Big Impact Stuff

We’ve been working to strategiclly align the things we do in ETS to those of the University for quite some time. One of the things we shifted attention to about a year ago was getting reengaged with academic units around large impact opportunities as they relate to curricular design. My first two years in ETS I worked hard to help establish a vision for the creation of platforms to support digital expression and in most cases these were infrastructure moves — Podcasts at Penn State, iTunes U, Adobe Connect, and the Blogs at Penn State are examples. In a few cases they were physical environments … the Digital Commons is the best example of that … but the Educational Gaming Commons is also an emergent example. Ultimately the goal with these platforms was to move our culture into a place where we had new infrastructure to help us think critically about new forms of scholarship and pedagogy.

The platforms allowed us to explore the ideas around Community Hubs and other group publishing platforms … these are places where the community could find new ways to connect, share, and support new thinking. The Community Hubs also helped us identify new participants and helped us rethink how we went about deploying our physical events like the Innovator Speaker Series, the Learning Design Summer Camps, Digital Commons Tailgates, and the TLT Symposium. These face to face events have become a new kind of infrastructure designed to coalesce community at a much larger level. This has paid big dividends.

Additionally we spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for new kinds of faculty investments — we created the Hot Team process, Engagement Projects, and the TLT Faculty Fellows. At this level is where we are now seeing our ability to move emerging ideas into real concrete services that can transform large scale teaching and learning challenges into new opportunities. In almost every way, these approaches live on top of the infrastructure stack we took so long to build. In other words, we invested time and energy into people, processes, tools, technology, events, and facilities so we could find new ways to engage faculty around emergent conversations.

At the end of the day when I look around I see us engaged in quite a few big impact projects. A couple of examples include a redesign of an English course that impacts thousands, a Communications course that has 350 students in a single section, a Biology Lab designed, developed, and deployed openly in our Blog platform, and even an Economics course that most of our students in the College of Business take. Each one of these examples leans on the infrastructure we’ve built — regardless of if that infrastructure is physical or virtual.

My point is that as we go forward we can attack new opportunities in the teaching and learning space because we’ve taken our time to get the infrastructure in place. It doesn’t mean that while we were getting it all in place that we stopped working with faculty, it means that we spent less time doing big impact things and worked hard to show demonstrations of the ultimate potential. This requires a very patient and visionary administration and a powerful set of foundational technologies to build on (I am thinking about web space, authentication, a University wide CMS, help desk, etc). We’d never worry about building those things … we lean on them to empower new opportunities. In lots of ways the tangible outcomes we are seeing in the teaching and learning space have everything to do with every single piece of the stack. What is ultimately exciting to me is that we not only have the physical and virtual infrastructure to solve lots of cool problems, but we have a culture that is willing to explore its potential. The success of our large scale projects is really built on the foundations lots of people have built over the years. For that I am thankful and can feel confident that our current team is adding to that infrastructure so things we can’t even imagine can be implemented with speed and agility.

8 thoughts on “Big Impact Stuff

  1. Oh, so eloquently said by Cole. This morning I happened to be in a mtg. kicking off the planning for the umbrella event, the TLT Symposium for 2010. During that meeting it was clear to me that all that has gone on within ETS during the past 4 years has now taken root and the possibilities are many and yes, challenging.

    I have seen new chairs for this event year after year This year we have new challenges before us, new members of the core committee, and the goals set before us will be met to again be outdone again the coming year. The reason I see as this having been “behind the curtain” now for close to 17 years, is this – there are the “hallucinagarions” who have no real plan and there are visionaries see a goal and then set the groundwork to go forward – and Cole is indeed the visionary with the plan that he has carefully laid down to reach the goals.

    Today the technology is moving faster than ever and Cole has had the foresight to lay a groundwork that will enable us to be able to meet the unknown challenges that tomorrow holds.

    As for me implementing anything tomorrow with speed and agility moving forward – well, at least I can say – I will try!

  2. We all know it takes a whole bunch of people to make this stuff work. I am no doubt humbled by the comment, but we are all working so hard to make it go. It honestly blows my mind that the Symposium Committee is kicking off already … with Wesch coming I know we’ll make the event rise to meet his message. I also know there seems to be something in the water that has pushed everyone to do more each time we go down a path. To me, that is really amazing.

    The funny things about plans is that they are really hard to articulate all at once. You sort of head down a path thinking it will lead to another opportunity … and when it does you realize that it is simply the next step in the movement towards some ultimate goal. Do you ever have the whole picture of what it should look like? No idea … but I do know that there are a whole bunch of people kicking ass all over PSU trying to make it real. It has been a real honor watching it unfold in my years at our Institution!

  3. Another way of saying the same thing….. TEAM – that is a key ingredient – and there is no I in T-E-A-M. You don’t have the same result we see if you leave out a key ingedient….

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  5. Cole, how did you get your administration to buy into investing in a rich infrastructure? I work in K-12 in media/instructional technology. Right now we have the funding to keep a basic business/network centric model limping along. Its tough to try and do anything innovative on a large scale using such a model. How did you get the powers that be to “think different?”

  6. @Nathan Mielke The firs thing is to talk openly about the affordances and how they will impact the problems of practice that your environment identifies. The other thing (at least here) I did was to connect our vision with lots of supporting data about how we should be going about our work. In other words we looked closely at what faculty wanted to be able to do, used sources like Pew to help us understand trends, and then worked to align new infrastructure to meet the emerging needs.

    Our administration was open in part b/c we had people ready to use these kinds of tools and b/c we were willing to work really hard at doing them right. The other side of this is that we built nearly all of it on existing infrastructure. That allows us to plug new pieces in without reinventing policy or technology. Those are a few thoughts … I can share more here, via phone, or email.

    • Thanks for your response Cole. I’m concerned that if we don’t change how we do things, we’ll become an outsourced department in a hurry. What is most frustrating is that all of us who work in technology don’t have the same goals. One faction wants to grow things and develop how we can more deeply impact instruction and the other side that wants to wipe every Mac off the face of the Earth and worry about work flows and data gathering. Have you ever had to deal with similar cliques? How did you deal with it. Before we can approach our Executive Management Team (first budgets have to turn around, we just cut $6 million off the budget this year) we need to have a shared vision of where this goes.

      Going back to my first comment if we don’t start to innovate as a whole, on a broader scale, we’ll become budget fodder.

      • We deal with the same kinds of things here, but more and more it isn’t feasible to invest energy into these old school technology “holy wars.” They are counter productive and can’t exist given our current economic climate. Now is the perfect time to reflect critically on what to focus on — reduction of services is important as we attempt to do more with less. It is tough, but looking strategically at what you need to do and aligning it with what your end users want is the only way to go these days.

        I think building a shared vision is important, but so is working to establish your vision at your level … use that as a place to begin socializing it with your administration. Just having a consistent and well articulated vision goes a very long way.

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