My Internet. One Course at a Time.

I sit in my spare time these days searching my mind for sites to visit. I hit The Verge, NYT, and maybe a couple of other places that are familiar to me regularly. I still spend more time every morning browsing my RSS feeds via Feedly then I do resolving any random URLs. I only go to facebook once, maybe twice, a day and when I do I am really only interested in my lookback so I can see what I was doing a handful of years ago or to see a forgotten picture of one of my children doing something cute. I could look at my Photos library or Flickr to get the same, but it is an excuse to hit what has become the new AOL of the web for me … facebook.

I recall sitting in the audience at the Berkman@10 event at Harvard many years ago listening to Jonathan Zittran say something really interesting at the time — “the web has no main menu.” That resonated deeply with me as I spent my early years navigating floppy disk and CD-ROM based applications with main menus that delivered a pre-designed collection of content. These fixed text applications then magically morphed into online services like Prodigy and AOL that still placed a main menu on the early Internet. It was pretty amazing though … a keyword could get you to encyclopedia entries, travel information, weather, and even soap opera summaries of the week. It was huge and it was really small. When the Internet really happened, I was struck by the open architecture of the Web and my ability to explore all that this new place had to offer. Discovering new websites that people were building and curating was pretty awe inspiring. It was huge … and it was really small.

Today I feel like I spend more time sitting and thinking about where to go online then I do enjoying the destination. I feel the web has devolved into a main menu driven experience for so many of us, only this time the content behind the choices is being delivered to enhance a revenue opportunity. Facebook is a main menu on the web. It is a filtered gateway that seems to have sucked the joy out of creating new and interesting open content online. We aimlessly share, like, and repost without a whole lot of insight of the origins of the content and certainly without the creative thought to make it interesting outside of a main menu driven space that is hand delivered to us all.

Tonight I was thinking about my days teaching various classes and why I always insist on using a course blog as the hub of the teaching and learning experience. I think I know why based on that reflection tonight — for the duration of the semester I get to create the Internet I love. I get to ask my students to write and reflect upon things that make for joyous online reading. Maybe the Internet hasn’t gotten worse and there is a chance that I have simply moved on from what it has to offer. Perhaps that has everything to do with the idea that when I am part of a learning community I fall in love with the collective intelligence produced by that community in an online space. An online space that we co-own, co-create, and co-engage in. I think I still like the Internet, I just think I have gotten spoiled by the Internet we create when we are part of a community. Facebook is no longer a community in that sense to me. We aren’t co-creators as much as we a co-consumers of their corporate interests. The Internet I love is the product of a community, not a corporation with a “designed in a lab” main menu that guides me to selections.

I like our Internet. We just need more of it.

Some Ways to Make WebEx Meetings a Little Better

As WebEx adoption grows on campus, we now have over 5,200 users, I am spending more time using the technology to get groups from across campus together. Without using the technology we have at our fingertips, we spend way too much time getting from our “edge of campus” locations to more convenient meeting spaces at the center. Using WebEx well can save the University money in the form of less wasted time moving around … clearly that enhances productivity. The down side of using WebEx or a similar technology to conduct meetings is that we don’t always do it really well. I was thinking about that issue the other day as I listened to people talk over each other, come into a WebEx meeting room late and interrupt, and fumble with technology. The technology can support very effective meetings, but we need to use it better. I thought it might be worth throwing out some ideas on how to make the meetings more effective. Some of this isn’t rocket science, but good to think about. I’m curious if others have thoughts.

If you are the host or a participant of a WebEx or virtual meeting, think about doing these things to make the meeting more effective:

  • Email an agenda in advance of the meeting. It is always a good idea to send an agenda in advance, but particularly important to send one for a virtual meeting. Do everyone a favor and email one as well as attach it to the calendar invite as many people don’t see attachments when we accept calendar invites on mobile devices.
  • Start the WebEx on time and before you start ensure that the physical room has any necessary conference phone, projectors, and equipment before the start of the meeting.
  • Let the meeting attendees know which WebEx functions you intend to use. Audio only, screen sharing, video. It is a bummer to decide to do a meeting while in the car only to find out that screensharing will be a big part of the meeting.
  • If you have a large number of attendees, conduct a roll call at the start. This is most effectively done with the host reading out the list of attendees and asking if they are on the call.I don’t know about you, but I find it very ineffective on a large meeting to ask everyone on the phone to randomly announce themselves.
  • If key participants are missing at the start of a meeting, ask the group what they wish to do. In other words, wait for them, proceed without them, or reschedule the meeting.
  • Again, just good meeting practice, but particularly important with WebEx meetings, at the end of the meeting, summarize what was discussed, what was decided and what are the next steps. As a host you can work with the people on the call to decide who will send out a meeting summary.
  • Have one conversation at a time to respect the team members on the phone. Actively stop side conversations. It’s very difficult to be on the phone and hear multiple conversations going on in the meeting room.
  • If additional participants join a meeting in progress, it is generally not necessary to immediately stop the proceedings to ask who joined and recap for them. I typically wait for a logical break, then ask who joined and recap as appropriate.

I think the most important thing you can do is work to make sure you join on time and mute your microphone when you aren’t talking. You milage may vary with these ideas … anyone have other things they do to make virtual meetings less frustrating?

Can We Return to Blogging?

I was early to the blogging revolution. I was inspired by the dawn of Web 2.0 in the early 2000’s that empowered people to write and create in their own spaces. I’ve done the rounds —, typepad, wordpress, drupal. I’ve explored, mastered, and published in all of them. I’ve launched enterprise blogging platforms at three different Universities that allowed and encouraged the open publishing of content by all members of those communities. I see blogs as personal content management systems, portfolios, connecting points as nodes on a global network, and as personal time machines.

I was also a very early adopter and promoter of social media tools. I sat in a conference room in a San Fransisco start up office called Odeo while one of its founders told me, as I was trying to negotiate a deal with Penn State, that they were pivoting away from podcasting to focus on the side project that would become twitter. I invited the first class of students at Penn State to join Facebook. I was all in on social media … all the while I remained enamored by the power of blogs.

I loved that blogs were personal and that people were using them to build strong communities … I would routinely write a post in the morning only to be engaged in long comment threads with people I cared about (but didn’t actually know in real life) all day long. It was authentic and it was powerful. Then the community, along with me, moved. People moved to Facebook and the length of posts and the associated attention spans dwindled until it was difficult to measure with meaning. I still wrote posts, but with less frequency. My community of bloggers still existed, but I had less time for their long form writing and I backed away from the blogosphere. I think I made a big mistake. Some of my friends were right, “likes” don’t really matter.

It isn’t just me noticing this. Our adopted communities, contained in social networks, have been exposed as a breeding ground for bots, fake accounts, and pushers of false information. “Social” has succeeded in demolishing the original promise of Web 2.0. I always said, “communities self correct” when questioned about the read/write web. Well, here we are and we need to self correct. We need to find a new path forward and I am committed to returning to the open web as a way to do my part. I think it is time for something new. Something that isn’t “free” in the way we have come to expect from Facebook. I think we need to all reinvest in journalism. I think we all need to reinvest in creating content that is published in our domains. I think it is time RSS is the glue that binds the Internet. I think it is time to reclaim our identity. I’d like to think we can do that.

I read a great piece at the Washington Post today about the death of the Mommy blog community. It made me think back to the amazing days of when we were all writing under domains we decided upon. We were writing the content that helped each of our communities. My wife’s community was the Mommy blogosphere, mine was educational technology. Both of us created deep connections and very real friendships. I read it today via a link on Facebook that my wife shared and the comments on her post were filled with names I recall her talking about daily. It was pretty awesome, but I wanted to so badly to go and visit those blogs and comment there. We need to figure this out, or the Internet and its promise will be further diminished. This quote pretty much sums it up for me …

The death of the mom blog has something to do with shifts in how people consume and create on the Internet. Blogging on the whole has fizzled as audiences and writers have moved to other platforms.

Those “other platforms” are ready for their swan song. They’ve done enough damage and they have no real reason to fix it. Their shareholders aren’t interested in them doing so. The greatness of the social movements spanned by twitter years ago have been overwritten. It might be time to just write a couple of blog posts.

Over 90 percent of Gmail users still don’t use two-factor authentication

I came across this one from The Verge this morning …

A Google engineer revealed that more than 90 percent of active Gmail accounts don’t use two-factor authentication (2FA), reports The Register. Given the low uptake, The Register asked Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka why 2FA isn’t mandatory for all Gmail accounts. Milka chalks it up to usability, adding that, “It’s about how many people would we drive out if we force them to use additional security.” The statistic was shared during a presentation at Usenix’s Enigma 2018 security conference in California.

2FA will be a major push at the University for the rest of this calendar year. I would urge everyone at UChicago to enroll in 2FA. It is easy and is simply the best way to protect your institutional credentials.

I Really Wanted a HomePod for Christmas

The device I really was looking forward to getting for Christmas was a new Apple HomePod smart speaker. I wanted it even though we have already invested in the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. When I say that we have invested in the Echo smart speakers, what I really mean is that we’ve spent money on few devices that let us do things like turn on lights, set timers, and play music out of an annoyingly poor sounding speaker. We really bought them to do stuff and they introduced us to the whole idea of just saying the name of a song or artist and getting instant gratification, even if the sound was inferior to what we have historically been accustomed to. I wanted the HomePod because it could do the smart home stuff, but is targeted as a “real” speaker and I have been missing real speakers since we moved to Chicago two and half years ago.

We’ve always had great speakers in our homes because we value listening to music. With the new place, there just hasn’t been a place, or frankly a desire, to put out real speakers connected to a real stereo. The Echo completely reinforced the idea for my wife and I that we did not want the complexity of a physical stereo system in the main part of our home. I also was not interested in spending tons of money on hiding systems in closets, getting in-wall speakers, and managing it all with multi-room gear. That just feels so last generation, especially now that I can simply say, “Alexa, play some Nora Jones” and it just happens. The problem is with the Echo it sounds less than satisfying when it magically starts playing.

Enter the HomePod. Apple promised it by Christmas and I had visions of pairing two to make a stereo front stage in the family room … yes, at $350 per speaker I wasn’t looking forward to the cost, but I’ve paid more for speakers in the past. I was ready to go and then they delayed it until sometime in early 2018.

I have been toying with the idea of entering into the world of Sonos for years. Ever since a great friend of ours showed it to me years ago in State College I was really intrigued, but I never pulled the trigger. It seemed limiting having to control it from your phone and the streaming services weren’t quite there, so I watched from the sideline. When Sonos and Amazon announced that there was a growing number of integrations between the Echo and what could be played via voice control I started to really do my research. At the end of the day, I dropped $300 on two Songs Play 1 speakers so they are paired as a stereo set and I couldn’t be happier. I have an Echo Dot in the family room that can voice control playback on the Sonos speakers and they sound very good. I compared them across the line and found the Play 1 to be better suited to what we needed (and was easier on the wallet) than getting the larger Play models.

The reality is that while Amazon is now one of the largest installed base of speaker manufacturers in the World, their speakers sort of stink at being speakers. Apple had a great opportunity to steal some thunder from Amazon this Holiday season and they let that opportunity slip by while Amazon sold tens of millions of Echos of all flavors (especially the Dot). Now that Sonos has integrated Echo into its new, One speaker, there is a very high quality smart speaker on the market from an audio company. Have I mentioned that Google has a couple of nice products as well? I am upset I couldn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas, but I am very happy with my Sonos setup. It leaves me wondering if there will be a chance for Apple to catch up in this space? I will be hard pressed to go back and buy a HomePod now, but I have learned over the last few years to not bet against Apple. Right now I am more likely to expand my Sonos collection than spend on the HomePod. Time will tell and your milage may vary when it comes to Sonos, Echo, Google, and eventually the HomePod … it is an interesting space to be watching at the moment and it sounds like it is just getting started.

Panel Discussion: Ohio Higher Education Computing Conference 5/17/17

Today I participated on the opening panel at the Ohio Higher Education Computing Conference. I was invited to represent the point of view of a research intensive private institution. I was joined on the panel by Brad Wheeler, CIO at Indiana University, Mike Hofher, CIO at The Ohio State University, and Craig Bantz, CIO at Ohio University. I was originally going to fly to Columbus, but with the amount of travel I have done lately, both Brad I appeared remotely via Skype while Mike and Craig were live on stage. The technology worked perfectly.

I don’t know if the event was recorded, but after a brief introduction where we shared trends driving our work we were asked to respond to the following questions:

  • Today, we’re exploring the myriad ways that technology can have an impact. What are the emerging practices or tools that excite you, less for their hype or supposed promise, and more for the evidence that they contribute to cultivating knowledge, drive efficiencies, simplify process, or reduce IT barriers?
  • Thinking toward the horizon, what direction(s) might institutions like Indiana, Chicago, and OU take to impact future of higher education? Or: if we were to have this conversation five years hence, what are the considerations, issues, or topics you hope that we’re addressing?

2017 Bloomsburg University Commencement

I have so much I want to say about the experience of being the commencement speaker at Bloomsburg University this past weekend. I want to take some time to reflect on the whole weekend before leaving it here. For now I wanted to just share the video of the event and the transcript of the speech. What I will say is that this was a privilege and an honor. One I hope to never forget.



Good afternoon, President Soltz, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, parents, families and friends, my own Mom and Dad who are here today, and to you, the 2017 graduating class of Bloomsburg University.

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of your day. It is an honor and a privilege to come back to my hometown, speak to my fellow Huskies, and maybe even grab a Steph’s sub. Look, here’s the reality. I’m not famous. So, when you looked at the program and asked, “who is this guy?” there really isn’t a terrific answer. I’m just a guy from Bloomsburg who got a degree from this fantastic university who the administration thought should speak to you today.

With that said I promise to do my best to share with you some brief thoughts from the perspective of someone who has sat in those chairs, who has studied in these rooms, and who is helping to shape the future as an education and technology leader.

So let’s just hang out while I share five stories about a theme that doesn’t always go hand in hand with science and technology: people.

Story One: Learning

My Father recently hit a hole in one at the age of 82. Pretty remarkable if you ask me. It is his second hole in one, the first coming some 15 years ago. I’ve never hit one, even though I try nearly 18 times a round. My Mother has hit six holes in one. Yeah, six. Her most recent was about a week after my Dad’s second one. She proudly posted it to Facebook, not to one up my Dad or anything. In my most loving and snarkiest way, I commented on her post, “Did you hit yours with one arm like Dad?”

You see, my Dad has been battling bone cancer. He has a titanium rod that holds his left arm somewhat securely into a titanium shoulder socket. Now he can’t raise that left arm above his mid-section, so we thought his golfing days were done until he did what he always does: he decided otherwise.

One day he went out and just started putting one-handed. Then he started chipping one-handed and before long he developed a one-armed golfing technique. It’s with this one-armed swing that my father hit his hole in one. And it is with that hole in one that he taught me the lesson of a lifetime: if the only way you can do something you love is one-armed, you figure out how to do it.

You will face challenges like this all the time and you probably won’t hit a hole in one while doing it. But if you want to succeed, you will have to push yourself. You will have to challenge yourself. You will have to re-learn the things you thought you knew.

You have been exercising that capability while here at Bloomsburg. Just remember, you will have to accept that you are never done learning and to be as successful as the vision you have for yourself — and you need to develop a vision for your future self — you will have to do it your whole life. Life won’t care that you knew how to golf two-armed. Life won’t care that your situation is unfair. You must persevere and learn and re-learn again and again.

Story Two: Discovery

I grew up at Bloomsburg University. Twice. The first was as a little kid, the son of a Psychology Professor and an Administrator. Both of my parents worked here and I spent countless hours exploring nearly every nook and cranny of this place. I’ve probably been on every rooftop of every building built before 1990 or so. For that I want to apologize to any members of the University Police force. But Bloomsburg University was, at that time, my physical playground.

My love for scientific discovery and technology began when I was young and I would visit my Dad in his office at Old Science Hall. His colleagues had an experimental rat lab that they would take me into and describe how they could get the rats to press levers for food to demonstrate theory. In the back room of that lab there were a couple of Apple II computers. I was only allowed to play the games if I proved that I could do something useful with the machines. So, a couple of my Dad’s colleagues taught me some BASIC programming. That gave me the keys to play the games and, more importantly, to spark an interest that would lead to a career.

I never had a single programming class until grad school, but that little exposure carried me for over 15 years. It is important to recognize that your passions can lay dormant for many years before you discover them. And that is the thing you need to consider critical — always keep discovering. Not just discovery in the world, but discovery in yourself. You never know where it will take you.

Story Three: Empathy

My mother was the director of the counseling center in Ben Franklin Hall. I would visit her and get to know the students she was working with. Our phone would ring in the middle of the night so she could help many of them with incredibly difficult conversations and decisions. She always found time to help them. My mother taught me the most important thing that I still try to utilize in every single engagement I have: empathy.

Whenever someone did something to hurt me and I was mad, she would ask me, “I wonder what is going on in that young man’s life that would make him act that way toward you?” It would infuriate me to no end. Can’t I just be mad at someone? But that repeated question eventually changed the lens I was using to look at the world.

If you take the time to see behavior from a reflective point of view, I guarantee you will be more successful in work, play, and love. It is sometimes a very hard thing to do, but I implore you to do it. You may know everything about your field, but you will not become a leader who can motivate teams of people and lead successful projects without being an empathetic colleague or boss.

Story Four: Mentorship

I said I grew up twice at Bloomsburg University. The second time is what leads me to speak to you today. I completed my Masters degree here in 1996 in Instructional Technology. As a matter of fact, I completed it right over there in the McCormick Center. Incidentally I was here the day they put the first shovel in the ground to build what would ultimately become my dad’s new office and the place that would change my life.

I had completed my undergraduate psychology degree from West Virginia University, but at the time there weren’t many jobs for an undergrad in psychology. After moving to Raleigh, North Carolina in a failed attempt to get a Ph.D. at NC State and a stint selling mobile homes, I came home to Bloomsburg. I put my degree to use by cutting lawns, painting houses, and doing odd jobs for landlords. Not exactly the vision I had for myself.

When I saw an old friend one afternoon, he told me he was in the MSIT program at Bloomsburg. My friend, Keith, was the son of the Director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies, Dr. Hank Bailey. He told me that I needed to go see his dad and maybe he could help.

The next day I came up here and talked to Dr. Bailey in his office and he asked me a bunch of questions, spun around at his desk, typed some stuff into his computer, printed out a piece of paper, spun back around, and told me I had class that evening at 6 PM. Bloomsburg University was now my intellectual playground.

Dr. Bailey’s kindness, I soon discovered, set me on a path that pushed me to do the hardest work of my life to that point. It taught me that a kid from Bloomsburg, with a degree from Bloomsburg, can do anything they want. I now live in Chicago and work at one of the finest institutions in the world, acting as the University of Chicago’s Chief Information Officer. I got that job 20 years after leaving Bloomsburg, but I really got it the day Dr. Bailey handed me my class schedule and said, “we will see you tonight.”

Don’t take what you’ve accomplished lightly. And look, I know that the hard work has been peppered with lots of fun and plenty of trips to Hess’s dance floor. But make sure you recall the work. That work ethic will need to become stronger if you are going to succeed. Lean on that as a foundation for the job you are going to get in 20 years that will blow your mind.

When I was working at Penn State University, I was lucky enough to be part of a secret project at Apple. The iPod had just been released and I was part of a small team that was helping Apple understand how the iPod could impact teaching and learning. Another member of this team was Dr. Carl Berger who was the Dean of the University of Michigan’s College of Education. Dr. Berger instantly began pushing me to find my voice in a room filled with my elders and idols.

He pushed me to take a new job at Penn State that I thought I had no business having. When I asked him if I should take it, he simply said, “Cole, when the elevator doors open and that up-arrow flashes, you get on. You’ll figure it out once you are there.”

What Dr. Berger was saying to me was that fear is an OK thing to feel, even if what you fear is your own potential for failure. He knew it would be hard for me, largely because he had spent a lifetime getting on elevators going to higher metaphorical floors, but also because he knew that I had to take risks and live with the fear. That simple piece of advice would not have come my way had I not asked him for his help and guidance. The hardest part is often in the moment we ask for help. But that is the lesson.

Seek out mentors in unlikely places and find ones who challenge you. Keep in mind that a mentor is not some mythical person in a position of absolute power over you. Sometimes you find them right next to you.

I am lucky that my wife has always pushed me to be better — to communicate more clearly, to have an argument based on knowledge, to be humble, and above all, value the journey. If she were here, she would surely tell me I did a good job, but that I could have hit that word harder or made that point more clearly. If you want a future where you get better every single day, find a partner, mentor, or a friend who will lovingly push you into that uncomfortable space. Trust me, it is much better to be wrong and critiqued at home with someone who cares about you.

Mentors are extraordinary people and you should fight to have as many as you possibly can. The thing that I always tell anyone who will listen is that mentorship is a two-way street. Mentors don’t just come along, they are found and cultivated. It takes a lot of effort to get to the point where you can look back and recognize a mentor. If you don’t open yourself up to the love, the advice, and ultimately the help that a mentor offers, you won’t end up with a mentor. Be brave enough to be vulnerable and amazing things will come your way.

Story Five: Change

In 1984, I got the first ever Apple Macintosh computer. It was a gift for my 12th birthday from my parents. Now I want you to think back to those times and realize that computers only plugged into the wall. It was magical, but nothing fundamentally changed until the Internet happened a decade later.

I have two children and like all the parents here, I love them and care for them deeply. I smile when I see them succeed and it wounds me when I see them on the edge of failure. At the end of the day, I just like to see them. I talk with them over dinner and homework and check into their Snapchat stories every day to make sure I keep up.

The reason I bring them up is that as a technologist I have always been taken aback by their similarities and differences in their uses of technology. My daughter was born into the same era as you and I existed in the standard desktop and laptop computer era. She grew up learning how to use these machines through a traditional keyboard, mouse, and trackpad.

My son, on the other hand, was born at the same time as the iPhone. His first exposure to technology was through interacting with a piece of glass held in his hand. This piece of technology that he held in that little hand was so incredibly new and engaging that we couldn’t have predicted it only four years earlier when my daughter was born.

And it is in that small four year window that everything changed. I lived for more than a decade without a significant technological event and here I see the biggest leap in the span of four years. That is the difference between a freshman walking into the dorms here at Bloomsburg University to all of you sitting in front of me now.

Paradigms like this used to take decades to change, but now they are happening at a pace that is both exhilarating and frankly terrifying. This is the world in which you are stepping into. A world where paradigms change regularly, a world where economies are constructed upon jobs that will never go back to the way things were, and you are prepared for it. That is why you are sitting here today.

Think about it, when many of you started this journey at Bloomsburg, the first job you will have may not have existed. My job didn’t exist when I was in college. When you started at Bloomsburg University, cars could not drive themselves, taxi cabs were the de-facto transportation when you needed a ride somewhere, and we certainly weren’t 3D printing homes in countries torn apart by natural disasters.

Are you ready for a lifetime of accelerated change and constant reinvention? If you are, then you have been born into the right era. This is the time for people like you.

But most of all it is a time for people. If you live your life knowing that it is people who power all of this invention, that people discover and create new science, that people are the ones writing the code, then you will have little trouble being part of it.

Practice being a good person and always focus on the people. It is odd to say this to a group of graduates from the College of Science and Technology, but under all the equations, code, and experiments, it still comes down to people. And in our time, people who embrace science and technology, those who possess a love for learning, and those who can communicate and inspire teams of people will be the leaders of this new economy.


And this is what I’ll leave you with. Think of this place, this town, this community, this University, and the people you’ve known here. They’ve all left marks on your life and in turn you have added your name to a list of great people who have matriculated here. The marks that you’ve made here are indelible and are probably quite impressive, and your memories of this time will truly be some of the best of your lives.

As you make your way to what is next, know that there will surely be new marks — new friendships, graduate school, love, spouses, babies, the passing of people you care deeply about, new jobs or lost jobs — and I’ve had a few! But I can guarantee if you walk back across this campus in thirty years, you will see something that will make you smile, a simple mark left upon your life.

Ask yourself, “what marks do you want to leave for those who follow?” Your graduation may seem like an end, but it is just a beginning. Make it part of your lif’s work to make marks and to leave a positive impression upon the people who follow.

So again, thank you for letting me be a small mark on your journey and for letting me share a few thoughts with you. Just remember that life will throw you curve balls and you have to learn and re-learn how to hit them. You will find your passions in strange places and it will not be predictable. You will need mentors and if you want them in your life, you have to open yourself up to help and critique. You will not find success without them. Find them, embrace them, learn from them, and then be one for someone else. Finally, be prepared for the acceleration of change. I know it is daunting, but it is also exciting. Bloomsburg University has given you the tools to keep learning and I know you will go beyond just keeping up.

As Alan Watts said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

So, to the class of 2017, I say congratulations and let’s dance! Thank you.

ITS Strong

I’ve been at UChicgao for long enough now to really know about our organization. I often tell people one of the perks of being in the CIO chair is the opportunity to learn the organization in a very complete way. Having to help the leaders across ITS solve problems has made me learn the complete functioning of the team and it has given me a very good idea of who we are as an organization. I’m sure most of us can talk about what our make-up is — we know we are 265 or so people who work together. But I wonder if we actually know and understand that we are also much stronger together?

Yesterday I was at a session at the EDUCAUSE Connect Chicago event where the presenter was talking about how he had implemented a skill inventory for his organization. What was interesting to me is that he went further and added the idea of an “internet inventory” so people could indicate how interested they were in various skills. It produced some interesting results and lots of good follow up conversation. When I asked how big his group was he told me it was under 25, so naturally my next questions was how does it scale to something like ITS’s size?

I asked that not to make sure he knew our organization is bigger than his, it is because one of the things I see everyday in ITS is that we so often don’t take advantage of the intellectual strength we have as a collective. What I mean is that I see parts of our organization struggle deeply with solving a problem or delivering a creative solution because they think they are going it alone and they don’t know there are people in other parts of ITS who have the answers to their own questions. We have to stop that and learn about our collective strength, not just our individual skills. We need to lean on that.

Related to the skill and interest assessment question is that in an organization the size of ITS I do not believe members of our team really know about other parts of the org. For example, I could easily see someone rate themselves very highly as a developer, but have little interest in applying it in the context they are currently in and getting down and frustrated not knowing they can apply that same skill in a totally different part of the organization. You need to take the time to know what we do from one side of the house to the other and understand that there are novel contexts to do your work. If you don’t know what someone in ASTS does, take a minute and find out. One, you may realize you want to do work in an area that focuses on something different. And, two, you might find the person who will help solve that next problem you are going to encounter.

I feel like ITS is at its strongest when we learn enough about each other that we are willing to lean in together. And leaning in together often means leaning on someone to get to where we need to be.