Friday, April 17, 2015

Making wise purchases

A recent issue of Destination CRM discusses How to select a CRM system. For those who don't know, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, and is a powerful tool in fields such as marketing and sales—and on university campuses, admissions. The article shares advice from industry experts on selecting an organization's first (or perhaps new) CRM system.

I wanted to take the article a step further. These steps aren't just how to choose the right CRM system, but how to make any wise project decision. A few of these lessons are paraphrased, but overall these reflect the CRM article:

Ensure readiness
  • Conduct honest internal evaluations
  • Involve every relevant department
  • Be mindful of your organization's size
  • Know your customers' expectations
Work with the right vendor
  • Research as much as possible
Maintain your system
  • Set reasonable goals and expectations
  • Plan for success
  • Prepare for failure

Friday, April 10, 2015

On feedback and self-improvement

I recently had an opportunity to participate in a self-improvement survey, focusing on emotional intelligence, or EI (sometimes called EQ, as a reflection of IQ). In his 2004 article from Harvard Business Review, “What Makes a Leader?” Daniel Goleman lists five components of emotional intelligence:
  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skill
Comparing myself to this list, and matching to my own survey results, I consider myself strongest in Motivation and Social Skill. For example, Goleman attributes a socially-skilled leader as persuasive, maintaining an extensive network to influence change. Building a relationship network is an important part of leadership. Relationships are currency; leaders sometimes need to use relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done.

Referencing my Motivation skill, Goleman describes a highly-motivated person as having a passion for work and new challenges, and unflagging energy to improve. I enjoy finding new challenges and opportunities to stand out. Although this needs to be taken in moderation, to avoid overload.

I consider Self-awareness to be my development area. Goleman indicates self-aware people recognize how their feelings affect them, other people and their performance. While I believe I understand how my own feelings affect me, my EI feedback suggests I need to recognize how I affect others.

For example: Before I came to Morris, I worked in the Office of Information Technology at the Twin Cities campus for twelve years. I often leverage that background to inform my decisions. Sometimes in meetings at Morris, I may refer to my experience there by saying “When I was in OIT…” But that phrase sends the wrong message.

My growth opportunity is to be aware of the reputation that precedes me. I am not “OIT” but by continuing to reference OIT in my discussion, I send the message that I am.

Feedback is a gift, and I welcome these gifts. If you observe me using “When I was in OIT…” statements, find a private moment to share that feedback with me.
image: Mark Smiciklas

Friday, April 3, 2015

3 innovations that change how we think

I recently discussed "innovation" with a colleague, and in our discussion we highlighted three innovations that change how many of us approach technology and view the world. I'd like to review them here:

1. Free Software and Open Source Software

Since the computer was first introduced as a business tool, an industry sprang up around the computer to sell new systems and software to go with it. This was proprietary software, a business model where customers could only get improvements to the programs by purchasing new versions from the vendor.

In the early 1980s, Richard Stallman had an idea that software should be free—not free as in “zero cost” but free as in “freedom.” In Stallman’s vision, everyone should have the ability to modify computer programs to add new features or to fix old bugs. Core to this idea was releasing the source code, the instructions that define the behavior of computer software. In 1983, Stallman launched the GNU Project, an effort to produce software that was free for everyone to use, modify, and share. This was the genesis of “Free Software.”

The GNU Project focused on replicating Unix, a specialized operating system. Since Unix was often used in universities and laboratories, both filled with capable programmers who were often equally eager to see new features in the software they used, the GNU Project gained adoption.

While many people used GNU programs, others created new programs that filled other niches. Not everyone agreed with Stallman’s definition of “free as in freedom,” and distributed their programs using a slightly different but similarly free model. In 1998, Eric Raymond coined the term “Open Source Software” to describe any program where the source code was available to end users. But under the Open Source Software model, programs could be sold or shared under conditions that were more flexible for commercial businesses.

Free Software and Open Source Software aren’t technical innovations; they are cultural changes rooted in technology. Through the Open Source Software model, many programmers can work together to improve computer software: fix problems, add new features, and make the program more efficient. This cultural exchange means that programmers can improve software at a pace previously unheard of in the computer industry. Without the innovation of Free Software and Open Source Software, computing might still be stuck in the era of DOS or the mainframe.

Much of our modern technology is built on Free Software and Open Source Software, although we may not realize it. The popular Apache web server supports most popular websites. Google’s Chrome web browser and the Firefox browser are both based on Open Source Software. Windows and Mac OS X use components derived from other Open Source Software programs.

2. Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices

Mobile phone companies provided phones that incorporated “Personal Digital Assistant” software since the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it wasn’t until 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone that the “smartphone” market became what we recognize today. In 2010, Apple followed up the success of the iPhone with the iPad, a tablet computing device that used the same software and apps as the iPhone. Other smartphones and tablets using the Android operating system also compete in this market.

The mobile device innovation has changed the computing landscape. We see this cultural shift at the University of Minnesota Morris. Two years ago, only a few of our students used iPads or other tablets in the classroom. Today, they are everywhere, and their numbers are growing. My campus estimates about two-thirds of our students use a mobile device to interact with the university. This trend is reflected in other institutions, too. According to a November, 2011 study by research firm Nielsen, two-thirds is typical of mobile device adoption with 18-24 year olds in general.

3. Streaming media

It wasn’t too many years ago that the usual way to watch movies at home was on VHS tape, played in a VCR. The DVD replaced VHS in the mid-1990s. Offering higher quality and greater longevity, the DVD quickly became the de facto standard for buying movies to watch at home, and many of us re-purchased our favorite movies on the new DVD format. The Blu-Ray released some ten years later provided essentially the same experience as the DVD, but in HD resolutions. Again, many consumers invested heavily in Blu-Ray to watch their favorite movies at home.

Today, the industry is shifting away from content based on plastic discs, moving to streaming media. Many of us are already there. Networks now provide sufficient bandwidth to stream high definition content over the Internet. Movie studios are embracing this trend, at least in terms of releasing streaming media ahead of disc-based media. In September 2012, Fox released the movie Prometheus three weeks ahead of DVD and Blu-Ray.

I feel the impact of the streaming media innovation in my personal life. For example, even if I have a movie in my personal DVD or Blu-Ray collection, I often choose to re-watch the movie via streaming media (Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Instant Video) rather than locate the plastic disc from deep in my entertainment center shelves.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Coming soon to classrooms

I was among the first in line when Google released the Chromebook, an ultra-portable low-cost laptop that instantly connects you to the Internet. The idea behind the Chromebook is that we don't really need to store things locally anymore. Instead, we use the Cloud for email, documents, collaboration, video, and pretty much everything we do. So the Chromebook's goal is to get you online as quickly and easily as possible, and connect you to those Cloud services. As suggested by the name, the Chromebook comes pre-loaded with Google's Chrome web browser.

At work, I often use a Chromebook, especially when I need to be portable. While I have a traditional laptop from Dell that boots both Windows and Linux, much of my work is done via the U of M Google Apps, such as Gmail and Docs. We purchased this Chromebook with department funds so we could loan it out; if you are faculty or staff at Morris, let us know if you'd like to borrow the Chromebook.

Chromebooks have been used in education since they were first introduced. The low cost of the Chromebook (about $250) means universities and schools can purchase more Chromebooks than traditional desktops or laptops, for the same cost. A single Dell laptop might cost around $1200, but schools can purchase almost five Chromebooks. And because everything is stored in the Cloud, there are few security concerns if a Chromebook is stolen or lost.

Along the same lines, Google introduced the Chromebox. This is the desktop equivalent of the Chromebook. Connect your own mouse, keyboard, and HDMI display to the Chromebox, and you are up and running within minutes. The Chromebox represents the changing face of the desktop, another option that organizations might use to support the needs of their users. And at $200, I foresee the Chromebox as a wise investment by universities and schools, particularly as classroom computers. As you plan your organization's IT future, consider if the "classic" Windows or Mac desktop is really what you need. Especially if you find yourself using web-based applications, as many people now do, maybe it's time to take next steps with a web-enabled device.

ASUS is following up the Chromebox with a new device later this year. The Chromebit looks like a large USB fob drive, but actually runs the same system as the Chromebox. Just plug the Chromebit into an HDMI display, and pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, to instantly get to work. C|Net has a brief review and highlights the Chromebit will be available this summer for $100. Our department will plan to purchase a Chromebit to experiment with. I'd love to explore this tiny device as a possible classroom computer, or even a lab computer in spaces that don't need specialized software. (In future, I'd also like to leverage virtualized applications or "VDI" to make specialized software available in all our labs—and possibly to small devices like the Chromebit—but I'll describe that plan in another post.)

photo: Google

Monday, March 30, 2015

Active Learning Classrooms

Active Learning Classrooms (also Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms, or Flipped Classrooms) change how students and faculty interact in the classroom. In an Active Learning Classroom, work previously done in the classroom is now done outside the classroom, and activities traditionally done outside now occur in the classroom. Students learn in a more engaged model on their own, typically through recorded lecture or interactive media, then return to the Active Learning Classroom to interact with a cohort of other students to exercise what they have learned.

Through Active Learning Classrooms, student performance is often improved, students are more engaged, and students have direct access to their instructor when working through exercises (instead of having no one to ask when working alone, or when working in late-night study groups).

However, Active Learning Classrooms are not a panacea in education. In an Active Learning Classrooms mode, students must complete the prep work before class, faculty must restructure courses to support flipped classrooms, and institutions must provide spaces suitable for Active Learning Classrooms. Access to technology may also be a hindrance, both in the classroom (when faculty must work through technical glitches on their own) and in the dorm (students must have a computer to watch the recorded lectures).

An article from January's EDUCAUSE Review examines active learning classrooms at Case Western University. The article provides this overview: "In 2013, Case Western Reserve University developed an active learning initiative designed to help faculty use active learning instructional methods in two new learning spaces that were optimized for collaborative classroom learning with large movable computer displays, flexible furniture, shared writing surfaces. and so on. Through a yearlong Active Learning Fellowship, a group of 12 faculty members restructured one class each to include active learning techniques and thereby increase student engagement and success in the classroom."

You should read the article for the full background and results. In summary, the group found that students felt more engaged in Active Learning Classrooms. Students reported the new classroom "was valuable to them, increased their enthusiasm for the course, and positively affected their learning An especially interesting finding was that the majority of students … said they would prefer the surveyed course be taught in the same way in the future."

This is not the first study to discover that students prefer Active Learning Classrooms. A 2013 article from The Atlantic reported on a three-year study examining student performance in an Active Learning Classroom, and found student performance "improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012 … and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance … improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent. Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped model after the class."

At Morris, our faculty are beginning to use Active Learning Classrooms, although adoption is currently limited. I'm excited to see our experiment with Active Learning Classrooms at Morris. For example, Nancy Carpenter (Chemistry) took a year to restructure her lectures to use an Active Learning Classroom. Plant Services, Computing Services, and Instructional & Media Technology worked in partnership with the Division of Science & Math to rebuild one of the Science classrooms as a flexible Active Learning Classroom. The new space uses whiteboards throughout the room, two projectors, tablets, and flexible-use tables to create a flipped classroom—which can also be used as a traditional lecture room by other faculty who are not ready to adopt the Active Learning Classroom mode.

We've been using the new classroom since last Fall. This Spring, just before the break, I had an opportunity to meet with students to see how they liked using the new Active Learning Classroom. Feedback was very positive. Echoing the EDUCAUSE article, students said they felt more engaged, and they got more out of the class. The students said they would prefer more STEM classes be taught using an Active Learning Classroom mode, but suggested that traditional "lecture" classes would not benefit—or at least, would require significant retooling. I noted that none of the students had a laptop out; they said they just didn't have time to use them in class, they were too busy learning and working with groups to goof off. I think that's a great testimonial!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Matt recently shared this announcement, which I wanted to repeat here:

You may have seen the headline in the U of M Brief this week, announcing the "site license" for Adobe Acrobat Pro. As of today, all Windows-based desktops and laptops bound/managed by AD on the Morris campus can voluntarily/self-install this application at no charge via Software Center (Start → All Programs → Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 → Configuration Manager → Software Center). As many of you know, the additional PDF management tools available via the Pro version of Acrobat will provide a huge productivity boost for many users on our campus.

Please note this application is being provided as available and not as a required installation. Users will need to be guided to Software Center and/or have a support tech help/talk them through. If you are aware of units where all workstations will benefit from a required installation, please let me know and I can work through those details. At this time I do not anticipate forcing a deployment of Acrobat Pro to all faculty and staff workstations.

Workstations not managed by AD are unaffected by this change, and would need to follow the standard download and installation instructions (linked from the Brief excerpt below).
Adobe® Acrobat® Pro available at no charge
Adobe® Acrobat® Pro software is available on University-owned devices at no charge to departments. The software makes it easy to create web forms as well as convert, edit, and merge files. For computers managed by central IT, select Adobe Acrobat Pro from "Advertised Programs" on your computer. For units not managed by central IT, visit and select "Office and Productivity." Learn more about IT Services>

Anticipating emerging technology

An article from the January edition of EDUCAUSE Review discusses Managing constant change. In the article, Jonathan Blake Huer, Director of Emerging Technologies and Media Development at Ball State University, mentions the problems we all face in technology: what is the next new technology that might change how we work?

Huer says this about Ball State University:
At Ball State University, we tackled these challenges by creating a nimble administrative unit that puts professional staff and student employees side by side in a fast-paced, project-oriented work environment. With the strong support of our visionary CIO, Phil Repp, my Emerging Technologies and Media Development unit has developed a system, refined over the past six years, that provides the right balance, safeguards, and administrative lattice to support the academic side of the institution at the pace of technology. At the core of the unit are eight diversely skilled professional staff members. The student employees (known as the "Digital Corps") average around forty in number and come from across the campus. Because students graduate and move on, at least 80 percent of the office turns over every three years. This ratio provides a constant source of new ideas and fresh approaches (along with new interests in technology) while maintaining enough consistency to keep projects moving forward and institutional memory intact.

In the Emerging Technologies unit, we divide technology into three longitudinal foci: experimental, disruptive, and pervasive. Experimental technology is our playground. We test new gadgets and see what future value they might have for the academy. Frequently, experimental technology has little practical value, but occasionally it is the solution to a problem that is discovered later. Disruptive technology is a new low/no-cost solution that replaces or enhances a technology already in use. This provides the greatest source of opportunity. Pervasive technology is technology that is easy or common enough that we introduce it but do not support or create for it. Generally speaking, technology that we consider pervasive is disruptive to others (e.g., collaborating in real time using a Google Doc).
It reminds me of a time when I recently joined the University of Minnesota in the Office of Technology's new Web Development team. The Web Development team was a very "young" unit and did not want to be "burdened" by process. Developers frequently incorporated new technology in their projects without fully understanding how it worked or the benefits for using it—or the trade-offs for long-term support. But I realized we needed to do better investigation into new technology.

I wrote a proposal for our Director, for the three of us to create a "50% time" sub-group called "Web Advanced Labs" that would examine new technology. I identified two other team members who were interested in learning new technology, and who understood the need to do a proper examination.

We created a 5-step process to examine new technology, with each step a separate document. Working together, we compromised on how much documentation to add, and created short documents that tracked progress and explained what we learned.

The Web Advanced Labs project was one example of converting the organization to dual-mode. I believe this duality is an important feature of IT organizations of the future: You need to have part of your group moving at "enterprise systems" speed—slow and steady, to support your enterprise systems well. And another part of the group needs to operate at a faster pace—to explore new technology, and to respond in a nimble manner to new challenges.

Some organizations allow staff to examine new concepts as part of their standard work week. Google is famous for their "20% time" policy where engineers can use 20% of work time to work on whatever they please. Gmail and Google News have their origins in 20% time. If Google did not have this policy, Gmail might never have been created, and Google would simply be "yet another" web search company. 3M also has a similar policy using 15% time for their engineers. Examples of "15% time" projects include Scotch Brand Tapes, Post-it Notes, Scotchgard Fabric Protector, automobile window treatment films, multilayer optical films and silicon adhesive systems for transdermal drug delivery.

How are you staying ahead of technology trends? Do you have a separate team dedicated to exploring emerging technologies?
photo: tracyshaun