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Your Story: Throwing new tools at a communication problem?

I'm working on a (likely non-43 Folders) piece about a topic that seems to keep coming up whenever I talk with people about how their team plans, collaborates, and generally communicates with one another. I'd love to hear from you in comments if you have a contribution to make.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story about a time when your team or company tried to solve a human communication problem by adding a new tool? In your estimation, how did things turn out?


Yours doesn't need to be a horror story to be included here -- there are certainly ample examples in which a thorny problem disappeared by introducing a bit of high (or low) technology to the mix.

But, the anecdotes I hear from worker bees often focus on the frustration they felt when a wiki, a new CMS, a mailing list, or some other tool was introduced into an ecosystem that was suffering from a more fundamental communication problem. A lot of people tell me that this makes matters much worse all around, often amplifying the complexity of the original problem, in addition to piling on burnt cycles that were committed on getting everyone up to speed on the new "silver bullet."

If you have a minute over the next week or so, please share your story here. Redact details that you think need redacting, but please consider telling me how things went for you and your group. And, if you feel like a whole or partial solution to the core problem ever did come along, that would be great to know, as well. Already documented this someplace else? Know of someone else who did? Links to relevant stories are also greatly appreciated.

If things pan out, I may be contacting a few of you offline for more details, and conceivably, an interview or two. Thanks in advance.

mdl's picture

Ditto on Blackboard

I, too, teach at a university and have experienced the same Blackboard woes. In fact, I've taught at two universities where IT folks and administrators have strongly encouraged (if not mandated) the use of Blackboard in all classes. Technology for its own sake seems to be the attitude that possesses many administrators---they don't want the university to fall behind in the "online courses" craze.

While good in theory, Blackboard ends up creating extra, often needless, work for instructors. Some students never check the course website on Blackboard, no matter how often you insist that they do, while other students expect every frickin' thing you say or hand out in class to be on Blackboard. So the faculty end up doing double the administrative work for no compelling reason. Everything that is photocopied and handed out in class has to be uploaded and organized on Blackboard (which, by the way, has an extremely slow and cumbersome interface).

There are other issues as well. Many students expect faculty to post their grade on Blackboard; but the registrar's electronic grade submission page does not communicate with Blackboard, so faculty must enter their grades two separate times using two separate interfaces.

University communication is chaotic, to say the least. Ten years or so ago, email became a standard means of communication between faculty and students. Today, however, many students never check their university email accounts, preferring instant messaging, Facebook, and gmail/hotmail/etc. To solve these problems, the university just set up a comprehensive communication client (email, calendar, messaging) that no-one uses, except for simple email access. Meanwhile, universities keep shoveling over money to Microsoft, Novell, etc. for new services that only add redundancy to the system.

As far as I'm concerned, university IT departments try to provide too many comprehensive communication "solutions." Schools would do well to provide each member of the university a bare network account and an optional webmail client. If faculty want to require their students to communicate online, then they can set up their own course website, blog, or wiki.

Oh, for the days of face-to-face interaction and paper-based communication! One system. You either participated or you did not.




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