By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
Last year, I wrote about the benefits of actively participating in a user group. I also spoke about some of attitudes criticizing such organizations. In my opinion, those that criticize user groups do so out of ignorance. These individuals don’t understand the benefits of user groups because they don’t get involved. As for me, know that I still think quite favorably of user groups. I have, for years, encouraged my colleagues to seek a higher level of involvement.
There is no doubt in my mind that if you take the time to participate in such an organization, you can make a big difference in how a software product is designed and functions for your school district. Keep in mind that affecting the design of a software product in your favor can make life easier for your colleagues back home. Perhaps you can affect the design of the software to where it is more intuitive and thus easier for district personnel to use. Perhaps you can affect the design of the software to where screens are easier to use. You might even reduce the number of steps of certain tasks within the software. Really, the possibilities are endless.
One of the greater benefits in becoming actively involved in a user group, is interacting with your software vendor’s staff. Interacting with these individuals will provide you with insight on their frame of reference.
Know too, that user groups can take the form of state, regional, and national groups. Although some would hesitate to get involved with a national organization over an organization within their respective state, doing so could provide added benefits. Individuals from other states can provide vastly different perspectives that could facilitate your generating new ideas that you may not have conceived of otherwise. Often, individuals from other states can share information on initiatives occurring in their states.
It is important to know that each level will not necessarily compete against each other. Each is an added opportunity for impacting the design of a software product. Although states do have specific data and software requirements that need to be met, I would suggest that school districts share many more similarities that can easily be defined nationally.
I have listed key points and strategies on becoming an active user group member:
- Understand and commit to the purpose of the group
- Speak up, share your viewpoint
- You have to know what you want your software to do. You don’t have to be a computer programmer
- Introducing yourself to other users will allow you to build a network of professional colleagues that you can tap into for ideas or support
- Volunteer for an Officer or Board position within the user group. Although this does require a significant commitment, it also provides you with tremendous professional and personal growth
- Collective requests from a user group generally carry more weight than that of a single individual with software vendors
- Being actively involved will keep you informed of upcoming product enhancements
As I mentioned last year, the reason for becoming actively involved is so obvious. I will reiterate the same question that I always ask when discussing the benefit of user groups. “How can you criticize the design of your software when you don’t get involved in the design?”
Once again, I encourage each of you, each of your staff and colleagues to become active members of user groups. After all, you and your district will reap the benefits.