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I'm teaching in a university where many different types of administrative software are used. Many seem a bit clunky and badly designed, but I'm only interested in those relating to teaching. Some of these, like Blackboard, are pretty poor in terms of usability, efficiency and reliability. However, the use of some of these software platforms are mandatory within certain parts of the university.

The university started asking senior staff and students their opinions about some of this teaching software. However, most of the teaching staff (especially TAs and Tutors) were overlooked in relation to such questions, which is unfortunate as the majority of student grading that takes place in the university, using this software, is done by this cohort. Senior members of staff who outsource administrative responsibilities to their TAs will likely see no reason to change the software that currently is in use. While more senior TAs will almost certainly complain about the problems faced when using this software to their professors, it is unlikely that many of these complaints will be passed on to anybody with any authority, and even if they are, the actual specifics of the complaint will likely be garbled when subject to such dissemination.

What sort of steps can members of staff who have issues with the purchase of such software take such that the institution can notice and potentially respond to these kind of issues (I am unsure even what department or people are responsible for such decisions, or how to even begin finding out!)

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    Who is responsible for the lecture you're TAing? That's the person to ask this question. – Clément Nov 6 '17 at 13:12
  • @Clément they wouldn't themselves know. It's a fairly large university so most academic staff are somewhat removed from administration. – Stumbler Nov 6 '17 at 14:02
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    In bureaucracies you talk to your superior and let her/him figure it out. It is not ideal, but that how bureaucracies work. (and that is why the profs get paid more than you do...) – Maarten Buis Nov 6 '17 at 15:37
  • @MaartenBuis: That's one way to go about it. Another way is to apply collective pressure to the bureacracy - see my answer. – einpoklum Jan 31 '18 at 21:56
  • Your problem may not be solvable. I think everybody knows about it already. Switching administrative software can be very expensive (possibly beyond the resources of your university), and the replacement is not guaranteed to be better. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 31 '18 at 22:40
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tl;dr: You need to organize/unionize as junior teachers, to deal with this collectively

I would say this is more a question about organizational and power relations than about administrative software. As you've said:

Most of the teaching staff (especially TAs and Tutors) were overlooked ... [even though] ... the majority of student grading that takes place in the university ... is done by this cohort.

and you also mention that this is the case despite individual complaints. You have not mentioned any collective action. Specifically, I assume the following has not happened:

  • The junior faculty technical discussion form has deliberated, conducted surveys, and published an official position of the junior faculty regarding administrative software - possibly well in advance of the university having done anything about it, since TAs have been complaining for a while now. This position document lists and explains the problems with "Blackboard", and suggests concrete alternatives.
  • The junior faculty liaison to the university's central teaching administration body has pointed out to the administrative official in charge of software selection that the consultation process has not so far included junior faculty/TAs.
  • The junior faculty representative on the university teaching oversight committee has brought one of the relevant issues up for formal discussion: Administrative software in general, junior faculty dissatisfaction with the existing software solution ("Blackboard"), or exclusion of junior faculty from the consultative process.
  • In negotiations regarding junior faculty employment conditions overall, the issue of suitable administration software has been brought up by the union negotiating team.

None of these happened because either there is no collective entity of the junior faculty (or just the TAs): No union, no intra-university official bodies, no officials (individuals or groups) with recognized official status and actual clout.

You should change that. Perhaps use this opportunity to gather some people disgruntled regarding the administration software issue to commit to some continued concerted activity in trying to form an initial body of the junior faculty, whose first order of business is addressing this issue and approaching management about it. Or rather, the first order of business would be to increase awareness of the issue among other junior faculty, arrange an assembly, have some speakers regarding the need to handle this collectively vis-a-vis university management or the administrative bodies, and so on. It is obviously important to have such an initiative develop into a permanent organizational entity which can go on to address other issues and reach the situation in which some, or all, of the above hypotheticals actually occur. Or better yet, a situation in which your collective presence is felt strongly enough that it would be obvious you must be consulted.

Notes:

  • Even though I said "union", I wasn't talking about strikes, pay, formal labor disputes etc. Unions are not only for those things. At their core they are (or should be) a mechanism for reflection and action on the collective rather than the individual level when this is necessary/useful.
  • You might decide (again, collectively) you want to set up an alternative software system in parallel, either for your convenience or for convincing the university to change its mind. This is obviously more likely to be possible when the resources of many people are pooled together.
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The university started asking senior staff and students their opinions about some of this teaching software.

One thing you might do to figure out who, specifically, is behind this request. Did you see the e-mail by which this request was made? Whose name is on it?

In my opinion, it is fine to send an e-mail to this person and write something like the following:

Dear Dr. So-and-So,

I learned that the university is conducting a survey of its senior staff and students about Software X. I am a [your job title], so I was not included in the survey, but I use this software frequently and would welcome the chance to share my opinions. Could I please participate in the survey, and if so then how?

Thank you very much.

Your message might be ignored, but it might not be. I have learned that some (not all university administrators are receptive to this sort of request.

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