Backpacks and Shiny New Sneakers

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Late August to early September is the time when students flood back onto college campuses, many of them bringing with them their shiny new sneakers and their brand-new backpacks. They have had a summer filled with fun (hopefully) and are ready to dive into another year of learning. For the tech managers in higher education, the busiest time is the start of the fall semester. The season fills us with anticipation, excitement, and yes, dread. There is nothing like knowing that thousands of people will start using the equipment you support on campus, and you want it to be as smooth as possible. These last few weeks of summer and the first several weeks of classes will likely be days that run into the 10-11-hour mark.

So, why do we do this work? It is cliche to say it, but the people who work in higher ed (and stay in the job) do it for a reason. For me, there is nothing quite like seeing all the work that the team has done in action. I love walking through the academic buildings and seeing the students and faculty in the classrooms working hard. In the vast majority of the rooms, our systems are being used constantly. I love seeing the students come in as timid first years, and four years later leave as confident, educated seniors. There is a clear feeling of a job well done and one that provides benefit to the world. In general, I think we all just enjoy that feeling of knowing that even though we may be hanging projectors and tuning microphones, we are changing lives, in our own way.

Education has kept tech managers on our feet for the past three years, and this academic year will tell what is sticking in education, and what is going to slide away. Many corporate offices are forcing their workforce to come back into the office. I have written previously about how I believe this is a culture/strategy decision in the corporate environment. Higher ed stuck with many COVID precautions longer than businesses did, which made last year pretty much a normal year, but most schools are starting this year without a whisper or worry about the virus. We know that the technologies we installed and supported over the past several years are still in place and can serve specific needs, the question will be what do our students (our customers) demand? I will personally be watching to see what my colleagues at other institutions are witnessing as well. I work at a highly selective, small, liberal arts college. I fully expect that our students will want our faculty in the classroom teaching every day, and the students will also expect to be in that classroom. That is to say, at my school, I expect remote learning to be completely over this coming year. We still will have guests zooming in, and we will still have faculty who record their lectures for students who are sick, or otherwise need to be out. But — our students will not tolerate remote teaching. It is not what we promised them, and it is not why they chose to come here. Other schools, of course, have different needs and expectations from their students. I keep writing about students here, because wise use of technology, based on the culture of our schools, is what attracts and keeps students. Yes, the faculty teach them but the students are the consumers and the faculty need to provide the education in the way the students desire.

I think this will continue to be a differentiator between schools over the next several years. Schools will need to understand their specific customers and provide the type of education, in the form that they expect. As technology managers, we will continue to be in a place to provide that technology not only to support the education of students but to ensure the continued viability of the places we work. I am ready and excited for another school year and the challenges and rewards it is sure to bring.