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 purdue.amazon.com, 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.
image: Amazon.com

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.

Interviewing as CIO

In a 2013 article, Mark Askren (Chief Information Officer for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) writes for EDUCAUSE about The CIO: Defining a Career for the Future. Mark shares several great insights for anyone looking to take the next step up the ladder. His advice to aspiring CIOs:

1. Pushing Yourself Forward
This relates both to the psychology of taking the next step ("I could never do that.") and to the challenge of physical relocation: "This is often in terms of location—that is, not being willing, because of family or other local commitments and preferences, to relocate. We all know of successful IT leaders who have stayed at one institution, or within one metropolitan area, their entire career. Nevertheless, being anchored greatly limits opportunities for growth."
2. Climbing outside Your Comfort Zone
"To make significant progress in career growth, you need to understand your weaknesses. For example, do you fear public speaking? If so, the good news is that you have plenty of company. The bad news is that unless you address your fear, you will severely limit your ability to be successful in higher-level positions."
3. Applying and Interviewing
"After the first impression, interviewers are making another judgment: has this candidate spent the time to learn about the department, the institution, and current priorities and issues? If the judgment is no, you are not likely to be hired. Be prepared. Make sure you know who you will be meeting with, what roles they play, how they interrelate, and why they are part of the search process."
4. Listening to the Experts
Mark cites a number of executive search firms in answering key questions for CIO candidates: Phil Goldstein and Mary Beth Baker (Managing Partners from the executive search firm Next Generation), Matthew C. Aiello (Partner, Heidrick & Struggles), Martin M. Baker (Vice President, Baker and Associates), and Linda Hodges (Senior Vice President, Information Technology Practice Leader, Witt/Kieffer).
  • "What are college/university senior leaders really looking for in an IT leader?"
  • "What are the most important characteristics of a successful candidate?"
  • "What is your advice for those who are applying to and being interviewed for a senior IT leadership position?"
  • "What new trends in IT leadership placement have you noticed during this past year?"
5. Navigating Status and Risk in Higher Education
"What is your risk profile? We are familiar with the importance of evaluating risk in the decisions we make for our organizations. But have you considered how much risk you are willing to tolerate in terms of your career growth? Leaving a central IT position to accept a higher-level role in leading a campus IT organization has risk … Yet those and other changes also have high potential to be very successful choices that will ultimately take you much further than you would have ever gone if you had not taken the risk."
See also the video interview with Mark Askren, "On the Path to CIO," attached to the article.

Monday, August 11, 2014

If You’re Always Working, You’re Never Working Well

Michael Harris at the Harvard Business Review writes about work-life separation, claiming that If You’re Always Working, You’re Never Working Well. After you read his excellent piece, you may recognize this all-too-familiar scenario: it's the evening or weekend, and you pick up your phone and find yourself flipping through work email. You believe you're a very productive person, always "on" even when you're supposed to be in downtime.

We tell ourselves that we're just picking off the easy emails, maybe deleting some unnecessary things, doing a quick review of others to make sure nothing is "exploding" back at the office. We may claim that this quick check actually makes us more productive—but we're just fooling ourselves. According to recent research (PDF), the cost of such interrupted time is more speed and more stress. We're making ourselves less efficient by trying to be more efficient.

From the article: (emphasis mine)
And let’s not forget about ambient play, which often distracts us from accomplishing our most important tasks. Facebook and Twitter report that their sites are most active during office hours. After all, the employee who’s required to respond to her boss on Sunday morning will think nothing of responding to friends on Wednesday afternoon. And research shows that these digital derailments are costly: it’s not only the minutes lost responding to a tweet but also the time and energy required to “reenter” the original task. As Douglas Gentile, a professor at Iowa State University who studies the effects of media on attention spans, explains, “Everyone who thinks they’re good at multitasking is wrong. We’re actually multiswitching [and] giving ourselves extra work.”
But that constant "connectedness" is also a detraction from good work-life balance. And the danger here is that we become too connected to work when we're on personal time, then become easily distracted when we return to work. This "always on" mentality drains energy—energy that you'll need to be creative and productive the next day at work.

How often have you found yourself checking work email from your phone, over the weekend, during the evening, or on vacation? Make the choice to disconnect in a smart way, to maintain your work-life balance. I challenge you to find your own way to completely relax while outside of work. What keeps bringing you back to check your email? Maybe it's that the phone is right there next to you while you're watching TV. Try leaving the phone on a shelf; it's there if you need it, and you can still hear it if someone calls you, but you won't have easy access to check "just one more" work email during the commercial break.

If you're on-call, that's one thing to stay connected. But when you aren't on-call, you should do your best to maintain that work-life balance.
photo: Chris Brown