Conference Adventures - CANHEIT 2013

CANHEIT is a conference for Canadian Higher Ed IT folks and was held in Ottawa, Ontario earlier this month. It was my first CANHEIT, and it was quite different from most of the educational technology conferences I normally attend. I definitely see value in events where people with so much in common can gather to share ideas and look for solutions to problems that their peers also have or have had. Unfortunately, CANHEIT is heavy on the "IT" and light on the "HE".

Many sessions at CANHEIT 2013 focused on the centralization of IT services. The theory is that a single, centralized support team can satisfy the needs of the entire university. By centralizing services, duplication of work is eliminated, therefore costs are reduced. Faculties and departments negotiate terms of service, and perhaps have someone from Central ITS designated as project manager.

The first problem is the belief that there is a duplication of services. It would appear that Central IT leaders don't understand that departmental IT staff are working on solutions specific to their own faculty/department. The second problem is that while there may be a designated project manager, that does not mean they are a dedicated project manager. The project manager will often be assigned to multiple departments and faculties. Finally, when talking about "terms of service" it often refers to simple services like printing or software problems. Larger projects are put in a central queue, and the project manager may actually recommend that specialized or urgent projects be contracted out.

CANHEIT also served to highlight that there is a significant disconnect between IT staff, faculty, and students. In one classroom oriented session led by a faculty member, the presenter explained that he developed his own project because he knew if he didn't, "some jackass in IT would do it and screw it up". Few sessions were actually about services that support or improve teaching and learning. There was little discussion around what faculty are trying to do in their classrooms and what could be done to support them.