Thoughts on Penn State in Ireland #pennstate

I’m struck by the pure genius of this Penn State football game in Ireland. The way that they’re using marketing for the World Campus along with the Nittany Lions football team is just brilliant. In a lot of ways you think you’re watching a game for the Penn State World Campus Nittany Lions — I don’t think I’ve seen a commercial for the University in general.

Pair it all with a very strong alumni Association and arguably the largest alumni population in the world and this is truly an international homerun for them. At the end of the day regardless of the score I think Penn State has already won.

Been Blogging

Yep, I still do it from time to time. I do it in various places these days and most seriously at my SB You space on campus. I use that space to help inform my campus community and to work through ideas. I also publish stuff a little less seriously at Tumblr — mostly photos from Instagram. I’d like to sit down and write a bit more long form here from time to time and I may start again now that I am a year into the new job. When I dig through my archives, I see a pattern like this — new job, less writing in this space and focus on the institutional space … get used to new job, more writing in this space and less in the on campus … and then an import of all the stuff I’ve published elsewhere. I wonder if I am watching the same pattern all over again? For now I think I am going to enjoy the last remnants of summer.


Disruption + Innovation

I spent yesterday in New York City at the Disruption + Innovation event hosted by Colgate University. I was asked to attend by President Stanley and was excited about it given my long standing interest in disruption in higher education. It was also a great chance to hear Clayton Christiansen share his theories on disruption in general. While I have read “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” it is the core concepts of his more recent work, “Disrupting Class,” that I really wanted to hear him discuss. While at Penn State, I co-taught a graduate course for several years called, “Disruptive Technologies in Teaching and Learning” that was based in part on the work of Clay. So hearing him first hand was a real treat as I am currently redesigning my class to teach here at Stony Brook next year.

Clay’s talk was fantastic. He explained the notions of disruption using wonderfully built visuals and stories. As someone familiar with his work he had me from the start, but I could tell that people in the audience new to his work were able to quickly grasp the complexity of his theories due to his masterful storytelling. His primary theory of disruption “describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

So what does that really mean? Take for example this simplified version of his story of Toyota. When Toyota really entered the US market, they did so with very low cost cars that provided little margins for existing US automakers. The US auto makers responded by eventually realizing that there was little reason to compete in the low margin world of subcompact, cheap cars when there were so many more profits “up market.” So, in essence, the US auto makers gave that low end market away. What then began to happen is that each new Toyota introduced took another slice of the down market until it squeezed the US auto makers out of each category. Eventually Toyota released the Lexus and the rest is automotive history.

What really happens in this model, according the Clay, is that “companies unwittingly open the door to ‘disruptive innovations’ at the bottom of the market. An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.” In the case of Toyota it meant every high school and college student in America could own a reliable and cheap car. It also meant that Toyota was given a chance to innovate around process and scale unlike the US auto makers. He was able to share those types of stories for other deeply rooted industries, each time with the same result — the incumbent being replaced by the upstart.

But while he spoke, I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that 300 of us (a very well attended event) were sitting in the Times Center — the home of the New York Times, which is clearly a company that has had to make major changes to deal with the disruption in the print news industry by internet “upstarts.” Some in the newspaper business paid attention to the disruption coming their way and innovated through it (and I do believe the Times is an example of this), yet many either didn’t believe it was happening or couldn’t figure out what to do and joined the ranks of folded incumbent daily newspapers all over the country. And as Clay said, we don’t know what is coming in the future, so the ending (and perhaps even the middle) of the news industry “story” is still not known.

While I was sitting in the home of the New York Times, I was particularly stunned when six University Presidents took the stage immediately following Clay’s talk and almost all of them said they weren’t worried by the disruption of higher education by both small and large upstarts. The only one who really expressed a concern was the President of Colgate University, Jeffrey Herbst. I was struck with the notion that we had an opportunity to really engage in a lively conversation based on the mounting evidence that we do need to rethink much of what we do to stay ultimately relevant, but it was really more of the same — “higher education has been around since the twelfth century and it cannot be disrupted.” That to me was disheartening. What I was left with was a feeling that by so outwardly dismissing Clay’s theories, many in the audience and panel were in fact bolstering his argument.

And I can almost guarantee that, at some conference or event ten years ago, there was a panel of newspaper editors who claimed that they weren’t worried about the future of their papers either. “People will always still want the ritual of holding their newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning.” Right?

So how different is it in higher education when we say “People will always want the experience of going to college?” Or, “Those are just MOOCs and you can’t get credit and people want credit.” Or, “Phoenix Online is just going to take the people who didn’t want to come to a regular college anyway.” In short, doesn’t that lack of worry about disruption sort of sound like we are giving away what we perceive to be the bottom portion of our market?

When we sit at panels and say we aren’t worried about the future of higher education because people will always want to go to college, we ignore the other (many) reasons why people educate themselves. The 18-22 market may still prefer a physical experience, but there are thousands of other students at all of our institutions who might not care where they get educated (or how). They just want a good education that will help them advance in their lives and careers. And even many of those 18-22 olds may change their mind as tuition costs rise and the expense of four years or more of college becomes prohibitive. We ignore these factors — and “give away” these students — at our own peril.

Yes, education is never going away. That statement is true. But the education industry is changed forever because of Internet and social technology. And it didn’t even start with the internet — but that’s certainly the part of the story we are in now. Content is easily delivered via the Internet and with the rise of social computing, disrupters can finally begin to “move up market” and start to squeeze the incumbent. And, all the while, just like Toyota, the disruptors are in a position to perfect process and scale while they do it.

And to go back to my imaginary newspaper editors example, I believe they just had the wrong statement ten years ago. When they said that people will always want their newspaper, they should have said that “People will always want their NEWS.” The editors failed to see that customers of news, over the long run, don’t really mind how that news is delivered, as long as they get their news. And while some still like the nostalgic feel of a newspaper in their hands, that population is dwindling every day. Beyond, some start to realize that the affordances of the new delivery systems allow them to have more convenience, a greater selection of news outlets (you don’t just need to read your local paper or attend your local college anymore), and exposure to different mindsets.

So to go back to higher education, will the population of those who want a face to face college experience dwindle too? Perhaps.

And if that is the case, should we be sitting on panels declaring that we aren’t worried?

Maybe the problem is the term “worried.” However, by *correctly* saying that “education isn’t going away,” we fail to see the logical follow on: education isn’t going away, but our delivery model and sources might be. And if we put our heads in the sand and don’t think we are going to have to deal with major changes … well, I might like to sell you some classified ads in a newspaper in Brooklyn.

We don’t have to be worried, but we do have to be proactive. Our industry has already been disrupted and Clay clearly outlined how his theories could hold true for us in higher education. While I am not completely convinced that it is a 100% apt comparison, he is convincing in several areas. He described the rise of online delivery and how we are seeing technological innovations beginning to take root that can actually supplant the current incumbent of face to face higher education. Again, since I follow his work the leap is not as dramatic as it appears. His claim that as more and more traditional universities ignore the likes of Kahn Academy, the rise of online universities, for profit providers, and upstart innovations such as MOOCs, we will see many of what we consider traditional campuses fall into terrible economic times — culminating in some cases in bankruptcy.

Believe what you want, but the indicators are strong and suggest tough times for many strata of the higher education market. I can’t pretend to know what is to come, just as Clay remarked, “when God created the world he only made data available about the past” and not for the future. In the past we have been protected in many ways because there hasn’t been a technological core in higher education that could be disrupted by innovation. Those times have changed.

But as an aside, you wouldn’t have known it while sitting in the Disruption + Innovation event. The ironic lack of Internet connectivity in the room made things seem a bit off from the start. Here we were discussing the coming (I would argue, already here) wave of disruption on our campuses due to the growth and acceptance of the online delivery of content and you couldn’t connect to the very mechanism facilitating it all — the Internet. Typically at events like this, the room would be busy participating along with the actors on stage — taking photos, tweeting quotes, and engaging in an active backchannel conversation. None of that was doable and I can’t tell if it was intentional, an oversight, or a shortcoming of the venue. If the organizers wanted it to be an Internet free zone, maybe they were trying to prove that life is better lived in the moment then shared wildly across the network?

For me, and I’m sure for many others in the room, it limited the potential experience of the event to not have a back channel to continue to discuss the disruption we all face. A real, ongoing community could have evolved from the event with a simple Twitter hashtag and we lost out on that opportunity.

At the end of the day, I was thrilled to listen to Clay talk and take part in the overall discussion. I don’t want to sound negative about the event, because in many ways it exceeded my expectations. I was left feeling the way I feel after many events hoping to explore the future of higher education — excited by the future and encouraged by the discourse.

I do think we need to take some bigger next steps however. We need to address the realities of technological innovation, corporate competition, funding, tuition, and value head on and truly have an ongoing dialogue about what forces are acting against us. (And that conversation will occur in face to face and online settings, just like news and higher education, by the way.)

I remain bullish on Higher Education and think it is one of the greatest institutions in America. Yes, there are real challenges, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t face them and emerge stronger. Here at Stony Brook, we work every day to improve the lives of our faculty, staff, and students all while controlling costs and building a more operationally efficient University. We cannot continue to do that without both disruption and innovation. What I hope is that more institutions take this discussion seriously so we can all continue to provide the exceptional opportunities that have been the hallmark of attending college.

A huge thank you to Kristin Zeisloft Camplese for the thoughtful edits and contributions to this post via both real life conversation and collaborative writing. This post originally appeared at my Stony Brook You site.

Returning to the Hot Team

The Hot Team concept is one that I brought to Education Technology Services (ETS) at Penn State in 2005 as a way to get small groups of people together to do a quick assessment of an emerging technology, trend, or approach. The concept is based loosely around a methodology the design firm, Ideo uses to do very quick designs for products or services. In a typical situation, our implementation of the Hot Team looks like this … a team of around five people is given a set amount of time to collaboratively investigate, discuss, model, and create outcomes based on several predetermined questions. The goals of a Hot Team project are to encourage various individuals to come together on a related task and to create a set of deliverables that can be shared. Typically, a digital white paper is produced and shared openly to help inform decision making on the use of what was being investigated.

Digital White Paper

Digital White Paper

The Hot Team concept was born out of the need to quickly evaluate an emerging technology or approach and to assess its viability for use in an educational setting. In a general sense, we should also interested in creating a set of resources that we as educational and instructional technologists can share with our primary audiences — faculty, staff, students, peers, and project sponsors.

Each Hot Team can be assembled based on a recommendation from a member of the staff, from an organizational need, from outside interests, or for the purpose of informing ourselves. Typically, Hot Teams should not exceed six people. It is important to keep the group small and agile so that deliverables can be created within a short time frame. I always liked to see deliverables no later than one month after a charge is given.

All Hot Teams are made up with a set of people with diverse backgrounds — instructional designers, multimedia specialists, technologist, faculty, etc can be asked to participate together. Having multiple perspectives tends to yield stronger results.

Hot Teams can be formed in several ways. Staff can self organize around a technology or approach, they can also be formed by a project sponsor based on understood interest, team member skills, and other factors.

Typically, a Hot Team would be given three to four weeks to produce a short white paper. The final draft of the white paper should be made available within five weeks of project initiation. A presentation of the findings can be scheduled as soon as the paper is complete.

The white paper the Hot Team’s findings will be made available via as a digital publication at either the organization’s website, via Yammer, or at a specific project blog space. The purpose of the work is to provide organizational insight into the technology or approach being investigated and to create shareable outcomes for our primary audiences. The white paper should answer the following questions and should utilize the following section headers:

  • What is it?
  • Who’s doing it/Who’s using it?
  • How does it work?
  • Why is it significant?
  • What are the downsides?
  • Where is it going?
  • What are the implications for teaching and learning?

In addition, white papers should include at least one short scenario that provides a contextual example of the item being investigated. In lots of cases, papers and presentations aren’t enough to fully understand the technology. In that case, short videos, podcasts, or other multimedia objects can be created and embedded into the final digital publication.

This post is really just to capture the work we did in the past and as a potential road map to new thinking within DoIT at Stony Brook.

Where I am Spending my Time

It dawned on me just now that I haven’t posted a thing here since moving to Long Island to Stony Brook University. I have been posting, but just not here in my personal space. Not much to say today other than if you are interested in some of the things happening in my life, you can catch up with them at my Stony Brook University blog on our emerging publishing platform, SB You. I should also mention that the transition is finally starting to feel like it is real — like we live here as a family. Work is both amazing and challenging … to the point where I am excited on a daily basis to be doing what I am doing. At the end of the day, all is good. I would invite you to follow along if interested and reach out to say hi.

Office Artifact


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.

15 Years & Moving On

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.

WC Instructional Designer –> Manager of Instructional Design and Emerging Technologies –> Director of Education Technology Solutions –> Co-Director of IST Solutions Institute –> Director of IST Solutions Institute –> Director of Education Technology Services –> Senior Director of Teaching and Learning with Technology

Work Reflection: Importance of Building Something

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.