Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perspective

In these last few hectic days, I've been thinking about perspective. When confronted with ideas or requests or statements, I often try to determine what the person's perspective is and how and why they might be thinking the way they are. I try my best to keep a broad perspective myself and consider other people's points of view and often before I speak, I will explain where I'm coming from. I might say, for example, that I'm speaking on behalf of faculty. Here are some broad categories of differing perspectives that I have dealt with in the last few days:

One vs. Many: As Spock said when he died: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of one. This is a delicate balance I must always strike when I support faculty and students. As a general rule, I lean towards supporting many people. I can do things once and it benefits lots of people. For example, I run workshops and create documentation to help people use the tools they need to use for teaching. I also try to develop tools or processes that address needs that came up for one or two people in the past, but would benefit everyone. This time of year, though, I'm often confronted with requests that will benefit only one person. And I have to seriously weigh them sometimes. Honestly, sometimes it's like the addage of "If I let one of you go to the bathroom, you'll all be asking to go." Unfortunately, at this time of year, it's impossible to develop something as a result of a specific request that would benefit many people. I just don't have the time to think through everything much less develop it. Often, when I respond to a specific request with, "This is going to have to wait a couple of weeks" or "You're going to have to find another way to do this for now," I'm aware that the person on the receiving end has the perspective that their need outweighs all others. I've been in their shoes. I'm sympathetic. But sometimes I want to explain exactly how their request would prevent me from supporting the other 150 people I support. Should I spend hours trying to restore something someone could have (should have) saved themselves instead of helping 20 other people? Likewise, should I spend hours doing something for someone that they could do themselves? Should I spend hours working on the basics with someone who didn't make a workshop? These are some of the dilemmas I face.

Long term vs. short term. I've run into plenty of tenured faculty and long time staff members who take the long view. They make decisions based on trying to think about how that decision will play out in 5 to 10 years. Right now, no one's thinking about the long view. They're running around like chickens with their heads cut off. And that's okay once in a while as long you step back and try to assess the situation and work towards making the next time better. Here's a concrete example. The first fall semester I was working, I had received over 250 emails (I'm not even counting phone calls) requesting help with Blackboard. As soon as the dust cleared, I tried to determine why I had received so many calls for help and what I could do to prevent that from happening again. After talking to lots of people, I determined that the way we were creating accounts several steps before those accounts ended up in Blackboard was creating problems for a large group of people. These people were unable to even log in to Blackboard and the majority of the emails related to this problem. So I fixed the source of the problem. I could have fixed all of these manually at the time and I could have just been prepared to do the same next time around, but that would be taking a short view. I've seen this happen a lot in IT. We bandaid something and don't bother to return to the problem and try to really fix it.

Difference in role. As I've said here before, I often find myself explaining how faculty work to IT people and vice versa. I find myself doing this at this time of year as well. I really do try to see things from the student perspective, from the faculty perspective and from various staff perspectives. Far too often, people don't try to see things from another person's perspective.

Anyway, I find it interesting to listen to and watch people and to think about what I'm thinking in response and try to determine where the conflict is and come up with some kind of solution or way of responding that makes sense and will help the other person's understanding. I'm curious if you all see these kinds of things at your institutions and how you handle them or think they should be handled.