Monday, December 30, 2013

My New Year Resolutions

The tradition when facing the New Year is to reflect on that will help take you to the next step, and to consider the things you'd like to get done. The New Year Resolution is really just a marker in time; there's no reason you must make resolutions at the start of a calendar, but after having reflected on my previous year, now is a good time for me to evaluate the things I'd like to improve next year:

1. Write more often
When I first started this blog in 2008, I used it as a new way to communicate and keep everyone informed, following a realignment in the Office of Information Technology when my organization suddenly became much larger. I posted occasional announcements and kudos, and a few encouraging notes on leadership development. Over time, I shifted the focus of my blog to leadership and vision in IT and higher ed, and posted more regularly, about once a week. But the more I write, the better I get at writing. I'd like to expand on that, and try writing new posts at least three times a week. That's an ambitious goal, but do-able. I may eventually work my way to every day, but for now I'll aim for new posts every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
2. Exercise my Do
Like many of us who work in IT, I got my start by doing some "hands on" work with technology. Some of this was learned in a professional setting, some skills were picked up on the job, and others were self-taught. I sometimes miss that part of IT, and I just need to recognize that while I need to balance Lead-Manage-Do at work, it's okay to exercise my Do on my own time. I do a lot of work in open source software, and that's where I expext to apply most of my Do time. It's a good outlet, and I find it lets me focus more on Lead and Manage when I'm in the office.
 3. Graduate
As you may know, I am currently in a M.S. program in Scientific & Technical Communication. My capstone project is "The Usability of Open Source Software" (follow me at Open Source Software & Usability). This program has been a wonderful experience. To be sure, it's sometimes been difficult to balance classwork and home life with my full-time responsibilities as IT Director, but I have learned a lot from it and thoroughly enjoyed many of my classes. I will graduate in May, 2014. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Enjoy your work-life balance

Sure, we work in a support organization where we often remain available to respond "24/7." But when not "on call," we need to be able to switch out of "work" mode when we go home or we risk burning out. It's important to have work-life balance.

As we head into the holiday season, take an honest look at your work-life balance. Find ways to "unplug" when you are at home (and not on call) to enjoy the other half of your life. If you are like me, you'll become more focused when you return to work, and more relaxed when at home.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 Top 10 - bonus

I sometimes like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. Looking for leadership lessons through the lens of unexpected sources can be interesting and insightful. This year, I shared a few lessons that carry great leadership lessons, or viewed technology from an original perspective.

Leadership lessons from zombies (January 28)
Zombies are almost a staple in Halloween lore, and now a popular Internet meme. And oddly, that leads me to a few leadership lessons from zombies. I sometimes like to look at things from different viewpoints to see what we can learn about leadership. Zombies provide an excellent lens for leading teams and building momentum behind your vision.
The King's Toaster, part 2 (February 4)
You may remember my post from a while back, about the King's Toaster. I related a funny story that made the rounds on an early Internet discussion board in the 1990s, about a powerful king and his two advisors. The king asked the advisors how they would add a computer to a toaster. That may be a silly story, and we all laughed 20 years ago. But I point you to two "breakfast food cookers" that you can find today in stores.
Leadership lessons in building relationships (March 11)
An important part of leadership is building your relationship network. Relationships are currency—you sometimes need to use your relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done. Do not overlook this part of your leadership development. And My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is all about how to make friends and build relationships.
Leadership lessons from Land of the Lost (April 1)
Maybe you noticed that I posted the article on April 1.
Leadership lessons from a Navy SEAL (May 17)
Brent Gleeson is the co-founder and CMO at Internet Marketing Inc, and a Navy SEAL combat veteran. Gleeson wrote in Inc about leadership lessons gleaned from his SEAL training. From the article, Gleeson's four leadership values.

Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 Top 10 - part 2

The continuation of my "top ten" list of favorite posts from this year:

Faculty use technology when they need it (July 22)
Technology is fairly new to the workforce, and that includes faculty. Remember, the PC was only introduced to office desktops in the 1980s (unseen mainframes in server rooms don't count). If people enter the workforce in their 20s and retire in their 60s, that's a 40-year work generation. So computers have only been part of the workplace for less than a work generation. There are still a lot of people out there who remember doing their work without technology. For faculty, their job is teaching and for that they have relied on a chalkboard (or whiteboard) for pretty much their entire careers, going back to their years as an undergrad. Even Powerpoint was a stretch for most faculty to learn, but Powerpoint isn't much more than a "captured" version of their whiteboard talk, so many faculty eventually warmed to Powerpoint as a means of delivering lectures.
Active learning classrooms (August 19)
In short, Active Learning Classrooms (also Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms, or Flipped Classrooms) changes how students and faculty interact in the classroom. In an Active Learning Classroom ("ALC") work previously done in the classroom is now done outside the classroom, and activities traditionally done outside the classroom now occur in the ALC. Students learn in a more engaged model on their own, typically through recorded lecture or interactive media, then return to the ALC to interact with a cohort of other students to exercise what they have learned. Through ALCs, student performance is often improved, students are more engaged, and students have direct access to their instructors. It's a topic I returned to later, in discussing the post-lecture classroom.
The future of technology (September 2)
Can you predict the future? Even Jedi Master Yoda could not, claiming it was "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." But in shaping our own future, we can imagine what promise the future might hold, then work to achieve it. In technology, we are the drivers of future progression. In campus technology, we are the ones who help shape what is to come. Our job as campus technology stewards, therefore, is to find the new technology that can best benefit our campus, and work to make it happen.
What's your focus? (September 9)
We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus? Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time? Start by considering the types of duties you perform each day: lead-manage-do. In October, I also shared an example of my lead-manage-do journey and a similar reminder on Relative Importance.
Tweets from the future (September 16)
At Morris, we designed a mobile webapp that answers the question "It's after dinner, what can I do?" We focused exclusively on current on-campus students, and looked for only the information that would interest them. Instead of separating events into "categories," we utilized a coherent "timeline" view starting now and looking forward into the immediate future. Students visiting m.morris.umn.edu effectively see "tweets from the future" about upcoming events and activities: weather, events, arts, sports, and news.

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Top 10 - part 1

As the year draws to a close, I like to look back and reflect on my favorite posts of 2013. This year, it was pretty hard to narrow down to just my favorite ten posts. I've covered a range of topics this year, from MOOCs to new learning modes, and lead-manage-do to what's coming up next in technology. Here is a selection of my favorite posts of 2013.

Learn something (January 14)
I generally encourage everyone to learn something, no matter where they are.  It's helpful to occasionally take a step back and look at your career highlights. We refer to this as a leadership journey. To start, a leadership journey should be distilled to just those events that hold the greatest meaning. These moments can be either "negative" or "positive". You may find that your leadership journey changes as you gain new perspectives throughout your career and life experiences. And that's okay.
MOOCs as a disruptive innovation (March 18)
This week's post is co-authored by Rex Wheeler II, my partner in the Office of Information Technology at the Twin Cities campus. For years, higher education seemed immune to upheaval. While individual topic areas changed over time, such as the introduction of Computer Science as a new science in the liberal arts, higher education has always been based on an instructor with students in a classroom. But as the saying goes, change is the only constant. This proves true even in today's higher education with the introduction of electronic learning (e-learning) and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
How technology changes entertainment (April 8)
Technology changes all the time, and those changes are driven by us. However, it's interesting to consider how technology changes us, how technology changes our perceptions of culture, of art, and of entertainment. It's not just about technology will change the platforms artists (of all types) use to create, produce, publish and distribute their work—but how technology might even replace the artist him/herself. I suppose it's only a matter of time before someone at a music label gets the bright idea to combine data analytics of what people are buying, CGI avatars, and vocaloids to create a completely synthetic pop star, sometimes called an idoru.
Going behind IT's back (April 15)
It's a symptom of the consumerization of technology, where faculty and staff bring technology into the campus on their own terms. Sometimes they work with IT on the new technology, and that's great when they do. At other times, they try to hide it from IT, and that's not good. We need to face up to personal devices entering the campus network; it's naive to assume this will be a passing fad. IT departments need to embrace BYOD. We need to stop saying "no" to customers, and find ways to say "let me help you."
The future of the helpdesk (May 31)
In the face of "BYOD" or "Bring your own devices," helpdesks need to transform to remain relevant. The helpdesk is the most visible technology support function. Students, faculty, and staff look to the helpdesk for all kinds of technology support. The helpdesk needs to be continuously available to everyone on campus in order to be most effective. I will add that a helpdesk that offers 24x7 support would add huge benefits to higher ed. Most institutions' helpdesks operate in "office hours," or 8:00-5:00. That's fine if you are supporting on-campus staff and faculty, but it's not a great support model for students who often stay up to late hours while working on homework and projects.

I'll post the second half of the list next week.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Teach, Don't Tell

Think about the work you and your colleagues do every day. We support the technology for our campuses; each of us "owns" a small part of the whole. You should know intimately how to do you job. But consider for a moment: what would happen if one of your colleagues disappeared and you needed to fill in? Maybe it's an extended vacation, or a sudden illness. Perhaps that person has retired, or moved to a new organization. Do you know what they did? Could you adequately fill that position, at least until someone more permanent could take over?

An important part of our jobs is to create documentation about the functions that we perform. Some folks consider no documentation as a form of job protection, but it really isn't. Managers often view someone who does not document their work as a liability. Those who fully document what they do often rise in the organization.

But how can we effectively write down how to do our tasks, in a way that makes sense to someone else? Sure, it's easy to describe your functions to yourself; you already know how to do the job. It's much harder to adequately define how to fulfill your roles and responsibilities to someone who hasn't done it as their day-to-day job.

As Steve Losh describes, the answer is Teach, Don't Tell. From the article:
If you want to take a person who has never played the guitar and turn them into a virtuoso guitarist, how can you do that? 
You teach them. 
If you want to take a high school student and turn them into a computer scientist, how can you do that? 
You teach them. 
If you want to take a programmer who has never seen your library before and turn them into an expert user of it, how can you do that? 
You teach them!
If the goal of documentation is to turn novices into experts, then the documentation must teach. You should think of your documentation as a lesson (or series of lessons) because that’s what it is.

The process needs to go something like this:
  1. Figure out what they already know.
  2. Figure out what you want them to know after you finish.
  3. Figure out a single idea or concept that will move state 1 a little bit closer to state 2.
  4. Nudge the student in the direction of that idea.
  5. Repeat until state 1 becomes state 2.
If you have ever taken a "CMR" (Communications, Media, & Rhetoric) class at Morris, you should recognize the process as rhetoric, which makes a good framework for any written material where you need to move your audience towards a new idea or concept. This is a long but very readable essay on how (not) to document computer programs. Use the same guidelines for documenting any process.

Monday, November 18, 2013

We need kneepads

Leaders need to be visionary, to think ahead several steps and see the "big picture." But it's equally important to listen to those around you, to find when "the answer is in the room." No single person can think of everything; leaders need to recognize when others provide a stronger vision.

One example that embodies this is Jeff Bezos's anecdote about the origins of Amazon.com. In those early days, the then-startup company operated from a 2000 square foot basement warehouse space that had 6 foot ceilings. The small team of original employees did a little of everything; programmers helped pack books into boxes, for example.
In fact, we were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor. … We were packing these things, everybody in the company … and I had this brainstorm as I said to the person next to me, "This packing is killing me! My back hurts, this is killing my knees on this hard cement floor" and this person said, "Yeah, I know what you mean." And I said, "You know what we need?" my brilliant insight, "We need knee pads!'" I was very serious, and this person looked at me like I was the stupidest person they'd ever seen. I'm working for this person? This is great. "What we need is packing tables." … The next day we got packing tables and I think we doubled our productivity.

I first heard Bezos tell this story as he addressed a luncheon, broadcast on public radio. But Bezos has shared this story many times, including on the Academy of Achievement archive.

It's a great example of listening to suggestions, and remaining open to ideas that aren't your own. Bezos might have remained "married" to his idea of buying kneepads; rather, he realized packing tables (so simple!) was the better idea and went with that. And immediately doubled productivity. Listen for the answer in the room, and recognize the vision that best answers your needs.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Network upgrades in Science & Math

I wanted to share a brief update on the network upgrades that are happening on campus. Since upgrading the campus network last year, we have remained committed to improving wireless network coverage across campus. The wireless network is an important part of campus life, and we want to ensure that the campus community can use the wireless network where it is needed.

As you may have noticed, electricians have been busy at work in the Science & Math Building this week. Computing Services and Plant Services are working together with Kieffer Electric and the U of M Office of Information Technology to upgrade the wireless network within Science & Math. The electricians will minimize disruption while they do their work. Thank you for your patience while we improve wireless network coverage in the West wing, faculty offices, and Auditorium. The East wing will be updated later.

After Science & Math, our next focus will be the Humanities Fine Arts Building. We are already in the planning stage for this building.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Students vs email

I read with great interest this article from the New York Times: "Technology and the College Generation." It discusses the current generation of students and their preference to use texting to communicate with friends, rather than email. Many students don't even bother to check their university email accounts. And that's different to how faculty and university administrators expect them to use email:
“Some of them didn’t even seem to know they had a college e-mail account,” Dr. May said. Nor were these wide-eyed freshmen. “This is considered a junior-level class, so they’d been around,” he said.

Universities now find themselves mandating that students check their university email every day. At the University of Southern California, Nina Eliasoph’s Sociology 250 syllabus reads: “You must check e-mail DAILY every weekday,” with boldface for emphasis.

The article focuses on how faculty and students use email, asking “How are they going to learn to use e-mail when that’s the model, and why would they want to?”

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina, does not think they should have to. “E-mail is a sinkhole where knowledge goes to die,” said Mr. Jones, who said that he gave up e-mail in 2011. But in his quest to eliminate e-mail, Mr. Jones may have a surprising obstacle: students. Canvas, a two-year-old learning management system used by Brown University, among others, allows students to choose how to receive messages like “The reading assignment has been changed to Chapter 2.” The options: e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter. According to company figures, 98 percent chose e-mail.

But I see this as the leading edge of a new trend. Rather than focus on how to get students to use email we need to look at how students communicate, and reach them there. What are the ways in which your campus is changing how you communicate with students?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Digital tourists

A friend shared Colette Bennett's article from The Educator's Room blog, discussing today's students and their use of technology. Bennett says They’re Not Digital Natives, They’re Digital Tourists. Digital natives are defined as those people who have grown-up using technology daily beginning in the 1960s, but the term is more commonly used to describe those born in the 21st Century. The current generation of students may be "digital natives" according to this definition.

Digital natives spend more than 4 hours each day viewing screen media, excluding games. They multitask, and may watch TV or IM their friends while working on homework. And they spend more than 7 hours each day using digital devices.

You'd think with these statistics that digital natives would be the first to adopt new technology, that instructors would be constantly playing "catch up" just to remain on par with the pace of technology change. But Bennett, English Department Chair at Wamogo High School (Region 6) in Northwest Connecticut, found otherwise: "Instead what we discovered was that many of our students were reluctant to try new platforms that differed even slightly  in organization or layout. A login in a different location was perplexing; an embed code or link could not be located.  We found our students were not naturally tech-savvy, save the requisite number of computer geeks per class. They did not want to move out of their comfort zone in technology, partly because they knew that work was involved, but, in fairness, partly because they were intimidated."

Bennett refers to these students not as digital natives but digital tourists. "I’m talking the “standing in line to see the Mona Lisa on the busiest day of the year and then leaving the Louvre once they saw it” kind of tourist. The “only want to eat at McDonalds in a foreign country because I don’t like food I don’t recognize” kind of tourist. The “I have no idea what kind of money this is” kind of tourist. In other words, bad tourists."

How to deal with these digital tourists? Bennett recommends instructors adapt Rick Steve's model, where travel is a political act: "In this model, students travel the alternate routes for productivity and interact and collaborate with others using many different software “languages”. They may stumble in these challenging and unfamiliar digital locations, but they will benefit from this exposure to the strange and unknown. They just need to get over their xenophobia of new software platforms." You may also recognize this as pushing students outside their comfort zones, encouraging development through stretch assignments, testing new waters.

How do you deal with digital tourists?

Monday, October 28, 2013

My lead-manage-do journey

We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus? Lead, manage, or do? The "lead-manage-do" concept helps us to understand the focus we need to put into our work. To be the most successful, one person really should concentrate on (at most) two of the "legs" of this triangle: "lead-manage", "lead-do", or "manage-do". While it's not impossible to do all three at once, doing so reduces focus in your other areas.

I wrote about this topic in September, asking What's your focus? Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time?

I sometimes like to reflect on my own performance, and today I'd like to share my own "journey" of lead-manage-do throughout various points in my career. This is a good way to demonstrate how focus shifts at different levels in an IT organization. People must divide their time differently, focused into specific areas, depending on what is important for their role in the organization.

Here is my journey:

Systems administrator: geographics company
» After my B.S. degree, I worked for a small geographics company. A lot of our business was printing custom maps for very specific uses; banks might use us to create a visual representation of their lending practices (to demonstrate equal lending) or insurance underwriters would ask us to map out certain insurance risks in a particular areas. I'd interned there the previous summer, writing small programs to audit databases, and they remembered me when I graduated. I managed the thirty-something Unix servers and workstations, and helped support the approximately 100 Windows desktops throughout the company.

We always looked for more efficient ways to do things, and for new business opportunities. I remember taking my first step towards leadership, proposing a vision to our vice president: let's take advantage of this new "World Wide Web" thing, set up a web server where people could type in their address, and we'd give them a simple line-drawing map of their neighborhood, indicating other information we could provide them by calling our sales department. Our vice president rejected the idea, claiming "No one wants free maps on the Internet." (Mapquest started offering "free maps on the Internet" the following year, in 1996.)

After about a year, we had some turnover in our department, including my manager. I shifted into a manager role as Associate Manager of IS. But to be honest, I was still just a systems administrator who also managed a very small team; my focus was the "do" of systems administration.

Working manager: law firm
» Eventually, I left that company and joined a small data management company owned by a law firm. We provided computer-based "production & discovery" for lawyers; during a lawsuit, each side needs to "produce" documents that the other side can comb through and "discover" evidence they might use in their case. Normally, this is very paper intensive, but we streamlined that using technology. I was Manager of IT, responsible for a group of IT staff. But as a working manager (the trend at the time), I still took responsibility for systems administration of our fifteen or so Unix servers. I had to balance "manage" with "do."

But again, I occasionally exercised "leadership" by providing a vision for future options in technology. I once shared an idea with our CIO that we could simplify the management of our desktop computers by leveraging "The Web." I proposed that we could move our email systems to use a "webmail" interface (then a new idea) and several of our backoffice applications to web applications. All we'd need to run on the desktop is Microsoft Office and a few other key applications. But the company didn't have the spare funds to make such a conversion. In 1998, the company shut its doors. I moved on.

Manager: OIT Web Team
» I joined the University of Minnesota, managing the Web production team in the Office of Information Technology. We were the folks who migrated new web applications from "development" to "test" and then to "production." Among other things, my team was involved with one of the first web-based course registration systems at the university.

My focus was manager, but I was still a working manager, although less so than at the law firm. I would lend a hand with managing the Unix systems, assisting my team with the day-to-day systems administration tasks. I divided my time between "manage" and "do," with some "lead," but most of my time was now in management.

Manager: Linux and Unix
» After a few years, I moved to a larger role in OIT, managing all Linux and Unix teams. As you might expect, I gave up more of my "do" tasks. I now had several teams of systems administrators, so I didn't need to assist in the day-to-day. To be fair, I did some "do" tasks; I had a user account on a test system, and I occasionally wrote scripts to analyze system performance or do other simple reporting. But my new focus was "manage" with a decreasing "do" and increasing "lead."

I had a few other positions within OIT after that, growing to manage all of the systems administration teams within the Office of Information Technology.

Senior Manager: Operations and Infrastucture
» In 2006, I became Senior Manager for all OIT Operations and Infrastructure. This included all Unix, Windows, and VMWare systems administration teams, as well as system databases, enterprise storage and backup, production automation, disaster recovery planning, desktop support, and similar areas.

In this role, I provided much more leadership: Tracking trends, anticipating future needs, developing vision and strategies to achieve goals, and engaging others. By this time, I consciously tried to exercise "lead-manage-do," putting my focus on "manage-lead." But sometimes "life" got in the way. For example, during a particularly difficult PeopleSoft upgrade, I was called on to help a "SWAT team" fix an enterprise printing issue (I wrote a simple program that acted as a print filter). So as much as I tried to minimize it, I sometimes performed a few "do" tasks.

Director: Information Technology
» Most recently, in 2010, I joined the University of Minnesota Morris as the Director of Information Technology and CIO. We have a small team, but I interact with every aspect of the campus: students, faculty, and staff. Here, my role truly is "lead-manage," dividing my attention about equally between the two areas. There's only a small portion of "do" in collecting data for a report, providing help of a routine nature, developing basic business processes, dealing with day-to-day email and phone calls.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Top 10 priorities

What are IT's top priorities? What is your campus focusing on? What's important to your students and faculty?

EDUCAUSE Review shared a video this summer about the Top-10 IT Issues. In higher education, technology plays a crucial support role. But technology needs to be like a service; when our customers reach for what they think is a lightswitch, the lights need to come on. We support the campus, so we need to pay careful attention to the campus needs.

Top issues facing higher education CIOs today include reducing costs, demonstrable improvement in student outcomes, strategic advancements in e-learning, and meeting the demands of consumerization. These are reflected in the top 10 overall priorities:

  1. Wireless
  2. Using technology to improve student outcomes
  3. Cloud
  4. Staffing and organizations
  5. Balancing infrastructure, openness, and security
  6. Strategic funding
  7. Online learning
  8. Supporting "bring-your-own-device"
  9. Transforming the business with IT
  10. Applying analytics

Many of these map directly to an earlier prediction of the six trends for 2013: Big data, analyzing course performance for faster feedback, supporting "BYOD," platform independence, mobile apps, and education social media.

What are your top priorities?

Monday, October 21, 2013

On Drucker and innovation

It's hard to go wrong quoting Peter Drucker when discussing innovation. Peter Drucker (1909-2005) was an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author. His books and articles have made a lasting impact on the philosophical and practical foundations of modern businesses. I have several of his books on my shelf, including Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It's a good read, if a little dry, and I recommend every aspiring innovator take time to read it.

While Drucker's work spans many years, from 1939 to 2008 (posthumous), much of Drucker's advice applies well to modern innovation. For example, interpreting your critics' reviews is important to knowledge-based innovations, such as in realizing new ideas in higher education technology. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker suggests that there must be "receptivity" to innovations in order for them to be successful:
To be successful, a knowledge-based innovation has to be "ripe"; there has to be receptivity to it. This risk is inherent in knowledge-based innovation and is indeed a function of its unique power. All other innovations exploit a change that has already occurred. They satisfy a need that already exists. But in knowledge-based innovation, the innovation brings about the change. It aims at creating a want. And no one can tell in advance whether the user is going to be receptive, indifferent, or actively resistant. (126-127)
Drucker lists seven sources of innovation opportunity. In supporting our campus, much of our technology innovation derives from the third source: process need.
In innovations that are based on process need, everybody in the organization always knows that the need exists. Yet usually no one does anything about it. However, when the innovation appears, it is immediately accepted as 'obvious' and soon becomes 'standard.' (69)
Drucker suggests four rules for entrepreneurship within a public-service institution (183). The first two rules apply especially to developing new applications within public higher education institutions:
  1. A clear definition of the mission.
  2. A realistic statement of goals.
Drucker's third rule—failure to achieve goals should be viewed that the objective is wrong, or not defined correctly—should guide any innovation throughout its course, as we continually evaluate its success. In developing new services and ideas, if we encounter major obstacles and cannot work towards the goal, that should be an opportunity to step back and consider if the objectives are the right ones. In a public university, technology acts in service to the campus, and we need to ensure technology properly supports our students and faculty.

In any innovation, Drucker suggests three conditions for successful renewal of ideas (138-139):
  1. Innovation is work. It requires knowledge, great ingenuity. Some are more talented innovators that others. Innovators rarely stick to one area. At the end of the day, innovation becomes hard, purposeful work making great demands on diligence, persistence, commitment.
  2. To succeed, innovators must build on their strengths. Innovators look at opportunities over a wide range then ask "which of these fits me?" There must be a temperamental "fit." It must be important to you and make sense to you personally.
  3. Innovation is an effect in economy and society. It's a change in the behavior of customers, of people in general. Or a change in process in how we work. Innovation, therefore, has to be close to the market, focused on the market.
Finally, Drucker encourages a continual process of purposeful innovation, admonishing that "successful entrepreneurs do not wait until 'the Muse kisses them' and gives them a 'bright idea;' they go to work" (34). Embracing the changing technology allows universities to better serve their students and faculty, and by extension, their academic mission.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Build vs. buy: Why Morris chose to build

Earlier this year, I spoke at the UBTech 2014 conference about a new way to share campus event information with students. Our concept of "Tweets from the future" considers student engagement differently that answers the question "It's after dinner, what can I do?"

Many universities have a mobile website that focuses on events. One common reference is the University of Wisconsin’s m.wisc.edu which advertises arts, athletics, film, music and public lectures. Other institutions (including the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, at m.umn.edu) have mimicked this mobile site design, presenting calendars of events in "categories," often alongside unrelated links for maps, alumni information, and social networking.

Via this design, students can view upcoming activities by clicking into each category. As they do so, students must build a mental map of which events are happening now, soon to occur, or scheduled in the future—for each category they visit. While breaking up events by topic may make sense for a narrow range of students who only want to see sports events, or only wish to attend art presentations, the Morris students we surveyed found these "categories" too unwieldy to effectively inform them of available upcoming activities. Students did not want to mentally "juggle" the calendar to figure out what was happening around campus; they wanted the calendar to present timely information about things to do.

At Morris, we approached the problem from a new direction. We focused exclusively on current on-campus students, and looked for only the information that would interest them. Instead of separating events into "categories," we utilized a coherent "timeline" view starting now and looking forward into the immediate future. Students visiting the m.morris.umn.edu "Morris Mobile Events" webapp effectively see "Tweets from the future" about upcoming events and activities: weather, events, arts, sports, and news.

University Business Magazine was very interested in our mobile events app, and later I spoke with Avi Asher-Shapiro about our solution. In Build vs. buy: Why Morris chose to build, reviews our webapp, including why we chose to build our own system rather than buy something that might already be on the market. We have a small budget at Morris. When we were considering our options, we knew we needed to be very careful about how we spent both our time and money, so we opted to build our own solution.

And it wasn't a very complex task. From the article:
In the end, the university’s existing IT infrastructure made building the app in-house the most efficient option. “We took all these different feeds we’d already designed for campus events, lectures, and programs, and routed them into one place,” explains Hall. He knew he could develop the app without straining his staff. “There wasn’t that much to it,” Hall says. “One developer put together the app and wrote the code working half time in just two weeks.”

Mobile is where our students are at, and I am glad we could bring the Morris Mobile Events web app to them on their tablets and phones. I hope everyone enjoys being able to see what's happening on campus. Over time, we plan to expand "Morris Mobile Events" with new feeds. While today we can only display event data from the campus events calendar and sports calendar, in future we hope to add menus and specials from the Dining Hall or Turtle Mountain Cafe, or movies at the local theater.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A reminder on Relative Importance

There's a classic saying in leadership that "What got you here won't get you there." It's a reminder that you need to refocus your priorities, what's important to your job, as you move up into new responsibilities.

Last year, I shared a survey asking participants to rate the relative importance of four types of job duties: Technical, Strategic, Interpersonal, and Finance. Note that these aren't "skills" per se, but qualities that are important to the work performed within each role.

Technical
The tasks that are very "hands-on" by nature, often managing servers or databases, or supporting other systems or desktop environments.
Strategic
Time spent thinking about the overall IT organization, and how the organization needs to respond to meet new challenges.
Interpersonal
Building relationships, the "give and take" of interacting with others.
Finance
Factoring in costs, either at the small scale (tools, etc.) or at the larger scales (budgets, etc.)

I sought the help of friends and colleagues to "advertise" the new survey. Over 360 of you responded, from all over the world, representing all levels of an IT organization. Most of the responses (over 250) were from higher education. 68 represented commercial companies, 32 were in government, and 10 came from non-profit organizations. The results of this survey were interesting and enlightening. I discussed the responses and provided my own insight in an article, "Qualities of an IT professional: Relative Importance," but to review, the survey reveals several lessons about leadership at different levels in an IT organization:

  1. The vanishing value of Technical.
  2. The balancing act of the team lead.
  3. The drop in Interpersonal at the CIO level.


(thanks to Chris Paquette at MOR Associates for the updated diagram)

I'm thinking about re-doing this survey, probably as we reach Spring semester. We are seeing a lot of U of M surveys reaching the IT@UMN folks this Fall semester, so I don't want to launch a new survey of my own when people might be exhausted doing these other ones. So I'll plan to renew the survey in Spring semester, and I'll reach out to you then for help in getting the word out.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thanks for a great CIC TechForum!

Rex Wheeler II and I co-presented at CIC TechForum this year, discussing "Leadership lessons from unusual places." I sometimes notice leadership lessons hiding in odd places. They are around if you look for them. You can find leadership lessons from many unexpected places, such as these:

Disney's Mulan

Sure, Shan Yu may be the bad guy in that movie, but who says that movie villains can't also be good leaders? And it turns out that Shan Yu is pretty good at developing his team through coaching.

There's a key scene in the movie where Shan Yu decides to return a doll to a little girl in a nearby village. Shan Yu is present as a leader, and takes advantage of a coaching opportunity:


Note how Shan Yu uses this opportune moment to coach his staff. Before offering his own opinion, he asks his team leads for what they can learn by examining the doll. In turn, they each respond with an answer that offers new insight: the doll comes from a village high in the mountains, and the Imperial cannon brigade is there too.

The "coaching button" is something that sticks with your listener. Like the button on a shirt or coat, a "coaching button" doesn't do the whole job, but over time as you use more "coaching buttons" the whole picture comes together. They key is to make those "buttons" easily understood and memorable, able to stand on their own, but part of a larger story.

Shan Yu's comments are brief, memorable, but not overpowering. He is able to offer his own opinion (and decision to return the doll) without discounting the team leads. From what we see in the movie, it seems that Shan Yu has taken advantage of other coaching moments to help his future leaders develop.

"Coaching buttons" are wonderful conversational gifts. Take any available opportunity to do brief coaching conversation with your team. For example, you might find yourself early for a meeting, only one staff member is there, giving a short time for a "coaching button". Never waste an opportunity for coaching, however brief. The "coaching button" might only cover one question without an opportunity for follow-up questions to delve deeper - but if you can find frequent opportunities for several "buttons", I find it can be helpful.

Just like Shan Yu.


General Zod from Superman II

A while back, I found Superman II in my Netflix "Recommended" instant queue, and decided to watch the movie - but skipping past all the "boring" Superman and Lois story, focusing only on the bits with General Zod. Viewed from this angle, Superman II is the heartwarming tale of Zod's arrival on planet Houston to bring peace (notice how wherever he goes, people attack him for no reason - until he moves into the White House) only to be usurped by a smart-aleck orphan from his home planet. It is also a lot shorter.


There are some good leadership lessons in there, too. Just watch Zod. Turns out, he's not that bad, and has some sound advice to follow:

  1. Support your staff development. For example, when one of your senior leadership team develops the ability to set snakes on fire with her eyes, celebrate her achievement.
  2. Delegate tasks effectively. Don't feel you must take down every helicopter on your own.
  3. Communicate your vision in simple terms. And you have to admit "Vengeance on the son of Jor-El" is pretty straightforward.
  4. Be careful of subordinates who try to undermine your authority. They may double-cross you when you least expect it.
  5. Be clear in your desired results. "Kneel before Zod" sets a pretty clear expectation, and others will know when they have done it right.

Relationships and My Little Pony

An important part of leadership is building your relationship network. Relationships are currency—you sometimes need to use your relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done. Do not overlook this part of your leadership development.

Think about your social network. I like to imagine it like a bullseye target, where the closer you are to the center, the "closer" your relationship to me. The center circle is the "circle of trust," the people you might go to for completely confidential advice. These are the people you might ask for help if you were looking for a new job. The next circle contains those people who would help you with a favor. Outside that is the "parking orbit," people who are not very close to you, but with whom you are friendly; you might see them in the hallway or by the elevator, but not interact with them very much. And if you aren't in any of those circles, I call them "potential new friends," people I haven't met yet.

You can arrange your social network even further. Think of who are your personal friends, versus your friends at work. Who are your mentors, the people you look to for inspiration? And who are your peers, people with whom you interact but who are neither "personal" nor "work" friends?

Take a few moments to map out your social network. How "close" would you rate your relationships at work? Consider who you look to if you had a problem, or needed a favor, or simply had a question. Do you have relationships that are so strong you could rely on confidential advice? Do have other relationships where you might only be able to ask for a favor? Who is in your personal "parking orbit," that need a stronger relationship to you? Is there anyone out there that you wish you knew better and who in your personal shares a relationship, and might introduce you to them?

Relationships are currency, and you can use them when you need help or advice. Making friends and building relationships is an important facet of leadership, but it is often a very difficult skill. Many of us in technology are introverts. My educational background is in physics, and a physicist friend of mine often shares this joke that applies here: "What's the difference between an introverted physicist and an extroverted one? The extrovert will look at your shoes."

Let me share leadership lessons on this topic, borrowed from an unexpected place. At the risk of doing yet another leadership post post from this source, I think it actually fits well here. Because what is the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic about, if it's not about how to make friends and build relationships. That's probably one reason that the show is so popular outside its target demographic—sometimes we all just need a refresher on how to introduce ourselves to others and form that initial relationship.

There are four steps to building a relationship with someone new. These are sometimes called the "4 I's" of relationships:
  1. Initiate
  2. Inquire
  3. Invest
  4. Inspire
Here's a brief clip showing a borderline-extroverted person meeting a definitely introverted person, overcoming an initial awkwardness to introduce herself and start a relationship. (They become great friends in the show.)


Initiate: "I'm Twilight Sparkle." 
Inquire: "What's your name?"
Twilight Sparkle also asks follow-up questions to get to know the other person. Despite Fluttershy's introverted tendencies, Twilight Sparkle reaches out to get to know the new pony, making sure she heard the name right, and commenting on Fluttershy's birds in the tree.

In this case, Twilight Sparkle only has time for the first two steps. The third step, Invest, will happen over time as Twilight Sparkle continues to renew her friendship with Fluttershy through activities, adventures … or even just a discussion on a sunny afternoon. Over time, Twilight Sparkle can rely on that relationship to inspire Fluttershy to do great things.

You can use the same method of Initiate, Inquire, Invest, Inspire to build your own relationship networks. The more people you know, the better you can navigate your organization and get things done. But don't let your relationships grow stale; fins opportunities to renew your friendships. If you call from someone in your relationship network, take a few moments to catch up before getting down to the task at hand. Or simply call or visit that other person, just to say hi and see what's up. These short moments help to build up your relationship currency.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kudos for outstanding service

At the IT town hall meeting last week, VPCIO Scott Studham announced the Fall 2013 IT Outstanding Service Award recipients. We received many nominations, and these eleven people stood out as high performers in an exceptional group of nominees. Recipients of the award will receive $2,000 and a special recognition dinner at the Campus Club. The recipients are:

  • Benjamin Larson
  • Chad Fennell
  • Gabe Ormsby
  • Jeff Aspinall
  • Karl Oman
  • KT Cragg
  • Mark McKay
  • Matt Thoen
  • Matt Zaske
  • Peter Angelos
  • Warren Mason

I'd like to identify Matt Zaske from our Computing Services team in Morris. His outstanding service award recognizes his contributions to the computer management community of practice. Great job, Matt!

Remember, nominations for our staff recognition program are driven by you, our IT@UMN community. I encourage you to take note of the special contributions that those around you are making, and to nominate those who are going above and beyond the normal scope of job responsibilities

Monday, October 7, 2013

Innovation Framework

A colleague in HR-IT shared this item with me, and I wanted to share it here. I've often discussed the importance of innovation in technology. Even as far back as 2009, "Innovation" was a major priority in IT. On the small scale, IT managers and directors must provide time for their staff to generate new ideas, to think outside the box, to play with new concepts. Organizations can provide a "framework" or "opportunity" for this exploration. Look at technology giants Google and 3M: through their "20% time" model, staff are granted "free" time during their work week to explore new possibilities.

The University of Minnesota provides a "toolkit" for encouraging innovation: the Innovation Framework. From the website:
This innovation framework provides a way for organizations to identify and advance ideas with the most potential to make an impact. It was developed with particular attention to the University of Minnesota community and with value on transparency and inclusiveness. The framework invites partnership, supports learning and strategic risk-taking, expects ideas to be organic and evolving, and requires intentional evaluation and decision making so that innovative ideas lead to powerful and effective change. 
Does your organization want to cast a wide net for innovative ideas, but aren't sure how to make this happen in an effective manner? The innovation framework can help. It doesn't have all the answers, but it's a great tool for getting the conversation started.

The website is extensive, but consider these starting points:

Start a conversation.
How do ideas get generated, evaluated, and implemented in our organization now? What are some of the strengths and some of the challenges in our current system? What do we see in this model that could help with that? Where does it make sense to bring this model next?
Share with colleagues.
Find out what other people are doing with this framework and share what you are considering. The end result will be different for each unit, but by sharing what we each try and learning from it, we’ll all end up with better innovation processes.
Apply the framework.
Identify who can help make this framework most relevant for your organization. Ground yourself in the four key principles of the model: learning, sharing, supporting, and celebrating.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Changing how and where you work

This week, we hosted a visit from a colleague at the Twin Cities. It is always great to get together with other IT leaders, to hear about how people are facing the challenges of technology on campus.

Jen shared with us how one area of the University is responding to how we work. The increase of wireless networking and online communication and collaboration tools means where we work has become less important.  Enter Work+, an alternative workplace strategy. I find this immediately interesting and intriguing.

Work+ is the University of Minnesota’s alternative workplace strategy program. A partnership between the Office of Human Resources, Office of Information Technology and University Services, Work+ is an integrated program that will enable colleges and units to redesign their workplace to include variety of spaces and technology tools that will support their future needs, along with the training necessary to use them effectively. Work+ empowers employee efficiency, productivity and satisfaction by offering more nimble spaces and technology that enable collaboration and adapt easily to operational and technological changes.

While Work+ can enable groups to be more collaborative and productive in dealing with resource constraints, it requires funding to reconfigure spaces as well as time and training for staff. Additionally, some groups may have already transitioned to a mobile workstyle and not benefit as much from engaging in the Work+ process.

The Work+ project reminds me of several past examples from industry. Andy Grove, as CEO of Intel, famously worked from a cubicle. Grove commented on working from a cubicle: "I need a conference room for private meetings, but most of the time I can read, work at my computer, or have phone conversations very nicely in my office." Similarly, Sun Microsystems was one of many companies to adopt "hoteling" office work environments, where employees can drop into an office, and immediately resume productivity.

Using a system like "hoteling" or Work+ may be an ideal solution for many work environments, but it particularly benefits those offices where staff often roam to work collaboratively with others. On campus, we are unlikely to see this work with faculty, who maintain a personal collection of reference books for their courses or research - something which cannot be easily relocated elsewhere. But IT shops may consider this as a way to maximize space. Set aside meeting spaces, but arrange flexible work spaces for team to "drop in."

Monday, September 30, 2013

7 tips to make your employees happier, more creative and productive

In an era where higher ed budgets become tighter, we're probably all familiar with more "crunch" time at the office. That may be "okay" for work requiring rudimentary cognitive skill, but for IT workers who need to bring creativity and imagination, this "treadmill" of work can drain us of our energy.

Minnesota Public Radio recently discussed this in their piece, 7 tips to make your employees happier, more creative and productive. In the article, Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, says "Companies are trying to get people to do more... Fewer people are doing the jobs of what used to be done by many more people... This is actually counterproductive because when people are constantly on the work treadmill, they don't have time to think, they don't have time to actually be creative in solving problems or coming up with new ideas, and they lose their energy. Put simply, they stop being as engaged in their work, they're less productive, they're less creative."

The article gives 7 tips to make your employees happier, more creative and productive:

  1. Managers should stop and think about the day-to-day experience of their employees.
  2. Encourage and make time in the day for breaks.
  3. Let your employees surf the Internet.
  4. Give employees meaningful deadlines to inspire creativity and protect them from distractions.
  5. Allow employees to work some of their hours away from the office.
  6. Sit down with each employee and discuss his or her workday.
  7. Look to Google and SAS for examples of workplaces that foster creativity.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Big Block of Cheese Day 2013

Fun Fact: In 1837, President Andrew Jackson's supporters gifted him with a wheel of cheese weighing 1,400 lbs. Jackson put this cheese in the Entrance Hall of the White House and invited the people of the United States to eat it, and thereby meet the people who represented them in government. According to White House history, the cheese was consumed in two hours, and the White House smelled of cheese for weeks.

I mirrored something like that today. I provided a 12 lb wheel of cheddar cheese, and invited the campus to the Student Center to eat it. It was a great opportunity to talk about campus technology. As an added "draw," and because of my Scottish ancestry, I wore my kilt.


It was tons of fun, and lots of students, faculty, and staff turned up to have some cheese and talk about campus technology! We talked about the wireless network upgrade, Zimride, and other topics.


I'd like to thank everyone who helped in making Big Block of Cheese Day a huge success.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Post-Lecture Classroom

A recent article in The Atlantic discusses "The Post-Lecture Classroom" and asks "How will students fare?" As an example, the article references Russell Mumper, Vice Dean of the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Mumper uses a flipped model in his classroom:
At home, before class, students watched brief lecture modules, which introduced them to the day’s content. They also read a textbook — the same, introductory-level book as in 2011 — before they arrived. 
When they got to class, Mumper would begin by asking them “audience response” questions. He’d put a multiple-choice question about the previous night’s lectures on a PowerPoint slide and ask all the students to respond via small, cheap clickers. He’d then look at their response, live, as they answered, and address any inconsistencies or incorrect beliefs revealed. Maybe 50 percent of the class got the wrong answer to one of these questions: This gave him an opportunity to lecture just enough so that students could understand what they got wrong. 
Then, the class would split up into pairs, and Mumper would ask them a question which required them to apply the previous night’s content, such as: “Given your knowledge of the skin and transdermal delivery, describe how you might treat this patient who had breakthrough cancer pain.” The pairs would discuss an answer, then share their findings with the class. At the end of that section, Mumper would go over any points relevant to the question which he felt the class failed to bring up.
Yes, this is Active Learning Classrooms. In short, Active Learning Classrooms (also Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms, or Flipped Classrooms) changes how students and faculty interact in the classroom. In an Active Learning Classroom ("ALC") work previously done in the classroom is now done outside the classroom, and activities traditionally done outside the classroom now occur in the ALC. Students learn in a more engaged model on their own, typically through recorded lecture or interactive media, then return to the ALC to interact with a cohort of other students to exercise what they have learned.

Through ALCs, 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, ALCs are not a panacea in education. In an ALC mode, students must complete the prep work before class, faculty must restructure courses to support flipped classrooms, and institutions must provide spaces suitable for ALCs. 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).

The article from The Atlantic covers a study of the effectiveness of Active Learning Classrooms:
A three-year study examining student performance in a “flipped classroom” — a class in which students watch short lecture videos at home and work on activities during class time — has found statistically significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings and significant student preference for “flipped” methods.

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. In 2011, Mumper taught the course in a standard, PowerPoint-aided lecture format. In 2012 and 2013, he taught it using “flipped” methods. Student performance on an identical final exam improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012—results now in press at Academic Medicine—and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance on an identical final exam 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 ALCs at Morris. Nancy Carpenter (Chemistry) took a year sabbatical to restructure her lectures to use an ALC. Plant Services, Computing Services, and Instructional & Media Technology worked in partnership with the Division of Science & Math to rebuild one of our 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 ALC mode. We'll use this ALC for the first time this Fall.

Working independently, the Instructional & Media Technology group also has re-imagined one of the studios in the Humanities & Fine Arts building as a Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classroom. IMT hopes to see this new space used by faculty this year.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Campus Codefest 2013

I wanted to share this item from a colleague in the College of Liberal Arts:

Campus Codefest is an recurring University of Minnesota staff event where participants work together for a couple of days on stuff that matters to them.

The primary goal of the event is to grow the UMN software development community bringing people together and giving them an opportunity to collaborate. It is also intended to facilitate the dissemination of new development technologies and approaches and get everybody to think about IT concerns beyond their own organizations.

The first CCF event took place in August 2013. There were 80 attendees from 21 departments. Out of 32 project ideas submitted, 14 were selected and worked on during the event.

Congratulations to Campus Codefest!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tweets from the Future

The University of Minnesota Morris is situated in a small town, a little over 5,000 people and about an hour from the nearest Walmart or Target store. We have a single-screen movie theater, a few bars, fewer restaurants, and a coffee shop with limited hours. Like many rural communities that harbor a university, there isn't much of "downtown" Morris to attract students. I jokingly advise incoming freshmen that they won't "party in the neon glow of downtown until the wee hours of the morning," because most shops and restaurants tend to close up by 9:00 p.m. So with a dearth of entertainment options in Morris city proper, the University of Minnesota Morris needs to find innovative ways to alert students to activities happening on campus.

The campus has much to offer our students. We regularly feature live bands, art exhibits, musicals, plays, and visits by celebrities and politicians. Our challenge was to effectively communicate these upcoming events in a compelling way to our 1,900 mostly-residential students. While we have a campus events mailing list, our students rarely find this information to be timely enough. Students do not plan their social calendar very far in advance. Often, students decide on the spur of the moment: "It's after dinner, what can I do?"

In a listening session conducted in 2012 on campus, a major concern from our students was how to access campus events and activities from their mobile devices. With a single voice, our students demanded that we develop interfaces that support iPhones and Android phones. They want access to campus events and activities via their mobile devices.

The answer is a modernized mobile events portal. The platform has to be mobile in order to succeed. Even as recently as two years ago, most students preferred laptops for their personal computing device. Slowly, a few students began to bring iPads, smartphones, and other mobile devices into the classroom. Today's internet devices are trending smaller. The widespread adoption of these devices means today’s students are increasingly untethered. This creates a problem for IT, both in terms of support and strategy. We used to say that mobile is coming, but clearly, mobile is here.

In November 2011, Nielsen reported that a wide majority of mobile phone subscribers owned a smartphone capable of displaying web pages, including half of those aged 18-25. This increasing trend to mobile has practical effects on higher education. According to a 2012 Noel-Levitz report, over half of surveyed students use a mobile device to interact with their campus. At Morris, we estimate about two-thirds of our students have smartphones (a figure that is inline with a projection from Nielsen) and expect to view campus information via their mobile devices.

Many universities have a mobile website that focuses on events. One common reference is the University of Wisconsin’s m.wisc.edu which advertises arts, athletics, film, music and public lectures. Other institutions (including the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, at m.umn.edu) have mimicked this mobile site design, presenting calendars of events in "categories," often alongside unrelated links for maps, alumni information, and social networking.


Via this design, students can view upcoming activities by clicking into each category. As they do so, students must build a mental map of which events are happening now, soon to occur, or scheduled in the future—for each category they visit. While breaking up events by topic may make sense for a narrow range of students who only want to see sports events, or only wish to attend art presentations, the Morris students we surveyed found these "categories" too unwieldy to effectively inform them of available upcoming activities. Students did not want to mentally "juggle" the calendar to figure out what was happening around campus; they wanted the calendar to present timely information about things to do.

At Morris, we approached the problem from a new direction. We focused exclusively on current on-campus students, and looked for only the information that would interest them. Instead of separating events into "categories," we utilized a coherent "timeline" view starting now and looking forward into the immediate future. Students visiting m.morris.umn.edu effectively see "tweets from the future" about upcoming events and activities: weather, events, arts, sports, and news.


By narrowing the intended audience to smartphones, we dramatically reduced our development time. In total, it took us only a few months to assemble the "Morris Mobile Events" web app. And of that, most of the time was spend evaluating and tweaking the design. One web developer created the prototype in about a week, and finalized the project in about two weeks. The web app is designed first for a smartphone display, but it "scales up" to tablets and desktop browsers.

A key element in our fast turnaround was how the web app accesses the event data. We use these RSS feeds to populate the Morris Mobile Events web app. Campus units don't update anything in Morris Mobile Events itself. Rather, the web app simply fetches data from existing systems and display that information conveniently to students. For example, if an organization adds an item to the campus events calendar, that event will automatically show up in Morris Mobile Events.

Over time, we plan to expand Morris Mobile Events with new feeds. While today we can only display event data from the campus events calendar and sports calendar, in future we hope to add menus and specials from the Dining Hall or Turtle Mountain Cafe, or movies at the local theater.

Mobile is where our students are at, and I am glad we could bring the Morris Mobile Events web app to them on their tablets and phones. I hope everyone enjoys being able to see what's happening on campus.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Leadership in Higher Ed?

I'd  like to share this article from my friend, Helen Norris, associate chief information officer at California State University, Sacramento. The new president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano, is a lawyer-turned-administrator—not an academic. Is this the start of a new trend? Will we will see more leaders like Napolitano in higher education?

New Leadership in Higher Ed?
Council on Library and Information Resources

In late July, the Regents of the University of California nominated and confirmed Janet Napolitano to lead the university system. This is simply stunning. To say that she’s non-traditional is an understatement. Most university leaders are scholars-turned-administrators. She is a lawyer-turned-administrator. She has no background in academia (although I understand her father was an academic) and no Ph.D. She has a highly political background, complete with baggage. She certainly has experience running large bureaucratic organizations. I can’t imagine how tough it is to run the State of Arizona or Homeland Security. And perhaps the challenges of running a university will seem less daunting than, say, running the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber.

My theory is that this is the beginning of a trend and that we will see more leaders like Napolitano in universities. This begs some interesting questions. Why the move in this direction? How will leaders like this do? And as leaders in universities, how can we support these new colleagues to help ensure their success?
Read more»

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Institutional effectiveness and efficiency

The Midwestern Higher Education Compact recently shared a report on the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Post-secondary Institutions in Minnesota (PDF). My institution, the University of Minnesota Morris, fared very well in the report, and I'd like to share the results with you.

From the report:

Graduation rates are frequently employed in rating the effectiveness and efficiency of colleges and universities. The use of graduation rates as performance indicators can be observed in state and federal accountability measures, accreditation regulations, and institutional performance reports. Graduation rates are typically conceptualized as the percentage of degree-seeking students in a first-time, full-time cohort who graduate within a specific period of time, such as four, five, or six years. Graduation rates are sometimes refined by taking into account transfer students or program length, but a raw graduation rate of some sort is typically used in institutional and state comparisons. However, numerous factors beyond institutional control strongly influence graduation rates, especially students’ pre-college academic preparedness. Consequently, variation in raw graduation rates may better reflect differences in such factors as admissions selectivity or institutional mission rather than whether institutional practices and programs are in fact conducive to student success.

The results demonstrate the potential value of using a measure that adjusts for institutions’ structural, demographic, and contextual characteristics. Low graduation rates may in fact reflect institutional practices that are satisfactory or better. For instance, while a seemingly low proportion of students in degree-seeking cohorts graduate within four or six years in Ohio, the rates are higher than predicted and thus merit the “Very High” effectiveness rating. Moreover, states with nearly identical graduation rates may have dissimilar institutional effectiveness ratings due to different types of institutions, student populations, and institutional contexts. The average graduation rates for public four-year institutions are quite similar in Indiana and Mississippi, but the overall institutional effectiveness ratings differ, “Low” and “High.”

Among public two-year colleges, Rainy River Community College is the most effective and Anoka-Ramsey Community College is the most efficient. Among public four-year institutions, University of Minnesota-Morris is the most effective and the most efficient (based on the six-year graduation rate). Among private four-year institutions, Northwestern College is the most effective and the most efficient.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What's your focus?

If you ever find yourself short on time, over-stretched while doing too many things, today's coaching button is for you.

We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus?

You may be familiar with the concept of lead-manage-do. It's a somewhat simplistic way to say "You can't have it all." The "lead-manage-do" concept helps us to understand the focus we need to put into our work. To be the most successful, one person really should concentrate on (at most) two of the "legs" of this triangle: "lead-manage", "lead-do", or "manage-do". While it's not impossible to do all three at once, doing so reduces focus in your other areas. For example, directors are often expected to provide leadership within their teams, and to meet with staff and perform other HR duties, but don't have logins to the computer systems their teams manage. Or, line managers may provide day-to-day management, while providing hands-on assistance with a project, but do not generate long-term "vision" or strategic direction.

Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time? Start by considering the types of duties you perform each day:

Leading
Tracking trends, anticipating future needs, developing vision and strategies to achieve goals, engaging others.
Managing
Working to organize, allocate, and coordinate people or processes. Drafting goals and operational plans, allocating resources, budgets, assigning responsibilities.
Doing
The "hands-on" activities: collecting data for a report, providing help of a routine nature, developing basic business processes, dealing with day-to-day email and phone calls.
We all do at least some of each category; even a university president responds to email and phone calls, for example. Someone who was equally divided among all three areas would look like this:


Providing an equal balance can lead to trouble. That implies someone who provides effective leadership, manages efficiently, and still does the day-to-day hands-on work? It's really hard to do the work, all of it, and do it well. A person who claims to be equally divided among lead-manage-do may be short on time, over-stretched while doing too many things. Sound familiar?

The path to success starts with balancing these focus areas with the work that you do, and your role in the organization.

For example, some large companies have a technology architect role who develops new technology and provides leadership for using that technology effectively. This kind of architect is both "lead" and "do." In contrast, other organizations use working managers. These managers are typically responsible for running their department, but also provide some hands-on assistance with technology systems (such as database administration or systems administration.) These managers are in both "manage" and "do". The working manager remains focused on the day-to-day running of the department, not to mention the systems, and does not provide much leadership for the "next generation" of what they do. They may push for more automation, or to make things easier, but rarely are able to focus on dramatic changes that take their organization to the next level.

These people divide their time differently, focused into specific areas, depending on what is important for their role in the organization:


Consider how you need to spend your time, and what types of duties are important to the work that you do. Do you need to provide "vision" or "leadership" for your area or organization? Try to exercise the most focus in "lead" and find balance in "manage" while limiting the "do." Or, is your job function to support a technology or service? Then you might focus on "do" while minimizing "lead" and "manage." Some may give so much attention to one area that the other areas might be zero, and that's okay too. How you divide your time may depend on where you are in the organization, and how you contribute:



But where should you provide focus? We only have so much time in a given week. If you decide to give more time to one area (for example, "do") you must balance the remaining time in the other two areas ("manage" and "lead). How can successful leaders divide their attention to be most successful?

Reflect on what you need to accomplish as part of your role in the organization, and use that to guide your time. Do you know your top priorities? Spend time only on the important things, not just the "immediate" items. If your focus needs to be "manage" or "lead," reduce the amount of time spent "doing" by handing some of these tasks off to others (delegating.) If your inclination or natural tendency is towards "do" and your role is "manage" or "lead," look for ways to exercise "do" outside of work, without drawing attention away from your responsibilities (I contribute to open source software). Be decisive, use defensive calendaring, avoid multitasking, organize, reduce the time spent on email, use meeting time wisely.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Let me share a vision of the future

I've been thinking about the future of technology, and specifically the convergence of mobile devices and laptops. Some vendors have experimented in this space, with mixed success. It seems a matter of time until someone strikes the right balance, and this new device becomes the next "must-have" technology that displaces even the iPad.

While I'm not a particular Apple fan (I run Windows and Linux at work, Linux and Mac at home) I do believe Apple will be the first to find the "right recipe." They have the right mix of customer base, brand loyalty, and the engineering to do something truly remarkable in this space. But I also believe Apple is currently less engaged in innovation, so will require three incremental steps to get there. Let me share a vision of this possible future path:

1. The iPad as desktop accessory (2014)

Apple releases a new "interactive trackpad" accessory, about the size of an iPad Mini. Similar to the current Apple Magic Trackpad, the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" has a video display like an iPad Mini, but no storage and minimal internal computing technology. It's not intended to be an iPad; it's a new kind of mouse trackpad for Mac desktops and laptops. The "Interactive Magic Trackpad" links wirelessly with your Mac—or connect via Apple's Thunderbolt if you need to charge.

With the "Interactive Magic Trackpad," users can still move the pointer using tap, point, and swipe gestures. But now the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" can display interactive images—such as a menu of options or other actions—if your Mac software supports it. The trackpad can even play sounds like an iPad, which is a useful enhancement for user feedback. People who do a lot of photo manipulation via Photoshop immediately fall in love with the ability to move images, pinch to zoom, twirl to rotate … and the ability to put shortcuts to commonly-used tools on the "Interactive Magic Trackpad." The Apple faithful quickly make this the new "must-buy" accessory.

2. The iPhone becomes an iPad (2015)

Building on the success of the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" accessory for Mac desktops and laptops, Apple creates a new way for people to people to bond with their iPhone. Released at the same time as a new-model iPhone and iPod, the new "iPhone Surface" is similar in size to the most popular iPad model, but has no storage and only minimal internal computing technology. Pair it wirelessly with a new-model iPhone, and the "iPhone Surface" becomes an interactive remote touchscreen. You're still running all your apps on the iPhone, but the touch input and audio & video output goes through the "iPhone Surface." You can even make Facetime calls via the new "iPhone Surface," or you can use your phone for voice calls while using the "iPhone Surface." If you don't have an iPhone, you can still pair the surface to a new-model iPod.

This new "iPhone Surface" device doesn't become a new i-device by itself, but becomes an inseparable accessory to the iPhone or iPod. The iPad still remains a popular tablet for many users, but an increasing number of Apple faithful ditch their iPad in favor of doing everything on their iPhone and new "iPhone Surface." Within a year, people wonder why we ever carried two devices that were effectively the same: an iPhone and an iPad.

3. The iPhone becomes the computer (2016)

If an iPhone can act as the computing device that powers an iPad-like display, why can't it be the computing device that powers a keyboard and mouse, like a Mac? The iPad or "iPhone Surface" is great for consuming content (videos, photos) and light content creation (updating Facebook, responding to a few emails) but tapping your fingers against an unforgiving, hard, glass surface is too much for all-day work. So Apple releases a new iPhone/Macbook hybrid (let's call it the "Macbook Micro") for on-the-go users.

Most of our applications run in the Cloud (think Gmail) and very little actually needs local computing power to run. Look at what programs you use everyday; most of your time is spent in a web browser, and probably less than 25% using a traditional desktop application. In the Apple universe, "power" users are the only people who need to run big applications like Photoshop that require huge amounts of RAM and CPU. The rest of us mostly need a device that connects us to the Internet using a keyboard and mouse to do our work via a web browser.

The new "Macbook Micro" is designed to accommodate this market. Pair your iPhone wirelessly with the "Macbook Micro" and your iPhone becomes your computer. Connect via Apple's Thunderbolt to use the Macbook Micro's built-in battery to power (or charge) your iPhone while you work. You're still running all your apps on the iPhone, but the mouse & keyboard input and audio & video output goes through the "Macbook Micro." Disconnect the iPhone, or just wander out of range, and your data and apps go with you. Your laptop is essentially "in your pocket, on your iPhone." Reconnect the iPhone to "Macbook Micro" to bring up your apps right where you left them. You can pair your iPhone to multiple "Macbook Micros" (think "home" and "office") but you can only connect to one at a time.

The magic of the "Macbook Micro" is in how the iPhone manages the display. With the previous "iPhone Surface," the iPhone's iOS interface looks the same on the surface and on the phone; the only thing that changes is where it displays. Connected to a "Macbook Micro," the iPhone's iOS interface should adapt to suit a keyboard & mouse setup. iPhone apps (web browser, iTunes, etc) should use an API that recognizes a "Macbook Micro" connection and changes their interface to one with the familiar Apple menu bar when connected to a "Macbook Micro." Apple is capable of making this work. The look-and-feel of MacOSX and iOS aren't worlds apart; Apple has taken great care that they should should look and act similarly but not identically. Microsoft hasn't learned this lesson yet with Windows 8 and Metro: people use a tablet or phone differently than how they use a keyboard & mouse.

With the release of "Macbook Micro," Google's hugely successful Chromebook gets pushed aside as an "also-ran." No one wants to carry around a phone and a laptop, unless they are essentially the same.

While the market seems unwilling to adopt this device today, we may in a few years consider it obvious that our computer fits in our pocket, as a phone, ready to be docked to a keyboard and monitor for more traditional "desktop" computing.