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Responding to Your Institution’s Technological Choices (an Open Forum)

bees_on_hiveAs many ProfHacker readers know, I’ve just started a new job at a new school. I’ve been adjusting to a new city, a new institution, and, it turns out, to new technology. For email, calendars, and the like, my old school was fully invested in the Google ecology—which I liked, because my personal email and calendars were Google, too. I frequently use Google Docs for collaborating with colleagues and students, and this was easier when I could be confident that those colleagues and students had easy access to the service. For course management, my old school used a customized version of the Sakai course management system (CMS). Folks liked to complain about it, but I got very familiar with what it could and couldn’t do, and overall I liked it.

My new school, however, uses the Zimbra Collaboration Suite for email, calendars, etc., and Moodle for managing courses. When I discovered this, my first instinct was to find out how best to circumvent those technological choices. I looked for ways to feed my Zimbra email and calendars into Gmail and Google Calendar (answer: it doesn’t seem to be possible to set either Zimbra or Google Calendar up so that you can view and edit all of your calendars in one or the other). I actually set up a new WordPress installation on my personal website so that I could manage my classes with ScholarPress—which is itself quite different from Sakai, but was at least a platform with which I was familiar.

Soon, however, I stopped planning subversion long enough to ask myself: “Why the contrarian reaction?” I didn’t know much about either Zimbra or Moodle, and I couldn’t say with confidence that either was less effective than the products I was used to. True, I had a certain investment in the platforms I’d been using, but was that investment enough to justify me immediately distancing myself from my new institution? Then I spent a few days tinkering with both Zimbra and Moodle, and found that both had their virtues. I learned, for example, that Zimbra makes it very easy to propose and create meetings with other Zimbra users, a feature Google has yet to perfect (as evidenced by George’s many posts on the subject). Given that the majority of the meetings I’ll be scheduling from now on will be with local colleagues who use Zimbra, it makes good sense for me to embrace this feature. After a bit of experimentation, I’ve also found that Moodle can do most—if not all—of the things that Sakai did for my classes. And, of course, Moodle hooks into my school’s other systems, such as course rolls, which my personal installation of WordPress could not have done.

I still prefer many things about Google’s ecology over Zimbra’s, and Sakai still feels more polished than Moodle. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to make a go of it with both Zimbra and Moodle. Using these two platforms will help me become a better member of my new academic community. For me, that trumps these particular technological preferences, which are based mostly on personal comfort. I still have personal access to the Google platform, through my personal account, in case I need any of its features. And there are also some programs I won’t switch away from. Zimbra has a built-in task manager which I don’t plan to use. ProfHacker readers know my devotion to Things, and since Zimbra’s task manager is a private feature, it won’t inconvenience anyone if I ignore it.

I’m still interested, however, in the larger question of technological individualism. I suspect the ProfHacker community is particularly prone going things alone when it comes to tech. Have you been tempted to circumvent or subvert the technological choices made by your institution? When, as tech-savvy academics, should we go our own way technologically, and when should we do our best to support the technology being used by our colleagues? Let us hear about your own struggles in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Carly & Art.]

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