I have been doing a lot of learning over the last few months. I always come away from things like conferences and workshops very excited to apply what I’ve learned, but then reality strikes and much of that learning gets buried in my endless piles of paper or stored away in the back of my brain. So, I hope to share some of the highlights from events such as Podcamp, Techknowfile, and CACUSS over the course of a few posts so that some of this at least goes into the public domain. Perhaps something in here will actually be used!
Twitter is one of the things most talked about in the media today. When I was at Podcamp, everyone seemed to be using it. Attendees at sessions were making posts as the speakers shared their information. People elsewhere in the building (or elsewhere in the world, for all I know) would sometimes even respond, and prompt questions for the speaker. Twitter brought the session beyond the four walls within which it was held.
I soon got a twitter account of my own (@cgarbutt), and very slowly began to work with this medium. At some point I synced it with my Facebook account, which allowed me to communicate in both more efficiently. Truth is, most of the responses to my “tweets” are on Facebook, not twitter.
Having seen the phenomenon at Podcamp, I thought I would try it at CACUSS. Seems the student affairs crowd is not so twitter-savvy. I used the hash tag #cacuss2009, and if you look it up, you’ll probably only see my dozen or so posts and maybe one or two others.
This doesn’t surprise me – I see a lot of dismissal of Twitter among colleagues and, even more so, in the wider world. I don’t quite understand why. I can understand why it doesn’t seem relevant to a lot of people, but clearly it’s a key tool for some people.
I have found Twitter to be an amazing resource for learning things I might never have found out. Here are some of the reasons I love it so much:
It’s not a series of updates on what kind of toothpaste you’re using. It’s more like a set of headlines about what kind of reading you’re doing, and what kind of questions you are exploring.
That said, I do wonder how long we’ll have this resource. It doesn’t carry any ads, so it’s not making any money, and there is no way I would pay for the service. Still, while it’s around, I expect I will continue to find it to be a valuable learning resource.
In the November/December 2008 issue of Philosophy Now Debra Trione describes the work that she did with influential individuals in politics, business and publishing in order to get a perspective on their vision. She asked them to paint the picture of their ideal world (literally, with acrylic paints). Here is an excerpt of the article:
” Incredibly, General H Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of Allied Forces during the firs Gulf War, and Jessica Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, painted nearly identical mountain landscapes, peopled by almost exactly the same set of stick-figures. Should we conclude from this that Schwarzkopf and Mathews harbor similar big-picture goals, even if the means by which they might propose to achieve them are somewhat contradictory?”
The article Visions of a Perfect World is a good read for those interested in visioning and philosophy around this topic.
My conference notes on the talk: Managing Student Disputes through Technology by Aline Grossman, Executive Director Business Integrated Services and Traci Hardy, Project Manager of the University of Phoenix and Maddy Lakshmanan, Project Lead of Apollo Group, Inc.
The University of Phoenix is the largest private university in North America, specializing in adult (working students) education. With nearly 200 campuses, the University serves 300,000+ students with more than 100 degree programs. So it’s a big place … and their challenge was to manage student disputes in a highly distributed and mostly virtual environment.
So they built a web-base Dispute Management System (DMS) and in the last four years, they have successfully processed 14,000 disputes.
The requirements document was 103 pages long. They employed traditional project management with agile development and “UI engineering” to maximize results.
Here are the layers of technologies used:
Framework: Spring MVC 2.04 (although 2.05 is apparently better)
AppServer: Jboss 4.05 CA (with load balancing)
Data Layer: Hibernate 3.0
Database: MS SQL Server 2000
Web Services: Xfire
Some of the technical challenges:
Future directions for development include consolidating other dispute systems, easy access to earlier disputes, dealing with retaliatory issues, work load balancing and trending.
My next post will summarize notes from the talk The Unique Human Brain: Clues fromNeurology by V.S. Ramachandran, Professor and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego.
My notes from the talk Can One Institutional Calendar, Used Creatively Boost Retention by Rita Cheng, Provost and Vice Chancellor and Bruc Maas, Chief Information Officer of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
I love simplicity and clarity. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is very clear about student roles and the University’s role. The students learn, work and play. The University provides tools to enable student success in all three realms (learn, work and play). Simple and clear.
And they have a very clear goal: improve retention of freshman students through the creative use of technology to strengthen communication and social networking.
The result: Retention numbers are steadily improving.
A new question: “Can a research university use an old friend—the enterprise calendar—to produce even better results?
Hypothesis: One institutional (electronic) calendar used effectively by students, faculty and advisors will contribute to student success and thus increase student retention.
Getting Things Started: The Technology Innovator Grant Program was created to stimulate creative, applied used of campus technology. Early adopters were given $500 one-year grants and were required to participate in public forums and provide periodic updates on their projects.
Learn about the case studies in the PDF version of the presentation.
Complimentary features included instant messaging, social networking and a calendar subscription center.
Is it working? “Early returns are promising!”
Take a test drive of the tool they used: Zimbra.
Some other notes generated by a question and answer session.
- Course calendars were pre-populated but beyond that subscribing to a particular calendar is a choice that the student makes. The working philosophy is “one student and one experience at a time; pre-populating is a non-thoughtful (presumptious) thing to do”.
- Any individual can create a calendar and any other person can subscribe to that calendar so that calendars can be used for specific groups of people.
Next post will cover notes from the talk: Managing Student Disputes through Technology by Aline Grossman, Executive Director Business Integrated Services and Traci Hardy, Project Manager of the University of Phoenix and Maddy Lakshmanan, Project Lead of Apollo Group, Inc.
My notes from Is IT Really Strategic for Higher Education? The Annual Gartner/EDUCAUSE Update by Michael R. Zastrocky, Vice President and Research Director, Academic Strategies of Gartner.
Zastrocky spoke faster than I could record so my notes comprise points of interest rather than a collective message.
- A problem: 50% of higher education IT strategic plans are not linked to the institutional plan and/or the budget plan.
- Change is the new norm; periods of stability and predictability are the exception. Change is informed by society, the organization, technology, economy, politics and the environment. Planning becomes more difficult as a result.
- How do you deal with RIO during periods of instability? Answer: understand consumer electronics. The real money is in market research of student behaviors.
- Review what your business is. It is important to know what to do and what not to do. A strategic plan is not always a straight line between A and B.
- Strategic is different than tactical. Strategic is longer term. Tactical will change in 2-3 years.
- Traditional strategic planning:
- Emerging strategic planning:
- PROCESS is more IMPORTANT than the plan because it allows for the human interface and the experience of inclusion; build bridges to maximize wisdom and understanding.
- CAUTION: the dog (vision) should wag the tail (technology) and not the other way around.
My next post will review my notes on Can One Institutional Calendar, Used Creatively Boost Retention by Rita Cheng, Provost and Vice Chancellor and Bruc Maas, Chief Information Officer of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
My conference notes on How to Use Technology to Be Funny and Successful by Professor Peter Jonas of Cardinal Stritch University.
Professor Jonas greeted us with a homemade CD necklace draped around his neck — the budget conscious version of a USB key. Groan. Is this how we are starting out? No worries — it got better. Professor Jonas’s work in humor is research based – it all about opening minds wide enough for learning to occur.
“Once you get people laughing, they’re listening.” And the research shows that learners remember more and remember more efficiently and remember longer — and the kicker, it works even if the humor is “crappy” (his word – he has tenure).
And apparently humor helps keep learners on message. If you put a non-humorous, droning, pedantic talking head at the front of the room, 10% of the room will be drifting off after 10 minutes. After 15 minutes, 10% more are taking a mental vacation. At the 20 minute mark, another 25% are drifting off into sexual fantasies. Puts a whole new spin on how I look at rooms now — I’ll tell ya.
Ok – minds out of the gutter, thank you very much. Besides keeping learners on message, humor helps keep our amygdalas in a relatively relaxed state which is important for learning to occur. If you are in a low or high stress state, the amygdala wants you focusing on whatever it is that has caused that state. In other words, you are distracted. For many people, IT causes fear and the amygdala engages — using humor when explaining IT concepts is like a spoonful of sugar.
Humor helps in other (research-supported) ways too — 8 ways in fact:
Here’s a link to Professor Jonas’s full powerpoint presentation.
Stay tuned for my notes on Is IT Really Strategic for Higher Education? The Annual Gartner/EDUCAUSE Update by Michael R. Zastrocky, Vice President and Research Director, Academic Strategies of Gartner.
My conference notes on “Why IT Matters: A Presidents Perspective on Technology and Leadership” by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Dr. Hrabowski is one smart cookie who doesn’t mess around. He spoke to my mind, heart and soul. He had my attention at http://usdemocrazy.net/ — a stunning University of Maryland web site that helps decipher American Democracy for mere mortals — and didn’t let go until the end.
His goal is two-fold:
His challenge to us is two-fold:
Strategically, we need to be thinking about innovation, how IT can adapt to changes that we can’t even imagine right now, rethink how we support students, rethink our attitudes and think about how IT can be used to control costs.
On challenge two, Hrabowski says “IT serves as the nervous system of the lab” when he talks about student learning in the University of Maryland’s Chemistry Discovery Center. After two years of using a collaborative “campfire” approach to learning with IT support, “pass rates in Chemistry 101 are increasing, fewer students need to repeat the class and faculty have seen additional improvement at all grade levels. The number of majors, second majors and minors in chemistry and biochemistry is growing. And an overall improvement in group skills is also migrating to upper-level chemistry classes.”
Tactically, we need to ask ourselves where we are connecting well and where we are not. Technology touches everyone and IT staff are often judged by the quality of IT services. We need to make data-driven decisions. What is the relationship between activities supported by IT and grades? Do students who use Blackboard get better grades?
What does tactical leadership look like?
- transparency is the name of the game; that’s how you begin to build trust
- ask good questions, listen well, encourage creativity; these of the three MOST important skills
- use analytics to make date-driven decisions
- take the time to understand the substance of other people’s work
- check your attitude (it really helps to not be an asshole — yes, he did say that), build relationships, think about connecting with others (aside: people too often use email in unhealthy ways that reduces trust; email is used as a CYA tool rather than one to build relationships)
And that was pretty much the core of his talk. A few other things that are still with me:
I arrived home from Educause 2008 on Friday night at 10:30 after the ‘milk-run’ flight from Orlando to Memphis to Toronto under a code Orange Security Advisory .
Yes, I know how to have fun.
My back hurts, I am recovering from four days of low fibre intake, a banking scare (that’s NOT my balance) and security escorts to my scarily remote hotel room. That said — I have a buzz of happiness that I am hoping will last at least til week’s end! I got to hang out with the higher ed IT nerds for a few days AND I have some ideas to share!
For those who have never heard of EDUCAUSE, it is “a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology”. It is an international conference for nerds, educators and IT executives.
I went for insights around IT integrations, community building and communications with students. I left with new friends, fresh concepts and new perspectives.
I will share my experience here in a series of nine posts beginning (at the end) with my notes from the final (standing ovation) talk “Why IT Matters: A Presidents Perspective on Technology and Leadership” by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
More notes will follow from other talks that taught me something:
There was one other talk I attended that I struggled to take something away from — I am left with a subtle amusement for the comment “push technologies are the devil’s work” and the hope that I don’t hear the term ‘cloud computing’ for at least a few months.
Formal discussion groups were a new thing for me this year – I attended two. They confirmed a reality for me; that the communications divide between IT practitioners and IT communicators remains wide — the “us vs them” mentality seems not to have evolved much. The comment “it’s really easy to hate IT” tells me there is still much to do around organization stability and reputation building.
Stay tuned for my next post and notes on “Why IT Matters: A Presidents Perspective on Technology and Leadership“…
The pondering continues … somewhat more serious insight from Creating Passionate Users.
I’ve pondered the challenge of web design by committee in higher education for more years than is sensible. There has got to be a better way.