Saturday, January 21, 2006

Enough with the Amazon already!

Universities aren't online bookstores, so enough with the amazondotcomifcation slamajamarama.

Believe it or not, I hear this alot ...

... especially when I compare ASU's online experience to Amazon's in an unfavorable light, or when I hold Amazon (or Google or eBay or any other Web 2.0 titan) up as an example of what ASU's online experience ought to be.

The two counter-arguments most often advanced are:

  1. A University is a much more complex enterprise than an online retailer.

  2. You should more properly compare ASU to other higher education enterprises than commercial ones. And compared to other schools, we're doing very well online.

While I recognize that both these counters have considerable merit, I continue to hold that the leaders in online are who our aspirational peers have to be.

I will certainly grant that the education enterprise is very different from a retail enterprise. That said, each of them has their own complexities, and in the end I'm not at all sure that the intricacies of Amazon's online enterprise are considerably simpler than ours.

But whether our operation is more complex or not, in the end the best of the online world is what our students and our faculty will compare us to.

For most of our students, ASU is the only university they will ever attend. At most, our students have one other higher ed institution to measure us against. So it isn't the online experience at Dartmouth, or Yale, or New Haven State that we'll be compared to; it's the one at Amazon, at MySpace, at Itunes. Like it or not those are the people setting the bar, and if we can't keep pace with those leaders we will be found wanting.

Not to mention the competitive advantages that figuring out how to track the online innovation curve will bring to our academic and research enterprise.

So I stand by amazondotcomification as a goal for the information system here at ASU, despite its awkward spelling and infrequent usage :).


marty,  January 27, 2006 at 2:35 AM  

What we should be doing is taking a minimalist approach. We should expect students to be web savy and offer remedial classes for those who aren't. We shouldn't try to do what Google is doing but rather use those things that Google and others are spending so much money to develop. We should drop in-house development whereever possible an replace it with web-based applications. The laptop for every student should be pursued and classes should increasingly be designed around the web as the web develops and becomes the platform.

marty,  January 27, 2006 at 4:20 AM  

Also expect professors to become web savy. Provide incentives for professors who develop ideas for using the web and provide the the resources they need to implement their ideas. Prehaps create a website documenting the latest new ideas being tried in the classroom. IT shouldn't try to lead in this. The whole thrust of the web is to enable nontechies to collaborate. IT shouldn't try to lead but they should keep abreast of what is happening.

tunesmith,  January 30, 2006 at 3:55 PM  

Absolutely right, Adrian. If you are going to pick implementations to aspire to, for heaven's sake, pick the best, most usable, most effective model you can find that matches what you are trying to achieve. Anything less implicitly and subliminally says "It's ok to suck".

Far better to scale back from perfection in light of your financial limitations that to creep up on mediocrity without having understood the best that is possible.