Launching Mobile/Digital Now

The time has come. On Monday we will roll out our first systematic piece of the Mobile/Digital Now initiative at Stony Brook University. This is the first of two iPad planned rollouts we have in place for the start of the 2015 academic year, the next will be announced in a couple of weeks. Below is the text from the media briefing for Monday’s event …

On Monday, July 6, Stony Brook University’s Mobile/Digital Now initiative will equip 185 EOP/AIM (Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit) freshmen with iPads as they begin their four-year journey at the University’s Summer Academy. These iPads reinforce the University’s commitment to providing access to academic excellence for these freshmen. The Mobile/Digital Now initiative, led by Stony Brook Chief Information Officer, Cole Camplese, will help transform and reinvent learning environments and enhance access to anytime, anywhere learning resources.

The Mobile/Digital Now initiative is also set to expand to support Stony Brook faculty in the appropriate utilization of technology to enhance teaching; will control costs of learning materials for students through eTexts; increase access of critical courses to enhance both retention and four-year graduation rates and equip the University community with the latest mobile devices that will aid in future academic success.

The EOP/AIM Program provides educationally-related supportive services and supplemental financial assistance to those students whose educational and economic circumstances have limited their post-secondary educational opportunities. These iPads are distributed for students to use throughout their four-year undergraduate careers.

There are so many reasons to be excited about this project. The first is getting to work with colleagues from EOP/AIM to help build an even stronger program. Another lies in getting to work closely with the students themselves. As part of the project I will be personally running a steering group made up of students in the program so I can maintain a finger on the pulse of the initiative and work with them to make it stronger. Finally, working with my DoIT colleagues to make this a reality has been inspiring! In a very short period of time we have worked to deliver the iPads under mobile device management tools, increased wireless density in key areas, and built new support modalities for our audiences. Really exciting stuff.

The students will get their iPads and cases still shrink wrapped in the boxes. They will get to open them, turn them on, and have a fully functional iPad with both Stony Brook and commercial apps auto installed as well as access to additional academic content. All of these will be pushed directly to the devices as they activate them — even their University email will be auto setup. I can’t wait to see it all unfold. Below are screenshots of what they will see as their devices activate. Great work everyone!

[Digital] Expression

By now many of you have seen the new Holiday advertisement from Apple, “The Song.” It follows in the wake of last year’s Apple Holiday ad that brought many people to tears (at least the ones who appreciate Apple). This year’s ad follows a similar, but perhaps less controversial path — a young woman discovers a recording made by her Grandmother for her Grandfather presumably before he is deployed for the war. The discovered recording is on a record — you remember those things, right? I could go on, but here it is …

I liked the ad instantly for a lot of reasons — I am an Apple fan and have been since the very early 80’s, so it is easy for me. But, the thing that I really liked was how much it leaned on the notion of digital expression. The last 10 years of my work has been focused on a couple of core concepts and one of them is the notion of digital expression as a new form of scholarship. This line of thinking actually came to life to me many years ago while working as a part of an Apple advisory board called, the Digital Campus. My assertion was that it wasn’t enough to just sell students technology tools, instead we need to combine the tools with new forms of pedagogy, physical spaces, and support to create an eco-system that can systematically support digital expression as a form of scholarship. Actually, if you’ve ever heard me give a talk, I typically wrap up with the following slide …


Recently I watched the behind the scenes production of, “The Song” made by Apple. Take a look and notice the use of a specific type of technology enhanced creation space.

Last week I came across a story for the One Button Studio concept that we built at Penn State as a piece to our Media Commons initiative. Many of you have heard me talk about that studio and the ideas behind it. I am trying to get our first one built here at Stony Brook to advance our focus on digital expression as a form of scholarship. We have to see that the physical space is part of systematically supporting that notion — you need to craft a value chain of sorts. Faculty development, pedagogical awareness, instructional design support, and physical spaces that can enhance, inspire, and promote digital expression across multiple curricula.

I say this knowing full well that our students are creating more digital artifacts of their learning every single day. I also know that more and more of our faculty are interested in assigning new types of assignments that are pushing our students to have new skills to tell new kinds of stories. Connected to that are the skills we as technologists need to grow to help develop that eco-system. Just like in, “The Song” we need to pair the technology with inspiration, create forward facing spaces that promote this type of work, and deliver platforms that can easily promote the idea that digital expression is in fact an important part of the teaching and learning landscape in higher education.

Digital Resources

I’m a little late today with the One Post a Day, but given I am on vacation and the month is winding down, writing has become a little more difficult for me. Today as I was bouncing through email and feeds I got a note that I had a friend request in Facebook … so I logged in and confirmed the request, but while I was there I looked through my personal News Feed. One of the videos that a friend commented on was from last night’s Democratic National Convention. I watched that and started to think about a couple of things that I thought I’d share.

The first is how irritated I am at the way our networks (cable and the big three) cover events. If you aren’t watching C-Span you don’t get to see what is really going on. Instead of just letting us see the speakers we have to endure hours of the pundits telling us what to think. Additionally, they have these ridiculous crawls going on at the bottom of the screen — and CNN, WTF with the VH1 style trivia bubbles? I don’t need it. So the video I was directed to out of FB just now took me to one of the speeches that wasn’t being openly covered on the network I was watching and it was great. I’m not sure of the legality of it (as the video I watched was posted by an individual and not the network itself), but having instant access to alternative points of view is a very interesting opportunity for teaching and learning. Surly the coverage of the DMC is quite different on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, FOX, and the others. It probably wouldn’t be too tough to instantly create a handful of tabs in the browser that shows network reactions to the exact same events taking place. It would also be interesting to see which ones actually let the event be broadcasted versus talking over what is happening. The online conversation could also prove interesting …

After watching the video I got a little bit of a youtube bug and bounced to the front page. I’m logged in under our own TLT account so I saw new videos from my friends. The first one was a piece actually produced here at WPSU about World War II and showing on the WPSU YouTube Channel. I love the oral history approach to building new understandings and these pieces are powerful stuff. This past year our FACAC survey showed us that youtube is one of the most popular and frequently used technologies to support teaching and learning. How great is it that we have rich (and ever expanding) access to locally produced content? I know we are looking to use our youtube space more effectively in the coming year and I know more and more faculty who are exploring youtube for good ideas. The video below was one that I thought could promote some very interesting conversations in a class setting …

Last week while at Mont Alto we had a discussion about youtube in the classroom after I showed the “Charlie Bit Me … Again” video. People thought it was funny, but that was about it. I then tried to share some thoughts as to why I found it more than funny. What I find striking about youtube is the community activity a good/funny/interesting video can promote. If you look at anything that is popular you see dozens, if not hundreds, of comments in the form of text and video that are done as reactions, story movers, or parodies of the original. The ability to use existing content and then use the content environment to promote and stimulate conversations seems like it could be a very interesting opportunity.

Why have students watch a video at youtube and then go into ANGEL (or somewhere else) to write a response? I’d like to find ways to have them use the environment to post a follow up video or comment to see what happens. I really like the idea that the space provides some layer of motivation for participation. Can that same environment be used to draw classes into conversations related to digital media? I think so, but would be curious what others think.

BTW, this isn’t limited to youtube … take a look at the affordances that an environment like Flickr has for conversations related to imagery.

New Conversations

I am in Madison, WI where I am presenting at the 24th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. I am part of panel discussion looking at institutional transformation to support both resident and online learning given the shifting demographics of our students. I am going to talk specifically about Digital Expression and what it means to me and how how PSU has been working towards providing platforms to support it. I used to get asked to describe what I mean by Digital Expression, but not so much anymore — I think people are arriving at their own conclusions. From my perspective, in the most simple terms, it is providing opportunities for faculty and students to feel supported to engage in the art of sharing evidence in a digital sense. I have spent time in a lot of classrooms where I have asked students to stretch themselves to produce digital media to articulate learning and the things they come up with are amazing.

Opportunities to Engage

Opportunities to Engage

When I dig into this deeper I am left echoing the thoughts of Lessig from the TLT Symposium, these students are engaged in a new social dynamic — a digital conversation. I have been struck by the way YouTube can draw people out and how it provides affordances for them to respond in different ways. I am thinking specifically about how people will take quite a bit of time and effort to respond to a posted video, not with a text comment, but with a forked version of the original, or a video response, or a story changing event, or other creative ways to extend and engage the original producer and others. This is moving the discussion forward, it is a digital conversation at a whole new level. I doubt we’ve ever fully realized the power of the digital discussion in the traditional message board — I know the best online conversations I have had existed in the open and in very accessible locations.

When you look at PSU students and the fact that 17% reported creating video for a class while 15% reported creating a video for personal reasons last year, you know something is changing. I don’t have the data to support it, but this feels like a very big jump in only a year or two time. To me, it is early evidence that we are well positioned with the Digital Commons, but pushes me to continue to think about how to make the service more obvious. Only 2% report using the DC resources last year and I can tell you from the usage data I received yesterday, that number will be much higher next year.

I’ve written before about how we are working to position ourselves with a platform to support digital expression and I intend to share a bit of that story during my presentation. I’ll highlight the Digital Commons as a place where faculty and students can be supported in the art of being digital. Additionally, I’ll share insight into our vision for our blogging platform as a personal digital publishing environment. I won’t have time to go into podcasting, game design, community hubs, or the other things we’ve been doing to promote a more open and community driven environment. I hope it is the start of a real conversation that we can continue to push forward on all of our campuses.

Digital Expression Alignment Stack

Digital Expression Alignment Stack

We are getting to these opportunities in a systematic way by aligning emerging services with existing infrastructure. We don’t get it right every time, but getting new tools and opportunities out to our audiences seems to be the winning proposition. Going forward, where do we need to be focusing additional energy? One area for me is in the appropriate use of these environments. Are there other thoughts?

Digital Media Value Chain

During the last few weeks I have started to see some really amazing digital media artifacts coming out of our classrooms here at PSU. Two weeks ago I came across one of the most amazing uses of a student blog I have ever seen. I hate to say it, but I am reluctant to link to it without her permission, but suffice to say she gets how a blog can work better than most of the people I talk to. This post was based around a video project she and her team did in class — a simple interview of a faculty member edited to be of interest. Here is what made it amazing, she spent time not only posting the finished product, but wrote a reflective narrative about the process she and her team used to create it. Pictures showing the team working together, a map of their storyboards, and even a discussion of the script. Just an amazing illustration of how powerful digital media can be.

If you look at the pieces that add up to that example you can see a value chain emerging. We start by doing a hot team … this usually helps us decide if a technology would be appropriate for use in the classroom. Funny that we never come up with ideas that match up to the things that actually happen in our classrooms. The hot team can lead to a call for proposals from faculty under the Engagement Project. When we select a proposal, we meet with the faculty to discuss their needs and find ways to support their activities. From there the faculty teach their course and engage the students in all sorts of cool activities that require them to create digital artifacts. On campuses where we have them installed, students typically visit the Digital Commons to work with killer technology, get hands on help, or connect virtually with a DC Consultant. Once they use the physical spaces to create something they publish it online — with the Blogs at Penn State, the Podcasts at Penn State, or ANGEL. Every step of the process is supported (or has the potential to be supported if need be). I know it is a very simple view of the value chain, but here is how I see it:


I also think of it as a stack …


Which leads me to the example that inspired me to write this evening … a faculty member who submitted an Engagement Award proposal for the Fall semester sent us a couple of examples of her students work today. The first is a virtual tour of the 2007 solar decathlon. The second is just as cool, a walking tour of the tree biodiversity at Ridley Creek State Park. All I can say is that it is amazing. She is integrating blogging, podcasting, Digital Commons, Google Maps, digital photography, and so much more into her classes. The amazing thing is that her students are doing work that will blow you away! Looking at the outputs I can’t help but feel excited that the opportunities that are being created can support it all. Just some killer stuff!

Predictions in an Online Publishing World

I got asked a very interesting question today during a committee meeting today. The question was about the use of the Blogs at Penn State toolset as it relates to student portfolio activity. I have been saying for about 36 months or so that a robust blogging environment could serve as an “ePortfolio Light” toolset to enable students to focus on the reflection of their learning without needing to learn commodity web skills. As an aside, for a long time I have been trying to talk about a blogging platform in terms of personal content management and as a publishing platform. What I like about the PSU portfolio efforts is that it has been about the right stuff — students taking time to reflect upon their personal story. The thing I haven’t liked about it is that we have forced them into a very old school web publishing model to do it. We’ve asked them to use Dreamweaver to do this expression and while it is a decent tool, the whole notion that a complex piece of software gets in between thought and execution as it relates to reflection is a shame.

I have had one of my colleagues, Glenn Johnson, come into my class in the past to discuss ePortfolio and the students really do get it — they get the importance of building a place online that represents them. What they struggle with (generalization time) is the whole web publishing process. Think about it, expression online using a WYSIWYG tool is a convoluted path — open a WYSIWYG tool, learn it, understand the naming conventions of the online world, figure out how to move your static files, make sure everything is in the right directories, upload it, look at it in the browser, rinse, and repeat. Contrast that with modern publishing tools — authenticate, type, and click publish. Sort of a no-brainer.

So, back to the question. Today I was asked to project if the Blogs at PSU, when used in a electronic publishing context, would increase the amount of students engaged in portfolio creation. Right now, from what I understand, less than 50% of students activate the free personal webspace we give them. Activate is different than using it. About half of that group reports using it for academic purposes. Will giving the students of our University a simple tool for publishing, reflecting, sharing, and collaborating online change those numbers? I said I think it will — and I also mentioned that if we built a FaceBook Application to facilitate blogging from their profiles we’d see an even bigger jump. I am wondering if those of you who have done University blogging environments to support simple web publishing have seen increases in student utilization of online publishing for academic (or even personal) use. Any help out there for me?

Opportunities for Digital Expression

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.

Stack 1

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.

Stack 2

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.

Stack 3

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.

Stack 4

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.

Stack 5

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.