Wider Perspective

Wider Perspective

Let me start by admitting that I care about so many new things these days. Six months ago I was a totally different person who thought only about the world I lived in as Director of ETS. I didn’t think at all about the whole teaching and learning with technology landscape at PSU like I should have. I thought really hard about my little slice of the organization and the things we did on a day to day basis. I knew my peers within my organization had hard jobs, but I didn’t quite appreciate what they were up against. In a lot of ways I had it easy — space to invent, space to engage faculty, and space to take risks. As I appraoch six months in my new role I am struck at how much wider my perspective has gotten in that short period of time. I now care intensely about so many different kinds of things — all still in the context of teaching, learning, research, and technology — but the breadth is unreal and challenges me daily.

I could write pages of stories that support this claim, but I’ll focus on one. When I stepped into the Senior Director role we were in the last weeks of the fall semester. We were also in the final days of working with our previous student response system. We needed to move to a new system for various reasons by the start of summer. What that meant was that we needed to identify, test, implement, assess, and decide on a new system in relative short order so we could do a full installation the minute spring semester classes ended. By the way, we need to do that in 249 classrooms.

Here’s where the perspective changes started to occur. I will freely admit that I was not at all interested in clickers in my old job — as a matter of fact I was convinced they supported bad practice in the classroom. I could make that call because I had talked to a couple of faculty colleagues who said that and I trusted their thoughts without probing. ETS didn’t do the clickers project, that was the Classroom and Lab Computing (CLC) group (also a part of my new organization) so I didn’t have to care. But knowing what I know now, I was dead wrong.

I should have cared then. I care a lot now. I had to take the time to listen to the really smart people in the CLC talk to me about the way faculty were really using clickers and I was stunned at how they were transforming conversations in classrooms. One of the first things I did was ask Brian Young, a colleague and instructional designer in ETS, to join the CLC in the investigation. What Brian did was create a blog and work with Dave Test of the CLC to visit all the classes testing our two evaluation clicker environments throughout the spring semester where he documented various clicker practices being employed. What an eye opener. Through this collaborative work not only did I gain a greater appreciation for the technology, but many of my colleagues in ETS did as well. That is a failure I will not allow to happen again. Our groups need to talk to each other and need to work together to provide the best kinds of solutions in all of our teaching and learning spaces. In the video below you can see one such example of how Brian, Dave, and faculty member, Sam Richards are using clickers to create new forms of conversations.

My perspective was widened further when I was invited to be a part of a social media panel at our Hershey Medical School about a month ago. During the three hour session everyone in the audience was using clickers to respond to framing questions we wrote relative to the cases we were discussing. Amazingly in almost every case, asking the audience to first react to the questions pressed us as panelists in very different directions. I got to see first hand how hard it is to really use and react to clickers well and how much more relevant the resulting discussions were. Based on that interaction, I decided (with lots of Brian’s help) to use clickers as a part of the faculty and student panel at the TLT Symposium. The thought was to turn the questions onto the audience and let the panelists react — an opportunity to create tension and push the conversation into otherwise unexplored territory. It was hard, but created quite the conversation.

One of the things that I am loving about my new position is that this is happening to me on a daily basis. I am gaining new perspectives on the ways our campus works and how much we can do right here within TLT to support it at a high level. I recognize is natural to think only about the pieces you are responsible for, but I think now more than ever we need to demand more. We need to find ways to be more integrated as we make critical decisions to support pieces of the primary mission of our Universities. I know my perspective has changed and it will continue to be changed — and I like that.

Revisiting Social Portfolios

Revisiting Social Portfolios

I am digging on diigo in such a huge way right now. There is a whole new energy coming from my colleagues across PSU and their use of diigo as a place to not only save bookmarks, but to have great conversations. This week I have watched a really smart discussion relative to lecture capture happening there … a conversation with participation that might not have happened just a few months ago.

I am also really liking being part of a larger network that can expose me to stuff I have missed. Case in point, my friend and colleague, Jeff Swain was quoted in this Campus Technology piece titled, Evolving ePortfolio at Penn State. I love reading Jeff’s comments and how much they underscore the ideas formed with our TLT Faculty Fellow, Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul. Carla’s thinking when she came to us was that portfolios shouldn’t only be about the individual, but about the affordances that the modern web has to offer — specifically the social opportunities. Carla’s vision and leadership pushed us all to move from the world of, “collect, select, and reflect” into the ever expanding Universe of ongoing reflection.

“When blogs, social networking and other interactive technologies came along, we tweaked our e-portfolio initiative,” said Jeff Swain, innovation consultant for the university. “We wanted students to be able to develop interactive, online portfolios that would be able to stay and grow with them throughout their college careers, and beyond.”

I have been reminded of this recently in my own life as I have moved back to this wordpress space for my own blog and quasi portfolio — this is my social time machine. I spent the better part of two hours last night sitting and digging through my own past, reading the words I wrote six and seven years ago and marveling at how much has changed and stayed the same. Carla’s work was such a natural fit for us several years ago and is still such a powerful concept as we move forward.

I am constantly torn with the notion that we should provide these spaces for students to use as portfolios — I mean at the end of the day it might make sense for them to be in public (non edu) spaces so they can be part of their own long-term ownership and not locked into our own infrastructure. I guess at the moment I still think it is important that we provide these spaces as a place to get started. I can’t even imagine if I would have been able to start writing in my own space when I was in college and would have access to revisit all that stuff today. If I am amazed at my growth from 2004 to now, imagine how I would feel being able to look back 20 years. If I then layer on it the ability to read the comments of the various people I had come into contact with during that same time I would have a real story to read through. And I bet I would understand myself that much better.

No matter how you slice it, the web has given us a platform that demands public identities and in the framework of the academy, public scholarship. I am thrilled I have my personal time machine and I think both Carla and Jeff are so smart to continue to press our populations to participate in the notion of ongoing reflection. The notion of personal publishing is a critical one for us all to continue to investigate and participate in. Blogging isn’t dead and it certainly has so much value in ways that we are all still working to understand. I am thrilled to have access to my past and thrilled to be connected to people like Jeff and Carla as I ponder the future.

On the Fly Crowd Sourcing

On the Fly Crowd Sourcing

At the recent TLT Symposium I started to see tweets flying around about how much people wanted to see sessions in other rooms … clearly in an event like the Symposium the scheduling keeps one from catching concurrent sessions. We’ve always talked about capturing all the sessions for reuse, but the cost has just been too great. There has also always been this sense that the production quality is too limited — issues with giving speakers microphones, capturing slides, lighting, and the like have always pushed our planning groups to nix the idea. This year was no different, but when the Tweets started flying I replied with:

What I didn’t expect was for people to go to the Media Commons demo area and borrow iPod Touches and take up the charge themselves. I was in a standing room only session listening to Michael Elavasky talking when I noticed the person in the picture below leaning against the wall next to me. He had grabbed a Touch and was capturing the session. Is the quality perfect? Nope. Does that matter to me? Nope. The fact of the matter is that we now have access to so much more history of our own event because the people attending the Symposium both wanted us to capture it and did the amazing part of actually chipping in and doing it!

Because Twitter connected the community a call to arms was heard and a solution was identified and acted upon. The proof is below.

A Year with the iPad

A Year with the iPad

It is hard to believe the iPad has been here for a year now. As the device turns one I thought I’d write a little bit about the past year that I’ve spent with It. I had one delivered to my door on this day last year and was immediately impressed with the iPad on lots of levels. When I first got it I committed to spending a full month with it as my primary mobile computing platform to really see what it was all about. After my hands and arms recovered from relearning typing I was very impressed. That month was as much about learning about the new device as it was about learning about what it could be in the future. What I learned was that I could in effect do close to everything I needed on it if I thought hard about the workflow associated with it. Having to think really hard about doing normal tasks seemed frustrating at times, but I have to say it was worth the stretch to build a deeper appreciation and understanding of the device.

At launch it did not multitask and that was limiting to a degree, but more so in a backward looking way — I didn’t much miss it as the best apps I used built the multitasking in. That was a huge deal for me as I got to see software being rethought for the first time in a long time. That little insight is what pushed me from forcing myself to be an iPad user to actually becoming an iPad user — things are different on it and it is pointless to build comparisons to a regular computer.

So many people look at the iPad as a purely consumption device and that just isn’t the case. I use mine for all sorts of things. I am writing this post on it and would have no problem doing a whole host of other production level tasks with it. I think that comes with practice and working with apps the way the designers envisioned. Sometimes that breaks your own workflow, but this is a new platform. As an example, this weekend I built a new 60 slide Keynote deck on my iPad — a first for me. I was scheduled to be heading to Cupertino to visit with Apple this morning when I had to cancel at the last minute to be home with my wife who got sick in the night. The crazy thing was that I was going to be on the west coast from Sunday to Thursday and I was only taking the iPad. That is huge given I was on the agenda to present tomorrow … I was doing it from the iPad. I am finding that a year after it’s arrival I am now 100% comfortable with the idea that this can really be my primary mobile production and consumption device.

I won’t ramble on about the iPad, but I will share seven notable thoughts from my first year with the iPad …

Number 1. No doubt it has limitations, but the affordances far outweigh the small annoyances. I rarely take my laptop back and forth from work and I almost always reach for my iPad well in advance of the MacBook Pro. Do I still love my laptop? Yep, but it just is too limiting in my new workflow … that sounds strange even for me as I read it back … the laptop is too limiting. I can’t for example easily move between reading, writing, controlling my cable box, cuing up content on my Mac in the other room, editing wikispaces, playing games, or writing a blog post. I just can’t … so many of those apps don’t exist for my laptop in the same way they do on my iPad. At the end of the day, it may actually be more powerful for doing all sorts of things, while my laptop is more powerful for doing very specific things.

Number 2. I visit with new Department Heads at the start of each Fall semester. I did 15 visits last Fall and nine of the folks I met with had iPads. What makes that so notable is that in the previous five years I’ve done this not a single person had a single piece of technology. Yep, only a few months after the introduction over half of the academic leaders I met had already added the iPad to their workflow. I spend a huge amount of time in meetings with lots of people and I am never in a room with fewer than three or four iPads. That is staggering to me — especially for a device that is derided as consumption only.

Number 3. The pilots we’ve done in English are proving to be successful in ways we didn’t anticipate. I think that is really at the core of my own delight with the iPad — I didn’t expect to like it this much. I thought I’d use it for a month and give it to someone else. In general the undergrad and graduate students are finding the device really capable for supporting their work and have found new ways to integrate into their lives. Same can be said for several of the faculty we’ve given them to — they are finding new ways to use apps and the device to change the way they write, organize their scholarship, communicate, assess, and connect. I find that very interesting — the device becomes what they need it be.

Number 4. The iPad still invites lots of stares from people even though it is showing up all over campus. When I sit and work with it in the student union people look and people stop and ask me questions about it. Given how many of these Apple sold in the first year it is surprising that it stills inspires curiosity. My children really still can’t keep their hands off the thing … even after a year it inspires curiosity with each new app.

Number 5. Speaking of new apps, the thing that I am most surprised about is how it seems to become a new object with each new app that I consume. The new iMovie and GaragBand are perfect examples of the iPad becoming new objects via the app interface. When I edit video in iMovie on the iPad I feel like I am sitting on some sort of futuristic version of an old school Grass Valley switcher. So many of the apps I use transform the iPad into something that feels like it was built specifically for that task — browsing the web, reading feeds in Reeder, playing Angry Birds, using Evernote, and almost everything else on my first screen feels like a different device each time I launch an app.

Number 6. Finally, the thing that has continued to surprise me is how it changes and challenges the traditional model of engagement in group settings. I am no longer the techie behind the laptop. I no longer have an aluminum barrier with a glowing Apple logo on it between my eyes and the room. The iPad is not an obtrusive object between myself and the other people in the room. I find that when I ask many of my colleagues they feel the same way — both about their own participation and that of others using the device. The iPad isn’t just a different platform to me, it elicits a very different type of practice. I am more engaged and less distracted.

Number 7. I can finally use a device all day long without worrying about needing to charge the thing. My MBP is good for a good four hours, but that is far short of all day. I spent nearly the entire day working today on my iPad and it is just now sitting at 7% battery … and unlike my MBP that 7% will last me another 45 minutes easily. That means that faculty and students can actually be mobile all day and not need me to install power outlets in every seat of a classroom. That is an important shift for technology use in education.

So at the one year mark I must say I am impressed. Is the iPad the best of what will become? Probably not, but if one continues to ignore the form factor and the affordances then I think you may be missing the point. Make whatever argument you want — it is closed, it is just a big iPhone, it is only a consumption device … it doesn’t really matter, in lots of ways it is the future. It might not be a bad idea to spend some time unpacking some of what makes it interesting for yourself.

2011 TLT Symposium Reflection

2011 TLT Symposium Reflection

Last Saturday I attended the 2011 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium here at Penn State. This event is my responsibility, so I will try to give an unbiased reflection on the day itself — if that is possible. My first Symposium that I attended was in 1998 and it was very different than what has been going on the last few years. We have really upped the expectations of the event on lots of levels — we now attract around 450 attendees, work to recruit the best keynote speakers available, and receive well over a 100 proposals. All of those things are really big changes. I am really proud of the people who work like mad (without “event planning” in their job descriptions) to make this thing happen at this scale every year.

For the last five years we have increased the use of technology in and around the event to try and build more buzz and excitement. Several years ago our hash tag (this year it was #tltsym11) was a twitter trending topic and the use of blogs and iPod Touches (for video capture) has steadily increased as ways to capture and share the event. In the last couple of years I have sensed a huge level of engagement from the staff and a small number of faculty, but this year it was pure energy from the word go across the board. I’m not sure if the community has caught up with the early adopters or if there was something different in the air. Our faculty presentations were without a doubt the best we’ve ever had. Several TLT Faculty Fellows presented their work and their rooms were over flowing. They were like visiting rock stars … so cool to see that kind of energy and change happening on my campus. I can only imagine what our new class of Fellows will bring to next year’s event.

One thing I’ll note is that it seems like the strategy of aligning keynote speakers to annual themes is paying off … the Symposium is now a celebration of the hard work faculty have done through the previous year and a call to arms for the year in advance. I have written about the notion of keynote alignment before, but it seemed evident that Wesch’s keynote last year made an impact on the kinds of talks our faculty gave this year. I am hopeful that our keynote’s talk this year is just as impactful. I will say that Clay Shirky was fantastic and he made several points that are still resonating in my head. His keyntoe is embedded below and well worth the hour. The other thing I think I should mention is that Clay came in early the day before and spent the Friday afternoon with myself and a group of faculty for a two hour conversation … it was an amazing opportunity to engage him in ways that one can’t at a more formal event. If you have the chance to sit down and have a conversation with him, take it! I can’t say enough about his willingness to participate and how gracious he was with his time. I think it made his keynote that much more meaningful to me.

I won’t go into details relative to the sessions I attended, but I will share two more thoughts related to the energy of the day. I have never (and I mean never) seen more people stay from 8 AM until the last bell at our event. The break areas were packed, the sessions were packed, even the halls were packed. The closing session was a panel I moderated on student and faculty expectations of educational technology. What I learned is worth a blog post all by itself, but it was so much fun to get to talk directly to students and compare their reactions to what we do with what we actually think we do. I loved it … It was a great day to be a member of the PSU’s teaching and learning community.

Photo Credit Brad Kozlek
Questions

Questions

If you live your life working to innovate inside the academy all you have to do is watch the first minute and a half of the above scene from the Hudsucker Proxy and you’ll find yourself in very familiar territory. I especially love that the same questions get asked over and over without even waiting to hear an answer. In my experience the questions are mostly a smoke screen to draw attention away from the real issue — fear. Want to know what I love about the people who will show up at the 2011 TLT Symposium this weekend? They ask questions not to divert attention, but to actually work to understand the potential answers. Bring your questions and your passion … it is on! My favorite time of the work year has arrived!

Being Better

Being Better

I was shared an article in the NY Times yesterday morning titled, Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss. It is really an interesting read for lots of reasons, but some of the things buried in the article speak to me on many levels. It is no secret that managers and administrators are nearly always criticized for what those around us perceive as major shortcomings. I am not always above the critical voice, but I am also in a position where I am really trying to provide the kind of leadership my staff can be proud of. I know I don’t always pull that off.

A serious topic of conversation with my leadership team has been the notion of developing leadership from all areas of the organization. That isn’t an easy concept to grab ahold of for lots of reasons, but the bottom line is that so many people are so busy that asking them to take on more to learn how to manage better is really difficult. In higher education that is sometimes one of the few ways to grow — take on more. The last thing I want is for people to be in management situations before they are ready for it — the idea of a group of people being managed by someone not ready makes me uncomfortable. I think in a lot of IT organizations we think about how our IT managers needs to be the strongest technical people in our organizations. Google found something different as they dug through the data.

But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

I think this is a really big thing for us all to pay attention to. Too often we don’t promote people who don’t fit into our model of the seriously technical. What google is exposing is something we need to be aware of — technical expertise is really important for a technical manager, but less so than the ability to connect with staff. Sounds simple but in practice it is elusive. The data google is using to make this discovery is related to a trend that is evident in our field as we are all living in a world with a new reliance on data to make decisions in education technology. The annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting last month is evidence of that movement.

H.R. has long run on gut instincts more than hard data. But a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human interactions.

While I don’t think we need to get utterly carried away with the notion of analytics for every decision, we do need to collect and pay attention to what our data is telling us. Using google’s results is a great start and leads us to a place where we can start to take a deeper look at how we are all doing our jobs. In our space it is so critical to be self reflective — to step back, look in the mirror, and try to get better through reflection. It isn’t always easy, but just knowing that sometimes it is better to simply listen and help then it is to solve is a start.

Update: here is a a link to all eight of google’s principles.