than 40 on-campus units that offered support and enrichment programs, but they didn’t share data or roll it up to a central repository. IT, Student Affairs and the Provost’s Office collaborated to come up with a solution, Beyond the Classroom Matters, a standardized system that collects records from all the relevant programs and integrates that information with academic records.

The participants in this project had a similar experience to those at UMD, finding that it takes time for interdisciplinary partners to get familiar with each other’s areas of expertise and ways of approaching a problem. USC’s project also demonstrated the fact that on most campuses, departments are getting more interconnected all the time, often through IT, which makes effective partnerships even more important.

IT is often the thread that connects campus departments, making it a natural conduit for implementing and enhancing collaboration in the form of cross-campus relationships. Reaching out to stakeholders to understand their needs and priorities – and creating a common language — can encourage them to reciprocate. The end result will be strong partnerships that benefit everyone on campus.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.