15 Years & Moving On

I haven’t written one of these since I left the IST Solutions Institute to become the director of Education Technology Services back in 2005. I think since I am wrapping up my last day at Penn State after 15 years I thought I should at least reflect on that to a degree and thank the people who have changed my life for the better. I’ve had quite a few jobs here at Penn State over the years, growing from an instructional designer with the World Campus in 1998 to my current role of senior director for Teaching and Learning with Technology. Each stop along the way has been a blessing … not without challenges, but this has been truly a magical experience. Before I head off to Stony Brook University, it might be good to share a couple of thoughts on this whole journey.

We arrived childless in 1998 from Philadelphia after the sale and closure of a small training software company. I came for a job as an ID with the just launched World Campus and Kristin came to do her PhD. We were committed to staying just long enough for her to finish and then we were out of here. Obviously it didn’t go that way and we are thrilled with the time that we have spent here.

After 18 months in the World Campus I needed something different and got a lucky break to join another start up, but this time in higher education, with the launch of the School of Information Sciences and Technology. I spent six years working with amazing people building teams, technologies, processes, and friendships. It was an amazing time in our lives — we had our first child, we were enjoying success professionally, our friends were all around us, and my eyes were being opened to a whole new world of potential with the Internet. I discovered blogging, the social web, and relationships with companies like Apple. We were building and exploring as a team … and learning so much along the way. Then some people left, including my dear friends and colleagues Eric Zeisloft and Keith Bailey … and then my wife, Kristin, decided to leave PSU as well. There was still a killer team, but it left me wanting to explore more.

I again got lucky … as I was ready, the director of Education Technology Services was open and I went after that position. I wanted to really test the things I was successful with at the College level in the context of a central organization. I wanted to see if we could replicate that level of innovation in a central IT services organization. I will be honest, it was a real struggle for me at first — I had to build new relationships and help those around me see that we could transform the University and ourselves. It took time, but the work done at ETS has proven to be some of the best I have ever done. We built an absolutely amazing team … one that I am proud of beyond belief to this day. We went from barely attending national conferences to dominating the agendas. From impacting a few students to supporting thousands. From offering services that were stable to ones that inspired. Truly a great ride.

In 2010 I was asked to step into the senior director role that I currently occupy. That jump was something that challenged me in new ways and pushed me into new leadership territory. At the same time I was asked to be faculty in the Educause learning technologies leadership institute … another thing that pushed me in crazy ways. I amped up my teaching as well, taking the Disruptive Technologies grad class to new places with my friend and colleague, Scott McDonald. I have worked so hard with the people around me to get TLT into great shape and I am so proud of the collective work we’ve done. While my role has changed, I still believe so deeply in education and the power we have in our hands to make positive impacts on our institutions. That is something I will take with me as I head east to Stony Brook University.

It has been an amazing ride and I wouldn’t change much of it. From the time I got here I wanted to be part of the bigger picture — I wanted to build a community of people who were interested in doing great work. I know I have bothered some people along the way, but I’ve come to accept that as the reality we all face when we push. I will never forget my time here and I will lean on all that I have learned the last 15 years. It is an interesting thing feeling so much passion for a place that you aren’t really from, but State College has been so good to us. We’ve been met amazing friends, have had the pleasure of seeing our two children born here and enjoy the surroundings, and we are so blessed to be leaving here with a sense of accomplishment and deep gratitude. I will miss State College, the people who have touched our world, and Penn State for the rest of my life. I depart with nothing but a deep caring for all that is Penn State and what it has given to me. I would need all the space on the Internet to thank everyone who has impacted my life here … suffice to say I have nothing but gratitude for all of you.

WC Instructional Designer –> Manager of Instructional Design and Emerging Technologies –> Director of Education Technology Solutions –> Co-Director of IST Solutions Institute –> Director of IST Solutions Institute –> Director of Education Technology Services –> Senior Director of Teaching and Learning with Technology

Organizational Frameworks

I have been in my role as senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State since November 15, 2010 and in those nine months I have been working to better understand the organization both in terms of its external requirements and the overall internal dynamics. I feel very lucky across several dimensions in that I have a great leadership team in place that has rolled up its sleeves with me to help explain the various functions inside their own units and who have also embraced this idea that we have a real opportunity to rethink how we work together.  Another critical factor at play here is that I still have access to the person who built this organization and was a huge driving factor in the creation of such a robust teaching and learning with technology ecosystem here at the University.  What that affords me is an opportunity to grow into my role and have people to lean on in all directions — it has been critical as I work each day to better understand the overall depth and breadth of TLT and its overall role here at the University.

As part of this process I challenged my leadership team to come together and help me rethink the way we work together and present ourselves to both the on and above campus audiences we serve. I’ve pressed them into the idea that we can no longer do what we need to while being a handful of individual organizations — we need to think, talk, and act as one TLT. This idea, that we are better together than as separate and vertical organizations is something I believe very strongly in. My push is that we need to see ourselves as a horizontally integrated organization — an organization where our teams leverage the talents across the lines of the individual groups. I say this because I truly believe TLT has been constructed in a very intelligent and thoughtful way .. we are an organization that has each piece of the puzzle as it relates to envisioning, implementing, and supporting large and small scale technologies that influence teaching and learning.  What I mean is that we have a value chain of sorts in place that allows us to actively investigate new and emerging technologies and practices with an incredible amount of agility in Education Technology Services, we have the ability to install, manage, shape, and support all that activity in both physical and virtual ways through the Classroom and Lab Computing team, have the ability to drive adoption and appropriate use of technology through Training Services, and can work to communicate much of it on the web through standards-based accessible web presences powered by WebLion.  These organizations need to compliment one another as we work to deliver the kinds of services our audiences need and want.  They need to act as One TLT.

Tlt view

This perspective, when implemented, allows for our project teams to organize around successful implementations in ways we may not have considered in the past.  As a recent example, when we set out to replace our student response system, we didn’t just turn to one of the organizations to make a technology decision, we assembled a team that included not only purely technical people who focused on the integration issues, but also an instructional designer to investigate and document teaching practice, a trainer to construct training opportunities from the start, and communication people to share progress openly as we drove towards selection and implementation. Sounds simple — and it is conceptually, but the act of actually making that the new framework in how we do work is the complicated thing.  We can’t live in a world where any one of the organizations within TLT does its own thing from end to end — end to end requires the skills only available when you look across TLT from a horizontal perspective.

This is also true in the way we need to begin to represent ourselves as well. One of the things we have done every year I have been a part of this organization is write an annual report. Typically the responsibility to construct the report would fall directly on the shoulders of the director in each of the primary groups. What this meant was that the report read more like four or five different reports under one cover page. This lead to some strange reporting — CLC and ETS would both report on projects they were involved in (like the Media Commons) and often times the data shared might be slightly contradictory and tell two different stories. What we set out to do this year was much different — we wanted the report to represent our thinking as it related to TLT. It honestly took quite a bit longer than I expected to work through the thinking, but in the end I am left very proud of what we developed and I believe it will be the blueprint that much of our work will follow over the next couple of years. Last year’s report was nearly 140 pages, this year’s report is 23 in total. (What follows is mostly for me, so I can capture the process of creating it while it is still relatively fresh in my head.)

Several months ago I started the conversation about the annual report with the TLT leadership team and we all agreed we wanted something that could more effectively speak to who we were as a collective.  Our first step was to take the 140 page report and break each headline into a blog post. Each post included the title of the section and a short description of the initiative.  The blog gave us a multipage digital representation of a static document.  We fully intended to use that as a platform to allow all of TLT to vote on the most important initiatives to form the basis of the report.

Annual report blog sm

Bu once the blog was in place and we looked at it, something different ended up happening. I walked into my colleague, Derek Gittler’s office and he had taken every headline and placed them on sticky notes. He even color coded them based on what I’ll call the organizational owner.  We looked at it and were at once shocked at the overlap and the emergence of themes. I was able to easily construct a handful of themes that highlighted what our largest and most impactful initiatives are. Within the hour we had taken the blog built around what should be a hidden org structure from our report and turned it into a thematic representation of TLT.

White board sm

Once the themes emerged, I was able to assemble a Keynote presentation for the leadership team so we could drive towards consensus as a team. The presentation outlined the themes and how our projects and initiatives come together to tell an amazing story of the organization. A story that allowed us to share short details about how TLT focuses intense energy around:

  • Teaching, Learning, and Collaborative Spaces
  • Collaborative Platforms for Teaching and Learning
  • ANGEL and the Future of the Course Management System
  • Enriching the Community
  • Engaging the Community
  • TLT Events
  • TLT Research and Assessment
  • The Future of the Web
  • Conservation in TLT

The themes turned into a series of wiki pages that the leadership team constructed from the outline from the whiteboard. From there the leadership team took a couple of days to gather the appropriate data from each item and write it up in the wiki. I was able to leverage the wiki and write the final report, with narrative in less than 24 hours. Once the communication team did the editing the report came together remarkably fast — after the months of preparation and discourse.

I know it seems almost silly, but for the first time I can look at TLT and see how we work together to provide services and opportunities that truly supports our mission to guide the University in the appropriate use of technology to enrich teaching and learning. When you read through the TLT Annual Report for 2010 I hope you can see that what we are attempting to do is provide not only a new way to communicate our accomplishments, but a new willingness to address our own organizational framework to better serve those who depend on us the most. Maybe taking a few months to craft an annual report seems extreme, but in this case I honestly feel the work that we did here will provide the foundation for how we work together going forward. It is something I am very proud of.

This post also appears at my PSU Blog. Sorry for any multiple linking.

Finding Ways

Now that I am back from a week acting as faculty in Educause’s Learning Technology Leadership Program I have been thinking quite a bit about the things that went on around me. You’d almost think as faculty I wouldn’t expect to get much out of the experience. I can say that is so far from the truth. In reality I ended up learning more during the week in a leadership role than I have in quite some time.

One of the things I learned (or was reminded of) was what it was like to be the new person in the group. Out of the seven faculty I was one of only two that hadn’t been in that role before. I had forgotten how difficult it was to step into that situation … I am not used to working so hard to find common ground around things I am experienced with. I’m not saying I was on the outside looking in, but I did need to work harder to establish my voice with the group. Upon reflection it has me thinking quite a bit about how hard I need to work to understand this with regard to other people when they are in that situation. Just something I need to spend extra energy on and intend to.

When it was time to work with the team I was assigned to mentor I made a real effort to engage them where they were. I wanted to find a way to ignite some real opportunities to get into the depth of the conversation with them … I sort of let go of the perceived power position that an Institute like this creates between faculty and participants. I spent a lot of time working to be available to them — where, when, and how they wanted me to be. I enjoyed their questions and I really appreciated their approach to a very stressful and demanding experience. The participants are put into teams to create a compelling solution to a large institutional challenge over two and a half days. Needless to say it can create a lot of stress for the teams. I took it on to help alleviate that stress by being available to coach them when they needed it. It lead to an amazing few days of work and discovery with some very smart and engaged people. A real treat!

My Team: Team 3
My Team

What I have figured out over the last couple of days was that I needed to do that to overcome my initial feelings of discomfort with my faculty role. I needed to find a way to deeply engage when I wasn’t immediately able to do that in my other role. I need to remind myself that my role in situations like the Educause context (and ones across my job at PSU) is one that exists in many dimensions. Finding ways to engage where I could allowed me to energize myself to participate in a more holistic way. Doing one well, lead to new energy and confidence to go after the other areas.

I believe now more than ever that it is critical to listen to your own complaints and work to overcome them. That was something I said to the participants in a faculty panel where we were asked to talk about the things we’ve learned as we’ve grown into our leadership positions. I said that early in my career at the University that I was malcontent quite a bit and it wasn’t until I started to find ways to address my own complaints on my own terms was I able to participate more completely. As an example, I used to complain that I never got to work with faculty who were motivated to do great things — that was true until I started to use down time to discover who they were and work to make meaningful conversations happen. Understanding how to address your own complaints is a skill that I believe to be critical as you move through an environment like higher education.

I’ll close by saying that I’d like to find ways to engage with people around here a bit more like we did at the event last week. I loved the opportunity to informally talk to the participants about their work and about my own experiences. I learned quite a bit about myself and those around me … sort of a shame I had to go to Portland to do it. That doesn’t mean I can’t do the same back home. With that in mind I’ll leave an open invitation to get together and talk — doesn’t have to be formal on any level, just looking to find a way to get closer to this around me. Any takers?

Note, this post also appears at my PSU blog. I am sorry for duplicate linking.

Wider Perspective

Let me start by admitting that I care about so many new things these days. Six months ago I was a totally different person who thought only about the world I lived in as Director of ETS. I didn’t think at all about the whole teaching and learning with technology landscape at PSU like I should have. I thought really hard about my little slice of the organization and the things we did on a day to day basis. I knew my peers within my organization had hard jobs, but I didn’t quite appreciate what they were up against. In a lot of ways I had it easy — space to invent, space to engage faculty, and space to take risks. As I appraoch six months in my new role I am struck at how much wider my perspective has gotten in that short period of time. I now care intensely about so many different kinds of things — all still in the context of teaching, learning, research, and technology — but the breadth is unreal and challenges me daily.

I could write pages of stories that support this claim, but I’ll focus on one. When I stepped into the Senior Director role we were in the last weeks of the fall semester. We were also in the final days of working with our previous student response system. We needed to move to a new system for various reasons by the start of summer. What that meant was that we needed to identify, test, implement, assess, and decide on a new system in relative short order so we could do a full installation the minute spring semester classes ended. By the way, we need to do that in 249 classrooms.

Here’s where the perspective changes started to occur. I will freely admit that I was not at all interested in clickers in my old job — as a matter of fact I was convinced they supported bad practice in the classroom. I could make that call because I had talked to a couple of faculty colleagues who said that and I trusted their thoughts without probing. ETS didn’t do the clickers project, that was the Classroom and Lab Computing (CLC) group (also a part of my new organization) so I didn’t have to care. But knowing what I know now, I was dead wrong.

I should have cared then. I care a lot now. I had to take the time to listen to the really smart people in the CLC talk to me about the way faculty were really using clickers and I was stunned at how they were transforming conversations in classrooms. One of the first things I did was ask Brian Young, a colleague and instructional designer in ETS, to join the CLC in the investigation. What Brian did was create a blog and work with Dave Test of the CLC to visit all the classes testing our two evaluation clicker environments throughout the spring semester where he documented various clicker practices being employed. What an eye opener. Through this collaborative work not only did I gain a greater appreciation for the technology, but many of my colleagues in ETS did as well. That is a failure I will not allow to happen again. Our groups need to talk to each other and need to work together to provide the best kinds of solutions in all of our teaching and learning spaces. In the video below you can see one such example of how Brian, Dave, and faculty member, Sam Richards are using clickers to create new forms of conversations.

My perspective was widened further when I was invited to be a part of a social media panel at our Hershey Medical School about a month ago. During the three hour session everyone in the audience was using clickers to respond to framing questions we wrote relative to the cases we were discussing. Amazingly in almost every case, asking the audience to first react to the questions pressed us as panelists in very different directions. I got to see first hand how hard it is to really use and react to clickers well and how much more relevant the resulting discussions were. Based on that interaction, I decided (with lots of Brian’s help) to use clickers as a part of the faculty and student panel at the TLT Symposium. The thought was to turn the questions onto the audience and let the panelists react — an opportunity to create tension and push the conversation into otherwise unexplored territory. It was hard, but created quite the conversation.

One of the things that I am loving about my new position is that this is happening to me on a daily basis. I am gaining new perspectives on the ways our campus works and how much we can do right here within TLT to support it at a high level. I recognize is natural to think only about the pieces you are responsible for, but I think now more than ever we need to demand more. We need to find ways to be more integrated as we make critical decisions to support pieces of the primary mission of our Universities. I know my perspective has changed and it will continue to be changed — and I like that.

2011 TLT Symposium Reflection

Last Saturday I attended the 2011 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium here at Penn State. This event is my responsibility, so I will try to give an unbiased reflection on the day itself — if that is possible. My first Symposium that I attended was in 1998 and it was very different than what has been going on the last few years. We have really upped the expectations of the event on lots of levels — we now attract around 450 attendees, work to recruit the best keynote speakers available, and receive well over a 100 proposals. All of those things are really big changes. I am really proud of the people who work like mad (without “event planning” in their job descriptions) to make this thing happen at this scale every year.

For the last five years we have increased the use of technology in and around the event to try and build more buzz and excitement. Several years ago our hash tag (this year it was #tltsym11) was a twitter trending topic and the use of blogs and iPod Touches (for video capture) has steadily increased as ways to capture and share the event. In the last couple of years I have sensed a huge level of engagement from the staff and a small number of faculty, but this year it was pure energy from the word go across the board. I’m not sure if the community has caught up with the early adopters or if there was something different in the air. Our faculty presentations were without a doubt the best we’ve ever had. Several TLT Faculty Fellows presented their work and their rooms were over flowing. They were like visiting rock stars … so cool to see that kind of energy and change happening on my campus. I can only imagine what our new class of Fellows will bring to next year’s event.

One thing I’ll note is that it seems like the strategy of aligning keynote speakers to annual themes is paying off … the Symposium is now a celebration of the hard work faculty have done through the previous year and a call to arms for the year in advance. I have written about the notion of keynote alignment before, but it seemed evident that Wesch’s keynote last year made an impact on the kinds of talks our faculty gave this year. I am hopeful that our keynote’s talk this year is just as impactful. I will say that Clay Shirky was fantastic and he made several points that are still resonating in my head. His keyntoe is embedded below and well worth the hour. The other thing I think I should mention is that Clay came in early the day before and spent the Friday afternoon with myself and a group of faculty for a two hour conversation … it was an amazing opportunity to engage him in ways that one can’t at a more formal event. If you have the chance to sit down and have a conversation with him, take it! I can’t say enough about his willingness to participate and how gracious he was with his time. I think it made his keynote that much more meaningful to me.

I won’t go into details relative to the sessions I attended, but I will share two more thoughts related to the energy of the day. I have never (and I mean never) seen more people stay from 8 AM until the last bell at our event. The break areas were packed, the sessions were packed, even the halls were packed. The closing session was a panel I moderated on student and faculty expectations of educational technology. What I learned is worth a blog post all by itself, but it was so much fun to get to talk directly to students and compare their reactions to what we do with what we actually think we do. I loved it … It was a great day to be a member of the PSU’s teaching and learning community.

Photo Credit Brad Kozlek