Negotiating and advocating for more access to technologies at UO

I feel like I just had a terrific success that I need to document here. Maybe these reflections will encourage others, especially those new to the Academy who are finding their way in their new institutions.

A little context. I arrived as a new Assistant Professor in Educational Technology at the University of Ottawa last fall. For years, at Michigan State University, where I did my PhD and then managed graduate certificate programs in Educational Technology and Online Teaching and Learning, I had access to an institutional account that also gave access to a Google Drive — but at UO this year, I have not. And, at the beginning, I felt a little confused because my process wasn’t possible using an institutional account. At MSU, I used Google Drive extensively to manage my courses, to gather data through Google Forms, and in particular to provide ongoing feedback to students in my courses. My use of Google Docs to provide individual feedback to students emerged largely from work in the Master’s of Educational Technology program there — with Alison Keller, Bill Marsland, Melissa White, and Leigh Graves Wolf, we developed documents for our online courses called Evaluation Notebooks. The Evaluation Notebook is just a simple Google document that includes all of the assignments, due dates and assessment criteria for each assignment that students will complete during the course. Here are a couple of examples:

Evaluation Notebook for an MSU course in Technology Integration: CEP 810 

Evaluation Notebook for a UOttawa Graduate Course in Technology and Learning: EDU 5287

At the start of the semester, I make a copy of the Evaluation Notebook (ideally, using Doctopus OR Google Classroom) for each of my students. (HT to Sean Sweeney for telling me about Doctopus.)

This document is shared privately between instructor and student — it is not open or public in any way. Yes, it is on the cloud and therefore open to the US Patriot Act — it could be requisitioned by the US Government. However, the nature of the communications in those documents is focused entirely on the work that students do. The questions are about how to frame ideas related to the course, learning resources of value, how to improve a draft of written work etc. — evidence, frankly, of deep engagement in a learning process. The data is not sensitive in the ways that health information is sensitive; or information about criminal activity, or trauma, or experiences that are deeply emotional and personal. For this reason, I feel that the advantages of the cloud as a pedagogical space far outweigh the risks of an information “hack” to the student, or to me.

Okay — so to the present. I asked around about getting access to Google Drive through an institutional email at UOttawa last fall. The answer, for Faculty, was no. Students have institutional gmails — but faculty do not. The institutional agreements with Google do not extend to Faculty. Our email is managed differently because of the higher levels of security required for Faculty communications. This, I completely understand — and yet, in Education, where Google Classroom, Google Drive, Google Apps are so widely used in contexts of schooling — access to the Google suite of tools is pedagogically fundamental today. I cannot prepare teacher candidates for the realities of their workplace environments without having prepared them, at the very least, to use Google applications in their teaching.

So, I tried again. I just kept on presenting my case to each level of administration, responsible for technology infrastructure at the University and today, in a meeting with some incredibly forward-thinking colleagues in Teaching and Learning Services, I received confirmation that the University is prepared to explore the possibility of a pilot initiative, starting this winter, with institutional Google Accounts for Faculty! Even though the answer had been no, no, and no again (and other colleagues had tried and received the same no response) finally, finally, the ideas were heard!

bitmoji_YESSo, although agreements will still need to be negotiated, I am feeling incredibly optimistic about a new frontier in technology policy and integration for pedagogy in the Faculty of Education. I’m also feeling really happy to have met people here at the University of Ottawa who understand our needs in the Faculty of Education and who share a vision for what is possible when we work together to support student learning.

More to come on this project and its impact!