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15 Years & Moving On

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

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.

Time to Rewind and Move Forward

Time to Rewind and Move Forward

I am really looking forward to 2013 and what we can end up doing with WordPress as the engine to the new sites.psu service that is set to really take off. Honestly we’ve had it running in very quiet production mode for months now, but there is a whole new look and feel, complete with personal profiles and an all PSU activity stream, on the horizon as well as new themes that will amaze people for both websites and simple things like blogs and ePortfolios. All in all I am thrilled with our choice to return to our original vision from well before we adopted Moveable Type. What we wanted was a system that worked for each and every person for as many uses as they could dream — and we now have to add to that the ability to publish and manage from any platform and device they want. I am pleased with the progress towards that vision and it has me really excited about the possibilities. So when I saw Jon Armstrong say the following about how was being overhauled to be powered by wp it inspired me to reflect and share.

Still, for, WordPress is the ideal choice.

via Drupal to WordPress Migration: Prologue | BLURBOMAT.

Organizational Frameworks

Organizational Frameworks

I have been in my role as senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State since November 15, 2010 and in those nine months I have been working to better understand the organization both in terms of its external requirements and the overall internal dynamics. I feel very lucky across several dimensions in that I have a great leadership team in place that has rolled up its sleeves with me to help explain the various functions inside their own units and who have also embraced this idea that we have a real opportunity to rethink how we work together.  Another critical factor at play here is that I still have access to the person who built this organization and was a huge driving factor in the creation of such a robust teaching and learning with technology ecosystem here at the University.  What that affords me is an opportunity to grow into my role and have people to lean on in all directions — it has been critical as I work each day to better understand the overall depth and breadth of TLT and its overall role here at the University.

As part of this process I challenged my leadership team to come together and help me rethink the way we work together and present ourselves to both the on and above campus audiences we serve. I’ve pressed them into the idea that we can no longer do what we need to while being a handful of individual organizations — we need to think, talk, and act as one TLT. This idea, that we are better together than as separate and vertical organizations is something I believe very strongly in. My push is that we need to see ourselves as a horizontally integrated organization — an organization where our teams leverage the talents across the lines of the individual groups. I say this because I truly believe TLT has been constructed in a very intelligent and thoughtful way .. we are an organization that has each piece of the puzzle as it relates to envisioning, implementing, and supporting large and small scale technologies that influence teaching and learning.  What I mean is that we have a value chain of sorts in place that allows us to actively investigate new and emerging technologies and practices with an incredible amount of agility in Education Technology Services, we have the ability to install, manage, shape, and support all that activity in both physical and virtual ways through the Classroom and Lab Computing team, have the ability to drive adoption and appropriate use of technology through Training Services, and can work to communicate much of it on the web through standards-based accessible web presences powered by WebLion.  These organizations need to compliment one another as we work to deliver the kinds of services our audiences need and want.  They need to act as One TLT.

Tlt view

This perspective, when implemented, allows for our project teams to organize around successful implementations in ways we may not have considered in the past.  As a recent example, when we set out to replace our student response system, we didn’t just turn to one of the organizations to make a technology decision, we assembled a team that included not only purely technical people who focused on the integration issues, but also an instructional designer to investigate and document teaching practice, a trainer to construct training opportunities from the start, and communication people to share progress openly as we drove towards selection and implementation. Sounds simple — and it is conceptually, but the act of actually making that the new framework in how we do work is the complicated thing.  We can’t live in a world where any one of the organizations within TLT does its own thing from end to end — end to end requires the skills only available when you look across TLT from a horizontal perspective.

This is also true in the way we need to begin to represent ourselves as well. One of the things we have done every year I have been a part of this organization is write an annual report. Typically the responsibility to construct the report would fall directly on the shoulders of the director in each of the primary groups. What this meant was that the report read more like four or five different reports under one cover page. This lead to some strange reporting — CLC and ETS would both report on projects they were involved in (like the Media Commons) and often times the data shared might be slightly contradictory and tell two different stories. What we set out to do this year was much different — we wanted the report to represent our thinking as it related to TLT. It honestly took quite a bit longer than I expected to work through the thinking, but in the end I am left very proud of what we developed and I believe it will be the blueprint that much of our work will follow over the next couple of years. Last year’s report was nearly 140 pages, this year’s report is 23 in total. (What follows is mostly for me, so I can capture the process of creating it while it is still relatively fresh in my head.)

Several months ago I started the conversation about the annual report with the TLT leadership team and we all agreed we wanted something that could more effectively speak to who we were as a collective.  Our first step was to take the 140 page report and break each headline into a blog post. Each post included the title of the section and a short description of the initiative.  The blog gave us a multipage digital representation of a static document.  We fully intended to use that as a platform to allow all of TLT to vote on the most important initiatives to form the basis of the report.

Annual report blog sm

Bu once the blog was in place and we looked at it, something different ended up happening. I walked into my colleague, Derek Gittler’s office and he had taken every headline and placed them on sticky notes. He even color coded them based on what I’ll call the organizational owner.  We looked at it and were at once shocked at the overlap and the emergence of themes. I was able to easily construct a handful of themes that highlighted what our largest and most impactful initiatives are. Within the hour we had taken the blog built around what should be a hidden org structure from our report and turned it into a thematic representation of TLT.

White board sm

Once the themes emerged, I was able to assemble a Keynote presentation for the leadership team so we could drive towards consensus as a team. The presentation outlined the themes and how our projects and initiatives come together to tell an amazing story of the organization. A story that allowed us to share short details about how TLT focuses intense energy around:

  • Teaching, Learning, and Collaborative Spaces
  • Collaborative Platforms for Teaching and Learning
  • ANGEL and the Future of the Course Management System
  • Enriching the Community
  • Engaging the Community
  • TLT Events
  • TLT Research and Assessment
  • The Future of the Web
  • Conservation in TLT

The themes turned into a series of wiki pages that the leadership team constructed from the outline from the whiteboard. From there the leadership team took a couple of days to gather the appropriate data from each item and write it up in the wiki. I was able to leverage the wiki and write the final report, with narrative in less than 24 hours. Once the communication team did the editing the report came together remarkably fast — after the months of preparation and discourse.

I know it seems almost silly, but for the first time I can look at TLT and see how we work together to provide services and opportunities that truly supports our mission to guide the University in the appropriate use of technology to enrich teaching and learning. When you read through the TLT Annual Report for 2010 I hope you can see that what we are attempting to do is provide not only a new way to communicate our accomplishments, but a new willingness to address our own organizational framework to better serve those who depend on us the most. Maybe taking a few months to craft an annual report seems extreme, but in this case I honestly feel the work that we did here will provide the foundation for how we work together going forward. It is something I am very proud of.

This post also appears at my PSU Blog. Sorry for any multiple linking.