Making Global Feel Small

The place I work is a “Global University” in that we are not just a Boston-based institution anymore. We have campuses in cities all over the United States, Canada, and even in London. You may say, “lots of schools have campuses in other parts of the World,” but what we are doing feels very different.

We now have three undergraduate locations, and while places like one of my previous employers, Penn State, has undergraduate campuses across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there is something special about the idea that our undergraduate students can start in London, go to Oakland, CA, and then to Boston. We call it mobility.

It also means that we can have classes and experiences that students in all sorts of places can participate in in very synchronous ways. If you are a grad student in Portland, ME you might be interacting with other students who are in a room in Boston. A researcher doing work with an industry partner in Seattle can be actively discussing it with students in Toronto. Believe it or not, it has been really fun finding solutions to make this work in a way that humans can operate. If you’ve been in the technology space for a while you know that this used to be so hard, so expensive, and so low fidelity.

One of the things the work we did during the pandemic made us explore new ways of connecting classrooms across space and time. What was interesting about that exploration is that the technology also improved at a rate that we haven’t seen in quite some time.

Many of our classrooms now allow faculty to have a one tap environment to connect rooms all over the global network. A huge by-product of all of that work is that we can now use those spaces to bring our administration and staff who are spread across the network together to be part of events in real time.

This morning I was taken aback by the fact that as I sat in a room in Boston listening to two of our senior vice presidents talk I could see dozens of people sitting together in spaces stretching from Vancouver to London in real time. I know it sounds so simple, but it is enormously gratifying to see it in action without anyone even thinking that it is special. Maybe it isn’t rocket science, but it still feels like science fiction.

Changing Inputs

“When we change the input into our minds, we change the output into our lives.” — Zig Ziglar

Even the best jobs are complicated and stressful in various ways. Outside forces are nearly always there and it often feels like many of them are out to get us. And by get us, I mean they are looking to interrupt our work, relationships, leadership, vision, and in many cases, our sanity. We often don’t recognize moments where the outside forces appear to be negative, but In reality, if looked at differently, offers a chance to do a course correct. With that said, sometimes those outside forces are truly out to derail us, but we have more power than we often think.

I recently had a health related incident that knocked me out of action for a period of time. Now that I am back and feel great, I am practicing a different mindset about who I am and how I choose to react to those outside forces. When I heard that quote this morning it really made me reflect on my 25 years of work in higher education and how I have given these forces too much power. At each stop of the way there have been forces that have pushed me to do great work and those that have actively worked against the progress our institutions need to face. Using the mindset above I am learning that we have more control over how we process these signals on the way in and how to convert them into an energy on the way out that allows us to do great work (sanely) and how to treat the people in our lives that are important.

grey and black transistor radio
Photo by Anthony : ) on

Let’s see if this thing still works

Yesterday, my colleague Ryan Bender noted to me that it has been a year since I’ve posted anything here. A year. I can barely remember the last 20 or so months, so I imagine it is fair to say that I have been unavoidably detained dealing with a few other things. With that said, it is probably time to dust off the old blog and see what happens if I do what I used to do with great frequency — write.

For some reason I decided to take a look through a bunch of my old friends’ sites this morning. Yes, people still blog and it was really great to catch up on some old voices from the dawn of the ed tech/Internet boom. One of my all time favorite people is a guy named D’Arcy Norman. He is the Associate Director, Learning Technologies & Design, in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. He is a lot more than that, but that is his current gig. He was one of the first voices I discovered on the Internet back at the dawn of Web 2.0. He wrote about a time back in the day that he sent an email to Steve Jobs and got a response.

It made me reflect on the many opportunities I have had to visit the Fruit Company that D’Arcy speaks about in his post. Back in 1999, Apple was a very different company. They had barely survived being bought by a handful of companies, the stock price was ridiculously low, and innovation was not something that they were known for at the time. Steve had recently come back and was putting his stamp on the place. As a part of that, I believe Steve brought John Couch back to lead up the Apple Higher Education team and he immediately got to work identifying ed tech people to help him think about new strategies. It was an exciting time to be a fan of Apple, watch them get their mojo back, and realize a dream of getting to work with them.

One could imagine that it was a thrill getting to go to Apple at a very early part of my career at Penn State to not just be part of an executive briefing, but to actually get to present things we were building at the IST Solutions Institute. It was even more exciting to get invited back over and over again to work with all sorts of brilliant people both inside and outside of Apple. From the Apple Digital Campus project, the release of the first iTunes U, to getting to actually go into various buildings on their campus to meet with product teams and inform future products. It was always a humbling and amazing experience getting to work with them.

And here is the full circle back to D’Arcy, it was at one of those early Apple dinners that I met D’Arcy in real life for the first time after several years of interacting with him online as a commenter on his blog. He proved to be even smarter and cooler in person, but it is nice to know he is only a URL away.

Cole presenting at Apple

Me setting up to present at Apple (a long time ago).

Cross posted from my Northeastern site.

Back to the iPad (Again)

It is no secret that I have always embraced the iPad and that I have tried over and over again to make it the only portable machine I use with varying degrees of success. I could always get 80% there — even at the earliest examination of what it meant to be iPad only in the mobile space. Each time it got me to that point, but I couldn’t close that gap and always ended up ditching it and going back to some form of MacBook. I doubt this time will be any different, but I am going to give it another try. One thing that dawns on me as I reflect on the last 10 years of trying the iPad as a primary mobile machine is that my own computing needs have vastly changed and the iPad hasn’t kept up with those changes in computing behavior in real time … is now any different?

This is going to sound like hyperbole, but the iPad with the Magic Keyboard is the best mobile computing device I have ever used. Well, maybe not the best, but by far the most enjoyable. The new keyboard case turns the iPad into the machine it always should have been. I still pull it off the dock to use on the treadmill and the couch, but being able to sit and type on a pro grade keyboard with a real pointing device that is so evolved beyond the old school curser on MacOS and Windows is really something. I have to say it is so enjoyable to use … It doesn’t mean that I will use this all day for my work from home sessions (that now are seemingly never ending), that is still reserved for my late 2014 27″ iMac with an external monitor, but I am struggling to find a role for my MBP.

With all that said, I do wonder if Apple would have released this accessory from the beginning, like Microsoft did with the Surface Pro and Go, would we have the range of apps that really differentiate iPadOS from MacOS? Looking at it through that lens, it might be good that the iPad started the way as it did — a blown up iPod Touch. The evolution of the iPad and iPadOS is what has gotten us to the point where a piece of glass is the most powerful computer I own that is just as comfortable on the couch navigating with my finger as it is (finally) sitting on my table in the backyard floating above a “real” keyboard and pointing device. So maybe Steve was onto something all those years ago and this was the evolution he saw?

I have the 11″ 2018 iPad Pro and just got the Magic Keyboard and I am back to loving the iPad. That’s it, I just wanted to share some thoughts and see if the old blog still works. Nothing earth shattering, just a reminder that I am still here and going back to the iPad until I discover that last 20% that will drag me back to a “real” computer.

RIP Tumblr?

Tumblr’s users and creators have been caught in the middle of a series of corporate decisions that have left them out in the cold. Finally, after a decade online, it seems the quirky social network won’t be left to its own devices, and it will have to find its own way forward. The other question, however, remains: is this the end of an era, or the end of Tumblr itself?

I can’t defend Tumblr if they are allowing people to break the law. Now that I’ve said that, I am concerned that this is the end of Tumblr. Back in the day I felt it was an amazing view of the future — easy republishing of content from all sorts of sources, one button sharing of content, and all of it wrapped in a bizarre social network. In so many ways it was the anti-facebook. You got a blog and a network to browse, follow, and repost. Comments were less important as getting reposted. To this day I don’t know of a platform that is as interesting as Tumblr.

I remember seeing the founder of Tumblr speak at SXSW and listening to his vision for Tumblr. And then Yahoo bought it … I sort of felt it was over then, but I kept publishing on my personal Tumblr because it was so easy and it connected with people.

Honestly this makes me very afraid of what comes next for Flickr. Perhaps it is time to move a bunch of content to yet another service … again.

10 Years

Turns out that 10 years ago today I moved my blog to the domain. I don’t write here as much as I should, but having this space has been a pleasure. I have a living history of many of the things I have done and thought about for well over a decade. I stared blogging long before I moved to this domain and have lived on multiple platforms through the years — blogger, moveabletype, typepad, and WordPress to name the ones I can remember.

I have been thinking of writing more, especially with all that I have going on at Northeastern. Like today, I am heading off to speak to our Audit Committee about multiple topics including information security, digital governance, and various other risk factors. Not that those topics are generally interesting, but it always felt good to work ideas out here. At any rate, happy birthday to my domain.

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.

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.