Looking in Both Directions

As we start a new semester here at the University I thought it might be important to share some thoughts about how this summer has been different than others for me. My reflections are primarily related to work, but who knows if some personal stuff emerges. This summer has bolted by just as others before it … the difference I see here is how perspective changing, progressive, proactive, connected, and encouraging this one has been. I’ve probably worked harder this summer than many in the past — and that includes the years doing nothing but maintenance, painting, and the other odd jobs I did in high school, college, and during grad school. This summer I moved my thinking in new directions and we tried things as a group within ETS that stretched us and pushed us forward. The results, in my mind, have laid the groundwork for what I hope will become the root of our most substantial progress to date.

My personal and professional tipping point came early in the summer when I traveled to Harvard University and attended the Berkman at 10 event. To say it was transformative would be an understatement. The idea that spending a few days around people who spend their time thinking critically about how the Internet empowers and should promote openness was an amazing opportunity. I walked away from Berkman with a new clarity that I have tried in the subsequent months to embrace in new ways. I am even more focused on the notion that the Internet is a platform that not only provides new affordances, but actually encourages openness, collaboration, and community. Getting to hear people whom I have spent years reading was a thrill … getting to have dinner with David Weinberger and to engage in real conversations with he and others at our table was a thrill. When I say thrill I don’t mean it was like getting to meet a rock star, it was an opportunity to test my own legs as I was working through my own ideas that I feel have been built on their foundations. It left me oddly depressed and so motivated at the same time. It pushed me to want to create an environment like the Berkman Center here at my own Institution that works to create a knowledge community and I am working towards that lofty goal.

Organizationally, the thing that jumps out at me as the biggest move this summer was the opportunity to add Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul to ETS as a resident faculty fellow this summer. I’m not going to recount her work here only because she and the rest of the team did a masterful job of capturing it in the ETS wikispace. Her work, connected to our staff and relationships, have built new opportunities that I think will lead to a real change in the ways faculty and students embrace the notion of reflection as a learning tool. The portfolio work she pushed at us has changed the conversation in our organization and it has forced us to see it as a larger opportunity. It pushed to get our stuff together to the point where we can now point to tangible projects that will see students and faculty engaging in portfolios in a systematic way within at least two colleges on campus. That to me is very exciting. Carla’s work has not only inspired us within ETS, it has had an interesting effect on other innovative and open thinking faculty — they are encouraged to be fellows. I think going forward this has the potential to change our dynamic with faculty across the board and will help us create a sustainable model for engagement that could grow deep roots.

The idea that our local community could come together and create a first rate professional development event that brings together over 100 people is stunning. The fact that it happen is even more incredible to me. The Learning Design Summer Camp represents the change that is happening across our Institution — there are fresh ideas, fresh faces, and fresh energy that are pushing us all to do a better job at creating shared expectations. The LDSC08 represents the movement that is underway across campus — one that points to the power of community in a real a sense. This is the real life, meat space, embodiment of web 2.0 … it is tangible evidence that social networks, if fostered and supported, are real. That Twitter can coalesce real face to face interaction that is both meaningful and lasting. The events leading up to and at the LDSC08 are proof that we can be a force to be reckoned with. What we do with this new found power is the critical question.

There is so much more that went on this Summer that warrants individual posts … the ones above are the ones I see as having sustainable impact at PSU. We’ve done quite a bit more — new versions of Adobe Connect, a new and enhanced publishing platform in the blogs at Penn State, achieved goals with iTunes U that are still unspeakable, built plans for a new graduate student initiative to impact discipline specific activity, put in a half dozen new Digital Commons facilities across our Commonwealth, embarked on a project to impact thousands of composition students, and so much more. It was a good Summer … We honestly won’t know the real impact for months, but things are moving in a great direction. A huge thank you that made it so special to me and who have put their heart and soul into making vision a reality.

4 thoughts on “Looking in Both Directions

  1. RE: THE Berkman at 10 event. Is this a regular and recurring event? Are there others like it? If so, do you have a link or info that you can post. enquiring minds want to attend or get them folks here.

  2. oh, yeah, enquiring minds would REALLY like to attend something at PSU that was directed towards the use of these web-based, community oriented approaches in the bidness world. Both for supporting and training our clients and for keeping our internal act together. Looking for a “how to”/”sea change thinking”/”Lessons Learned” stuff.

  3. Kind words. Thank you, Cole. The truth is you and your staff pushed me and introduced me to new possibilities. Creativity can be limited by the boundaries of what is currently known. I learned about technological affordances that still have my head spinning – it really opened up new (and challenging) spaces for me to think. I am looking forward to the next leg of the journey.

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