Friday, August 30, 2013

The Art of Hosting

It is my pleasure to share this announcement on behalf of my colleagues Jen Bentrim and Jen Mein:

We would like to announce the publication of Cultivating Change in the Academy: Practicing The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Within the University of Minnesota, an e-book and companion web site that highlights the experiences of UMN faculty, staff, and student "Art of Hosting" practitioners. This second book in the “Cultivating Change” series, documents the emerging applications of the "Art of Hosting" and "Harvesting Conversations that Matter," a set of engagement techniques, practical frameworks, and an international community of practitioners focused on engaging diverse perspectives in meaningful conversation for wise action.

Over the past six months, 25+ contributed as authors, editors, graphic designers, and technical supporters for this collaborative project. The stories showcase innovation and leadership within and across colleges, schools, departments, and classrooms. They offer insight into how unexpected and significant change unfolds. You may be especially interested in a chapter within the personal transformation section we co-authored and titled, Leadership Journeys Lead to Hosting IT Community.

The e-book can also be downloaded from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy as a PDF or in native formats for iPad, Nook, Kindle, and other eReaders.

You can also read, comment and share the stories via the companion website Practicing the Art of Hosting.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Choosing civility

In our office, Rebecca is reading Choosing Civility, by P.M. Forni. The book shares twenty five great rules of considerate conduct, and Rebecca found it a fascinating read. So every few weeks, we've decided to share a few excerpts from Forni's book on our bulletin board. Here's the first one:

Rule #1 - Pay Attention

  • Our first responsibility when we are with others is to pay attention.
  • Each individual has unique communication needs; they're not a colleague, they're this colleague.
  • Attention honors others. It's the opposite of carelessness, indifference, and inertia.
  • All good things come through successful relationships with others.
  • Don't beat yourself up for failing. Praise yourself for trying, and keep on.
  • Remember to pay attention to yourself, especially your feelings. Ignore at your own peril.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The importance of cybersecurity

If you manage servers, I encourage you to review your security protocols. The StarTribune reports hackers are increasingly targeting universities. The article mentions the U of M and St. Cloud State University as two Minnesota examples that are fighting back against cyberattacks.

Massoud Amin at the U of M's Technological Leadership Institute is quoted saying "Cyberthreats are real. They evolve quickly. They've become more malicious and more prevalent." Henry May, chief information officer for St. Cloud State University, adds security is "something that consumes more time and resources than it did a year ago or three years ago." Brian Dahlin, director of information security at the U of M's Office of Information Technology, highlights that "attackers continue to get more sophisticated" which means organizations need "to improve their ability to identify attacks."

The reasons for hackers attacking a system can vary. Most cybercriminals seek personal or financial gain, according to a 2012 report on data breaches published by Verizon. However, the report also noted an increase in the instances of hacktivism—attacks for political or social reasons. So even if your system doesn't contain private data, you still have an obligation to protect it with the same high level of security and attention.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Active Learning Classrooms

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the 2013 National Forum on Active Learning Classrooms at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. It was an exciting conference, and I came away feeling very engaged and enthusiastic to support our faculty in this new mode of teaching. In a series of presentations spanning two and a half days, there was some overlap of concepts, but I learned a lot about Active Learning.

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).

a small ALC at the forum

Michelle Driessen (U of M) opened day 1 of the conference, sharing her experience in redesigning courses for active learning classrooms: the flipped classroom model. Driessen didn't record her lectures from the lecture hall. Rather, she did her lecture capture over a summer, while she was already teaching the same traditional course in Chemistry. She arranged to have a free hour after each class, where she repeated her lecture for the camera. This meant that any questions and "stumble points" students posed during the traditional lecture were fresh in her mind, so she was well prepared when recording her lecture to point out "This is where the 2 came from," or other clarification.

Most presenters advised to break up students in the ALC randomly, rather than letting them pick their own groups (where they tend to sit with friends and get off-topic). Similarly, most presenters prefer to intersperse "mini lectures" with group work; for example, you might present a topic from the reading, introducing concrete problems as group assignments to help students think analytically and scientifically. Each group might have one "leader" who guides the table discussion, one "recorder" who captures the key points on a nearby whiteboard, and one "monitor" who ensures that the group of four to five students is staying on task and that everyone participates.

Christina Petersen and David Langley (U of M) advised using the "SUCCESS" model in a flipped classroom experience. Leverage Simple messages, Unexpected ways to grab attention, Concrete examples, Credible evidence, Emotional motivation and rhetoric, and Stories that help solidify topics discussed in class to make them "Sticky."

One question tended to recur throughout the conference: What classes work best for ALCs? The answer (such as from Adam Finkelstein, McGill) is It depends. While most presenters represented STEM fields, some discussed using ALCs successfully in the traditional humanities, such as using the ALC model to teach history. Sehoya Cotner (U of M) argues It's not you, it's the room. And the "technology" required in a Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classroom can vary; Marilyn Lockhart and Lindsey Jackson (Montana State University) discussed a typically high-tech classroom with displays and projection capability, while others defined their "TEAL" Classroom as using only "whiteboard" technology. Some fall somewhere in between, such as mixing "clickers" with whiteboards and a single projection.

But most emphasize the space is not what makes ALCs meaningful, but the instructor and the instruction method. For example, students focus on only a few features of an ALC: movable chairs, room layout, and technology available to students and faculty. Generally, students need access to wireless networking, and faculty need the ability to annotate slides "on the go." That said, matching the right space to the type of lecture can affect an instructor's success; active learning works best in an ALC, and traditional lecture works best in standard classrooms.

Gary Smith (New Mexico) shared a great experience in helping overcome student resistance to team work in ALCs. Focus on investment rather than buy-in, by connecting active learning methods with what students value. For example, students value life-long learning skills and learning how to use information. Those are two key skills that students exercise in an ALC. Through a series of in-class questions (with "clicker" responses), Smith effectively helps students to see that how students want to learn (acquire information outside of class, work with peers and instructors in class) is exactly how the ALC is designed. Throughout the course, Smith also takes advantage of opportune moments (such as when a class runs short of the hour) to have student groups discuss among themselves what is working and what they can do to improve things.

Everyone reported numbers differently, but generally the benefits of ALCs are increased student engagement, reduced D-F-W rates, and higher retention.

There were 171 registered participants (up 40% from 2011) representing 63 colleges and universities (6 international), K-12 schools, state government, a furniture manufacturer, and architectural and property management firms.  36 informational presentations associated with keynote and featured speaking, paper presentations, posters, demonstrations, roundtables, and panel presentations; 18 of these presentations were conducted by University of Minnesota faculty, staff, or students.

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.

Notes and references:

2013 National Forum on Active Learning Classrooms (PowerPoints, handouts, materials, etc)

- Doceri as a whiteboard app on the iPad. Effectively a "super remote" for an Apple laptop. Doesn't require AppleTV, but some ALCs do use AppleTV.

- Be intentional (shifting pedagogy). Plan, plan, plan. Assess during the class, reflect and revise after the class.

- Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

- "It's not you, it's the room - Are the high-tech Active Learning Classrooms worth it?" by Sehoya Cotner, Jessica Loper, J. D. Walker, and D. Christopher Brooks.

- PollEverywhere, live audience participation.

- Active Learning Classrooms (website) at Seattle Pacific University.

- "Smart tables: Active Learning Classrooms put learning at the center" by Hope McPherson.

- Learning Spaces Research (website) at the University of Minnesota.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Making students employable

I found this interesting article from the New York Times about What it takes to make new college graduates employable. Alina Tegund explores the issues surrounding hiring new university and college graduates into the workforce. If I may over-simplify, the core argument is that employers hire not just for the skills a candidate has but the ability of that new hire to quickly gain new skills. A few key notes from the article:
Many employers have overblown expectations for the skills of new hires, believing (falsely) that recent college graduates should be able to "hit the ground running."
Employers seem more concerned about the lack of specific technical skills than broad ones like communication.
Job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.
At Morris and other higher ed institutions, our great faculty prepare the next generation of students, not just for their first job but for everything that follows in their career. Technical expertise is certainly necessary to enter the private sector, and students should expect to have mastery over the technology "essential tools" that they will use in the office (such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint). And of course you need to have the skills necessary to start you in an entry-level position. That should be a base assumption for any job-seeker.

However, I also believe that "learning how to learn" is just as important. I disagree with Alec Levenson's quote in the article: "A four-year liberal arts education doesn't prepare kids for work and it never has." Liberal arts universities like the University of Minnesota Morris prepare our students very well for life-long learning. Our students learn to think critically, how to analyze not just what is presented to them but the genre and trends surrounding it.

Responding to the article's comments that "candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving," I agree that universities should better prepare our students in these areas. This may not always be a pleasant experience for the student; it is often difficult. But sometimes you need a "stretch goal" to grow your expertise. Allow me to close with a personal example:

My undergraduate major was physics at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The "make or break" course in the physics program was "PHYS 301 Advanced Physics Laboratory I," known locally as "Junior Lab." On the first day of Junior Lab, I remember our instructor announcing that he would give us more work than we could realistically expect to accomplish, but we were to complete the lab sequences anyway. It was a "sink or swim" semester, where successful physics students learned to analyze the equations of motions ahead of that week's experiment, so they could determine which parameters needed the most attention to detail and which could make do with "looser" measurements. (In physics, this is sometimes referred to as "error analysis," where "higher order" terms require greater precision; errors in "lower order" terms don't affect the outcome that much.) By the end of the semester, we had mastered adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Balancing risk on desktops and laptops

We are now working divisions and departments to renew the support agreement. As a result, at least one unit has asked if it is necessary to have a support contract for older equipment, so I wanted to share these thoughts.

The most important thing to protect is your data. Many staff and faculty keep files for 10 years or more, yet do not often back up their data. People whose computers are on the campus Active Directory can store their important files on the network using the S: and H: drives. Others may choose to keep copies of important files on the University's file cloud (NetFiles) or in your U of M Google Docs account. But most faculty and staff do not operate this way; they keep a lot of files on their desktop or laptop, so losing their computer because of a hardware problem is a big deal. Usually the first thing to go on a computer is a spinning part, such as the hard drive. That’s why we like to replace computers on a regular cycle.

When we purchase computers, we usually purchase them with a three-year extended warranty. This means if the computer has a problem during the first three years, the vendor will arrange for free replacement or repair.

After those three years are up, we typically use an external support contract with a third party. If someone’s computer has a problem, and it’s too big for the helpdesk to fix, then we can call the external support folks for repair. We strongly recommend desktops and laptops go on the support agreement after the third year, to make sure that they can be fixed if something breaks.

We sometimes have some “spares” on hand, which we use for “emergency” replacement of campus computers. These are usually computers that are “reclaimed” when we replace the lab computers. But these are always in limited quantity, and are provided on a “first-come, first-served” basis. This year, we are deploying many of these “spares” to use as classroom PCs. There’s no guarantee that we will have a spare on-hand if someone’s computer needs to be replaced.

My recommendation is to replace desktops and laptops every four years. Use the warranty in the first three years, and put the computer on the support agreement in the fourth year.

Consider this: If your computer dies during that last year, after it goes off warranty but before it is replaced, do you want to hope that we will have a spare computer for you to use? Or do you want to rely instead on the maintenance contract through a local in-field support person who can (in almost all cases) bring your computer back to life for you?