Thursday, May 21, 2009

Research Summary: A Tale of Two Colleges

This is the first installment in a series of research summaries meant to tease out some key points, facts, or figures from interesting nonprofit research.

A Tale of Two Colleges (2004)
Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education

This case study delves into the information and technology challenges facing a community college district in California between 1999-2002. Written in a clear, user-friendly tone and format, it traces the evolution of two district departments, Institutional Research (IR) and Information Technology (IT). Besides detailing the chronological events which transpired that are particular to this case, several themes are isolated and extrapolated that might be useful to other districts in similar situations. These themes are:
  • Internal and External Demands for Data: Outside policy changes introduced needs for new data to fulfill new standards of accountability. Meanwhile, internal data collection needs and techniques were often inadequate.
  • Centralization and Decentralization: Problems stemming from organizational structure and institutional politics caused rapid changes that made progress difficult. Much resistance stemmed from an established distrust of the IT and IR departments.
  • Data Reliability and Attitudes Toward Validation: A track-record of unreliable data affected even the IR department, who displayed initial apathy toward striving for data accuracy. Changing internal attitudes was a first step. It was more difficult to change attitudes throughout the rest of the college community, especially after failure implementing an institution-wide comprehensive Student Information System.
  • Access & Control: Members of the IR and IT departments had trouble accessing the data they needed to implement their ultimate, broad changes.
  • Continuity and Leadership: Several specific technology projects were dropped when their proponents stopped working at the college. High turnover made momentum difficult and had the opposite effect of inertia. Also, the resignation of the chancellor threw the question of technology as a top priority into doubt.
  • Development of a Culture of Inquiry and Technology: Focus on a culture of information is key to creating an environment that values inquiry, learning, and improvement. When expectations conflict with barriers of access or a culture of resistance technological implementation becomes much more difficult.
To me, the best part about this research was the obvious consideration for their audience. By adding to the narrative by repackaging their information into themes and timelines, and by explicitly detailing the possible uses for the information, multiple points of engagement are offered. These multiple points of engagement make it easy for a broad range of readers to find and take the specific information they need from the case study. And let's face it--if that doesn't happen, then what's the point?

[picture courtesy of izzymunchted]

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