Monday, March 31, 2014

Improved wireless network in Science

It is my pleasure to share the status of our wireless network upgrade on campus. Over the last several months, we have been working to expand the wireless network coverage throughout the Science building. And as of this week, we have activated the new wireless network. You should now be able to connect to the wireless network wherever you are in Science, including faculty offices.

This is only the first part of our efforts to expand the wireless network on campus, based on your feedback about where wireless networking was most needed. We have already started work in the Humanities & Fine Arts building. From there, we also plan to improve the wireless network in other much-needed areas, including the RFC, Moccasin Flower Room, Gay Hall, The Cube, Briggs Library, and Camden.

I would like to thank Mike Miller, Robert Thompson, Dave Savela, and our partners in the Office of Information Technology for their work on the wireless upgrade.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Leadership lessons from Breaking Bad, part 2

A few weeks ago, I shared leadership lessons from Breaking Bad. I picked five of my favorite lessons. I had actually found a few other lessons, but I wanted to stick to seasons 1-4 so to not give anything away from the final season. Since sharing that post, I've received a bunch of emails asking for more leadership lessons from Breaking Bad. So here are the rest of the lessons I gleaned from watching the show. What other lessons do you find?

A review, if you haven't seen the show yet: Breaking Bad is a wonderful program about an educator (Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston) who goes back to professional practice in chemistry, and exhibits particular talent in his field. White partners up with a former student (Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul) and provides Jesse with remedial chemistry lessons in a sort of mentor relationship. They go into business together, and—without giving anything away—they encounter some "challenges" along the way. They also cook meth. But in a very science-y sort of way. Most of the episodes in the early seasons are about chemistry. In that they feature a lot of chemistry.

(Warning: spoilers from season 5.)

Be consistent

As a leader or as a manager, your team looks to you to model good workplace behavior. A peer mentor of mine reminds new leaders that sometimes "leadership is a performance." So be consistent in what you do. Actively look for ways to demonstrate the qualities you want others to follow. But be cautious about your performance.
Think creatively

When you encounter problems, do you sit and complain, or do you look for ways around the issue? Think outside the box, and find unique, simple solutions to the problems facing you. Whether you are working on a database project, or trying to hide your meth empire money hoard. And I have to admit that Skyler's hiding place was so obvious, I never would have thought of it.
Listen to advice

We don't have all the answers. As a friend and colleague often advises, "the answer is in the room." So be prepared to listen to advice as it comes to you. I find that it helps to start with the phrase "feedback is a gift," which allows me to mentally shift gears so I am prepared for feedback, and acts as a sort of "flag" that gives permission to those around me that it's okay to give honest, constructive feedback.
Watch out for your team

At a recent conference session, we discussed the qualities we like to see in our work colleagues, both leadership and team members. Of these aspects, "trustworthy" came out on top. Be worthy of trust. As a leader, you need to look out for your team, watch their back. No one wants to work for or with someone who doesn't have that trust.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring 2014 UMM Tech Hangouts On Air

Please plan to join us online for this Spring’s “Tech Hangouts OnAir!”  The format for this 4-part series is that the workshops will be held online and participants attend from their own desks.  Each session will be recorded to ensure that more people will be able to take advantage of these sessions.

We are looking for volunteers to “Hangout” live with the session presenters.  If you are willing to participate in this way, please contact Pam Gades and let her know.  As these sessions are also being recorded and will be available for anyone from UMM to view the recordings via YouTube, she will need your permission to share the recordings online after the session as well.

Searching the New Articles and Books Tab at Briggs Library
Wed. April 2 – 10am to 11am
Briggs Library recently unveiled a new way to search for articles, books, and multimedia simultaneously. The new search feature includes many (but not all) Briggs Library databases as well as Pounce content. Learn easy search tips and discover who can benefit the most from this exciting new resource.

What’s New in Moodle 2.6?
Thurs. April 3 – 10am to 11am
The current version of Moodle is 2.4.  A new version, Moodle 2.6, was soft-launched on March 1, 2014. (That means you may start requesting 2.6 course sites.) The full release is scheduled for April 27, 2014.  We’ll highlight the most obvious changes rolling out in the new version. This session is primarily intended for faculty.

Google Drive Best Practices
Wed. April 9 – 10am to 11am
Google Drive has changed the way we work. It is a powerful collaboration tool. In this session, we’ll share some best practices in using Google Drive:  uploading, converting, organizing, sharing, searching, and more.

Moodle Tips & Tools – Features You May Not Know About
Thurs. April 10 – 10am to 11am
Moodle has evolved to include more and more features as the updates roll out, and you may not have discovered  them yet.  I’d like to demonstrate some of these lesser-known features and share some tips for using them in your courses. This session is primarily intended for faculty.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

U of M is retiring UThink Blogs in December

I wanted to share this important announcement about the UThink Blogs system. For several years, the University Libraries and the Office of Information Technology has provided a blogging system called UThink at This is a free service to anyone within the University of Minnesota system, for you to share your ideas and post items.

The University is planning to retire the UThink system at the end of this year, in December 2014. After July 1 this year, you will no longer be able to create new blogs on UThink, but the UThink service will still be available until the end of December.

If you have a blog on the UThink Blogs, please consider moving your blog to another service. For example, you can set up a blog using your U of M login on Blogger, which is part of the U of M Google Apps service.

Monday, March 24, 2014

You're not as busy as you say you are

Hanna Rosin's recent article You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are in Slate presents a scenario: we feel overburdened by all the times we have to do. As your day progresses, you begin to feel as if your workload drives your day, rather than you maintaining a balance of "critical" versus the "merely important."

Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time, as Tim Kreider wrote in The ‘Busy’ Trap. If you find yourself feeling frantic at your ever-growing mental "to do" list, you may feel that all your tasks blend into each other and a day has no sense of distinct phases. From the article:
Researchers call it “contaminated time,” … The only relief from the time pressure comes from cordoning off genuine stretches of free or leisure time, creating a sense of what Schulte calls “time serenity” or “flow.” But over the years, time use diaries show that women have become terrible at that, squeezing out any free time and instead, as Schulte puts it, resorting to “crappy bits of leisure time confetti.”
The article cites sociologist John Robinson, one of the first people to start collecting time use diaries, in recommending a solution:
Robinson doesn’t ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.
So, how busy are you really? As managers, we may ask our staff to account for their time, so we can report on that effort to others within our leadership structure. (At Morris, we use effort-based workplans.) But we don't ask the same of ourselves. The "common wisdom" is that management time is "overhead," and not tracked. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, are we really that busy, or do we just say we're that busy?

Friday, March 21, 2014

The best leaders are ambiverts

A friend forwarded this excellent article to me: "Want results? Hire an ambivert." Written in 2013 by Dan Pink, the article advocates looking for the right mixture in new leaders. Neither completely extrovert nor fully introvert, the "ambivert" provides a mixture of traits that tends to meet with best success.

In new research from Adam Grant, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management, Grant collected data from sales representatives at a software company. "Then he tracked their performance over the next three months. The introverts fared worst; they earned average revenue of $120 per hour. The extroverts performed slightly better, pulling in $125 per hour. But neither did nearly as well as a third group: the ambiverts."

In Grant's study, ambiverts earned average hourly revenues of $155, beating extroverts by a healthy 24 percent. In fact, the salespeople who did the best of all, earning an average of $208 per hour, were smack in the middle of the introversion-extroversion scale.

And as Pink describes, good leaders are actually salespeople of a different kind. Rather than "selling" to customers, successful leaders pitch a vision and get people to support that effort. Strong leaders are able to reach out to people who can lend a hand, and build bridges between constituent groups. Pink advocates that good leaders need to reflect the ambivert:
What holds for actual salespeople holds equally for the quasi-salespeople known as leaders. Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little. They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.

But the answer - whether you're pushing Nissans on a car lot or leading a major nonprofit or corporation - isn't to lurch to the opposite end of the spectrum. Introverts have their own challenges. They can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal. Ambiverts, though, strike the right balance. They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back.
Reflect on your leadership qualities. Are you a strong introvert who speaks loudly but may not listen well? Or are you an introvert who prefers isolation, but may lack the ability to reach out to others for support? Find ways to incorporate typical behaviors from the other end of your "introversion-extroversion" scale.

Monday, March 17, 2014

When your phone is your life, battery is everything

Students today live and die by their mobile phones. You don't have to look far on any university campus to see students peering at their iPhones or Android phones, checking email, watching videos, posting updates. This generation is a mobile-powered generation.

So it's important that campuses support our students and their platform of choice. Battery is everything. So on our campus, as I'm sure many others, we've placed mobile device charging stations in several common student areas. Here's one from our student center:

These charging points allow multiple students to connect iPhones or Android phones to get a quick "top up" on their charge. Doing homework in the library? Find a charging station and plug in your phone. Getting lunch in the student center cafe? Charge your phone while you eat. It's much more convenient than carrying your own charger with you all day, and hanging out near wall outlets.

We've had these charging stations for a year or more, but this seems such an obvious idea that I wonder why we didn't do this earlier. Students, faculty, and staff all love it. And with our two wind turbines at Morris, there's a good chance that your phone will charge from wind power.

As we build out new student areas on our campus, it's great to see us incorporate mobile devices in our space planning. For example: this summer, our library plans to create new study spaces, which will feature table-based mobile device charging points.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Leadership lessons from Breaking Bad

I missed Breaking Bad when it originally aired, but I caught up on the whole series recently via Netflix. If you haven't seen the show, Breaking Bad is a wonderful program about an educator (Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston) who goes back to professional practice in chemistry, and exhibits particular talent in his field. White partners up with a former student (Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul) and provides Jesse with remedial chemistry lessons in a sort of mentor relationship. They go into business together, and—without giving anything away—they encounter some "challenges" along the way. They also cook meth. And I mean a lot of meth.

Aside from the chemistry lessons, Breaking Bad provides leadership lessons, if you look for them. I've chosen five of my favorite lessons.

1. Partner with others; be part of a team

You can't go it alone. It's important when starting any new venture to have a partner, someone who will watch your back and help you out. And that's true whether you're working on an IT project, coordinating a campus-wide effort, or cooking a batch of meth in a dilapidated RV in the deserts of New Mexico.

While it's important to partner with someone who works well with you, be mindful that you select someone who brings a fresh perspective. If your partner carries the same opinions that you do, you'll fail to identify issues before they become problems, and you'll miss valuable opportunities.

2. Make wise hiring decisions

A colleague once related to me that hiring new people onto a team is a half-million dollar decision, and you need to treat it as such. Think of it this way: in higher ed and in industry, expect to spend about $100,000 per IT professional per year in salary and fringe (in most metro areas). Hire the wrong person, and IT managers may spend several years trying to "fix" the person they hired before deciding to end the relationship. And in the meantime, your team will experience "collateral damage" as more experienced members try to repair mistakes caused by the problem person.

Be like Gus. Whether he's hiring a fry cook in his fast-food restaurant or a partner in a new business venture, he builds a solid understanding of who he's dealing with. Large or small, Gus is careful to hire only the right people for his team.

3. Be methodical in what you do

Projects go more smoothly if everyone knows their part and what to expect. Take care to plan out your vision and clarify your team's role in executing that vision. Apply proper methodology to your project planning, such as detailed effort work plans or simple Gantt charts, to ensure a smooth delivery. Map out any obstacles in your way and get people together to identify how to work around them.

But leave some flexibility in your planning. There is such a thing as becoming too focused. Avoid becoming overly attached to an idea so that it prevents you from seeing other possibilities and alternative outcomes.

4. Commit to your decisions

When you make a decision or decide on a course of action, there shouldn't be any doubt that it's the right thing to do. Balance your options, and weigh the benefits against the risks. And when you move forward, put all your energy into it. If you hold back, you aren't really committed.

Look at Hector. When Walter approached him with an opportunity, no one could argue he didn't commit himself to the deal. He evaluated the options, and was all in. Be like Hector. Ring the bell of success.

5. Don't be afraid to take initiative

When opportunity knocks, will you be ready? We need to remain flexible to leverage new avenues of success. Leaders need to recognize the path to progress even in the face of challenges. Don't be afraid to take the initiative, and work around obstacles. With a little creativity, you just might discover new ways to achieve your objectives.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Conference call hell

An important part of any successful meeting is having a clear agenda, and sharing that with people ahead of time so they can come to the meeting prepared to talk about the items. When everyone comes prepared, meetings can be very productive.

Meetings that are not run this way can be dreadful. Meetings like that can really take the life out of every participant. Nothing gets done, and people dread attending the next meeting.

The next runner-up to "meetings no one wants to attend" are conference calls. Comedy sketch duo Tripp & Tyler exemplify conference call hell in their short video, A conference call in real life. How many of you have been in conference calls like this?

Don't let your meetings end up this way. With the increasing trend towards remote meetings, such as through Google Hangout or teleconferences, we need to find ways to keep our remote attendees engaged. Remote meetings shouldn't drift into "us v them" where those who are physically present in the room ignore those who are trying to participate via conference. What things can you learn about running a remote meeting successfully?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Moodle improvements

I wanted to share this update from Pam and the rest of the community of practice that's been working to improve our academic tools at the U of M:

I hope you will take a few minutes to view the video report on the "Improving Moodle" collaboration that many of you have participated in during this academic year.  Thanks to your input, Moodle continues to improve.  You'll see photos of UMM faculty and staff in this video!

The current version of Moodle is Version 2.4. Moodle 2.6 soft-launched (meaning that it is available for you to begin requesting 2.6 course sites) on March 1, 2014, with the full release scheduled to for April 27, 2014.

Stay tuned for an announcement about an upcoming Google+ Hangout OnAir Broadcast that will cover "What's New in Moodle?" - being offered jointly by Instructional & Media Technologies and the Office of Online Learning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Morris Tech Fee

At the University of Minnesota Morris, we have what I think is a pretty unique opportunity for our student governance. Like other universities, Morris has a "Technology Fee." (Actually, this is wrapped up as a Morris Campus Fee, but for this post, let me use both interchangeably.) But unlike other schools, our students have a direct voice in how those fees are implemented to support technology.

A number of years ago, our student governance asked to have this "Tech Fee" levied so that students might benefit from new an experimental investments in technology. So they went to our leadership at the time and had this fee added. Every year, our student governance hears presentations from across the campus—faculty, staff, and students—on how these groups might invest certain funds to support new technology. And then the governance body has to decide how to allocate monies to each group, if at all.

Last week, I got to watch this year's Tech Fee process. This is my fourth year in Tech Fee, participating with the other IT partners as "advisors" to the student governance group. And as in previous years, I continue to be impressed with the professional and determined approach.

This year, my group sought funding from Tech Fee for four projects: enhancing a student lab, replacing several lab printers, renewing the campus ridesharing system, and (together with one of our faculty) experimenting with a new software program to help students better examine rhetorical texts. We look forward to the new year as we work on these projects. I'm pleased to continue to work with our student governance in the Tech Fee process!