Filed Under (Uncategorized) by admin on 19-03-2009

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.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Geek in Residence on 04-11-2008

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:

  1. humor builds culture
  2. humor improves instruction
  3. humor builds team work and relationships
  4. humor helps communication
  5. humor reduces tension and stress — Jonas showed one of my favorite videos at this point
  6. humor promotes creativity and divergent thinking (which is good for problem solving)
  7. humor helps maintain interest in work
  8. humor helps adjust student behavior

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.

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.

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

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:

  1. How to Use Technology to Be Funny and Successful by Professor Peter Jonas of Cardinal Stritch University.  I was the only U of T person to attend this talk (or at least confess to attendance).
  2. 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.  This was Michael Zastrocky’s last EDUCAUSE hurrah — he is soon to be retired after a 41 year committment to IT in higher education.
  3. 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.  This was talk that had me doing cartwheels.  One word … Zimbra.
  4. 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.  This peaked my curiosity — how does one take the human touch out of something that is very human: conflict and dispute.
  5. 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.  The conference opened with this talk — if Professor Ramachandran hadn’t been an academic, he could have been a stand-up comedian.  What interested me most though, was his approach to problem solving.
  6. Don’t Call It a Blog, Call It an Educational Publishing Platform by W. Gardner Campbell, Dir., Acad. for Teaching and Learning; Assoc. Prof. of Lit. and Media, Hnrs Coll, Baylor University and James Groom, Instructional Technology Specialist, University of Mary Washington.  Hmmmm … was this a talk about innovative use of blogs in education or a strategy for ousting Blackboard?
  7. Crisis Communications: The Virginia Tech Response by Larry Hincker, Associate Vice President, University Relations, Virginia Tech.  This seems to have been the year for talking about crisis communications in higher education.
  8. Meeting or Managing?  Responding to Student Expectations through Policy and Practice by Louse Thorpe, Head of Academic Innovation, Sheffield Hallam University.  I will be writing to Louse Thorpe who agreed to share a popular guide developed at Sheffield Hallam based on diaries, interviews and experiential feedback from students:  11 Things Not To Do With Blackboard.

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“…