Finally, Arriving at the Blog is Not Just a Blog

I can’t believe it has been two years since we made the claim that the Blogs at Penn State could be so much more than a blog and should be viewed as a personal content management system. In that time, we’ve made huge progress related to the notion that our blogging environment can and should be used for all sorts of things — most recently we’ve been doing some important work as it relates to blogs as portfolios. Our Faculty Fellow, Carla Zembal-Saul, has been working with Brad Kozlek and others here in ETS to rethink how we frame the portfolio opportunity … what we are coming to is that the win in the portfolio space is associated with the social opportunities the blog platform affords. We’ve been doing our thinking in the open over at the ETS Wiki, so please take a look. We have several pilots taking advantage of this approach this fall, the coolest one being with the Schreyer Honors College … check out Dean Chris Brady’s post seeking volunteers. Some of the scholars’ comments are very encouraging.

At any rate, that is not what I am focusing on here … with the latest release candidate of Moveable Type 4.2, we’ve started testing out the new template set concept they’ve introduced. When we pitched the Blogs at Penn State project I made sweeping promises that we could use this one platform to easily support blogs, portfolios, note taking spaces, personal websites, course pages, and more. Well, with template sets that is coming true. I did a little screencast showing how easy it will be to create personal websites using the MT environment. This has far reaching potential. Take a look at the screencast below and let us know what kinds of templates would be compelling (or watch the QT version). BTW, sorry about the watermark on the screencast … I tried ScreenFlow and have yet to purchase it. A little tough to see, but you can get the idea. Another BTW, the wonderful music in the background was written, composed, and performed by Penn State’s Stephen Hopkins. The track is Ian Grove Blues and is available from Stephen’s Penn State Blog. Steve was an early guest on ETS Talk as well.

Some Interesting Stuff

Recently I was asked to share some “interesting statistics” about what is going on here at PSU and on a national level with the use of technology by young people. Here are some points I thought could resonate. I didn’t editorialize too much, but my basic thoughts are below. What strikes me is how this leads us to such obvious conclusions about where time, energy, and dollars should be applied within our environments.

I don’t cite all this stuff, but nearly all of it is from various PSU reports or the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Please fell free to comment on these.

  • 40% of online teens watch TV on devices other than a TV. This is a real trend hitting our campus. I gave two guests lectures in freshman classes last week and all but a handful of them said that is what they do. This has big implications for the kinds of networks we provide and the amount of bandwidth we allocate.
  • Nearly a third of all PSU students created a rich media piece last year. Half of them did it for a class which means faculty are beginning to accept digital media as evidence of learning. That means the other half did it just for fun. Looks like the move towards rethinking our lab spaces is a good move. The idea that we should put a Digital Commons at every campus may help grow and support this trend.
  • Nationally approximately 80% of college students are in Facebook. This is growing as Facebook continues to open to younger and more diverse audiences. At PSU, last November, the number was at 83%.
  • The most interesting statistics related to FB are that 60% log in daily, 80% update their profiles several times a month, and that 23% of our students spend more than 5 hours a week in social environments (FB and MySpace). This proves to me that they’ll spend lots of time online if given the right kids of spaces to participate in.
  • According to Pew Internet and American Life Project nearly 50% of online teens are sharing content online. This isn’t file sharing, it is sharing pictures, text, and other forms of their media. 64% engage in at least one form of content creation. Girls dominate most elements of online content creation and sharing with 35% of teen girls blogging, and 54% sharing photos. Compared with 20% of boys blog and 40% share pictures. Boys are nearly twice as likely to share their videos online.
  • Why is this the case? 89% of them report that people comment on them some of the time. Most of them use their social networks to control access — Facebook is the number one photo sharing site on the Internet.
  • We know they use all sorts of modes to communicate, but they use modes differently with different groups of people. Text messages are used to connect with peers, while email is “for old people.”
  • Digital video is explosive at the moment. It is empowering new types of conversations across the web. Visit youtube and notice not only the number of views on videos, but the number of comments and video responses. It is stunning.
  • Internet users watched 10 billion videos online in December 2007.
  • 73% of adults own cell phones, 63% of teens own them, and at PSU 93% of students own a cell phone.
  • Nearly 90% of PSU students own MP3 players. iPod is the majority.

Open Event Planning

I’ve noted the Learning Design Summer Camp that is happening on our campus August 12 and 13 a number of times before, but I wanted to share a few additional details that have been making me very proud of the work going on around PSU. You see this event is different than anything else we’ve planned before — different because we really aren’t so much planning it as we are guiding it. I pitched the LDSC idea as a way to replace our more traditional all campus instructional design meeting that has historically happened on an annual basis. My challenges were to expand the reach to a more inclusive community of learning designers, raise the level of the conversations we could have, create a fun and robust program, and let the community shape the event. It was that last challenge that excited and scared the hell out of us.

We’ve watched others do the unconference thing and have loved the results. None of had done it so we were reluctant to try until I got back from the Berkman at 10 event and felt new energy about how communities can rise up and participate. We had been getting good participation in the ETS Wiki and felt like we could count on at least a handful of people to help out. What has happened has surprised us all. My colleague, Allan Gyorke, added a page to the wiki on May 28th with a very light skeleton structure … a few Tweets later and the pages came to life. Within days a volunteer committee had formed and met. Within a few weeks enough ideas for sessions had been proposed and discussed that we didn’t need to be concerned. A couple week later, someone from the University Libraries offered their gorgeous space for us to hold the event. Within two months an amazingly robust event had been planned. All of it without having an assigned committee or agenda. All we had was a vision, an outline, and a wiki.

Learning Design Summer Camp Wiki

Learning Design Summer Camp Wiki

If you have the time, or the interest, jump over to the LDSC wiki page and see for yourself. This event is shaping up to be outstanding. The stories and conversations that can potentially go on are both exciting and encouraging on all sorts of levels. Explore how the community has created a series of stickers that represent areas of interests or icons of themselves, take a look at how the logo for the event evolved, check out the sessions proposed by the community, and look at how many people from all over PSU decided to spend two days with us. So maybe the community can be the committee!

C is for Community

As is the case with most Fridays when the weather is nice in State College I came home and spent the majority of the evening outside in the yard with the kids listening to music. This evening we decided to forgo the typical “Dinner Mix” playlist of grown up favorites and instead played selections from the Sesame Street gang. My little boy, who will be two in September, fell in love with Cookie Monster’s “C is for Cookie.” I’m not going to make the parallel that we are doing the work of children or anything, but I will say that there was a line that resonated with me — “C is for Cookie and that’s good enough for me.” What struck a chord with me is that our approach to community is very similar to what my little man’s interest in cookies feels like … serious. I must say that the power of the local community is emerging and it is good enough for me.

A stretch perhaps, but on target for what I am feeling on and around campus. Let me share a living example … today we had the first meeting of the Learning Design Summer Camp committee members. Typical stuff for higher education in most cases other than the simple truth is that not a single person was assigned to their post. All we did was establish a wiki, share some opening thoughts, and Tweet the existence of the thinking out to those who were listening. A strange thing happened — lots of people contributed. And then they volunteered. Then another even more amazing thing happened — people outside the standard Twitter stream joined the conversation. Community happened.

Our Summer Camp is shaping up to be quite the event. I am personally hoping it pushes a conversation forward related to the tools we’ve been building on campus to support new thinking for teaching and learning. The idea is to get people together to actively engage in discourse that is well beyond the typical “how to” format we all deal with. No matter what I am hopeful to see about 100 of my colleagues working together to think critically about how we design learning spaces. Seems like a very cool thing. It is time we all start to raise the level of our conversations.

All of it shows me once again the power of the collective. It also reminds me just how open and engaged the community is on our campus. I am very proud to be a part of it!

Remote Collaboration?

I spend a great deal of time in meetings. On an average week I bet I spend close to 30 hours either sitting in meetings or traveling to meetings. That doesn’t leave a ton of time to actually get stuff done, but I understand the need (and value) to meet … as a matter of fact I find myself setting a lot of this up. I think the thing that is bothering me the most at the moment is the amount of traveling around campus I need to do to get to it all. Sure, we have great shuttle services and walking is always an option, but when the walk or shuttle ride is at least 20 minutes it puts a major crimp in the before and after times of the actual meeting. Additionally, there are days when I start at different buildings and won’t see my office all day — this makes me end up moving my car all day to different parking places across campus.


There are days (and today is one of them) where I really wonder about my own use of technology to support new practice. All this travel is hitting me hard in the wallet — not sure if you’ve noticed gas prices are hovering in and around the $4.00 a gallon range. Even if you don’t care about the brutal effects this has on the local and global environment, you’d be crazy not to get a little frustrated with it all. I had a conversation with my wife last night about finding ways to lessen my impact on the environment (and my wallet) and I was thinking specifically about the fact that I am part of a group that licenses and supports a very powerful collaborative tool — Adobe Connect. I almost never attend meetings in Connect — even though I have a killer setup for it with a MacBook Pro, tons of bandwidth, and a USB headset. Not sure why … I wonder how much carbon and dollars I could save by requesting three meetings a week happen locally over Adobe Connect?

Then this morning, some of the ETS staff were at the weekly brainstorming breakfast down at Irving’s Bagels … I was watching as they were updating the ETS wiki and Twitter and thought about heading down there when I saw an interesting Tweet from Brad about using SubEthaEdit to take notes in prior to shifting them to the wiki. Think of it as pre-collaborative collaboration (if that makes sense).


Brad then invited me into the document and from there we decided to jump into iChat AV to add voice and video. All in all it provided some new evidence that we have to start rethinking what we classify as attendance at meetings and push ourselves to take advantage of the tools we are all trying so hard to “sell” to the others. Any thoughts?

Community as Committee

In higher education we use the committee model to get most things done. If you are planning a conference the first thing you do is get a committee or two together. If you are creating new policy, strategic direction, or just about anything else that requires a decision we assemble a group of people and ask them to build the recommendations. Committees are typically a good way to come to consensus around very complex issues. With that said, I feel like I have arrived at a new place with my thinking around planning — it may be time to take the next step and ask the community to be the committee.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately and I am having trouble figuring out why we wouldn’t want to ask the community to really interact with us as we make plans for new projects, initiatives, or approaches. I’m not coming up with anything that is an insurmountable negative and I am certainly not going to align myself with the attitude that talking openly about some of our direction is a bad thing. I know some people will get nervous about the idea of asking anyone in the PSU community to contribute ideas for what we are working on, but at the end of the day as long as we all recognize we can’t implement all the ideas we’ll be fine. So there in lies my first two questions … what are the real downsides to this approach and can it work to create stronger outcomes?

To this end, the one thing we’ve done recently is to start placing more of our planning documents in a quasi-open wiki. Quasi-open because it is limited to those who are part of the PSU community — both people with full access and to those with the Friends of Penn State account. We’ve started a wiki article on the Blogs at Penn State and will be asking the community to come in and help us think big about what we can and should do with it on our campus. Will people show up? Only time will tell … how will we manage the page editing if they do show up? Only time will tell. But if we are to address the needs of over 100,000 potential users it may be time to ask some of them what they think. So, consider yourself invited to be a part of the committee.

Examples from the Digital Commons

Now that there are several new Digital Commons studios in place across the Commonwealth of PA we are starting to see some amazing things come out of them. The thing I am continually excited to see is that faculty and students come up with amazing ways to use the things we envision and install. We knew from our data that students were engaged in the creation of digital media, but we weren’t really sure what they were making. We’ve also been told over and over by faculty that they are more likely to accept a digital asset as evidence of learning — think of asking students to do a short film instead of giving a PowerPoint presentation on a topic. All of it was on the upswing, but as we set about installing studios we were anxiously awaiting the outcomes that would flow from the creative spaces.

Towards the end of the spring semester we started to see some amazing things emerge. From the Google Earth centered enhanced podcasts Dr. Laura Guertin’s students produced to the digital video that is shown below produced by Lindley Jones, the Digital Commons is providing a platform for faculty and student innovation — on the teaching and learning side. That is what is most impressive. Who would have dreamed we’d see something as powerful as what Lindley produced?

ETS Year in Review

We had our last staff meeting of the year this morning here at ETS … I was going to cancel given the amazingly bad weather we are having, but late last night I decided not to do that and instead to forgo the usual house cleaning, project updates and operational policy discussions and simply say thank you to the group for an amazing year of work and effort. I tried to share some of the highlights from the year with them … a list of things way too long to cover as quickly as I wanted to came to mind. So instead of a huge laundry list of stuff I picked a handful of our largest impact initiatives and shared some highlights and some thoughts. I linked to the slides below without audio in Flash format. If you are interested, just click the image below to check them out (it is 5 MB). As always, comments are welcome!


It is also important to note that there are people all over ITS and the University in general who have had a big hand in these things.