Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The U of M and Unizin

I wanted to share this update from the Office of Information Technology, about Unizin.
By now you’ve probably seen the Provost’s message regarding the University of Minnesota joining Unizin. Over the next one to three years, we’ll determine if Unizin membership is a good fit for the University of Minnesota.

Unizin benefits Higher Ed by collectively owning (buying, developing, and connecting) academic technology solutions. As members of Unizen, we can choose whether or not to leverage their solutions.

The primary motivation for the University joining Unizin is our great interest in preserving faculty ownership of course content, and to ensure access to learning analytics remain under the control of faculty and our institution.

The first of many solutions Unizen will offer is the "Canvas" Learning Management System (LMS). While Canvas is of limited interest to us, the opportunity to test the system is likely something we will pursue later this year as part of our ongoing exploration of many new tools. While most tools we look into will not become offerings, investigating new solutions is key to our process of HypeCycle management.

To be clear: our commitment to Unizin does not mean we are moving away from Moodle to Canvas. We remain committed to Moodle and to its evolution for the foreseeable future. Any change in this position will come only after substantial consultation and engagement of the University community.

For more about Unizin, check out their FAQ page.
image: Unizin

Monday, October 20, 2014

Work better by taking breaks

Writing for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson describes A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17. Perhaps you find yourself getting distracted while writing a document, or responding to email. These tasks often require us to think, to exercise decision-making. And doing so can be hard work.

Thompson writes, "Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office early, leave late, and never seem to stop working. But the truth about productivity for the rest of us is that more hours doesn't mean better work. Rather, like a runner starting to flag after a few miles, our ability to perform tasks has diminishing returns over time. We need breaks strategically served between our work sessions."

Some of you may recognize this as a variation on the Pomodoro technique, which I first heard about in a software development context. Pomodoro requires breaking a task into manageable "chunks." Set a kitchen timer, typically for 25 minutes, and use that dedicated time to work on the next chunk.

The formula referred to in Thompson's article says "the highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Those 17 minutes were often spent away from the computer."

Just as occasional vacations are necessary to renew our energy, to bring new focus and fresh perspectives, you also need to take regular breaks throughout the day. Take a walk, or look out your window. Do something that isn't in front of a computer. Use this moment as an opportunity for play, to distract yourself from the immediacy of what's in front of you. When you return to your desk, you will be better prepared.
photo: David Svensson

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Millennial culture

An interesting article on Elite Daily discusses how Millennial culture differs from those before it, and how that will change the way we work with others. Written by Lauren Martin, a self-described Millennial or "Gen-Y," the article includes 50 things about Millennials that shed light in managing the new generation. But 50 things is a long list to quote, so I have grouped them into themes here, with a few samples from the original article:

Millennials prefer to do it their own way.
"We play by our own rules. We don’t take the first answer given to us. We don’t care about getting into trouble. We hate that “old boys club” sh•t."
Millennials are motivated by passion, not the job or the paycheck.
"We’re willing to work for nothing if it means being happy… Despite being in debt. We refuse to hate what we do. We know there’s always a better way. We want careers, not jobs."
Millennials know what they want, and will ask for it.
"We have social media on our side. We have less to lose and everything to gain. We have that “f•ck you” attitude. We are trying to beat the system, not just work with it."
Millennials grew up with technology and learning on their own.
"We know technology a hell of a lot better. We’re more educated, by the book and the street. We don’t have to go to college to get ahead."
Millennials bring a modern outlook.
"We’re getting married later and working younger. We’re listening to our women. We want freedom more than anything else. We know they need us more than we need them."
Millennials seek satisfaction in life.
"We know what makes us happy. We know what doesn’t make us happy. We learned from our parents mistakes. We have each other."
photo: Steve Wilson

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you a bad boss?

It took me until my second job before I experienced a bad boss, which makes me luckier than most. But I decided to learn from the interaction, and dedicated myself to avoiding the mistakes I found prevalent in his behavior. I feel that has made me a better supervisor, a better manager, a better director.

The ability to learn from others' mistakes is an important life skill. We don't have time to make all the mistakes ourselves; sometimes, you need to learn from what others are doing, even it's to not do what they are doing.

Lisa Quast wrote in Forbes about How To Spot A Bad Boss Before You Accept The Job Offer. It's an article written for those about to enter the job market, to help you identify the bad behaviors in your interviewers, how to recognize the bad bosses before you take the job:

  1. They’re late for the job interview.
  2. Their office is unusually disorganized.
  3. They ask illegal questions during your interview.
  4. Other employees avoid the hiring manager.
  5. They don’t focus on the job interview.
  6. They don’t ask difficult questions.
  7. They keep changing the topic of conversation to talk about themselves.
  8. They display anger management issues.
  9. They can’t clearly communicate what it will take for you to be successful in the position.
  10. They don’t have a clear vision with goals and objectives for their department.

But I would like to turn this around, to convert these "bad boss" qualities into "leaderful lessons." Distilled from Quasts's list, here are my themes to be a better supervisor:

Be respectful of others.
How you interact with those around you is a direct reflection of your leadership style.
Engage with those around you.
It's all about relationships, and relationships are currency. Don't remain distant; talk with people, get to know what's going on.
Maintain focus.
There is an appropriate time to check email or update your Facebook status, and that time is not when you are in a meeting or talking to someone. Stay in the moment, and give all of your attention to the discussion.
image: mine ("My leadership journey")

Friday, October 10, 2014

Update: U of M is retiring UThink Blogs in June

I wanted to share this update about the UThink blog service, from the Office of Information Technology and U of M Libraries. I shared similar updates in July and March. Note that the date has changed: The University had planned to retire the UThink system at the end of this year, in December 2014. Now, the date is moved back to June 2015.
This is a reminder that the UThink blog system at blog.lib.umn.edu is in the process of being retired. Due to feedback received from various stakeholders, we have extended the date of retirement to the end of June 2015.  Hopefully this will give everyone still on the system the time they need to find alternative platforms.

Other key dates in the decommission process:
  • The ability to create new blogs or sites on the system was removed on July 3, 2014.
  • Existing blogs will be accessible, including editing capabilities, throughout the 2014 fall semester and the 2015 spring semester.
  • Full system decommission June 30, 2015.
You are encouraged to consider alternatives to UThink now. Please see UThink Migration Strategies for more information on possible platforms and migration assistance.

Please refer to the original announcement for additional details about the retirement of UThink.

Questions and comments should be directed to Technology Help at (612) 301-4357 (Twin Cities 1-HELP), help@umn.edu, or uthink@umn.edu.
image: UThink

Engage your audience

George Bradt at Forbes writes with this advice for those about to give a presentation: Big Presentation? Don't Do It—Have A Conversation Instead. We should all be familiar with the phrase "Death by Powerpoint." It's when you are bored to tears by a presenter droning on, aided by an endless supply of Powerpoint slides.

I rarely find Powerpoint slides to be engaging. I prefer to use a bare minimum of slides. What slides I include tend to be visual aids: a photograph or chart, with very little text. Presentations should avoid distractions.

The first rule of using Powerpoint is: Don't use Powerpoint. To that end, Bradt recommends an engaging conversation with the audience. This makes the audience think, makes the audience part of the experience, and leaves the audience feeling differently. Citing Mike Broderick at Turning Technologies, Bradt shares these tips:

Think about the questions you can ask your audience to help them get down the road. What questions will engage your audience, to start them thinking more deeply about the topic? What will "hook" them?

Leverage polling or some other technique to disarm the audience. In my meetings, I have used affinity exercises and "dot" voting to great effect. Anonymous polling allows the group to quickly reach a consensus, and they are more likely to ask follow up questions.

React to surprising answers. Take responses seriously, and adjust the conversation to take new ideas into account.
photo: mine ("How not to use Powerpoint")

Monday, October 6, 2014

Technology is not a learning outcome

At my campus, I work with faculty and students to leverage technology in support of teaching and learning. That's our mission in higher ed: to support instruction. To that end, technology in higher education is in service to faculty and students.

To that end, I wanted to share this item from the Center for Teaching Quality. Originally posted in 2013, where it garnered 4,000 views on Flickr and over 500 shares/favorites/retweets on Twitter, Bill Ferriter's hand-drawn image reminds us that Technology is a Tool, not a Learning Outcome.

Bill's image asks the question "What do you want kids to do with technology?" and answers the question with this list of right and wrong answers. A few are listed here:

"What do you want kids to do with technology?"
Wrong answersRight answers
  • Make Prezis
  • Start blogs
  • Create Wordles
  • Raise awareness
  • Start conversations
  • Join partners
Photo: zzpza