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.

Keep it Going

Not one or two, but three busted strings. Why stop? Everyone is in it for the magic that is the performance. Lots to learn from this in my mind. Could you keep moving forward?

I am going to see the Avett Brothers with my wife later this Summer. I can only hope for such a perfect performance.

Finding Ways

Now that I am back from a week acting as faculty in Educause’s Learning Technology Leadership Program I have been thinking quite a bit about the things that went on around me. You’d almost think as faculty I wouldn’t expect to get much out of the experience. I can say that is so far from the truth. In reality I ended up learning more during the week in a leadership role than I have in quite some time.

One of the things I learned (or was reminded of) was what it was like to be the new person in the group. Out of the seven faculty I was one of only two that hadn’t been in that role before. I had forgotten how difficult it was to step into that situation … I am not used to working so hard to find common ground around things I am experienced with. I’m not saying I was on the outside looking in, but I did need to work harder to establish my voice with the group. Upon reflection it has me thinking quite a bit about how hard I need to work to understand this with regard to other people when they are in that situation. Just something I need to spend extra energy on and intend to.

When it was time to work with the team I was assigned to mentor I made a real effort to engage them where they were. I wanted to find a way to ignite some real opportunities to get into the depth of the conversation with them … I sort of let go of the perceived power position that an Institute like this creates between faculty and participants. I spent a lot of time working to be available to them — where, when, and how they wanted me to be. I enjoyed their questions and I really appreciated their approach to a very stressful and demanding experience. The participants are put into teams to create a compelling solution to a large institutional challenge over two and a half days. Needless to say it can create a lot of stress for the teams. I took it on to help alleviate that stress by being available to coach them when they needed it. It lead to an amazing few days of work and discovery with some very smart and engaged people. A real treat!

My Team: Team 3
My Team

What I have figured out over the last couple of days was that I needed to do that to overcome my initial feelings of discomfort with my faculty role. I needed to find a way to deeply engage when I wasn’t immediately able to do that in my other role. I need to remind myself that my role in situations like the Educause context (and ones across my job at PSU) is one that exists in many dimensions. Finding ways to engage where I could allowed me to energize myself to participate in a more holistic way. Doing one well, lead to new energy and confidence to go after the other areas.

I believe now more than ever that it is critical to listen to your own complaints and work to overcome them. That was something I said to the participants in a faculty panel where we were asked to talk about the things we’ve learned as we’ve grown into our leadership positions. I said that early in my career at the University that I was malcontent quite a bit and it wasn’t until I started to find ways to address my own complaints on my own terms was I able to participate more completely. As an example, I used to complain that I never got to work with faculty who were motivated to do great things — that was true until I started to use down time to discover who they were and work to make meaningful conversations happen. Understanding how to address your own complaints is a skill that I believe to be critical as you move through an environment like higher education.

I’ll close by saying that I’d like to find ways to engage with people around here a bit more like we did at the event last week. I loved the opportunity to informally talk to the participants about their work and about my own experiences. I learned quite a bit about myself and those around me … sort of a shame I had to go to Portland to do it. That doesn’t mean I can’t do the same back home. With that in mind I’ll leave an open invitation to get together and talk — doesn’t have to be formal on any level, just looking to find a way to get closer to this around me. Any takers?

Note, this post also appears at my PSU blog. I am sorry for duplicate linking.

Program Faculty: Educause Institute Learning Technology Leadership Program 2011

For 2011 and 2012 I have been asked to act as Faculty in the EDUCAUSE Institute Learning Technology Leadership Program. From the website, “this program is designed to broaden perspectives and develop leadership abilities, enabling participants to assume leadership roles in applying learning technology to improve teaching and learning within their institutions. Designed as a leadership immersion experience, the program is intense, with participants engaged in active learning experiences throughout the day and into the evening.”

Working with my colleagues to design a killer program has been demanding and has already helped me personally grow. I am looking forward to spending the week with such a talented and inspiring group of faculty as well as with the packed house of those attending.

New Forms of Communications?

I have been trying some new communication tools for the last several months.  Two in particular that I am finding a great deal of value with are Yammer and Diigo.  While both of these tools are social tools and are very similar to other platforms I take advantage of, they seem to be supporting slightly different kinds of work for me.  This is not a call to arms per se, but it is an attempt to introduce them to a wider audience and to see if having more people in the mix drives more utility for me (and us).

This is really about trying to stay better connected in my new position with those in and around TLT at Penn State.  Not that I am not using these tools with people outside TLT, because I am, it is that I do think there area handful of affordances with these spaces that need to be better understood and explored.  Both of these tools are also things I have been working with my peers at PSU to adopt in our senior leadership team for very similar reasons, but the key reasons are to help our group stay more easily and efficiently connected and aware of daily activity.  I’ll try to share a bit about why I am interested in exploring these spaces and would ask for your feedback about how and why you might want or not want to participate.


I have had a Yammer account for a couple of years, really from right after they hit the scene. As a very early twitter and facebook adopter the idea of a social stream application made sense to me.  When I first started using yammer what didn’t make sense was the need for yet another social network — a closed one at that.  I just didn’t see the value.  My job allowed me to freely write, podcast, broadcast, etc really anything I felt like so hiding updates in a closed network provided zero value.  Since starting in my new position that need has changed for a few reasons.

The first is that I oversee staff in lots of places across PSU — here at University Park and at various campus locations throughout the Commonwealth. This poses an amplified challenge for me in that I am collocated with less than a third of the staff that makes up TLT.  Whereas when I was director of ETS I could almost yell down the hall and connect with about 85% of the staff, that just isn’t in the cards now.  The other, and perhaps bigger reason, is my own temporary need to be more guarded with blog posts about organizational discussions.  This has nothing to do with hiding my thinking out of fear, it has almost everything to do with simply not yet fully understanding the boundaries of my new position.  As it did with ETS, the level of understanding will emerge with time.  Clearly I am still blogging (as this post proves), I am just doing it far less and with less open organizational thinking. Yammer may prove a safe place to test my voice.

At any rate I am giving Yammer a fresh try.  I have created two new private groups — one for TLT and one for the ITS SLT.  As one might expect with such a new endeavor, I am seeing uneven participation in each but am very encouraged by how it is connecting some important dots for me (especially in the SLT context).  Those that are participating are helping me see the bigger picture each day — and I have to admit that seeing what they are up to and up against is somehow both very interesting and encouraging.  I get to see short bursts of information throughout the day that helps inform me and keep me pressing towards our shared vision of what our organization is all about.  What I am hoping to arrive at is the right mix of tools that can drive towards a more collaborative and engaged TLT organization over time.  I would love to have everyone in TLT join the PSU TLT group in yammer so we can explore if that goal is attainable in part by taking advantage of this shared online space.

Screen shot 2011 05 24 at 1 51 07 PM


I started taking Diigo seriously back in November or December when the much hyped demise of Delicious was leaked across the web.  Again, Diigo was something I have had an account at for years but didn’t find enough interest in the environment because it didn’t offer anything compelling over the large, connected network that delicious did.  That changed when I invited members of the SLT into a private group and started to see posts show up regularly from my boss.  This allowed me to gain some critical insight into the kinds of things that captures his attention, and with diigo’s advanced annotation tools I could see the exact pieces of the articles that he found interesting.

Like yammer I then created a TLT group that I have watched grow in both membership and posts.  What has blown me away has been the depth and substantive nature of conversations that have emerged with diigo itself.  In a lot of ways it has become an active sub-community where we share content, thinking, and ideas related to the things we are collectively exploring.  I like that quite a bit.  Again, what I would love to see are more people asking to join from across TLT so we can open the conversation up to more activity.  I honestly want to know what it looks like when I can stay current with what people across TLT are finding both interesting and relevant enough to annotate, save, and share with their colleagues.


I remain convinced that the easier and more efficient we make it to stay connected and share the stronger an overall organization we can become.  I have been amazed with the collective intelligence of TLT whenever I have a chance to be in a room with members of our group — the problem is that the realities of time and location keep us from assembling like that very often.  Using both yammer and diigo have given me a new chance to stay engaged, albeit in different ways as before, with people across the University.  It has also allowed me to share things and generate new forms of conversations. It is all very interesting and exciting to me.  Anyone else feel like joining in?

This originally appeared in my PSU Blog space. Sorry for any multiple alerts to its publication

Tweets per Second

Really amazing. I can say that @cuizoo was one of the people cranking on twitter last night. We actually heard that Obama was going to give his press conference via twitter a good hour before the break in on TV. I am continuously amazed at how much social platforms have transformed the speed that conversations move forward. Sure we would have watched this amazing and historic event in our own homes unfold via TV a few years ago, but we certainly wouldn’t have been able to watch it with our friends and contacts globally.

Tweets per second.

What I noticed watching my wife was how engaged in a more global conversation she was while watching TV via social media. While this isn’t the same kind of thing that happens in a class, there are so many things to understand about what is happening here that is driving these new forms and patterns of behaviors. I still contend that twitter and Facebook are creating new forms of conversations that can support and extend traditional modes of learning … At a minimum last night’s events proves to me that people want to be able to instantly connect to people who matter to them to make events more meaningful. I am wondering how to connect those dots to a learning community.

Speaking of social media, how about the pictures from the White House on Flickr?

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

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.