Monday, September 1, 2014

Treating student jobs as real jobs

In Computing Services, we have always given our student workers realistic work assignments. Rather than use students as cheap labor, we seek to expand the educational mission of the university by giving "stretch" assignments to our student workers, according to their individual capabilities.

For example: we would often task one student with "Active Directory" assignments- building new computers, binding them to AD, and general AD troubleshooting. These are somewhat mundane tasks for a seasoned IT professional, but good learning opportunities for this student, who had an expressed interest in doing similar computer management after graduation.

In another example: we would usually give "webapp programming" assignments to another student, who aspired to become a professional web programmer. Inventive but small tasks allowed this student to stretch his capabilities, and after graduation he contacted us to comment that his first job was very similar to the programming work we had given him as a student worker.

So it's not surprising (for us, anyway) to see this white paper from Noel-Levitz, about "Enhancing Student Success by Treating Student Jobs as Real Jobs." This brief report (8 pages) describes how institutions may advance student learning: how campus jobs help to prepare students for the post-collegiate working world. From the white paper:
"Ultimately, a positive work-study experience will result in a student having gained valuable job skills nad a high degree of self-confidence, as well as the motivation to continue to perform at the highest level after leaving the institution and entering the world of work. In addition, the network of relationships developed through on-campus employment continues to serve the student as he or she graduates, as supervisors provide references for students applying to graduate schools or full-time jobs, thereby helping students make that critical first step in launching their careers." (pp. 3–4)
The article provides seven suggestions for maximizing the return from your investment in student employees:
  1. Job design and placement
  2. Orientation and training
  3. Effective supervision
  4. Ongoing support and feedback
  5. Rewards and advancement opportunities
  6. Peer-to-peer support
  7. Student employment coordinator
In addition to the above, student workers in Computing Services also get personalized coaching in writing resumes and cover letters, and interviewing. I believe that student jobs should benefit both the university and the student.
photo: Evan Bench

Friday, August 29, 2014

Doing an interview via Skype

I sometimes use this blog to share advice for students who are looking for jobs, especially in the art of interviewing (see also: on interviewing, on writing resumes, and 5 tips to get a job). Over the years, I've provided resume, cover letter, and interview coaching for many students—I started doing this career coaching during my role as adviser to Triangle Fraternity and ΑΣΚ Sorority, but I've also enjoyed helping students at Morris take that next big step. It's one more way I can serve the campus.

Many of us know interviews in the traditional sense: an in-person meeting. But our students may find themselves interviewing for their first job via Skype, or some similar video conferencing. How do you prepare for this new mode of interview?

NTD Training provides an interesting video tutorial on how to look good in Skype interviews:

The video offers several tips, which I will briefly share here:

Set up your immediate environment to avoid echo and avoid distracting sounds.
Remain mindful of what appears behind you when you are on camera.
Move your webcam to be at about eye level, and make eye contact with the camera.
Use a light slightly above and in front of you.
Dress professionally, this may be your one opportunity to make an impression.
photo: Alex France

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Welcome back, students!

Today is the first day of classes at Morris! Students moved back to campus over the weekend, and orientation has been Sunday through Tuesday this week.

It is wonderful to see the campus full of students again. Welcome back, students!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mobile phones and BYOD

How do you prefer to communicate when you are at work? Do you use a traditional "land line" and desktop handset, a VOIP system, or your personal mobile phone?

Like an increasing number of workers, you probably use your own mobile phone for at least of your work. And in IT, "at work" doesn't always mean "at the office." Support folks who are "on call" often are "on the clock" when at home, to support production systems if things go do or have problems. Rather than carry a work phone in addition to their personal phone, or even a work pager in addition to a personal phone, many IT workers opt just to use their personal mobile phone for everything. It's certainly more convenient—and if you have an unlimited mobile plan, it's not more expensive.

But this mode of "BYOD" may soon change. According to a recent article in Forbes:
The California court of appeal issued a sweeping decision that may spark a new wave of class action lawsuits against California employers. … [T]he appellate court determined that employers must reimburse employees for work-related phone calls made on personal cell phones or face liability.
So what does this mean? This decision may alter how employees and employers treat mobile phones. Under the law, employers will need to reimburse a "reasonable percentage" of mobile phone use that account for work (at least, in California). Expect employers to create new policies that clarify personal phone use, and define a reimbursement strategy. Under "reasonable percentage," some companies may simply assume a percentage of phone usage and reimburse a flat percentage. That would certainly be easiest, requiring the least effort from both employee and employer. Others may opt to issue phones to mobile workers. For very bureaucratic organizations, employees may need to provide a printed bill every month, highlighting work usage.

Forbes predicts this future:
To the extent employers require employees to use a cell phone for work, employers should consider providing their employees with cell phones and voice/texting plans. In the alternative, employers should implement written policies requiring their employees to track and submit expense reports regarding their work-related cell phone usage so that employees can be reimbursed for the actual cost of such usage. If the actual cost cannot be determined, such as if an employee already has an unlimited minutes/texting personal plan, then the employer will be required to reimburse the employee for a “reasonable percentage” of the personal cell phone bill. The court did not provide any guidance as to what a “reasonable percentage” means. Finally of course, employers can avoid the problem altogether and make clear that cell phones are not needed and should not be used for work.
photo: William Hooko

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chromebooks in education

Google's Chromebook was an interesting spin on the "netbook" when it debuted in 2011. Chromebook is not a traditional laptop. The basic idea behind Chromebook is that you don't install software programs. That is, you won't have a copy of Microsoft Office running on the Chromebook. Instead, you run everything from the Cloud: Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, … you do everything via the built-in Chrome web browser. The technology in the Chromebook is all about supporting web applications.

So it may not be surprising that Google Chromebooks are Outselling Apple iPads in the Educational Market, as suggested by a recent article in The Digital Reader. To get there, you need to unwind the sales figures reported by Apple and Google. Both will try to frame the numbers to put themselves in the best light. From the article:
Google reported a few days ago that a million Chromebooks were sold to schools last quarter (another 800,000 were sold to consumers). While that might not look nearly as impressive as Apple’s 13 million iPads, the numbers suggest that Google could be selling as many Chromebooks to schools as Apple is selling iPads.

We don’t have specifics on how many iPads Apple sold to schools last quarter, we do know that Apple last reported in February 2013 that they had sold 8 million iPads to schools around the globe.

A quick back of the envelope calculation tells us that schools bought 5 million iPads in the 17 months since February 2013, which means Apple averaged under a million iPads sold to schools each quarter—an average which is less than the million Chromebooks sold.
These numbers alone don't make a trend, but observation indicates that more institutions in higher ed are moving to Chromebooks. The low cost ($249 for the popular Samsung Chromebook) is easier on education budgets. And with the predominance of web or Cloud systems, users just need to get online with a web browser to do their work.

Small wonder the Chromebook is doing well in education. A recent article in ComputerWorld adds:
Gartner on Monday said that sales of Chromebooks will reach 5.2 million units worldwide this year, with more than 80% of the demand in the U.S. That's an 80% increase in sales from 2013.

But this demand was driven almost entirely by education last year, which accounted for nearly 85% of Chromebook sales, according to Gartner.

Google has created a centralized management system that allows for rapid changes, with no reimaging, and controls that allow a school system to restrict website and network access.
That makes the Chromebook a very attractive device in education. Never having to install software or patches makes the Chromebook really easy for overstretched faculty and campus IT teams to support. Just boot it up, and you're ready to go.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Amazon as the new bookstore?

In 2000 or 2001, I attended a CIC CIO TechForum. I remember that a presenter spoke on the issue of "owning" the interface between student and university. Addressing the then-new trend to "outsource" development of web systems such as registration and admissions, the presenter highlighted his disapproval for outsourcing by asking, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we outsourced our bookstores to Amazon?"

He meant that question to give us pause, to consider the folly of outsourcing a critical university function such as the bookstore. But the idea struck a chord in me; I thought that would be great!

I imagined an online "Amazon-U" bookstore where students could buy their course textbooks online, and have them delivered directly to their dorm room or campus apartment. And next to each textbook, you might have a list of other, related resources. "Students who bought this text book also bought…" might show study guides, Cliffs Notes, or textbooks from related courses. For example, a physics textbook might link to a statistics textbook. Or a novel (such as for a literature class) might link to the movie adaptation on DVD.

Just like Amazon's regular online bookstore, students could rate the textbooks and leave comments. "This textbook was good, but also buy the study guide that goes with it" or similar comments could help other students make the best decisions in buying their course materials.

I still think outsourcing to Amazon or a similar private reseller would have been a good idea. But 2000 was too early for privatization; higher ed wasn't yet ready for outsourcing. But I predicted the campus bookstore will see increased privatization over the next decade.

So I was not entirely surprised to read that Purdue will offer students savings on textbooks through a special deal with Amazon. A few highlights from the announcement:
… Purdue and Amazon have launched the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, a new, co-branded experience where students can purchase lower-cost textbooks and other college essentials.

… The Purdue Student Store on Amazon, found at, launched Tuesday (Aug. 12). The first campus pickup location is expected to be open in early 2015.

… “This relationship is another step in Purdue’s efforts to make a college education more affordable for our students,” said President Mitch Daniels. “With the pressure on college campuses to reduce costs, this new way of doing business has the potential to change the book-buying landscape for students and their families.”

… Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. Purdue will use the proceeds for its student affordability and accessibility initiatives.

… The Purdue-Amazon relationship follows a year of work by a Purdue committee looking at ways to cut the cost of textbooks, said Frank Dooley, interim vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone working in higher ed that costs are a major concern, and have been for years. This extends even to the books that students must buy for their classes. Universities have long sought new ways to lower textbook costs. Purdue's move to partner with Amazon is an interesting step for higher ed, one that other institutions will seek to emulate—with Amazon, or with other textbook resellers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Workshop: Open source comes to campus

Please hold this date on your calendar! If you are interested in participating in this exciting event, please contact Elena Machkasova, UMM Computer Science. I'll add that I participated in this workshop last year, and it was a lot of fun! It was great to help students get started in contributing to open source software!

Some of you may remember last year's "open source comes to campus" workshop. We appreciate help from several UMM alums who contributed to the workshop as mentors and speakers.

This year we will have a similar event, but this time we will run it on our own. Shauna and Asheesh from the Open Hatch group are kindly helping with the organization and with the materials. The event will be held on Saturday Sept 13th.

We are also looking for those with experience in open source tools (git, github setup and conventions, IRC channels, etc) who would be able to help students as the day progresses, and perhaps give a bit of an overview of a topic. These mentors can be alums or upper-level students.

Lots of details are not quite settled yet, so your comments/suggestions are welcome.

Anyone willing to serve as a "speaker" and/or a mentor - please let us know, we greatly appreciate your participation!

We also encourage current students (especially those who didn't participate in the last year's event) to mark their calendar and plan on attending. We will send out a sign-up form once all the logistics are settled.