Digital Strategy

Around 2003 or 2004 I was invited to be part of a group of five Universities working with Apple called the Apple Digital Campus project. It was PSU, Duke, Missouri (their Journalism School), Stanford, and Michigan if I recall correctly. The goal of the program was to better understand what was happening in Higher Education and attempt to plug into emerging trends and ideas. I really remember working closely with the folks from Missouri and Duke on their podcasting projects — Duke with the iPod for all students and MOJO with their laptop and news production initiatives. We even had Carl Berger working with us to help each of us assess our projects. It was a great time and an opportunity that I am very thankful for.

The project I proposed was to look at digital expression as a form of academic evidence and to work to integrate the notions of digital media into a non media intensive curriculum (Information Sciences and Technology). I spent lots of hours writing and working on the white papers that kicked that off, first in the College of IST and later as a primary driver of my strategy here at ETS. The idea was that the notion of students being producers of digital media was on the rise and Universities needed to understand it and find ways to support digital expression in a systematic fashion.

Around this same I really got into the rise of social media, blogging, RSS, podcasting, and all the associated technologies. At the time I and a few friends and colleagues even hosted a weekly “From the Basement” podcast that allowed us to fully understand how it all worked and ultimately fit together. One of the lingering discoveries was how easy it was to move most of my creation and publishing online — and how that was ultimately a better way for my students to consume things. Still a driving thought for me today.

I loved the ideas we were throwing around back then and wanted to test them with a (much) larger audience. When I left the College of IST here at PSU one of my first initiatives in ETS was to bring a podcasting service to the University. Podcasts at Penn State was born along with the adoption of iTunes U. In hindsight, the Blogs at PSU should have been first out of the gate, but podcasting seemed like low hanging fruit. It still amazes me when I see numbers like the ones reported below by our Digital Commons team for the last two semesters from our public and private iTunes U space:

  • 11,197 Total podcast tracks (non-course/departmental and courses)
  • 629 unique iTunes U courses
  • 7,411 podcast course tracks
  • 108 new courses were created since April 2009 (when our new self provisioning toolset became active and we started tracking)
  • 3,786 Non-course podcast tracks (ex. departmental podcasts and podcast shows)

What has happened over the last four years has been quite an interesting story related to the continuation of that Apple Digital Campus work — we have quite literally worked to systematically support digital expression as a form of scholarship and have seen it move into a much more mainstream acceptance across the institution. Not only do we have University wide blogging and podcasting services, but our soon to be rebranded Media Commons (Digital Commons over the last two plus years) initiative has had big impact on the ecosystem.

The Media Commons is a standardized media lab environment that we have worked to install and support at 20 campus locations across the Commonwealth of PA, at three locations here at University Park, and with a couple College/discipline specific facilities scheduled to come online in the next six months or so. What goes on in these facilities is staggering … as I look at the final report for the Fall I am stunned by the increase in overall utilization across the board — faculty usage is up, student usage is up, and even staff usage is up. And at some locations it is really up. What is most interesting is how faculty are now coming to us for assistance in integrating digital media assignments — they are no longer just sending their students in to use the equipment, they are working with us to design activities that make sense within the context of their course. Then the students come and are supported at a much higher level because our staff is already familiar with the goals of the projects. I think this represents “systematic support for digital expression.”

As I sat down to write this post I was really only going to highlight the fact that podcasting at PSU continues to go strong … what emerged was an end of year reflection on a strategy that was laid out six or more years ago. I am very proud of all the people who have gotten behind these crazy ideas, have worked a ridiculous amount of time to make it real, and to colleagues across higher education and industry for helping me think through it all. It is amazing to me that a strategy conceived in conference rooms so many years ago has taken so long to come to fruition and at the same time has happened so quickly.

Planning to Plan

For those of you have been around this blog for a while (I can see all four of you out there!), you know that I was/am part of the original Apple Digital Campus group. Back in the day, Apple invited five Universities to help them think about what the digital campus environment might look like in the coming years. All five of us brought a very interesting perspective to the party and we had a great time figuring out what we did, why Apple selected us, and how we could help one of the most creative and educationally grounded companies on the planet think about the higher education landscape.

One of the things we decided to do are the ADC Leadership Institutes. I have gone to two of them over the last few years … the first, and my favorite so far, was put on by the people at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism (I did the wrap-up talk)… the second, was at Harvard where I was just a participant and spent the week with Kyle Peck thinking about what our event was to look like.

We’ve been trying for over a year to organize one here at Penn State. With two false starts we are close to finding a date that will actually work. We are thinking early March instead of the November date we’ve been working towards. Today, I was lucky enough to go offsite with three of the smartest people I get to hang around with (Kyle Peck, Carla Zembal-Saul, and Scott McDonalad … BTW, when are they going to start blogging?) — all of them are in the College of Education and all three share a real passion for teaching, teachers, and innovation.

We had scheduled this meeting before our planning committee decided to focus on March, so there wasn’t as much of a sense of urgency — just an opportunity for an informal planning session. We didn’t get the whole thing worked out, but there was a block of about 30 minutes or so where we went off on a real directed brainstorming session … I think the foundation for our event was in there.

It isn’t completely clear to me, but if we can somehow focus on the notion of transforming the higher education landscape so that we urge people to balance the needs/expectations of students with an instructor’s educational goals we’ll be successful. We want to expose people to all sorts of interesting things without making the whole thing solely about emerging technologies … you know, try to also emphasize there are really good things we should be doing in our classrooms and that the right technology choices can help us get there.

I am thinking/hoping we’ll be planning our event in the open — either here at this site, or at another open space. I’d like for a community to develop around this thing so that we can get closer to hitting the mark. Any ideas and thoughts to share?

Bud Tribble at the Apple Digital Campus Institute at Harvard

I am sitting in a nice classroom at Harvard Unviersity at the Apple Digital Campus Leadership Institute in Science Education listening to Bud Tribble. The focus of the event as you can guess is science education … not exactly my space, but still very interesting. I am here with Kyle Peck as we attempt to plan our own symposium in the ADC mode. Bud Tribble is a smart guy … he has both a Ph.D. and M.D. from the University of Washington and has been all over the computer industry for the last 20 some years — from the original Macintosh team, to NeXT, to SUN, and now back at Apple, Bud has been a real leader in the industry.

I was actually lucky enough to spend an hour with Bud about a year ago as I was working on a paper related to digital expression in the higer education space — really looking at how the Mac OS could play much better in existing infrstructure on our campuses. I was pushing Apple on the idea that students at places like Penn State shouldn’t have to have a .Mac account to play nicely with iLife. The conversation quickly moved into his areas of interest and it was a relatively terrifying experience. Did I mention the guy is smart? We ended up talking quite a bit about identity management and it was just a great hour.

Here he is going over the Apple advantage in science education … as with all things Apple in education at the moment, there is a lot of podcasting talk. The best point so far has been something in passing — that it isn’t important to focus on high production value, the point is to think about the pedagogical soundness of the approach … his example is the Electric Pickle video podcast. Talking iTunes U and how it all works … makes it sound so easy … not a person blinked at the “we host it for you” comment. Had a nice slide titled, “Click. Sync. Learn.” Interesting concept … I wonder if we could use something along the lines of “Create. Sync. Teach.” to get faculty engaged … does that work?  If the response I got to my podcasting talk the other day at the Web 2006 conference is any indication, we won’t need it.

Lots of product overviews, but the good thing is the comment that Apple delivers a complete solution — all the UNIX tools as well as the standard tools we need — like Office.  But as time when on, we returned to podcasting and how it can connect people to concepts that are difficult to teach.  All in all an interesting discussion.  Bud is a smart guy and I enjoy hearing him talk.

Big Week Coming Up

Now that Dr. C (my Dad) has entered the blogoshpere with his first comment here at my blog I feel as though worlds are colliding … this is just the latest sign that technology is impacting so much of our daily existence … dare I call it ubiquitous? I knew things were being turned upside down in their house when I watched him on the couch at their house clicking away wirelessly on the couch last weekend. I just never thought he’d figure out how to drop sarcastic comments on me. 😉

In my real life, I have been spending a great deal of time meeting with people who until recently have not embraced technology as a cornerstone to academic pursuits. It has been an amazing few days — creating new opportunities on campus that will extend our reach into more corners of the University. Yesterday for example was spent meeting with faculty and department heads from two very different colleges here at PSU looking to enhance and extend their curriculum with eAnything. Today was equally as exciting … having lunch with one of the smarter guys on campus and talking about both the rich history of eLearning at PSU and the great potential for the future. Good stuff.

Next week we host the Web 2006 conference here on our campus and it proves to be an exciting event. Over 350 web professionals from all over PSU will be descending on us for two days of peace, love, and music — no, wait, that’s not right … two days of hands on information rich sessions that will hopefully bind us together like the event on old man Max Yasgur’s farm. I am actually doing two talks … one on podcasting and the other on Web 2.0 in the higher education enterprise. Should be interesting. The highlight for me is the fact that Jeff Veen is the keynote … I am looking forward to hanging out and talking with him Monday night and hearing his talk Tuesday morning. I’m not even close to being done with my talks, but I imagine it’ll get done sooner or later. Then I spend some time with my friends from Apple at Harvard at their Apple Digital Campus Leadership Institute … I am looking forward to that as I am traveling with Kyle Peck, who is an amazing educator and world-class thought leader. Three days with him will be a real treat. At any rate, now that it is close to the weekend I can hunker down and get my presos done — oh, and spread eight yards of mulch in my yard.

2 New Podcasts

Here are direct links to 2 of the 3 podcasts I did while at Educause in Orlando. The first podcast was with James Hilton and Lynne Johnson of the University of Michigan about their iTunes Music Store for education project. It was a fun discussion … as a matter of fact, I was able to get James to talk a bit about his slant on copyright, what is wrong with it, and how the commons is being impacted and created. I hate to say it, but this is edited down a bit from the original where we spend a bit more time on that stuff. It is a fun talk though.

The second podcast is with Susan Metros from Ohio State and Julie Little of U of Tennessee. Again, too much fun hanging out talking to these two about teaching and learning with technology. Both Susan and Julie seem to have a real passion for not just the use of technology in the classroom, but for the process of teaching well. Fun … by the way, I am not a real journalist — I just play one on my podcasts so excuse my lame interviewing abilities.

iTunes in Education

I am really starting to enjoy seeing things like this. Stanford has joined the party and started using iTunes for content distribution. It is a very cool project … there are several of these out there. I spent an hour or so talking with some of the folks from U Mich during Educause — specifically in one of the Apple Digital Campus Podcasts (Subscribe via iTunes) — about how they are using it as well. What blows my mind is how this product (iTunes) wasn’t really built for this, but over time Apple has really listened to its education customers and realized just how powerful the iTunes environment really is. I mean, if you get right down to it, eEducation is a whole hell of a lot like eBusiness — transactional, relies on scalable infrastructure, and the notions of community. At any rate, these are good stories.