Crazy thing is that most people probably don’t know this, but I designed the ETS logo. I did it right after I started while at home one night. I wanted a mark that we could identify with. Here’s the funny thing — I got called on the carpet for making a logo and they said something to the effect of, “you can use it for now, but not for too long.” I got off the elevator at Rider Building the other day (where the ETS offices currently are) and there it was being proudly displayed on the flat panel in the hallway. I think the mark worked — it gave us an identity and it started the process of making ETS a recognizable entity on campus.
I haven’t written one of these since I left the IST Solutions Institute to become the director of Education Technology Services back in 2005. I think since I am wrapping up my last day at Penn State after 15 years I thought I should at least reflect on that to a degree and thank the people who have changed my life for the better. I’ve had quite a few jobs here at Penn State over the years, growing from an instructional designer with the World Campus in 1998 to my current role of senior director for Teaching and Learning with Technology. Each stop along the way has been a blessing … not without challenges, but this has been truly a magical experience. Before I head off to Stony Brook University, it might be good to share a couple of thoughts on this whole journey.
We arrived childless in 1998 from Philadelphia after the sale and closure of a small training software company. I came for a job as an ID with the just launched World Campus and Kristin came to do her PhD. We were committed to staying just long enough for her to finish and then we were out of here. Obviously it didn’t go that way and we are thrilled with the time that we have spent here.
After 18 months in the World Campus I needed something different and got a lucky break to join another start up, but this time in higher education, with the launch of the School of Information Sciences and Technology. I spent six years working with amazing people building teams, technologies, processes, and friendships. It was an amazing time in our lives — we had our first child, we were enjoying success professionally, our friends were all around us, and my eyes were being opened to a whole new world of potential with the Internet. I discovered blogging, the social web, and relationships with companies like Apple. We were building and exploring as a team … and learning so much along the way. Then some people left, including my dear friends and colleagues Eric Zeisloft and Keith Bailey … and then my wife, Kristin, decided to leave PSU as well. There was still a killer team, but it left me wanting to explore more.
I again got lucky … as I was ready, the director of Education Technology Services was open and I went after that position. I wanted to really test the things I was successful with at the College level in the context of a central organization. I wanted to see if we could replicate that level of innovation in a central IT services organization. I will be honest, it was a real struggle for me at first — I had to build new relationships and help those around me see that we could transform the University and ourselves. It took time, but the work done at ETS has proven to be some of the best I have ever done. We built an absolutely amazing team … one that I am proud of beyond belief to this day. We went from barely attending national conferences to dominating the agendas. From impacting a few students to supporting thousands. From offering services that were stable to ones that inspired. Truly a great ride.
In 2010 I was asked to step into the senior director role that I currently occupy. That jump was something that challenged me in new ways and pushed me into new leadership territory. At the same time I was asked to be faculty in the Educause learning technologies leadership institute … another thing that pushed me in crazy ways. I amped up my teaching as well, taking the Disruptive Technologies grad class to new places with my friend and colleague, Scott McDonald. I have worked so hard with the people around me to get TLT into great shape and I am so proud of the collective work we’ve done. While my role has changed, I still believe so deeply in education and the power we have in our hands to make positive impacts on our institutions. That is something I will take with me as I head east to Stony Brook University.
It has been an amazing ride and I wouldn’t change much of it. From the time I got here I wanted to be part of the bigger picture — I wanted to build a community of people who were interested in doing great work. I know I have bothered some people along the way, but I’ve come to accept that as the reality we all face when we push. I will never forget my time here and I will lean on all that I have learned the last 15 years. It is an interesting thing feeling so much passion for a place that you aren’t really from, but State College has been so good to us. We’ve been met amazing friends, have had the pleasure of seeing our two children born here and enjoy the surroundings, and we are so blessed to be leaving here with a sense of accomplishment and deep gratitude. I will miss State College, the people who have touched our world, and Penn State for the rest of my life. I depart with nothing but a deep caring for all that is Penn State and what it has given to me. I would need all the space on the Internet to thank everyone who has impacted my life here … suffice to say I have nothing but gratitude for all of you.
We make things all the time in this business … websites, digital bits of stuff, documents, and everything in between. I have found that as my career arc has moved forward (and admidtely upward) the amount of tangible stuff I make has decreased. I post all sorts of stuff quickly all over the place, but I have gotten very bad at pointing to the things I am most proud of and wanted to try and challenge that. I was reminded the other night that I even though I am not making the same kinds of things, I have been heavily involved in new forms of maker behavior the last few years and I feel like I need to reflect on that a bit today.
The other night I had the pleasure of hosting a group of the TLT Faculty Fellows at a dinner. Not all of our current and past Fellows could be there (for all sorts of reasons), but the ones that were there all greeted me with a giant smile, hearty handshakes, and hugs. We spent a few hours having some of the best and uplifting conversations I have had around our shared core values of teaching, research, learning, and technology. It was really what I needed in this moment.
Then today it hit me — I made that. I wrote a proposal several years ago that was basically laughed at … “no way faculty will want to hang out with IT people!” I didn’t listen. I modeled my ideas after the vision that I discovered a couple of years earlier while visiting the Berkman Center in Boston. I didn’t listen. That is the lesson. A lesson I need to start remembering more. There are times that you get to the point where you know too much to challenge the status quo — you fall into the “that will never work” crew. I need to stop listening — and I am talking about both to those around me pushing those messages and my own inner voice. I need to remember that not listening can lead to great and unexpected things.
TLT Fellows will play a critical role in the success of many initiatives across ITS. Fellows will become essential to the future of TLT’s network as connecting points of intelligence, insight, energy, and knowledge-sharing. TLT Fellows will help to drive projects from within and to share fresh ideas and skills with the larger Penn State community. In addition to the two Fellow programs contained within this proposal, you will find a request for permanent funding for a related set of projects called Engagement Awards. Our goal for our Fellows is that they further work that we agree upon and help TLT create tangible outcomes that can be shared widely with the teaching and learning community through presentations, publications, and new services.
If you want a recipe for successfully engaging faculty on your campus, you need something like this. This isn’t secret sauce or anything as so many people do these kinds of things, but you need to care deeply about more than just the projects. You have to care about the people. This isn’t about money, it is about finding ways for people to make deep and meaningful connections — and trust me, that takes time. As I sat and listened to the group talk and laugh the other night I was struck by a sense of deep satisfaction. A satisfaction that comes from making something, a space that provides an opportunity to do the thing I value most deeply — connections to each other.
I could write a 12 step program on how to launch something like this, but I can boil it down to one simple thing — build a team that is so excited by thinking, sharing, and cultivating connections. Killer relationships will follow. Amazing inventions will happen. New forms of teaching practice will emerge. Innovations will go from thought to reality. And “that can’t work” will go to, damn this is awesome.
Finding a way to make space for connections is the thing that I am reflecting on today and so that is what you are going to get.
I know this is a miserable post — I haven’t taken the time to write in ages and it shows, but I need to start taking some stock in the things I am building and have built again. All of this is part of a larger eco-system of thought and action … I should get back to celebrating it and the people who have given so much to help make it real. I’ll consider this a step back onto that path.
The last time I posted about the various apps I have been using on my iPhone I was extolling the virtues of Mailbox. Well, a few weeks in and it has found its way off my home screen and into an “Alt Mail” folder on screen two. I have become almost obsessed with finding the perfect combination of apps to occupy the first screen real estate on my iPhone 4S. I am finding that to really make it happen, I have started using folders in the dock area. This is something I did specifically foe SXSW this year to keep the half dozen or so apps I was using while there completely accessible. Now I am trying the same idea, but with a folder dedicated to the things I use on the Internet regularly — these are not apps that I want to have clogging up my home screen, but do offer daily value. Another big change is that I have started using Path quite a bit again as it was sa staple through SXSW … amazing how much better an app is when there are actually people you like using it as well. Another little app that has found front page real estate is “Forecast” … it is a web app by the same crew that did “Dark Sky.” The thing I really like about it is that they are trying to build an open weather platform that others can use — not sure if it is time to ring the warning bell for accu-weather, but they should be paying attention.
It has me thinking a lot about an idea I have been toiling over since the Bloomsburg Flood in 2011 — a true platform to empower local news reporting. That is a post for another day, but the idea of an open, social, mobile, and simple to use platform for local news is quite appealing to me me. I continue to think that local newspapers are going to fade away and we will be left with a multi-year local news gap. I’d like to find a way to bridge that before too long. One thing that has been occupying some of my mental cycles is how powerful Instagram is for capturing and sharing digital stories. I posted to the The Bloomsburg Daily’s facebook page today that I am interesting in seeing if people would take instagrams locally in Bloomsburg and tag them with #bloomdaily so we can curate and expose them. I have no idea if a single person will do so, but I think it is part of a larger idea that needs to be tested. At any rate here’s my new home screen in all its boring glory.
I’ve not paid much attention to rapgenius outside of the noted investment of Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, but when I saw that they used the service to dissect and drive meaning from Andrew Mason’s letter about his recent firing as Groupon CEO my attention was perked. All of a sudden it occurs to me that this type of service could be used for a whole lot more than lyrics. For those new to the site, this is what they are aiming to do:
You can listen to songs, read their lyrics, and click the lines that interest you for pop-up explanations – we have thousands of canonical rap songs explained (2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z – even the beginning of the Torah..) Our aim is not to translate rap into “nerdspeak”, but rather to critique rap as poetry.
Sort of a crowd sourced way to build understanding around the reification of thought (be it lyrics, a resignation letter, an essay, or other type of text) through word by word analysis. Imagine the power in any number of courses — from english to poly science — to get students to think more deeply about text. I can even see a group of friends using it to drive deeper and shared meaning from something like a political speech (or if that isn’t your thing, Oscar acceptance speeches). Just an interesting thought on applying crowd-sourced critique in new spaces.
Over the last several weeks I’ve been noticing how great some apps have gotten in the mobile space. I am especially amazed at the number of apps being released by small app developers that are so much better than Apple’s own apps. In recent weeks I have moved from Safari to Chrome, from Mail to Mailbox, and most recently from iCal to Tempo. It is astonishing how much better these apps are at mobile tasks.
And in that is the thought that keeps running through my head — people are designing for mobile to unlock the true affordances of the devices we keep in our pockets. What makes these apps better for me is that they support rapid, integrated, and organized workflow. Mailbox allows me to manage a ton of email very quickly by using gestures to move mail quickly out of my inbox, react appropriately, and stay very organized. Tempo actually seems to make my calendar smart by bringing salient and contextual information to each appointment I need to get to in a given day. These integration and workflow ideas matter in a mobile app so much more than on a laptop. I’m glad that we appear to be reaching the next step in understanding that delivering experiences for mobile are different. I’m simply surprised Apple isn’t the one making that leap — it almost seems the apps shipping with iOS from Apple are light versions of what mobile apps should be just to help people get from the desktop to mobile more easily.
I am honestly very intrigued by the idea of the Google Glass project. As a matter of fact, I think I would start using them today — in whatever for they are delivered in. I’ve been enjoying the videos that have been released up until this point, but the one contained in this The Verge piece is really cool as it dives behind the scenes and lets you hear from members of the development team. I wonder if there will be any in the wild at sxsw in a couple of weeks?
But what’s it actually like to have Glass on? To use it when you’re walking around? Well, it’s kind of awesome. Think of it this way — if you get a text message or have an incoming call when you’re walking down a busy street, there are something like two or three things you have to do before you can deal with that situation. Most of them involve you completely taking your attention off of your task at hand: walking down the street. With Glass, that information just appears to you, in your line of sight, ready for you to take action on. And taking that action is little more than touching the side of Glass or tilting your head up — nothing that would take you away from your main task of not running into people.
I am wondering what this means for education? I talked to a student the other day who is working to have a new set of teaching guidelines released in here college here at Penn State that explicitly allows students to use mobile devices in glass (phones and tablets) for work. It seems as though there are enough faculty who are banning them that she wants the Dean to make a real statement about the positive affordances. But with Glass, all bets are off. The ability to snap quick pictures of slides, shoot short videos of demonstrations, or find information instantly all without actually having to take out a device is quite interesting. I’m looking forward to it!
I saw a screenshot one day in flickr taken by Andy Rush from University of Mary Washington of StationCreator and I honestly thought they were building some #ds106 platform. I left a comment about wanting to learn more and moved on … I guess thinking that Andy would see my comment and tell me all about what was being built. But nothing happened. Then yesterday I was looking through flickr activity (what else is there to do when you have the flu) and I saw the screenshot again. This time I looked at the URL and it was just some service. I just checked it out … nothing earth shattering I don’t think, but interesting nonetheless. Essentially it lets you take content from around the web and build playlists of videos into channels that can be made available on a schedule. I guess sort of what TV was like back in the day — you had to show up to watch it. That in and of itself is both silly and nostalgic. I instantly started to dream of running my own station, but quickly realized that the Internet has killed that. But it was fun to dream about yesterday fondly for a few brief seconds.
So, that’s what it looks like. Sorry to waste your time. Blame the Internet.