Educause 2008: My Experience (2)

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Geek in Residence on 03-11-2008

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 — 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:

  1. FOSTER ACCESS to get more students into science and technology in higher education.
  2. FOSTER (retention and) SUCCESS once the students get there (none of this “look to the right, then look to the left – one of you will be gone by semester’s end” kind of attitude — if that happens, we have all failed).

His challenge to us is two-fold:

  1. Be thought leaders –  push, support and believe in possibilities.
  2. Be catalysts for change.  Think strategically and tactically.

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:

  1. The University of Maryland works with the Digital Story Telling Center (“listen deeply – tell stories”) — “students from the New Media Studio have completed thirty digital stories drawn from the life experiences of residents of the Charlestown Retirement Community”.  How cool is that!
  2. And speaking of attitude and readjustment thereof, Dr. Hrabowski is a pretty spiritual guy leaving us with one tear jerker of a story about a student named Jamie and these words:
    “Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
    Watch your words, for they become actions.
    Watch your actions, for they become habits.
    Watch your habits, for they become character.
    Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
  3. Finally,  though I’m sure it was staged, Dr. Hrabowski lost sound control after calling PeopleSoft – PeopleHard — sound only returned after he mouthed an apology to the “Oracle IT gods”.

Stay tuned for my next post on the talk “How to Use Technology to Be Funny and Successful” by Professor Peter Jonas of Cardinal Stritch University.

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