Instructional Technology is not Information Technology

Wow! Luke Waltzer just nailed a strategic plan outlining the future of instructional technology at CUNY. Honest, fair, and to the point, an amazing post about why instructional technology needs to be taken ever more seriously as an integral part of any educational institution. I also think it highlights just how eloquent and precise a thinker/write Luke is.

Here is my pull quote:

For too long, instructional technology has been enveloped within the broader notion of information technology. We need to drive a permanent wedge between those two areas of university life in the understandings of our communities. Information technology makes our phones and networks and computers and smart boards work, and collects and protects student, staff, and faculty data so that we can get credits and get paid. This is crucial stuff. But it doesn’t foreground teaching and learning.

Instructional technology is about pedagogy, about building community, about collaboration and helping each other imagine and realize teaching and learning goals with the assistance of technology.

Amen, reverend! 🙂

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13 Responses to Instructional Technology is not Information Technology

  1. Steven Egan says:

    That’s some good stuff right there.

  2. Thus my frustration when asked to have a professor complete and await approval of a project management request form prior to working with her on creating a Facebook page. I mean, we’re not deploying servers in the datacenter.

    Successful pedagogy is not measured in deliverables, and building community can’t be quantified alongside server uptime logs. Alas, instructional technology departments that are run like traditional IT departments (or still drag with them many of the same bureaucratic shackles) will never achieve the potential warranted in today’s learning environment.

    Forcing the guidance and support instructional technologists provide to be “projects” that must be “managed” only furthers our roles viewed by faculty merely as IT support staff rather than colleagues in the teaching and learning process.

  3. that’s why I love the setup here at UCalgary. We have a great IT department that handles the whole information technologies thing, and a fantastic teaching & learning centre that handles pedagogy and the fun stuff 🙂

  4. Gardner says:

    Well, that’s the huge question: how can central IT as a service provider be a good and empowering colleague for folks in the teaching and learning domain? In the bad old days, “academic technology” or “instructional technology” would have bare-knuckled fights with “administrative technology” or “networks.” Someone had to broker the truce; someone had to live in both worlds. We’ve obviously just imported the bad old days into our present. Alas! Merged library/IT organizations hold some promise, but there really isn’t a panacea there either.

    I often wonder how far down the dysfunction goes. Is some kind of faculty vs. staff animosity at the root of at least some of the problem? And what about the institution itself that fosters the kind of compartmentalization that keeps fragmenting efforts and putting potential collaborators in silos? Is faculty culture to blame as well, with the perennial attitude of “just do this for me and don’t bore me with the details”?

    Worrisome questions. Intriguing possibilities too, perhaps. I certainly feel and share Luke’s pain.

  5. Mikhail says:

    Always proud of Baruch’s own Luke, I couldn’t agree more. What Luke nails (and to what the bava attests again and again) is that the practice of instructional technology is often intellectual, reflective, not merely technical. IT in the old sense is about technical details and implementation.

  6. Jason P says:

    I certainly see Luke’s point of view but have a couple observations from my own professional experience.

    At one point in my career, I led an instructional technology operation that was part of a information technology group. In this case, the IT group’s resources were limited to the point that members of the instructional technology group were constantly being distracted from instructional/educational technology things to the detriment of faculty and students and teaching and learning. I advocated a split from the IT group to force a refocus on instructional technology and the proposal found some supporters in the administration but it didn’t happen. Eventually, I moved on.

    My current situation finds me leading a slightly larger instructional technology group, also from within an information technology group but at a better resourced place. Another key difference now is that the IT director came up through the instructional technology echelons and also holds a faculty appointment. In other words, he gets it. There are distinct benefits to this arrangement for our group. First, there is direct access to the formidable IT budget with a purse holder who is generally quite supportive. Second, as part of the IT group, I am better positioned to influence the culture and priorities of the larger group and am successful in doing so pretty often. And, third, with leadership that understands the appropriate role of instructional technology in our environment, we’re generally able to do the right thing most of the time without distraction.

    I guess what I’m saying is “it depends.” The ultimate, best solution is that information technology groups can divest themselves of much of the resource sucking, mundane, utility IT crap they do and be brought into closer engagement with the university’s real mission — education. Maybe this is a promise of cloud computing.

    I’ll make one minor semantic objection to Luke’s post. He state’s “We need to drive a permanent wedge between those two areas of university life in the understandings of our communities.” I don’t know if “wedge” is the best term. We certainly need everyone to understand our role in the community and freely admit that being part of an IT group probably makes role understanding for the community more difficult, but “permanent wedge(s)” might be too strong a phrase.

    As Luke says later in his post and as Gardner alludes to above, regardless of org charts, there needs to be close collaboration between groups. Strict silos and compartmentalization can serve two primary purposes: (1) They can help those in the silos intently focus on their distinct, assigned roles or (2) They can help hose in silos pass the buck and point fingers at those in other silos while saying “it ain’t my responsibility.” Obviously, it’s best if it’s #1, but it always seems like it ends up being #2.

    I’m personally “someone [who] had to live in both worlds” and I’m OK with it right now but wasn’t always. So my answer to Gardner’s query about “how far down the dysfunction goes?” It goes all the way down, baby, clear to the bottom of our imperfect institutions and their subjective organization!

    Finally, all that other stuff Luke said about ownership and literacy — giddy-up!

  7. Reverend says:


    I certainly see yours and Gardner’s points, and I agree with them to some degree. But I think the point has come to a wedge at many—though not all as you point out—is that the umbrella acronym IT has come to be a real limiting and alienating term that has done far more harm to instructional technology than good. And while the reasons move far beyond information technology offices, and Gardner’s questions about culture, faculty, and staff rifts, the first step might very well making that distinction far more pronounced than we might normally if only to shake up some pre-conceptions throughout the university, and re-imagine the role more specifically as divorced from IT, at least at first. I think the wedge is a good metaphor because it drives a space between two things, but it is often temporary as a means to pull things apart so that they can be worked on further, and then re-align at some time later. I may be pushing it, but the wedge in my mind is necessary at many an institution so that instructional technologists can approach faculty and students in an entirely different manner, as Micheal’s comment above suggests so brilliantly. Partnering is something most IT programs don;t think of, it is a separate logic that often supports the classroom in an indirect way (though supports all the same). I think what is needed with instructional technology is a far more direct hands-on, and conceptual, rather than technical approach. Does that make sense?

  8. Luke says:

    First of all, what the blood clot? Rev’s post about my post gets more comments than my post!!!! If I didn’t love him so much I might get pissed off!!!

    Second, thank you all anyway for your comments.

    @Jason, you make an important point: solutions should pragmatically reflect what works in a given environment. D’Arcy rubs our nose in their set up (and he should… they ROCK), and you’re right to be concerned about too permanent or complete a separation. n

    Jim’s response is pretty much where I’m at (surprise, surprise), and reflects a shared frustration with situations we’ve both been in. I speak almost exclusively from experience with CUNY, where information resources at the university recently got $300 million to overhaul its system, and instructional technology gets scraps. I know someone high up, who gets it, who begged for just 1% of that budget to be funneled to a focus on instructional technology. Nope. But really… imagine what we could do at a place like CUNY with $3 million, or a third of that?

    In our community, a new reality and relationship between the two approaches absolutely needs to be refined… only once the “wedge” is understood can the right kind of collaboration emerge. But at the same time, thanks for pointing out that “permanent” is a bit problematic. The relationship between IT and edtech is too important to use too strong or divisive an adjective. (At least in mixed company…)

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  10. cmduke says:

    This hits at an issue about which I’ve ranted locally for some time – often finding myself on a soapbox; the first post I wrote about it was August 2007:

    I feel strongly that the issue is industry wide. As a group, educational/instructional technologists/designers are often not positioned well in K-20 organizations. The distinction between IT and Instructional Technology which Luke mentions is absolutely part of the problem. A general lack of understanding of what instructional technology IS as a field doesn’t help.

    How else is it possible to explain the following situations I’ve encountered via discussions with colleagues:

    – a community college campus serving 15,000 students not having a single individual on campus labelled an “instructional technologist” or anything similar – and no one with any sort of background in educational technology?

    – a 36 campus K-12 school district only employing 5 instructional technologists at the district level?

    – a community college IT group implementing blogs with little to no consultation with instructional technologists

    – numerous stories of K-12 organization using overly aggressive approaches to filtering content; all filtering decisions are made unilaterally by IT personnel.

    – a community college marketing and IT group beginning implementation of iTunes with the comment that “they really don’t see any use for it on the instructional side”

    – a K-12 school district with a 1:1 program all the way down to 6th grade not employing a single individual with a degree in educational technology? whose teachers will say they really don’t do much with the computers.

    The problem is that educational technologists are not in leadership positions, do not have channels of communication with executive leaders, have limited voice or input with IT groups to which they report or to which they must defer regarding software support issues.


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