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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

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.

Serendipity Day: Beyond 20%

Serendipity Day: Beyond 20%

A couple of years ago I outlined an idea for the staff at Education Technology Services that would allow for mini sabbaticals. The idea was met with lots of nodding and lots of questions — it was fairly simple … you share an idea and how much time you need to work on it and I figure out a way to turn you lose with it. The only caveats were that it couldn’t be more than a week and you had to come back with a product to share. Lots of people threatened to actually take me up on the offer, but in the end exactly zero people did.

I always wondered why. I still don’t know. Maybe it is time to dust off the idea?  I was reminded about it after reading, NPR tries something new: A day to let managers step away and developers play.  I really wonder what would happen if we twisted it so it wasn’t about some sort of structured approach and instead something more like what NPR is doing?

NPR is experimenting with something called “Serendipity Day,” wherein everyone on the technology side abandons their day jobs to work on…whatever they want. Bugs that need squashing, scratches that need itching — the ideas that never get to the top of a to-do list. The managers step back, available only if the workers need anything. (I need a designer, I need a room, I need a bagel.) The only rule: In the end, you have to share your work.

“It turns out that that one day of pure, undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of fixes for existing software, a whole array of ideas for new products, that otherwise had never emerged,” Pink says in the talk. He argues that motivation derives from autonomy, mastery, and purpose: the desire to control one’s own destiny, to get better at something, and to serve a greater good.

(Via NPR tries something new: A day to let managers step away and developers play » Nieman Journalism Lab.)

Clearly we’d have to do some planning, just as NPR has done, but I wonder what kind of participation I would see in my own organization. Seriously, it is a great idea and I wonder if I’d have any takers?

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

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.

Finding Ways

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.

New Forms of Communications?

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

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!