Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Talking About Funding Technology in the Classroom

The financially tight times are hitting us all and academia and Vassar College is no exception. Each Fall we submit budget requests for projected needs for the coming academic year. I recently made my requests for some various instructional technology needs but was told that, given President Hill’s recent statement, there would be slim to no money and that, if we did get any money, it would have to be heavily justified. That’s fine. My feeling is that all of us in my group of instructional technologists should not go hat-in-hand to anyone at the college at this time and we should be trying to find our own funding sources. Now, what I really think is that all of us in instructional technology should be writing a detailed justification for any item that we ask for, whether it is a new piece of software for teaching in a lab, a site license for some software that has taken off on campus, or a new piece of equipment that professors are asking for in their teaching, or you, the instructional technologist, thinks is the next great thing since the toaster. The practice of critical writing to argue one’s point is rarely required of us. It should be. We might see far fewer high-expense items used by one professor and more low-cost to free solutions used by, well, more than one professor. What I am saying is that we instructional technologists should be writing grant proposals.

I discovered just recently, when clicking through the MacArthur Digital, Media & Learning awards, and trying to figure out how we could get one, a white paper written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by the New Media Consortium discusses results from surveys of 289 executives at higher education schools and corporations. The report is titled, "The Future of Higher Education: How Technology Will Shape Learning." Rather than distill the whole report, I encourage you take a look at it, but what I found most interesting and highly relevant for our current financial situation was this finding on corporate/academic collaborations:

Corporate-academic partnerships will form an increasing part of the university experience, at a time when locating funding and controlling costs are key concerns, and when only one-quarter of university chief information officers (CIOs) have a place at the table when it comes to setting strategy. To attract corporate partnerships, institutions will need to demonstrate a commitment to advanced technologies.
Identification of funding sources, team formation, grant proposal writing, and management of grant-funded projects has been an interest of mine for years. If I wanted to get my graduate school research work done, I needed to write proposals and win grants.

As many of you know because I blog about it from time to time, we have a tablet PC program, or a Mobile Mapping lab, in which we use tablet PCs for outdoor geospatial education. We teach with tablet PCs outside using GIS and other data-collection software and the program has been very successful. Could we have purchased 15 to 20 tablet PCs back in 2004 at a cost of about $2,000 each, plus all the software, plus the GPS receivers? Well, if we could, I never asked. To think on it now, it seems absurd to spend over $40,000 on something that 'seems' like a good idea. But a 'good idea,' if written well and sent to the right funding source, can turn into a successful instructional technology implementation. We got our first Hewlett-Packard grant in 2004, we replaced our tablet PCs this Spring with Dean of the Faculty funding that was pledged before we sent in the first HP grant, and with a second HP grant we made a video highlighting our mobile mapping project.

There is value in corporate/academic collaborations because that is what our mobile mapping initiative has been. I hope to see an increase in sources like HP for funding innovative educational initiatives in higher education to keep the creative juices flowing from academia into the workplace.

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