Chapter 2: Knowing What You Need
All potential users of the technology should participate, including instructional and administrative staff and students.
Who Should Participate in the Needs Assessment Process?
Most needs arise from users, the people who use the technology as a tool to do their jobs. Typically your users are the instructional or administrative staff simply trying to provide effective instruction or efficient administrative support. In some cases, "users" might not really be users at all-rather they are staff who wish they had technology to use.
Whether they are actual or "wannabe" users, they are the key category of participants who must be involved in defining needs. They may not have a full grasp of technology, but they are the experts in what they need every day on the job. Many technology initiatives fail because they have been designed for users, but without their crucial input.
Administrators are an important group of users who should participate in a needs assessment. Administrators generally need summary information at a broader level of detail than their staffs. For these participants, the summary information must be presented in a way that describes the organization's operations and informs decision making. School department heads also need summary information for groups of students as a whole (e.g., pass rates, class enrollments). Computer systems that help process detailed data also need to be able to generate these summary reports, so it is important to involve administrators when defining both what information is needed and how to use this information.
Instructional staff constitute another important category of users. Their needs include having the ability to write lesson plans, develop interactive or multimedia learning activities for their students, prepare grade reports and record assignment data for specific classes and students. They may have ideas about how they can use technology to address the needs of their students. Other staff members, such as librarians/media specialists, registrars and secretaries, will have needs that are either unique to their positions or common to the needs of administrators and instructional staff.
Still another category of users is the technical support staff. These are the persons who will be charged with supporting and maintaining whatever technology solution is eventually put in place. Their requirements are often of a different nature than those of users and administrators. They may have concerns related to the following:
One final group of users you may want to have participate in this activity is your clients, the students. Ideally you are considering the development of a technology solution that will include uses by students, such as access to the Internet and use of computers in classroom activities. If so, it's a good idea to bring them into the discussion early, as they may have different ideas about their needs. Parents and members of the community might also be included if the technology solution you are considering reaches out to them.
All of these groups of participants are key contributors to the needs assessment process. If you cannot contact all of the people in each of these groups in the needs assessment process, at least make sure you include representatives of each group. Your selection process should include both willing participants and less-willing participants; that is, ask for and choose volunteers, but also choose some non-volunteers whose opinions will be valuable.