Wednesday, May 06, 2009

On ownership

Last night there was a minor crisis in our house. Our desktop computer has four separate log-ins, one for each member of the family. I was in the middle of publishing a project for a client on my log-in, ready to upload to their drop box. While that was happening, I was watching CSI and working on my laptop.

My husband picked this moment to upgrade the software (using his own log in). This of course crashed my publish and delayed my upload. So I was sitting right here until 2 this morning sorting it out. This wasn't helped by the upgraded software's idea of zipping. Zip a 33MB folder and it gets squeezed right down to 32! Fabulous. Not.

You see, my husband is so used to being the one who makes decisions about the computer kit in our house, that it didn't occur to him to check with me first.

And it is this 'assumptions' thing I want to look at today.

Some years ago, I started working for a company as their in-house IT trainer. Unusually, I was based in the IT team. I quickly discovered that the team did not enjoy a good reputation with the rest of the staff, something they were quick to dismiss as par for the course.

But, during a floorwalking session at one of the branches, I was treated to a demonstration of why this was the case. The staff member I was assisting had placed a call to the IT team earlier in the day. They had told her that, in order to resolve her problem, they would have to LAN-assist her computer and promised to contact her later in the day to do so. As we were sitting there, working through a few things, her screen was suddenly taken over by a member of the IT team, working remotely.

I phoned them and pointed out that (a) this was not a convenient time and more importantly (b) it was just plain rude. The helpdesk manager snapped at me that this was the only time they had available and, either the staff member allowed them to carry out the work or it wouldn't get done. Take it or leave it.

At our IT team meeting the following Monday morning, I raised the issue of service levels and tried to explain that the staff members were our customers. The team was unrepentant. As far as they were concerned, all IT kit was an asset of the IT department and the staff members should be grateful for the service provided.

It's this issue of ownership and service we need to think about. Imagine if a mechanic from the dealership suddenly flagged you down on the high street and started working on your car. Or if your bank manager suddenly trooped a whole load of workmen into your house to redo the wiring in the middle of a dinner party.


Imagine someone on your staff is plodding their way through a traditional elearning resource and you decide to upgrade/update it without so much as a by-your-leave while they're right in the middle of it. They lose their place. They can't remember what they've covered and haven't covered. There was one screen they came back to time after time because it was so useful to them... and that screen is gone in the new version, or the content of that screen has been split among several different screens in different sections.

I'm not saying we shouldn't update some of our learning materials. Goodness knows, some of it was dated when it was new!

The point I'm trying to make is that we need to stop thinking of this stuff as being 'ours' as in 'belonging to the L&D team' and start thinking of it as 'ours' as in belonging to 'all of us on the team/staff/whatever'.

In learning terms, this is part of the same mentality that puts the learner at the centre of our consciousness as we identify needs; devise strategies to meet them; design, develop or procure resources; implement solutions, etc.

If we're thinking like that, we'll consider the impact on the learner before we do that upgrade. And the learner won't be taken by surprise when it happens, because he will have been kept informed of and probably been involved in the development of said upgrade. In fact, he might have been the one to identify the need for it.

It's time to move on from the approach that leaves people feeling 'done to' and disempowered.


Neil Winton said...

I wish I could say that I didn't recognise the situation you've outlined with IT departments, but it's all too familiar. There is an apparent belief that we should tug our forelocks and be grateful that we are allowed to use the computers at all.

The fact is that:

a) I have my own home network and co-administer access rights for our three kids,
b) I've been using computers in education for nearly 20 years
c) I can install programmes and upgrades and troubleshoot problems at home without having to resort to an 'IT' department...

...and yet all of this means nothing when I walk into the school. As far as the technicians and network admin are concerned, I am an inconvenience who challenges their authority and power base... yet I think they are forgetting something... their job is to 'support' my IT use, not dictate it. (/rant)

As a final point... I really like your closing analogy. I think it is all too easy to forget the needs of the learner as we make changes to the system. Lesson learned... ;o)

Karyn Romeis said...

@Neil Because the time was once that only the IT department knew the alchemy that made the magical machines work. This made all users utterly dependent on them and somehow the support role morphed until they became the gatekeepers of 'yes' and 'no'... and there was far too much of the latter!

I have been happily married to an IT guy for 21 years, so don't get me wrong. But, as I said at last year's Learning and Skills Group conference, "Who died and left them in charge, anyway?"