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Technology: Seven Cautionary Considerations

By Daniel A. Dusseau, Chief of Police And Lt. John M. Weinstein, Commander, Strategic Planning and Outreach, Northern Virginia Community College Police Department

Daniel A. Dusseau, Chief of Police

Even old luddites, who long for the simplicity of carbon paper and white-out, grudgingly admit that technology plays a vital role in keeping our homes, offices, schools and recreational facilities safe, secure, efficient and effective.

The security world has certainly embraced technology. For instance, at NOVA, we employ alerting systems, computer-assisted dispatch, ubiquitous security cameras, call boxes, recognition technologies, state and national databases, etc. While they have served us well, and helped us to reduce reported crime by 64% in the past five years, technologies can also generate problems, sub-optimize performance, and undermine morale.

Seven Rules for the Road

While technology offers greater success, profits, and responsiveness, consider thereseven factors to facilitate success.

1. Technology is Goal-Oriented. First, technology is not an end in itself. Rather, it must serve the overall goals of the entire organization. For instance, a college’s basic goals could include excellence in education, acquisition of grants, faculty research, income from athletic programs, avoiding liability, enhancing faculty reputation, tuition growth, safety and security. In short, technology must be viewed within the context of the organization’s overall priorities since different priorities affect therelative desirability certain technologies. An institution whose overall objective is excellence in undergraduate education may be less supportive of state-of-the-art research equipment, the strong advocacy of its faculty notwithstanding. Further complicating this factor is that priorities may change over time. A school that recently suffered an active shooter is more likely to elevate liability considerations.

"Technology is a great enabler; it is not a panacea. As long as it is related to an organization’s priorities, applied in a holistic manner, integrated with sensitivity to an organization’s culture and empowers humans, it is more likelyto serve its intended purpose"

2. Technology Selection is a Group Enterprise.

Lt. John M. Weinstein, Commander, Strategic Planning and Outreach, Northern Virginia Community College Police Department

This second rule follows from the first because various organizational components place different priorities upon different goals, resulting in their support of different and even contradictory policies. Faculty members demand privacy for their offices but campus police and security advocate openness as a deterrent to larcenies and harassing behaviors. Technology advocacy shouldn’t belong to one internal organizational entity. The police may champion a ubiquitous camera surveillance system to enhance security, facilities may advocate a new keying system, and Title IX may advocate a new alerting system. The decision to buy one rather than the others should be based on the organization’s highest priorities and how candidate technologies advance these priorities. Often, and unfortunately, decisions are made based on personalities, debating skills, alliances,quid pro quos, and other non-empirical reasons having little to do with overall organization priorities. Hence, the role of the leader is to create decision structures in which myopic advocacy is replaced by decisions advancing the organization’s greater good.

3. Technology Shapes Culture. Technology can be revolutionary necessitating newoperating procedures andchanging the influence of individuals, funding flows, and authority patterns, to mention a few potential dislocations. Some will gain from the adoption of new technologies but some will lose. Reduced morale and obstructionism may result. Ironically, an organization’s leader may become more dependent upon subordinates who better understand the new technology. Now, while the leader has the authority to make decisions, the expertise is no longer there, thereby threateningexisting authority patterns.

4. Technologies Never Stand Alone. Every technology affects personnel, procedures, facilities, other equipment, communications and their integrating structure. New technologies may necessitate new hiring patterns, training and re-training, budgetary diversions to accomplish the training, synching the new and old systems to prevent service dislocations, requirements to store and then surplus replaced equipment, etc. Furthermore, technologies exist in a temporal dimension. Why buy a new camera system if there are plans to refurbish in two years the building in which it is to be installed?

5. Technology: How Much is Enough? An advocate of any enterprise will tell you “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”. However, a decision-maker shouldn’t be enticed into buying more technology than is needed. For instance, the police may want the latest camera system with all the bells and whistles. A surveillance system that is monitored in real time can play a positive role in deterring crime. Let’s say a college wants to monitor 500 locations and each camera views a location for 5 seconds before switching to the next. If the goal is to monitor each location every 30 seconds, the school will need 100 cameras. How many people will be needed to monitor these cameras? The police and dispatch don’t have enough people. Further, how long can someone monitor cameras before needing to be replaced by fresh eyes? In other words, perhaps the school can get by with a less sophisticated system if it plans to use the cameras forensically, after the fact, to solve crimes. In this case, a sophisticated systems would not serve the school well. One final comment: if the environment, including technology, is evolving rapidly, why invest in systems with great system-wide impacts as discussed above when they willsoon become obsolete?

6. Technology Must Be Integrated. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 did not occur because we lacked sophisticated technologies that produced voluminous data. We had lots of data but failed to connect the dots to render it useful in a timely and meaningful way. If you cannot exploit the data, the superior capability of its generating technology is wasted.

7. Technology is no Substitute for Humans. Technology can empower humans but it should not be seen as a replacement for them. A key priority of security is making people aware of what’s happening around them. Technology can enhance this enterprise but ultimately, people must identify concerning behavior, alert others, interpret it, etc. The US and Russia could develop doomsday nuclear deterrents ridiculed in the Dr. Strangelove but would not because a human must remain in the decision process. Humans will always want to exercise control over their environment. Technology should enhance, not diminish, this control.

A Final Thought

Technology is a great enabler; it is not a panacea. As long as it is related to an organization’s priorities, applied in a holistic manner, integrated with sensitivity to an organization’s culture and empowers humans, it is more likelyto serve its intended purpose.

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