We sat down with an EdTech consultant to chat about technology, higher ed programs, and how to bring the two together.
Let’s dive in.
Q: What are some of the barriers that programs have when adopting technology?
A: One of the main barriers is that using new technology takes time and energy that people want to devote to other things. Community partners and less tech savvy faculty members can be the most hesitant and the most likely to want to avoid adopting new technologies.
Convincing them to begin using a new system can be tough. Universities often say, “we can’t make our field instructors do this, they are already overwhelmed and they are volunteers.” Introducing new users to the technology slowly and thoughtfully is important. In Social Work, we say you need to “start where your clients are”. This is true for technology. You need to empower people to adopt technology at a pace that works for them. For most, learning incrementally in steps of increasing difficulty works the best. For example, a university might first ask a new field instructor to use the system to RSVP for a training by clicking a link in an email or to submit basic information for initial vetting. Then, when they agree to take a student, a university might ask them to complete another task like confirming the placement. This way, when the placement begins, the field instructor will be more ready to use software more intensively for evaluations, time sheets and other assignments. Building confidence and helping users successfully navigate the initial learning curve is vital. Since field instructors come and go this is an ongoing process.
It is also important to have different kinds of supports in place for different types of learners. These might include writing guides, videos, in-person trainings and a way to easily request one-on-one assistance. Users need to know how and when to access supports so that they don’t spend time spinning their wheels and becoming frustrated.
Q: That would be a big challenge. Are there any differences between an agency adopting it for the first time versus training somebody new on or it’s just kind of all the same?
A: It is often easier to introduce a new agency to software because they haven’t gotten comfortable with another way of doing things. Oboarding an instructor in a larger existing agency is also easier because agency colleagues can help the new instructor. Onboarding a new instructor in a small agency can be more difficult and often requires more university support. Some universities empower students to provide some of the assistanc by training them on how they and their field instructors need to use the software.
Issues arise with any software programs but you want to do everything in your power to minimize them by testing forms and processes carefully ahead of time. Another way to minimize issues is to implement software features incrementally rather than changing everything at the same time. Glitches and issues can set you back. You can get users to a point where they are starting to accept your software, and then something goes haywire. Then they will say, “We told you this is awful.”
Q: What would a social work program really need to understand about choosing the right software partner for them?
A: There are a number of things I recommend:
- Include students and community partners in the software decision making process. They will ask questions and notice things that faculty may not.
- Make sure you know what features the software offers AND how they work. It is easy for a sales person so say that the software includes a certain feature but it is important to dig deeper and understand what you will need to do to make the feature work, and to make sure the feature will gel with your existing workflows and procedures.
- Make sure the software is not too complicated. While in academia, my institution chose a program that looked great at first. It turned out, it was really complex and more costly than we anticipated because of the time it took our team to learn and navigate.
- Understand how the software will integrate (or not) with other software that you already have like your enrollment system, blackboard etc.
- Find out what other disciplines that offer internships are using. One university that I worked with invested a great deal of time and money into one software program and then had to switch because a bigger academic program was using a different product.
- Consider whether your department is at a place where implementing new software is a good idea. For example, if your department leadership is going to change in the near future, you might want to hold off until that transition occurs. Or, if all of your faculty want to continue using another system or are adverse to technology, you might want to get more buy in before proceeding further.
- Don’t be afraid to book a second demo and ask all the questions you have. Know that choosing a new field software program is a big investment of time an money and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
- Request names of current customers who you can call to learn about their experience with the software.
Q: How important is that person-to-person interaction to the technology adoption process?
A: I think it’s vital especially for people-centric industries, like social work. It is important to know exactly what supports are in place for the university initially and on an ongoing basis. Universities should make sure the level and types of support are outlined in any contract they sign. It’s also important to include estimated support turn-around times. You want to be assured that, when issues arise, the response will be quick and effective.
Q: What other benefits do you look for from a software partner?
A: People always say to me, “we want to get rid of paper. We’re always losing paper. We don’t want any paper anymore. No paper.” That’s a big one.
Another big one is making a positive impression. You want your program to have a look that will instill confidence. A good software program will help put a professional face on the university
Q: On that note, how important do you think technology is now that Gen Z is entering and exiting undergrad and grad programs? What’s their expectation of the level of sophisticated tech that colleges use? Or does it not really matter?
A: I think they expect a lot from software. They expect it to work will not be happy if they bump into a lot of glitches. Any software program that a university purchases will have some issues but Gen Z students are used to hopping on to Tik Tok and other social media sites and experiencing very few glitches. In addition, since they have grown up with technology, they intuitively understand the logic behind it and can more easily identify issues that are software rather than user related. As a result, they can be very critical when software doesn’t work as planned. At the same time, their level of technological sophistication also means they often can offer useful feedback and suggestions.
Q: How can software be a competitive advantage?
A: One of the challenges right now is there are many social work programs. This means there’s a lot of competition for placements. In a bigger city, it is common for several universities to be vying for the same placements. So, if your software is user friendly, instructors might choose students from your university over others. In addition, software can free up staff time so they can spend more time developing placements and relationships and less time pushing paper around.”
Q: How can technology help beyond freeing up staff time to develop those relationships? I know we talked a little bit about getting the agencies on board but is there anything else you see technology facilitating more placements or more co-opetition rather than competition?
A: In a previous position, I supported several university customers in close proximity to each other.
I encouraged and facilitated the creation of common forms to assist the universities in adopting the software and the agencies in accepting it. If a program allows for sharing forms between universities that’s helpful because not only is there less work for the software company and the university but it is also easier for agencies hosting interns from several different universities. They don’t have to learn to use several systems and forms.
Thank you for your time and sharing your expertise with us!