I’ve written about my personal interest in providing opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage in the creation of digital media — text, graphics, podcasts, videos, and whatever else this group needs to use to communicate ideas. One of the things I have been working towards over the last few years is envisioning what a platform for digital expression in an educational environment might look like. I have also written quite a bit about the projects that we’ve been investing lots of time and energy into here at PSU to power this approach — namely Blogs at Penn State, the Podcasts at Penn State, the Digital Commons, Streaming Servers, and our Course Management System (ANGEL) to name a few. We’ve also been spending all sorts of time engineering our processes and programs so that we are more appropriately positioned to attack and create opportunities to engage our audiences around this space. We’ve created a new way to investigate emerging technologies and trends through the Hot Teams approach, built new models for working with faculty through the Engagement Projects, rethought the way we can use students as part of the adoption and diffusion process via the Technology Learning Assistants (TLA) program, engaged the community through the Community Hub concept, opened the walls of ETS by being more transparent and adopting podcasting and blogging as another way to reach our audiences, and really cranked up our efforts around the TLT Symposium. All of these things are part of the eco-system to support and promote Digital Expression on campus.
Two days ago, Chris Millet and I were having lunch and we were sharing some thoughts in this space. This is a reoccurring theme with us as this work dates back to the time we spent at the IST Solutions Institute and working with Apple on the Apple Digital Campus project. It was in those early discussions that we both made a commitment to exploring and promoting digital expression as a means to demonstrate learning. During our conversation I was telling Chris how I’d been thinking about trying to create a visual representation of how we have been striving to align our thinking around Digital Expression with our new projects, programs, and existing (and emerging) University infrastructure. I sketched some stuff on a napkin or two and when I got back to my office I drew a crude illustration on my window trying to visualize it all. What emerged from that is what I will attempt to articulate below. I am asking for feedback and thoughts about all of this — and keep in mind, much of it is the product of both a ton of thinking and quick execution.
The images below are my best shot at creating a visual representation of how I have worked to strategically align all of the work in the area of building a leading University example of a platform for Digital Expression.
This is the foundation of the stack … here is where we can utilize existing enterprise level infrastructure to make sure our platforms can exist. In this case, I have selected our single sign on web access environment as a key ingredient … identity management is a critical component of all of this and having a powerful access architecture in place is critical. Personal web space is also an important piece to this as it is a University provided service that allows us all to store and manage our content in our own spaces. This also has strong identity ties and provides a basis for much of what we will build upon it. Our streaming environment will become even more important as we supplement the excellent QuickTime Streaming Server with a Flash Media Server. Finally our lab images give us the ability to offer high end software to thousands of faculty, staff, and students in a supported and consistent fashion. This not so basic infrastructure is critical to the rest of the stack.
The next layer is comprised of physical spaces. Our CLC Managed environments give faculty and students environments to tap into the tools that they would otherwise not have access to. Again, through access accounts, identity is playing a huge role here — everything they do is tied to that ID and the ability to walk in anywhere and log in and see and interact with your stuff is critical. The Digital Commons is obviously a big piece to the whole Digital Expression puzzle. These facilities will provide faculty, staff, and students at all locations of our institution access to the best equipment, software, and expertise to physically interact with digital media.
Our publishing platforms have really come alive in the last year or so … ANGEL has been a huge part of the teaching and learning with technology story on our campus for quite some time. At the end of last semester we had around 70,000 students active in ANGEL. While those are impressive numbers, we have attempted to create new publishing platforms to share content across our digital environment. The Blogs at Penn State project has, over time, the potential to change the way people publish on the web. The Podcasts at Penn State has already had impact — through both our use of iTunes U for public and course-level content and via our own platform. No matter how you look at it, podcasting has captured the imagination of a whole new set of faculty on our campus. PSUTube is in the earliest stages of thinking, but could have far reaching potential as a digital media distribution platform. By building it on top of the QTSS and FMS we can create an environment that promotes legitimate sharing of digital content for our populations. The idea is to use the best of social video sites for educational purposes.
Our platforms would be nothing without powerful support opportunities. This may seem obvious, but providing support across multiple layers is critical. For early adopters and awareness we tap into the ITS Consultants. They help educate the PSU environment to the opportunities and provide a first layer of support. ITS Training Services does the same thing but at a second level — this is when people are getting ready to really use the stuff. The help desk gives us a full on support group to lean on. All of it is critical for so many reasons — happy users, freedom for other staff to think about what is next, and so much more.
Finally we provide opportunities for communities to form and support to reach a new level of engagement. Engagement is what we are striving to get to … we want our audiences to be invested in where they are spending their time. I feel if you can get the community to grow up around the opportunities you are providing you have something very powerful. We’ve started by opening the organization and supporting traditional marketing channels with blogs and podcasting … this is a much more direct and natural voice and is sometimes easier for people to follow. We’ve tried to create methods for working together internally and have pushed ourselves to bring in people from the outside to participate through the Hot Teams. There is so much more here, but coupling all of the online activities with real face to face opportunities is also critical. The Symposium has honestly changed our relationship with our faculty audiences. I hope that it all has provided new opportunities for engagement at all levels of the eco-system.
So at the end of the day, the goal is to provide a leading platform to support Digital Expression in Higher Education. Are we getting there? Maybe … time will tell. I know we’ve been working hard to make the right decisions (which sometimes makes it all look and feel slow) and we will continue to do that. So, after all that stuff if you’ve made it this far I’d love to hear your take on it all.