Balancing Technology Change with School Change

I’ve spent a great deal of time over my past 10 years as a Technology Director implementing new technologies that automate data systems (multiple student information systems, admissions, development, and business office systems), allow easier communication (e-mail), and help teachers teach and students learn (blogs, wikis, moodle and other communications tools).

We use FirstClass as our e-mail server and over the past couple of years, we have had some big gripes with FirstClass.  They have released server updates with big bugs and their support leaves much to be desired.  So earlier on this year we began to evaluate different communications platforms.  We started by defining criteria that we would use to evaluate each platforms.  Then we installed or tested Google Apps for Schools, Microsoft Live, Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange 2007 .  We’re a Microsoft school and the only system that fit a majority of the criterion was Microsoft Exchange 2007.

So we went to user testing.  Most users who tested Exchange and Outlook gave us very positive feedback.  I’ve spoken to multiple Network Admins and Directors of Technology who give good reviews to Outlook.  I have evaluated it myself and really prefer its user interface to that of FirstClass.

But, with all of those positives, I still ask: What are the benefits of changing systems?  What are the benefits to asking 200 faculty and staff and 400 students to learn a new system that pretty much does the same thing they were doing on FirstClass?  The send and receive e-mail.  That’s what most people use e-mail for, right?

Yes, there will be a many administrators and staff who will have a system that makes their lives more convenient.  There may be some teachers who use the document sharing and collaboration tools built into Exchange 2007.  The Microsoft Office integration is much tighter and our Student Information System had an e-mail class roster link that will actually work correctly.  Web site links from e-mail will work correctly and we won’t have to be deleting and reconfiguring FirstClass folders that have become corrupted.  There is easier support for administrator, faculty and student handheld devices.

But does this list tip the scale?

What about the time it’s going to take to train all of the faculty, staff and students to use this new system?

It this technology for technology sake, even with the improvements we will see?

I wonder this about many of the changes that are coming down the pike such as Windows Vista and Office 2007.

I see all of the great things that I could be doing with faculty next fall to integrate technology into the curriculum at our school and then realize that changing to Exchange might delay them.  Or it might make thing easier.  Is it worth it?

I know you can’t answer this question, but it’s the one won’t get out of my head right now.

I yearn to think more about teaching and learning with technology and find myself hung up on seemingly surface level decisions about our e-mail system.  I’m definitely feeling a bit frustrated.

Thanks for listening.  I’ll update you once we make a decision.

Photo from: http://flickr.com/photos/priddy/3507724/