Strategic and Ethical Academic Technology Decision-Making: Frameworks for Collaboration Between Educational Technologists and Faculty


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Brief Abstract

In higher education, administrators and faculty need to work together to demystify the rationale behind academic technology decision-making and procurement. We make the case that developing a clear academic technology strategy that centers ethical and accessible decision-making will make shared values between administrators and faculty more visible.


Jenae Cohn writes and speaks about how to support engagement, communication, and critical thinking in digital learning experiences. She currently works as the Director of Academic Technology at California State University, Sacramento and has held prior roles at Stanford University and University of California, Davis. She is the author of the book, Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading (West Virginia University Press, 2021), and contributes to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and Faculty Focus. Supporting instructors in mindful approaches to digital pedagogy, she leads workshops and events for colleges nationwide. As a researcher, she explores digital literacy, student experiences with online learning, and reading and writing across the curriculum. Learn more at or on Twitter @jenae_cohn.

Extended Abstract

In higher education, the process for acquiring and implementing academic technologies can be opaque and unclear, even to educational technology administrators. The reasons for choosing and acquiring new tools are myriad: individual programs or departments make requests, a president may launch a new digital learning initiative, or a campus policy may drive a technology procurement decision. Furthermore, the reasons for adopting new tools to align with the variety of online, hybrid, and blended learning needs are diverse, plentiful, and dizzying to say the least. Sometimes, these decisions are made as part of strategic plans, but all too often, these decisions can be made reactively and not always in ways that are strategic or grounded in ethical campus decision-making. 

Concerns with equity, fairness, and privacy abound in academic technology decision-making. For example, uncritical adoption of “gamified” quizzing tools may make students’ grades and scores visible to each other in ways that violate student privacy, or adoption of “camera-on” video conferencing policies may make students with unstable Internet connections or unsafe home environments feel like they don’t belong in a college class. Academic technology leaders and faculty alike may reactively adopt tools to meet their own needs - or the needs of a vocal proponent on-campus - without considering the impacts of those tools on other parts of the campus community and ecosystem that may not be immediately visible. 

As institutions scale their digital learning initiatives -- embarking on “odysseys,” which may involve increased use of technologies for teaching and learning -- educational technology administrators must be integral partners with faculty and students alike to sustain ongoing teaching and learning experiences with new tools and technologies. More importantly, these partnerships must be formed to build a community where everyone is more mindful of a diverse campus’s needs. While no one knows exactly what the future of higher education will look like, we do know that a future for responsible academic technology implementation in higher education involves careful and measured consideration of how new tools are considered and piloted for campus adoption. Without doing so, ample room for misunderstanding between administrators and faculty alike can develop. Educational technologists and faculty engaged in conversations about teaching with technology must work together to ensure that the future of higher education is grounded in meaningful and collaborative decision-making processes.

In this presentation, an academic technology and faculty member will discuss their ongoing development of an academic technology strategy document and plan to create a strategic and ethical tool pilot framework. First, we will define what developing a strategy means for our campus community and share language from our strategy document to support other academic technology units who may want to work on similar language or documents with their campus communities. Specifically, we will explore the importance of developing a strategy as a way of creating shared vocabulary, experiences, and knowledge between faculty and staff, groups that historically can operate in very separate institutional silos. 

Then, we will share an example of how we used the goals and language from our strategy document to guide the collaborative roll-out of an academic tool pilot. We will show how a tool pilot was communicated to faculty participants, share assessment instruments developed to assess faculty engagement and experience with the pilot, and discuss how faculty participants shaped and gave feedback on the piloting process as we experienced it. In offering this example, we make the case that applying our academic technology strategy to a tool pilot promoted greater transparency on our campus, built trust, and reinforced our values, mission and goals for assessing aligned learning and technology solutions for the future. 

By sharing these ideas in the form of a Discovery session, we hope to end our recording by offering a few guided questions for asynchronous discussion: how are other technologists, faculty, and campus leaders engaging in conversations about tool strategy? What are some tips or suggestions that OLC attendees might have for other digital learning leaders to build conversations and connections about educational tool procurement and usage on their campuses?