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Organizational Reflection

Organizational Reflection

For the last few weeks we’ve been working on our ETS Annual Report … the final draft is due today and I’ve spent all day getting it into shape — the dreaded last mile if you will. There are many more eyes that will need to review all this, but after sitting down and reading over the 28 page report I am left with an overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation for all the people who have contributed to the content of this report. I’m not really talking about the document itself, but the work that this report describes. What I am struck by as I read it is that so much of the work and activities that have occurred over the last year have been the result of not just the nearly 40 people in ETS, but the community we work to support. So many of the activities were quite literally the result of crowd sourced efforts. It is humbling and I only hope others out there have the opportunity to work with such passionate, intelligent, and motivated people. My colleagues here at Penn State are amazing. I can’t thank them enough.

The other thing that is striking to me is how much of the strategy behind all of the accomplishments are shaped by our connections to people outside our Institution. Many of the ideas for what we do come from those of you across education, the blogosphere, and beyond. Your energy and amplification of your own work is both inspiring and motivating. If this platform didn’t exist and if people weren’t sharing their work like they are we’d all be trapped in some far away place that looks nothing like where we are.

With all that said, I thought I’d share the introduction to the report — without any real editing, so excuse any typos (they’ll get caught and fixed). If you have thoughts or comment, please feel free to share them. And thank you to everyone once again!

The theme for 2008-2009 in ETS has been one related to the utilization of existing platforms to impact the broadest audience possible. Over the last several years we have worked hard to help people across the Penn State community integrate technology into their teaching, learning, and research. Our focus on establishing platforms for digital expression is proving to be an effective starting point for us to work to incorporate technology in new and interesting ways.

During this year we continued the trend to focus primary energy on projects with potential to influence Institutional change. In addition to maintaining the trend of increased participation in the TLT Symposium, we grew faculty and student adoption of the use of the Blogs at Penn State, enhanced remote collaboration through Adobe Connect, changed the way Penn State manages and distributes rich media via the Podcasts at Penn State Project, completed installation at all Campus locations of the Digital Commons, hosted and implemented a successful Faculty Fellows program, participated on grant projects, and integrated our digital expression platforms into large enrollment resident education courses.

Furthermore, ETS has created strategic relationships with several Colleges, provided opportunities to create awareness in new areas of the University, and continued to establish itself as an organization that focuses energy on innovation in the teaching and learning space. Through our Hot Team process we have brought several new technologies to light and have shared outcomes of our projects through white papers, the new TLT website, and via reports of our assessment activities.

The establishment of our Faculty Fellow program is a bold step that allows us to not only address the needs of the Institution in general, but also expand our thinking by engaging in more formal research activities. In its first year, our Faculty Fellow program produced tangible outcomes that have informed our University wide ePortfolio activities. These Fellowships will provide the basis for ongoing activities across domains and initiatives.

ETS has fully embraced the notion that an open organization is more powerful. Through blogging and podcasting, ETS staff have helped mold the reputation of the unit and to create new opportunities for themselves. The Community Hub and PSU Voices projects continue to bring the power of the community across Penn State to light. The first annual Learning Design Summer Camp had 110 registered attendees and 18 organizational volunteers from across Penn State. The monthly All Instructional Designer meeting brings together instructional and learning designers from across PSU to discuss relevant pedagogical and technological issues, and has grown to an average of 25 participants per session. The first annual Digital Commons Tailgate was just one example of the impact that initiative is having on the rapid adoption of digital media throughout the University.

This, like each of the past several years, has been full of change as well. New faces have joined ETS to help us push initiatives forward. We have once again reorganized the structure of the group to better take advantage of our resources in the face of several new projects. We also made a big change to help address the large portfolio of activities in the form of adding an Assistant Director. ETS has accepted these changes and collectively we have worked hard to embrace new directions and challenges.

It has been a year of adapting to the ever-changing landscape that is teaching and learning with technology. Within the pages that follow we hope to share highlights from the past year.

Community Assistance

Community Assistance

student_helpQuick post this morning to point to something my colleague Erin Long posted about yesterday related to the English 202C project she is leading. Erin is one of our stellar instructional designers and in this project she is working with faculty to embed blogging into a multi-section English course. As is the case when you introduce technology to groups of students, they have questions. There are always a few who need help with the basics — and that is fine because we have some great documentation to support a self-service model. The other thing that happens is that when students use our tools for a sustained period of time they end up wanting to do stuff we’ve not thought of or tried … and that we certainly do not have documentation for. Enter the community.

In one of the sections of 202C (which is a technical writing course) the students decided their project would be to create screencasts describing how to do some of these advanced things. They even created a new blog and embedded all of the screencasts into it! The killer part is not only did they all take it upon themselves to do the screencasts, but that they all decided to share them back to us! Erin says it in her post …

Best part of this project? The students are giving all material to the Blogs@Penn State for us to add to our collection of help documentation! We’ll be making everything into a guide as well as adding all screencasts to a tutorial page.

This is the emerging community assistance we’ve been hoping would come to play with us in this space. Exciting to see it happen!

Big Impact Stuff

Big Impact Stuff

We’ve been working to strategiclly align the things we do in ETS to those of the University for quite some time. One of the things we shifted attention to about a year ago was getting reengaged with academic units around large impact opportunities as they relate to curricular design. My first two years in ETS I worked hard to help establish a vision for the creation of platforms to support digital expression and in most cases these were infrastructure moves — Podcasts at Penn State, iTunes U, Adobe Connect, and the Blogs at Penn State are examples. In a few cases they were physical environments … the Digital Commons is the best example of that … but the Educational Gaming Commons is also an emergent example. Ultimately the goal with these platforms was to move our culture into a place where we had new infrastructure to help us think critically about new forms of scholarship and pedagogy.

The platforms allowed us to explore the ideas around Community Hubs and other group publishing platforms … these are places where the community could find new ways to connect, share, and support new thinking. The Community Hubs also helped us identify new participants and helped us rethink how we went about deploying our physical events like the Innovator Speaker Series, the Learning Design Summer Camps, Digital Commons Tailgates, and the TLT Symposium. These face to face events have become a new kind of infrastructure designed to coalesce community at a much larger level. This has paid big dividends.

Additionally we spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for new kinds of faculty investments — we created the Hot Team process, Engagement Projects, and the TLT Faculty Fellows. At this level is where we are now seeing our ability to move emerging ideas into real concrete services that can transform large scale teaching and learning challenges into new opportunities. In almost every way, these approaches live on top of the infrastructure stack we took so long to build. In other words, we invested time and energy into people, processes, tools, technology, events, and facilities so we could find new ways to engage faculty around emergent conversations.

At the end of the day when I look around I see us engaged in quite a few big impact projects. A couple of examples include a redesign of an English course that impacts thousands, a Communications course that has 350 students in a single section, a Biology Lab designed, developed, and deployed openly in our Blog platform, and even an Economics course that most of our students in the College of Business take. Each one of these examples leans on the infrastructure we’ve built — regardless of if that infrastructure is physical or virtual.

My point is that as we go forward we can attack new opportunities in the teaching and learning space because we’ve taken our time to get the infrastructure in place. It doesn’t mean that while we were getting it all in place that we stopped working with faculty, it means that we spent less time doing big impact things and worked hard to show demonstrations of the ultimate potential. This requires a very patient and visionary administration and a powerful set of foundational technologies to build on (I am thinking about web space, authentication, a University wide CMS, help desk, etc). We’d never worry about building those things … we lean on them to empower new opportunities. In lots of ways the tangible outcomes we are seeing in the teaching and learning space have everything to do with every single piece of the stack. What is ultimately exciting to me is that we not only have the physical and virtual infrastructure to solve lots of cool problems, but we have a culture that is willing to explore its potential. The success of our large scale projects is really built on the foundations lots of people have built over the years. For that I am thankful and can feel confident that our current team is adding to that infrastructure so things we can’t even imagine can be implemented with speed and agility.

Summer Thinking

Summer Thinking

Starting this week, three of our four TLT Faculty Fellows will be in residence! I am hopeful that this summer will prove as amazing as last year’s experiences when we hosted Carla Zembal-Saul. Given the people we have coming to hang out with us in ETS this summer, I am guessing it will probably live up to the recent past. Late last week we got the TLT Fellows site up and running and I am hoping to see lots of contributions from the teams we’ve placed around Chris, Ellysa, Carla, and Stuart. Everyone seems psyched as we get ready to spend a few months pushing our ideas in new directions. Summer rocks for so many reasons, but the addition of the TLT Fellows is one thing that I can point to at work as a prime summertime example! So stop by the site, take a look, and let me know what you think … the projects all look killer as well.

CogDog Visits PSU

CogDog Visits PSU

Over the last two days I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Alan Levine here at my own campus. Alan decided to make the long drive from a weekend gig in NYC to spend time with a couple of friends — our CIO and Alan went to high school together! When Alan told me he was coming in, I didn’t have to twist his arm too hard to spend some time meeting with people and giving a presentation to a group. We did our usual community as committee approach, set up a wiki, and used twitter to get people to attend. In a matter of days we had over 125 people registered!

3505158108_c25940b979jpgThe last couple of days have been a real blast letting Alan see lots of stuff going on in and around Teaching and Learning with Technology at PSU. Alan got to hang out with our Educational Gaming Commons team, the Digital Commons group, talking with people about our Informal Learning Spaces, and just getting to know people. I was lucky enough to have Alan over to dinner where we created a new way to visualize information, watched while Alan read my two year old a bedtime story (I guess that is “analog storytelling”), and just had a great time enjoying a Cuizoo inspired homemade, local meal. Last night I was joined by Alan and a couple of other colleagues at Otto’s to enjoy another local meal. All in all, the informal parts of his visit have been not only fun, but flat out inspiring to quite a few people on my team and beyond. Alan took some time to blog about it earlier today.

3505197004_7c60756d56jpgYesterday afternoon Alan did his 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story to close to packed room in Foster Auditorium in the Penn State Library. One of the things I noticed was that there were lots of new faces in the crowd — that is really exciting to me! The thing that I loved about the session upon further reflection is just how interesting it was to see the same story told with so many different tools. The funny thing is that my initial thoughts were the opposite — he should use different stories with each tool, but after thinking about it I started to realize that the tools themselves are somehow linked to the outcome of the story. I was happy to read that my friend and colleague, Chris Long, took something similar from the session … Chris says it much better than I do.

This is a significant and important insight. It not only forces us to attend to the myriad Web 2.0 modes of digital expression that are open to us, but also, and more significantly, to ask how these modes impact the content we create, engage, critique and experience.

The other thing I am thinking about with this talk is how it works to focus on the notions of storytelling as a real form of discourse. That there is a process to good storytelling that can (and should) be taught. The intensity of the “tool selection portion” is balanced very well with the introduction of the narrative itself. I think it is a talk that requires some post event thinking … it is so overwhelming at first and then it all starts to settle in. I know that I’ve had that conversation this morning with several colleagues and it made quite the positive impact. Just as an aside, I was looking around the room and noticed how engaged people were not only with what Alan was saying, but also with how many people were going to the various sites while he was sharing them. Great, great session!

3505526583_b38d1d7d82_bThe day wrapped up with a panel conversation that had ETS Faculty Fellows (Chris Long, Carla Zembal-Saul, and Ellsya Cahoy), myself, and Alan — moderated by our CIO Kevin Morooney. I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t feel a bit intimidated to be a member of that group. We had a sweeping conversation related to digital literacy, open education, disaggregation, the Academy, adoption of technology, cultivation of faculty, and so much more. The questions pushed us to answer and expand — and when you have a couple of educational technologists, a philosopher, a librarian, and an expert in education the conversations got deep. It was a professional highlight for me. The questions and the conversations made the whole thing sparkle in my mind.

I am in love with these kinds of opportunities … where else can you find such a diverse set of people participating in that kind of depth of conversation on a Tuesday afternoon? It continues to be part of my professional goals to make sure conversations like this continue to happen on our campus. Conversations that challenge us as a community to engage in a meaningful and complex dialogue that can work to move us forward. I continue to be humbled by the people and passion I see around me. I send a huge thank you out to everyone who helped, participated, came, and just enjoyed!

Why Run a Service?

Why Run a Service?

The debate over when to build, buy, or use is one that rages in higher education information technology units all the time. I am constantly asked why we’d run that service versus just relying on someone else to host it for us. I sit in meetings where the debate over taking something off the shelf for our use is weighed against our desire to build it. It never ends and I don’t expect to ever really have a solid answer.

Not too long ago, I was sitting and talking to Brad Kozlek about our choice to run our own blogging platform. I go through these massive swings about the topic — usually settling somewhere around, “why not just lean on wordpress.com and focus on training and adoption.” That argument works on lots of levels. On this particular day we came to another conclusion about why it is so important that we are running our own service — the potential for community.

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend time talking and presenting with Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, Chief Scientist at Twitter … I wrote about it then, but have been thinking about it nearly nonstop. What became incredibly clear to me was that Twitter is sitting on an Ocean of data. Data that they are working really hard to turn into meaningful content. If you go to the Twitter Search page you’ll see that they are making sense out of this data and showing us how clearly the social web is plugged into what is happening. They have their “Trending topics” displayed right below their search field and it shows you what we are all talking about 140 characters at a time. I’m sure many of you have heard the story about how reports in Mumbai were first broadcast via Twitter and the first picture of the plane landing in the Hudson River came through the same channel — its obvious that what is wrong with big media is the same thing that is so very right with the social web — connections building community that is, in the case of Abdur and Twitter, predicting the future as it happens.

Trending Topics
Trending Topics

So back to the Blogs at Penn State … as Brad and I sat there we realized we are sitting on a river of data that is built entirely on people right here at PSU. Now that we are reaching the 10,000 user milestone with the service we are seeing an explosion in the understanding and use of tags for filtering content. Courses are using them to aggregate student posts together, students are using them to mark portfolio entries, departments are using them to pull information/knowledge about initiatives into focus, and so on. Once we realized that we started to realize that we could begin to act a little bit like Twitter and use our data to see trends and ultimately predict the future as it unfolds. With this in mind we’re working on a few new and interesting ways to not only tap into the community but also ways to let them move the state of the University around a bit.

A simple example is something I’m loosely calling, “PSU Voices.” Essentially we would hand out a tag each month (or perhaps week) related to topic we’d like to see the community explore. Imagine during April (when Earth Day is) asking the student body to write, or post pictures, videos about “ideas to make PSU a more green campus?” We’d ask that question, provide a tag, and watch as the aggregate posts of that month’s conversation came into focus. If we took a simple advertisement out in the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, to get people to participate I wonder if they would? If they did I think the results would be amazing.

We’ve already started to pull out some trending data based on the popular tags and we are seeing some really interesting things. It was clear last week that lots of students were working on their portfolios. One of the next steps is to build an interface between the tag and content search to see what people are talking about in mass … I can’t even imagine how interesting that could look when we have 20,000 or 30,000 people writing regularly around PSU. I’m not ready to share the pages yet, but I am hoping that in the next couple of weeks we’ll start to see the unintended results of running our own service — the ability to not create community, but to coalesce it. Anyone have thoughts related to these ideas and others?

The Hallway

The Hallway

Sometimes I love the things that my Google Reader shares with me from down the hall … this afternoon I jumped into my feeds for the first time since very early this morning. One of my favorite things to see is the little new article indicator next to my ETS folder. I love to see fresh content from those in my own team … just warms the heart. There were a couple new ones today, but the one that caught my attention was from my colleague, Elizabeth Pyatt. Elizabeth is an Instructional Designer in our group who brings great insights into literally everything we do. Elizabeth was instrumental in starting and executing our blogging community hub so she gets the community thing in a big way. Her post today really made me step back and think.

What is funny about it is that her post is about a whiteboard. You see, about a month and a half ago the whiteboard we ordered for the Cafe ETS space showed up and it was way too big. Instead of sending it back I asked that it be installed in our hallway so it could be used for ad hoc conversations, announcements, or really anything else people wanted to use it for — within reason I suppose … my general rule for anything around the office is to not spew hate (a good rule to live by). I’ve watched the whiteboard since it went up and it has been used for all sorts of things — pictures of me, polls, announcements, and more. I’ve liked it all and haven’t given it too much thought. I did notice when we first had it installed that someone asked (via the whiteboard) what the policies governing it are. I didn’t respond, but did put a fictitious item on our all staff meeting agenda to address that. We didn’t.

The Whiteboard
The Whiteboard

Elizabeth notes some things that only now am I growing aware of — people want to know what it is there for. The funny thing is that I really don’t have a concrete answer. It is there to be there … if that is too abstract then so be it. Chalk it up as another grand experiment.

The other thing she notes is the Twitter stream running on a display in the same hallway. We all tweet with our personal accounts and they end up showing up in our hallway. I usually always enjoy reading them when I get off the elevator and I do feel like it provides an interesting insight into our organizational DNA. But as Elizabeth points out, some of the tweets are probably not aligned with our organizational perspective (maybe … not sure about that). Again, it is an interesting look at social interaction … another grand experiment. I am honestly intrigued by the way we are all navigating both online and physical social platforms — and yes, I just called the whiteboard a social platform.

The Twitter Stream
The Twitter Stream

So what the hell is this post about? Well it has a little to do with who we are as a group and the kinds of things we are all thinking about individually — and really how they add up to form an organizational identity. It is also about how we are walking in the open without the old rules — whatever they were. The new school technology of Twitter has brought a strange view into the collective (even if not everyone contributes to it), while the whiteboard seems to have caused more questions. I’m not sure if we are more forgiving with our use of the new school stuff or not. I do know one thing I can answer with certainty for those who are wondering — I am not the one erasing stuff. I am leaving that to the community to deal with … if I erased I would violating one of the things I believe in — communities self correct. Even on whiteboards.

ETS Spaces

ETS Spaces

Just running through a lunchtime feed reading frenzy and came across a post by my friend and colleague, Bart Pursel. Bart and I have worked together in one capacity or another for the last half dozen years or so; first when he was an Instructional Designer in the IST Solutions Institute and now as a Fellow of sorts in ETS focusing on games for education. Bart spends about a week a month in our offices … sort of a part time residency for him. Today I read a post he wrote at his excellent Virtual Learning Worlds blog titled, Evolving Spaces. It is interesting to read his view on our ever-evolving space here in ETS — another one of the grand experiments we are always talking about. Either way it was interesting to read and I thought I’d share.