Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On teaching

This semester, I was fortunate to teach an online class, CSCI 4609 Processes, Programming, and Languages: Usability of Open Source Software. This was an extension of my Master's degree capstone, where I examined the usability of open source software. I have long wanted to do some teaching, and this was my first opportunity. I learned a lot from this experience, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on how teaching this class helped me become a better IT leader:

Years ago, a mentor helped me realize that an effective leader delegates. I used to struggle with delegation; I always thought I could do it better myself. I feared that someone else might do the task incorrectly, or at least not to my preference. But we can't do everything; we need to pass on assignments to those in our teams, and trust that they will do the right thing.

In teaching, delegation means giving out class assignments: read these articles and summarize them, then apply that knowledge in this other analysis. I always expected my students to do the work. If they had questions, they could ask, but they needed to do the work themselves. This semester, I delegated 22 times to 10 students; that's 220 individual delegations!
Similar to delegation, I developed a new sense of independence. Not independence for myself, but accepting the independence of my students. In most weeks, I gave two assignments (typically an article summary and an analysis) both due at the end of the week. Now, if I were working on the assignments, I would probably read the articles on day 1, then post my summary on day 2, and start work on the analysis on day 3. But that's me. My students work differently than I do, and I had to accept that.

Each "week" opened on Tuesday and closed on Monday night. I quickly learned not to expect anything from students until Sunday night, with the majority of assignments posted on Monday afternoon or evening. That's not how I would do it. I had to adjust my expectations, to accept the independence of my students to get the work done on their own schedule. I also had to accept failure, because sometimes failure is the best learning experience.
When you ask someone to do something for you, how clearly do you set expectations? In setting assignments, I found that different students can interpret the same instructions in any number of ways. If my students misunderstood the assignment, that's sort of my fault. So I learned clarity in my instructions and in my recorded lectures. What articles am I asking you to summarize? How will I grade your submission? Where do the points come from?

Monday, December 21, 2015

On leadership development

In my week break, I find myself reflecting on my experiences in higher ed. One major milestone in my career was leadership development. Many managers may have attended some form of management training, but leading is different than managing.

MOR Associates has a great leadership development program for emerging and current leaders, and I find it helped me develop and hone new skills, and practice those skills to become habits. I was fortunate to be part of the first IT Leaders Program (ITLP) cohort from the University of Minnesota back in 2007, and again in 2010 when we did a special cohort with all the IT Directors from Minnesota. I still use those lessons from ITLP, pretty much every day!

The SWOT exercises are something I use all the time. I'm going through a transition now, leaving the University of Minnesota and joining Ramsey County as the new CIO. In preparing my staff for my departure, I did another SWOT exercise in my last week at Morris.

I also use the three lenses. Are we doing the right thing at the right time? Do I have the right people supporting my idea? What about Cultural? Because Culture really does eat Strategy for breakfast. Change can't always fit within the current culture, but how can I put a new idea into a perspective that people will listen to, that will get past that Culture lens? As Brian says, the art of change management is like the art of politics; it's about disappointing people at a rate they can accept.

And use coaching, both peer coaching with friends and coaching with my staff. Those are really important to me. I like to use those coaching buttons. When I have some time alone with someone, like before a meeting, or walking between buildings after a meeting, I'll ask for little updates from whoever I'm with, like my staff. How's the project going? Did you get a chance to meet with so-and-so? How did that go? And that person will usually tell me where they are struggling, and I'll take that coaching moment to ask a question, to nudge them into thinking about it a different way? “What you're doing is making an argument. That's Rhetoric, right?  We have a Rhetoric department. Have you used your Rhetoric to make that a really strong presentation? Or how you can make that a really compelling case?” And these little breakaway moments usually lead to thinking outside the box.

Anyway, that's a few thoughts on how I use ITLP today. Have a great holiday!
image: MOR Associates (logo)

Thursday, December 17, 2015


As I end my time at Morris, I find myself reflecting on the achievements we have all made, the successes I've witnessed in the last five and a half years. A few highlights:

Network upgrades
When I came to Morris in 2010, our network was outdated. We had upgraded the campus network some years prior, but mostly using discarded equipment donated from the Twin Cities campus after their upgrade. Immediately upon my arrival, we started planning for the next upgrade, and a year or so later, we partnered with the Twin Cities Office of Information Technology to do an in-place upgrade of our campus network. At a total cost of over $1.5 million, we increased speeds and improved reliability of our wired and wireless networks. Since then, we have focused our network resources to expanding our wireless network. Most recently, we expanded wireless coverage across the Library. We are currently preparing for Spooner Hall, Pine Hall, and Blakely Hall. In Spring, we will continue to expand wireless. Over the summer, we will address the on-campus apartments and other areas.
Media Collaboration Table
In higher ed IT, we need to constantly invest in new experiments, new technologies and new ways of integrating technology into teaching and learning. Last year, we invested in a new Media Collaboration Table in the Library, supporting multiple video connections. This was a successful pilot project. Over the next year, I hope Morris continues this expansion. Prior to my departure, we discussed incorporating similar technology collaboration in meeting rooms and conference rooms.
Process improvement
For a long time, I harped on the topic of "Simplify, Standardize, Automate, and Innovate." This has led us to significant gains, improving our support and backoffice services by automating processes that used to be done by hand. For example, we have implemented process automation for many reports; previously, these were generated on an ad-hoc by-request basis, and required significant person time. Instead, we created scripts and other jobs that automate the data reports; some of the reports are delivered automatically to the people who need them, others are kept in a holding area until they are needed. Recently, we have expanded on the "Simplify, Standardize, Automate, Innovate" and added the question "Why?" to our repertoire. This gives permission to our team and our customers to probe why we do things the way we do them, to take a step back and consider if we still need to do things a certain way. We may have implemented a process or a policy in the 1990s when computers and networks and storage had certain capacities, and people had other duties that limited their time. But in 2015, do we still have these limitations? By asking "Why?" we have uncovered several processes that were obsolete. We removed other obstacles and found ways to do things more efficiently. Consider this important question i your own process improvement.
Disaster recover planning
In a previous role at the Twin Cities Office of Information Technology, my responsibilities included managing the enterprise DR planning team. I applied that experience at Morris, to create our first disaster recovery plans. Our goal was to keep it simple, because most planning goes out the window anyway during an actual disaster. Automate processes as much as possible, including the architecture, to provide flexibility during outages. This may help you avoid an outage altogether. We created an application architecture diagram and swim lane diagram, and performed tabletop exercises. Now, however, most of our critical services have migrated to other providers, many to the Twin Cities campus. This offloads our DR efforts, effectively outsourcing them. So there's not much left at Morris for DR planning, although we participate in annual disaster tabletop exercises with other areas of the campus.
Strategic planning
When I arrived in 2010, I realized our campus IT strategy was years out of date. And the previous strategy was not actionable, it didn't really provide or set direction to help guide our technology efforts. So I formed an IT strategic planning group, where we developed a new IT Masterplan. The new plan identified several key campus technology strategies, including short-term actions to generate momentum towards those goals. Over time, we have maintained the IT Masterplan and maintained it via two IT input cycles: one in spring, and one in fall. We also participate in strategic planning through formal communities of practice, which help us look to the future of the University.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Building relationships

Relationships are currency, no matter what industry you are in. Relationships help to build bridges, resolve conflicts, and generally get things done. You can't get far without building relationships with others.

I've talked about building relationships in other coaching buttons. You should remember the 4 I's of building relationships:
  1. Initiate
  2. Inquire
  3. Invest
  4. Influence
I sometimes refer to #4 as "Inspire" rather than "Influence." It depends on how you use the relationship.

Along the lines of building relationships, I found an interesting short video from BuzzFeed about How to make friends (according to science). The video lists a few tips on making yourself more approachable, including:

Keep your torso open and face the person you're talking to.
People will feel you are mentally open.When I converse with others, I want to give my full attention to the person I am with, so I tend to place myself directly in front of them. But I find many people, at least in the Midwest, prefer to have conversations with their bodies at an "angle" to the person they are talking to. So we may find ourselves in a bit of a "dance" as they keep trying to go back to the "angle" and I then move to face them.
Keep your hands visible to others.
This will create trust.We use body language to create more expressive conversations. Our body language can include tilting our heads or defining shapes with our hands to help in visualizing a concept. If you remove body language, you remove part of what makes a conversation more personal.
Create a time constraint.
The other person won't feel they are trapped in a conversation.We've all experienced the co-worker who suddenly appears in our door or cubicle, and wants to chat. Perhaps the person is bored or waiting for their software build to compile, or just killing time before going out to lunch, and decides to drop in for a visit. The sudden visit and forever conversation is a real interruption to your productivity. Don't be that person. If you need to visit with someone at the office, try to put a time limit on your stay, and make sure the other person knows you need to leave soon.
Other tips from the video include:

Ask for small favors.
Being needed will make others feel close to you.
Speak slowly and clearly.
You'll appear more confident.
Maintain eye contact.
This can strengthen the connection in a conversation.
Avoid butting-in or correcting others.
Don't make it about you.
Share some personal information, when appropriate.
Avoid becoming impersonal.
Take two minutes to watch this brief video and find ways to practice their tips. Build your relationships!
photo: Astro

Friday, December 11, 2015

Classroom computing gets smaller

It's no secret that I follow technology and computing trends. As an IT leader, I need to watch for new ways that technology changes the landscape. Our standard computing model today may change in only a few years. We need to be ready.

Over the last few years, we've all seen the increasing trend to smaller computing devices. With more computing load transitioned to "The Cloud," our desktop computers no longer need to be CPU workhorses. They can be simpler, relying on Cloud systems with web interfaces to support the major office workloads.

The Google Chromebook is one such example of new computing models. The device itself stores very little data, which means a narrow opportunity for data loss in the event of a lost or stolen computer. (Chromebook also encrypts local data, but I'll leave that for now.) Chromebook achieves this by moving all applications to the Cloud; rather than a local copy of Office, users access Google Apps. The first major success for Chromebook was arguably the Samsung Chromebook, which implemented a low-cost ARM CPU, similar to that in the Raspberry Pi (also an interesting entry in new computing.)

We purchased a Chromebook several years ago that we still loan out to those who want to try it. The Chromebook is a great little laptop that's easy to carry around to meetings.

For those who need a desktop machine, there's the similar Chromebox. Basically the same as Chromebook but in a desktop configuration, you add your own keyboard, mouse, and display to get to work. As our campus computing needs shift to more Cloud-based options, I anticipate our classroom computers may one day be fulfilled by a Chromebox. That is, if we continue to use instructor workstations.

An interesting twist is the recent addition of the Chromebit. At around $85, the Chromebit is basically the Chromebox "on a stick." Plug the Chromebit into an HDMI display, add a keyboard and a mouse, and you are ready to go!

I foresee many interesting options for the Chromebit. While I am leaving higher ed, I can still comment on higher ed technology. Imagine replacing our classroom computers with Chromebit devices, connected directly to the projector or Smartboard in each classroom. A remote keyboard and mouse allows the instructor to use the Chromebit to access Google Apps, including presentations via Google Docs.

Higher ed faces continuing funding issues. Every university and college across the US is challenged to reduce the cost of education while expanding opportunities and investing in academic technology. This is a difficult challenge that requires creative problem-solving. The Chromebit may provide the flexibility and leverage that this campus needs to do this.

It will be interesting to follow this trend of shrinking computing, low-cost technology as ways to supplement and even enhance instructional technology. Classroom computing gets smaller, and we should embrace that.
image: Google

Friday, December 4, 2015

New horizons

It is with mixed emotion that I announce I am leaving the University of Minnesota system.

I have been part of the University of Minnesota for a long time. I joined the University in 1998, managing the web production team in the Office of Information's recently formed "Web Team." In Web, we created the University's first web registration for the new PeopleSoft Student system. We also created an electronic portfolio system that allowed students to share their work with companies that might want to hire them (the system was named simply "Portfolio," then "e-Portfolio," then later "Open Source Portfolio Initiative" as it was released under a collaborative open source license). And we unified the web "front door" for students to access their account information; the "OneStop" concept provided a single view for course information, class schedule, web registration, update personal information, fees, and graduation plans.

Over time, I took on larger responsibilities at the University of Minnesota. As a manager in OIT's Central Computing Operations, I unified several enterprise systems administrations teams. Under this initiative, I worked with my Windows team to simplify our customer support, providing a sort of "menu" of hosting services that later grew into the Virtual Hosting service many colleges and system campuses continue to rely on. Later, as Senior Manager for Enterprise Operations and Infrastructure, I consolidated all of OIT's enterprise systems administrations teams under a single organization. And I created new initiatives such as enterprise Web Hosting and enterprise Database Hosting and enterprise Server Hosting that lowered costs and enhanced services across the University.

In 2010, I stepped into a new role as Campus IT Director at the University of Minnesota Morris. This was a major change for me; rather than supporting all of the University's 65,000+ systemwide students, I focused on just the Morris campus. The trade-off was I got to work more closely with the campus. Every day, I engage with faculty and students, something I was unable to do while working in the enterprise IT unit.

Morris didn't have someone in my role for the three years prior to my arrival. My first challenge was clearing an IT audit delivered in 2007, resolving most issues in the first three months, and demonstrating resolution (and closing) all issues within six months. Together, we transitioned the campus from a legacy email and calendaring system to Google Apps for Education, and migrated our desktops to a new Active Directory implementation. And I led a team to create our first long-range IT strategy, which we continue to maintain and use as a guide for technology projects.

Technology at Morris isn't unified under a single director; I work in partnership with two of my peers as Technology Partners. Our accomplishments are too numerous to list here. Together we have lowered costs and simplified technology maintenance at Morris. We also leverage more technology services available via Cloud providers and through the Twin Cities Office of Information Technology, again lowering our costs. It has been an interesting experience as customer to the same services I directed the creation when I was in my previous role.

I am now moving to a new leadership role, as the Chief Information Officer at Ramsey County. I start on Monday, December 28. My last effective day at Morris will be Friday, December 18, although I will technically remain until December 23 as I wrap up an online computer science class I am teaching this semester.

It will be difficult to leave my friends and colleagues across the University of Minnesota. Over five years at Morris and seventeen years with the University of Minnesota system is a long time to make friends, build relationships, and set down roots. I feel a deep connection with everyone; I have been fortunate to work alongside all of you.

I am working over the next few weeks to transition my responsibilities to the new interim Campus IT Director. I am proud to see Matt grow into this new role; I know he will do well. Everyone in our campus technology units is well placed and supportive of IT, and I trust in everyone's ability to take on new challenges as responsibilities and duties shift during this transition.

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to serve the University of Minnesota Morris, and the University of Minnesota system. As a colleague of mine relates in a personal story, "it is my pleasure to serve." And it truly has been my pleasure to serve at the University of Minnesota.

I plan to continue writing in this Coaching Buttons blog. Expect to see new posts, although there may be a drop in productivity as I settle into my new role at Ramsey County. I plan to (eventually) go back to a once-a-week schedule.
image: Ramsey County website

Monday, November 30, 2015

Leadership presence

A colleague of mine once interviewed for a senior position at Apple when Steve Jobs was CEO. I'll leave my friend's name out of this for obvious reasons.

When my friend showed up for the interview, Jobs was not prepared for the interview and didn't even seem to know my friend was there for an interview. After a twenty minute wait, my friend finally met Jobs for the interview. But Jobs wasn't exactly welcoming. Jobs immediately asked "Why are you here?" and was unable to find a copy of my friend's resume.

Over the next twenty minutes, my friend experienced an awkward interview laced with a few rude words and frankly obnoxious behavior. It wasn't a great reflection of a man who was hailed as a great CEO and savior of Apple Corp. Upon leaving the interview, my friend met other senior leaders at Apple who, when told of Jobs's behavior, said that it meant "Steve liked you."

I was reminded of my friend as I read an article from the BBC asking "Will Steve Jobs's management style get you to the top?" From the article:
By most accounts the new biopic of Steve Jobs is an accurate portrayal of a man who shouted down colleagues at meetings, was visibly impatient and dismissive of others' contributions... and yet he is lauded as perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation.

So does being rude, ruthless and self-absorbed give you an advantage when it comes to getting ahead in business?

Quite the reverse, according to Professor Christine Porath, at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University.
Those who choose to imitate the brusque and obnoxious behavior of Apple's Steve Jobs do so at their peril. This kind of behavior is not only inappropriate for a work environment, it destroys any positive work culture in the office. Porath cites her research in saying staff "worked less hard if managers were rude to them." In an academic environment, with an equally toxic professor, "students given the brush-off by a professor were subsequently less successful at word puzzles."

But you can't always be everyone's friend. Leaders occasionally need to make unpopular decisions, or otherwise let their tempers show. I like to think I recognize my hot-button issues, so when I realize that I'm becoming frustrated I try to step back and approach an issue or disagreement from a different angle. I try to maintain a quiet calm when things go wrong, but I'm always clear that I'm disappointed, even angry.

From the article, David Rawlinson, founder of Restaurant Property, agrees "Losing your temper is a very powerful motivator sometimes" and "it's something I think you should use as a final straw." In my experience, I think I've rarely "exploded" over an issue. It can get results when a calm demeanor failed to, but I find these are short term gains. As leaders, we need to work through our disagreements and our issues calmly, and address the underlying problems, in order to address long-term change.

What leadership presence do you use? Leadership is sometimes a performance. Do you maintain a calm exterior, or are you quick to emotional outbursts?

I recommend you exercise emotional intelligence, and work with mentors to identify your own hot buttons. When you can recognize your own emotional reactions, you can find ways to redirect those emotions to more positive outcomes. Be leaderful, even in frustration.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Social media as support

A new article in CRM Magazine caught me by surprise: "Social media is now a viable support channel." The articles opens with a description of how Hyatt Hotels leverages social media for customer engagement. "If you are talking about one of our hotels while you are staying in our hotel, we will respond," says Dan Moriary, director of social strategy at Hyatt Hotels. Hyatt also uses social media as a way to engage more personally, from pillow preferences to service.

The article goes on to highlight statistics of customer engagement on Twitter and Facebook, including five million customer tweets and 350,000 Facebook posts went unanswered in the last quarter. The rest of the article encourages customer-savvy brands to use social media to better engage with customers, current and future. People are increasingly using social media to communicate directly with the companies they rely on.

This is where the article surprised me, because I thought we were already there. Perhaps it comes from working on a university campus, but we see students engaging with each other and with companies through social media all the time. Millennials aren't "increasing" their social media usage, they are already there.

One example: A friend reached out to her family vet via social media after their dog ate something bad for her. Starting with texts, she quickly progressed to Twitter to share details about the plant her dog ate, and how much, including photos. Someone from an older generation (including me) might have called the vet, and spoken to someone directly. But today's generation are happy to engage electronically.

Our students do this, too. Whether through Twitter or Facebook or even YikYak, we see university students using social media to air complaints and raise questions. Our Helpdesk uses Chat as a way for students, faculty, and staff to ask questions. And our Library uses a similar Chat service to respond to patrons. We haven't yet implemented Twitter for the Helpdesk or Library, but I predict this won't be too far off.
image: Twitter

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fall 2015 TeAchnology Workshop Series

I wanted to share this announcement of the Fall "technology in education" workshop series. The offices of the Briggs Library, Center for Small Towns, Information Technology, and Instructional and Media Technologies are pleased to announce the Fall 2015 Teachnology Series. The following sessions are being offered, free-of-charge, to UMM faculty and staff:

Fri. Nov. 6, noon–1:00
Part 1: Quick Qualtrics Introduction
Discuss the benefits of using Qualtrics from basic survey building to distribution to reporting.
Tues. Nov. 10, 10:30–11:30
Google Drive: Sharing and Collaborating
Google Drive makes sharing your files simple. If you want to send a file or folder to someone so that they can view, edit, or comment on it, you can share it with them directly in Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or through a link or email attachment. It also allows multiple people to edit the same file, and chat with each other for real-time collaboration. ​We will give you some helpful tips and allow time for Q&A and hands-on practice. ​​
Fri. Nov. 13, noon–1:00
Part 2: Qualtrics
Open session. Bring your questions! We will offer some ‘Tips & Tricks’ as well as ‘10 things you wish you knew about Qualtrics’ before you started your survey.
Tues. Nov. 17, 4:00
Universal Design: Creating Accessible Documents
In this hands-on session, you will learn how to create and adapt your documents while following Universal Design principles.
Thurs. Nov. 19, 10:30–11:30
Using Google Sheets & Forms
You'll learn about the different ways you might use spreadsheets and how to navigate the Google Sheets interface. We will cover the basic ways to work with cells and cell content. Then, we’ll move on to Google Forms where you can learn how to plan your next trip, manage event registrations, whip up a quick poll, collect email addresses for a newsletter, create a pop quiz, and much more.
Mon. Nov. 23, noon–1:00
WebEx: How to Schedule and Host a Meeting
We will provide an introduction to WebEx, the University's web conferencing system, and give you some useful​ tips for hosting your own meetings.
Mon. Nov 30, noon–1:00
Active Directory: ABC; Easy as one, two, three
A basic introduction and overview of how Active Directory (AD) is used on the Morris campus. We will address benefits AD provides for end users and identify some cool things we are automatically configuring for lab, classroom, and office workstations. An open-ended Q&A period follows a short presentation—bring your lunch and your questions!

Reducing spam

Are you seeing more spam in your inbox? This has been an ongoing problem for the last few weeks. I wanted to share this brief update from our email team:
As you know, University email users have experienced an increased number of spam messages in their inboxes since the Gmail outage last week. We’ve identified the root cause of the issue and today began applying increased spam filtering. Users should notice a decrease in the amount of spam reaching their inboxes. Currently, we estimate there is a 400 percent increase in the number of messages sent to the user’s spam folder. We believe we are stopping the most harmful messages. Our spam-blocking capability will continue to become more effective as we monitor, receive feedback, and adjust our filters.

The team has more work to do to resolve this issue and will continue to update the community as we make progress.
I know that spam in your inbox is annoying. But I'd also like to put this problem in perspective: The University of Minnesota Morris has used Google Apps for Education (Gmail) since 2010. While we had pretty good spam filters before, junk emails all but completely disappeared from our inboxes once we moved our email service to Gmail.

Over the last several weeks, I have received an additional four or five spam emails every day in my inbox. I compare that to the amount of valid emails I get every day that do belong in my inbox, and four or five junk emails doesn't seem too bad.

The stressor here is twofold:
  1. We got used to not seeing spam in our inboxes. So when we start to see junk emails in our inboxes, it's annoying.
  2. It's been a fairly constant four or five spam emails per day for the last several weeks. And that rate seems to stay the same over the weekends, so on Mondays (like today) we need to delete more junk emails. And that's annoying too.

I know that the increase in spam has been a problem for all of us. I appreciate your patience as we work to return your email inbox to normal.
image: notoriusxl

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Listening to feedback

Every year, we go through two IT input cycles:
In the Fall, we use the Big Block of Cheese Day to gather feedback, including in-person comments and thoughts left for us on a hallway whiteboard. It's a very efficient way to gather feedback; in two hours, we filled the whiteboard and came away with a list of other suggestions.

And in the Spring, we leverage a visit from the Office of Information Technology to listen in on campus technology needs. The OIT includes a Town Hall meeting with campus governance, to talk about how OIT can make systemwide technology investments to benefit students, faculty and staff. But not all suggestions are things that OIT can take action on, so we make note of them for our own local IT projects.
This Fall's Big Block of Cheese Day was very successful! In two hours, we gave away more than 10lbs of cheese. It's hard to be very exact, because we started with a smaller wheel of herb cheese before moving to the 10lb Vermont Cheddar loaf.

We heard lots of great comments about campus technology. And as people stopped by, I encouraged folks to add something to our hallway whiteboard. The whiteboard included two prompts this year: what new technology would you like to see on campus, and how can we make campus technology better for you? Students, faculty, and staff added their thoughts to the whiteboard, or star an item they agreed with. At the end of two hours, we had completely filled the whiteboard. I also had my own list of comments from the in-person discussions as we shared our cheese.

We will take these items back to the TechPeople group, so we can prioritize these into projects and working groups. But I think I can share some general themes and thoughts from the feedback:
Wireless networks continue to be a "hot" item this year. We continue to improve wireless every year.

Students want a better web experience, including MyU, registration activities, APAS and web search.

Students want more classroom technology. Specific feedback mentioned Smartboards and clickers.

Students expect more from classroom technology. For example, Moodle alerts for upcoming assignments.

Faculty would like the Scantron to be in a more accessible location.

Students would like more places to charge mobile devices.

Some comments reflect a need to raise awareness about current technology options: Google Hangouts and Google Apps.
I thank everyone who stopped by the student center for Big Block of Cheese Day this year. It was great to meet everyone! And it was especially nice to hear from a few students that "Big Block of Cheese Day is my favorite day." I think that shows that we are reaching out to campus in a very effective and engaging way!
photo: mine

Friday, October 23, 2015

Plus/Delta and Now/Future

You may be familiar with the SWOT "tool." It's a methodology to compare options and make decisions based on an idea's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can also use SWOT to plan for the future, and I often use SWOT in this way. I find SWOT to be an efficient tool in my manager's toolkit to do strategic planning.

But I found that in technology teams, folks can talk about Strengths and Weaknesses, because those are pretty easy concepts and most of them are probably thinking about it already. The words evoke a particular meaning. But I find technology folks struggle with Opportunities. They can get there, but it takes work. What is an Opportunity? In meetings where I've used SWOT, people initially think of "Opportunity" as "business opportunity." I have to help them through that. But they get stuck on Threats. The word "Threat" carries a different meaning in technology, especially if you work in security; a Threat means hacker. I always had trouble communicating the concept of "Threat" in the SWOT context.

In my experience, it's easier to not talk about SWOT directly, but to go at it a different way. We've done "Plus/Delta" exercises often enough. At the end of a meeting or after an event, we'll talk about the things that went well (Plus) and the things we might change for next time (Delta). I'm always doing a Plus/Delta with folks after a big event or a big meeting. They know how that works.

So I break up the "Plus/Delta" into two timeframes: "Now" and "Future." You can put a definition to both if you need to; you might say "Now" is anytime in the next 3 or 4 months, and "Future" is say, a year from now. Use whatever timeframes make sense for what you're after.

That's a very easy grid to understand. People can talk about what's going well now, and what things we should change now. And they can talk about what things will be strong for us in a year's time, and what things we should change in another year.

And when you think about it, that's really what SWOT is about:
  • Strengths (Plus-Now)
  • Weaknesses (Delta-Now)
  • Opportunities (Plus-Future)
  • Threats (Delta-Future)

The key is to frame the discussion at the beginning. Make it clear what you are asking people to focus on. Are you talking about new technology? Are you discussing a possible change to the infrastructure? Are you making a decision? Just make it clear at the beginning so people know how to frame their Plus/Deltas.

Also, I encourage people to take some "i-time" or "individual time" after I introduce the topic. Give them 5 minutes to think about it, and jot down their ideas on a piece of paper. Get them to write it down! It's amazing to see how the discussion changes when people commit to writing something down on a piece of paper, even if they are the only ones who will see what they wrote. In my experience, people are more forthcoming in the discussion when they have that i-time to write down a few thoughts before getting started in the discussion.

I also like to break up the room into groups of 3 (min) to 5 (max) people. Have each group work on the SWOT as a group. Give them 15 or 20 minutes to put together their own SWOT for the group. If people need to go find a separate meeting space, that's cool. After that, you call the room together, and go around the room and ask each group to share one item from the grid. So you focus on Plus-Now, and you ask "Group #1: give me one item that is working well now … Group #2: what's something else that is working well today?" And so on. If each group can only give one item at a time, no one group can dominate the discussion. When you start to get overlap, I usually do a final call for any other items that aren't on the whiteboard, then I move on to Delta-Now. And so on.

If you have a small room (say, up to about ten people) then don't break into groups. Just do it individually.

Plan for the group discussion to take about twice the time you give the individual group time. So if you have people break into groups for 20 minutes, I find it will take you 35-40 minutes to do the whiteboard discussion at the end.

But use SWOT very thoughtfully. Use the right tool for the right kind of input. SWOT works well when you are trying to make a decision or generate some items to focus on. But if you're trying to identify a set of priorities, like you want to find the top 10 strategic things that you should be doing, start with a SWOT to generate ideas, then finish with an affinity exercise to identify the priorities.
image: Wikipedia/Xhienne

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Tomorrow is Big Block of Cheese Day, part of our annual IT input cycle. We actually have two IT input cycles: one in the Fall as part of Big Block of Cheese Day, and another in Spring when the Office of Information Technology visits and we consult in partnership with OIT on listening to campus technology needs.

Big Block of Cheese Day and IT input is about focusing on the future, things we need to do to make campus technology even better for our students, faculty, and staff. But before we look ahead, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the great things we have achieved in technology over the last year. This is a brief list, a summary of a few highlights:

Wireless Networks
We are always working to improve wireless network coverage on campus. This is our top priority in technology. In 2014-2015, we made important strides in networking, including expanded coverage in the Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA)Gay Hall, the Cube, the Regional Fitness Center, Moccasin Flower Room, Prairie Lounge, and Briggs Library. Looking ahead to other projects, we are scheduling work in Pine Hall, Spooner Hall, Blakely Hall, Education, and the MRC. We are also examining ways to provide wireless access to the campus Mall area, and perhaps expanding wireless coverage in other campus buildings such as PE.
Media Collaboration
One major achievement was the installation of a new media collaboration table in Briggs Library. Provided in partnership by Computing Services and Briggs Library, we are proud of this new technology addition to student study spaces. Up to five or six students can use the table to better collaborate in group projects. Connect your laptop to the display so everyone can contribute to the project. Having a large, shared screen makes group learning easier!
PeopleSoft Upgrade
This Spring, we finally completed the upgrade to the PeopleSoft system. This was the university's largest PeopleSoft upgrade to date, encompassing major version upgrades to the HR, Student, and Finance components. At Morris, we updated queries and custom jobs in our automated processes, and worked with users to update their access to the new system. The upgrade was completed in April 2015.
Websites to Drupal
This year saw a major shift in how we maintain websites. In March and April, Matt and Matt worked in partnership with our web steering committee to migrate the Committees website to Drupal. This was soon followed by the Alumni and Technology websites. Drupal marks an easier way to keep websites updated. In years past, our web team has managed website edits mostly by hand, with some automated content via RSS feeds. With Drupal, edits become much easier, effectively a "GUI" editor in a web browser, almost like editing a Word document. Drupal also allows others on campus to manage their own content, if they desire to do so. In the next few months, watch for more websites to move to Drupal, including the News and Academics websites.
Cost Reductions
Higher education faces a major challenge in reducing our administrative costs. This year, IT drove cost reduction by renegotiating our desktop support contract. We outsource our extended maintenance, for desktop and laptop computers that are outside their warranty period. The new maintenance contract consolidates systems and lowers costs campus-wide.
DICTION Software
This year,  alongside one of our faculty in her classroom, teaching students the DICTION software package to help them analyze rhetorical texts. DICTION is a computer-aided text analysis program for determining the tone of a verbal message. Conceived by rhetorical analysis scholar Roderick P. Hart, the DICTION software analyzes the words in the speech and does a categorization of each word used. We use five "master" variables to build a "fingerprint" of the speech: Activity, Optimism, Certainty, Realism and Commonality. This provides a jump-start in analysis.
We have continued to improve our technology systems that support the campus. While these "infrastructure" systems may not be visible to the campus, they support major campus applications and processes. This year, we made important upgrades to the system backup software. The new system supports automatic "off-site" backups to a partner system at the Twin Cities campus, three hours away, providing data protection in the unlikely event that systems at the Morris campus are damaged. We also updated our virtual infrastructure: VMWare. Through virtual systems, we can run many servers on just a few hardware components, bringing efficiency and ease of management to our data center.
New Technology
Every year, we try to make new investments in technology "pilot" projects, to explore emerging technology that might benefit the campus. In past years, our department was the first to invest in Chromebooks and small-scale computing such as the Raspberry Pi. This year, we made other investments in new technology, including the Intel ComputeStick. This follows the small-scale computer paradigm, delivering a mini desktop computer in something not much bigger than a USB fob drive. Connected to your display via a standard HDMI connection, and powered from any phone charger, the ComputeStick provides a reliable computing experience. Sure, it's not as powerful as a more expensive desktop or laptop, and you "feel" it when opening a spreadsheet, but it's a great deal for less than $150. Imagine ComputeSticks in our general computer labs, or classrooms, to provide an inexpensive upgrade to campus technology. We may see this shift in the next few years as we explore supporting technology such as Application Virtualization.
image: Kissing the reflection by LadyDragonflyCC

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Big Block of Cheese Day 2015

You may have heard about the "Big Block of Cheese Day." When I came to Morris in 2010, I wanted to find a way to connect with campus. But my challenge was "How do I introduce myself?" I needed to find a "hook."

I looked to history for my inspiration. 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 come into the White House and eat the cheese, 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 decided to host my own "Big Block of Cheese Day," to invite the campus community to share in a wheel of cheese, and thereby meet the person who represents technology. But an IT guy with food will only get you so far. So I drew on my English-Scottish ancestry, and wore my kilt. An IT guy wearing a kilt was sure to advertise itself. And it did!

Since then, Big Block of Cheese Day has become something of a tradition. It's a great way to meet people on campus. And I love the opportunity to solicit ideas and hear about technology needs for the campus.

This year's "Big Block of Cheese Day" will be on Friday, October 23. Join me in the Student Center next to Higbies, from 10:00am until noon. We'll have a big block of cheddar cheese with crackers. While you're there, drop a comment on the hallway board. And yes, you'll get to see me in the kilt.

I hope to see you there!
photo: last year's big block of cheese

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Leadership lessons from 'John Wick'

I like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. If you are willing to look for them, you'll see leadership lessons all around you. For example, you can find leadership lessons from Breaking Bad about partnerships, taking the initiative, and committing to decisions. You can see similar leadership lessons from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on building relationships. And you can even find leadership lessons from zombies (The Walking Dead) on leading teams and building momentum behind your vision.

Recently, I found leadership lessons from another unusual place. The 2014 action movie John Wick provides a very simple premise: thugs kill John Wick's dog, and John (Keanu Reeves) gets revenge. I'm not kidding; the movie really is that straightforward.

I watched John Wick recently on our campus movie system. As the story unfolded, I recognized several obvious themes in leadership. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Keep the mission simple

The whole movie is about John Wick seeking revenge on the bad guys who killed his dog. That's it. The movie makes this very clear; thugs kill John's dog, so John kills the thugs. It's a timeless story that everyone can get behind. You understand the vision, and the movie strives to keep the mission simple. Where are you going with your idea? What is the vision behind it? Does everyone on your team understand the "end vision" and how to get there?
2. Reputation is important

John carries a big reputation in this movie. Almost everyone knows John by his reputation alone. Remember that your reputation always precedes you. What do you want your reputation to say about you? John's reputation is that he is a superlative, violent assassin; his reputation says a lot about him. Your reputation should be one of trust, professionalism, and collaboration. Your partners and future partners will remember you by your reputation; make it a positive one.
3. Adjust your approach

In seeking his targets, John uses a variety of tactics. Whether he chooses a stand-up frontal assault, or sniping his target from a distance, John adapts his method to the problem in front of him. Not all problems can be resolved with the same toolset. As you work with others, exercise all the tools and techniques available to you. What method works in one situation may not be the best approach for the next.
4. Maintain relationships; they will pay off

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. John leverages relationships wisely: engaging with former colleague Francis to help him in a tough moment, or using his relationship with Jimmy to smooth over a difficult situation. Take a few moments to map out your social network. 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 not overlook this part of your leadership development.
5. Remain professional

Conflict is a part of everyday life. Conflict isn't necessarily bad, but the key to healthy disagreement is to recognize your "hot" buttons. This is part of your emotional intelligence. Do you lose your temper in the heat of the moment, usually during a disagreement? Or do you acknowledge your feelings, and maintain a calm presence? While John's initial motivation is emotion, John finds a way to stay focused and "in the moment" when it matters. John remains "present" throughout each confrontation. Use emotional intelligence to keep your interactions calm, or you'll find meetings and discussions getting out of hand and people losing temper.
images: IMDB, YouTube(1), YouTube(2)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Top ten campus needs

I recently found a past issue of EDUCAUSE Magazine and I was pleased to discover an article written by a colleague, Advancing without new resources. The article discusses the increasing resource constraints for higher ed. As Kraemer says in his introduction, "No one is going to show up with a wheelbarrow full of money to address all of our institutions' IT wants and needs." As always, we must find ways to do more with less, to advance without new resources.

We will do this by leveraging the Cloud and finding other ways to Simplify, Standardize, Automate, and Innovate. But where do we focus our resources, to deliver the greatest impact with little new investment? Kraemer's article provides a top ten list of IT needs that he believes will drive future investment:

  1. Teaching and learning support, as faculty adjust their teaching styles and use more digital content.
  2. Emerging services, to identify the new trends in technology that may better support our institutions.
  3. Staff readiness, to grow capacity in our teams.
  4. Analytics, to base decisions on data and trends, to better visualize the future.
  5. Identity management, as we move beyond simply securing access to provide access to people, services, and technology.
  6. Mobile, as more of our users bring devices into our networks—or their own networks through 4G.
  7. Digital production, in finding new ways to support education outside the textbook.
  8. Information and infrastructure architecture, to support growing demand for loosely coupled systems and applications that can be easily tuned to institutional needs.
  9. Legal, to understand and respond to new threats and security models.
  10. Security, as increasingly complex security issues emerge.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Desktops as a service?

In years past, we've managed the desktop as a box, a singular machine that users interact with through physical hardware. But we've moved on from this paradigm with our servers: for years, organizations have virtualized servers, and more recently shifted systems to the cloud through SaaS or Software as a Service. Yet the physical user computer remains, whether a stationary desktop or a more mobile laptop or tablet device.

At Morris, we have examined virtual application hosting, a variation of VDI. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine (VM) running on a centralized server. VDI is a variation on the client/server computing model, sometimes referred to as server-based computing. Virtual applications are similar; the application launches on a centralized server, and displays on the user's desktop.

In my vision, we can drastically simplify our campus computer labs through virtual applications. We have several computer labs with separately-licensed software; our lab in Imholte Hall has GIS software, for example, because that it where they use it. The DICTION rhetorical analysis software only exists in the HFA Media lab, because that is where we teach rhetoric. The Science lab has other software to suit those disciplines' needs.

But why should we expect a student to go to one computer lab to do their homework, then pick up all of his or her belongings and move to another computer lab to finish their homework? It would make more sense for the student to stay in one computer lab, to have that option.

Cloud applications are one way that we provide this service to students. For example, we are a Google Apps for Education campus. Students can use Google Apps (such as Docs, or Spreadsheets, etc) no matter where they are. They can start a document, or pick up where they left off. This provides a great deal of flexibility for our students. Similar Cloud applications will continue to drive this.

Not all of our software can be moved to the Cloud. So that is why we look to application virtualization and VDI, together, as a way to expand opportunities for our users.

A recent article in the Summer issue of Ed Tech Magazine discusses this topic as dueling for real estate on users' desks. The article describes the growing trend of DaaS as offloading "the task of managing software and infrastructure to a cloud provider. Similarly, virtual desktop infrastructure offers institutions an option for hosting desktops in their own data centers." Together, Daas and VDI mean greater flexibility for our users, or our computer labs.

The article provides a table describing and comparing VDI and DaaS, which I will summarize here:
Tech: On-site. Purchase and run in-house. Hosted service by an outside provider.
Cost: Big up-front costs due to software and hardware. Could be high costs now, but costs may drop over time as more competitors enter the market.
Users: Used by institutions that wish to centralize and decrease IT support costs. Used by smaller organizations or institutions with straightforward setups and Cloud apps, with many BYOD users.
Pros: Enterprise has complete control of desktop. Proven technology. Enterprise-level security. Allows desktop customization. Quick implementations. No infrastructure required. Security managed by DaaS vendor.
Cons: Implementation cost can be too much. Added complexity of support. High usage events (logins, etc) can impact performance. Possible latency in data access. Not all applications can be DaaS. May have high latency. An outage at the provider means all users are down. Network is critical; DaaS organizations should implement redundant network.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On customer service

An article in the October issue of Customer Relationship Management describes how to become a multispeed organization. Much of the article is about customer account service, such as issues surrounding customers who switch providers due to poor service, but the overall topic is equally important to any service organization. In higher education, IT serves the needs of the faculty, so I encourage you to consider your own organization's customer service.

The article reveals three key tips for improving customer service in a modern digital landscape. Allow me to translate these to higher educaiton:

1. Focus on the customer
Every faculty has unique needs, and while we cannot meet every unique need, we can put focus on the customers in front of us. "How can I help you?" should be the opening line. As we engage with our academic customers, we need to identify the needs behind the request, and meet the customer's intention rather than the ask.
2. Find the right mix
From the article: "Before adding new services or channels, listen to what customers truly value, and customize offerings for each customer segment. Instead of offering all options to all customers, choose a group you know you can make a difference with and make an impact there first. It’s about finding the right mix of digital and traditional to improve the customer experience—one group at a time."
3. Tailor experiences to drive loyalty
In higher education, perhaps unlike other industries, our users have great freedom to try new things outside our control. As much as we might think otherwise, faculty are not loyal to us, they are local to the experience, to personalization. We cannot always assume a "one-size-fits-all" enterprise model; where possible, consider tweaking offerings to better meet faculty needs.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Engaging IT conversation with professional communication

Many CIOs arrive at their role after having spent years in an IT organization. So it is perhaps not uncommon for CIOs to have difficulty in communicating technology concepts to those outside of IT. But arguably, we need to be more effective in this area, because those outside of IT are our customers. To support our clients, we need to be better communicators.

An increasing trend is for CIOs to hire a professional communicator to help bridge the gap between the technical details of IT issues in a way that others will understand. As Beth Stackpole writes in "How CIOs can create the voice of IT" in a CIO Magazine article, adding a professional communicator vastly improves perceptions of customer service. From the article:
Not only does a dedicated communications person help change the nature of IT communications, they are also instrumental in changing the tenor of how information is delivered and ultimately received. For example, instead of blanketing users with IT-related emails, Cooley [Patrick Cooley, senior manager, IT marketing and communications, EMC] says he's worked hard to target users and refine messaging to fit with specific audiences. "People are constantly being bombarded with too much email that's too intrusive and too jargony," Cooley says. "I can help look for ways to better leverage social media and target people with the best [communications] vehicle."
Effective communication is an important skill in leadership, moreso in IT. In rhetoric, "code words" are terms and phrases that carry specific meaning to one group, but are confusing or opaque to outsiders. In IT, we tend to pepper our communication with code words. One typical example is this email we received about a speed boost from a major local residential Internet provider: (excerpt)
Customers can take advantage of this speed increase beginning Thursday morning by ‘power-cycling’ their cable modem with the reset button on the device, or by unplugging the modem power cord from the electrical outlet, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back into the outlet.
That is a long sentence, but what's actually being said here? This statement has a lot of specificity, and uses some technical jargon that is familiar to many of us in IT but may opaque to others: "power-cycling" is just turning the device off then on again.

This statement can be made much clearer by writing instead:
You can get the speed boost simply by turning off your cable modem, waiting a few moments, then turning it on again.
How you communicate with your customers is different from how you communicate with your peers in IT. Consider for yourself how to simplify your language and make things clearer to the people you support.
photo: Chris

Friday, August 28, 2015

M-learning and Beyond

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” ~ Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM (1943)

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” ~ Ken Olsen, co-founder of DEC (1977)

Computing power doubles every two years ~ Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore

“Access to computers and the Internet has become a basic need for education in our society” ~ U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (2004)
In my role as IT Director, I need to look ahead at what’s coming in technology, and how it will affect my campus. Technology changes at a very rapid pace, yet we find it quickly becomes indispensable. Computers are now a necessity for education, yet they were virtually unheard of only thirty years ago.

Universities need to become entrepreneurs, seizing new opportunities to deliver the best value. As stewards of our campus technology, we cannot rest on the accomplishments of the past; we need to continually evolve the technology that we deliver, and adapt those technology services to meet the needs and desires of our students. Too often, institutions spend a year or more to design, select, purchase, build, and implement new technology in service of the teaching and learning mission. But in the interim, the technology landscape changes, and the delivered solution no longer addresses the needs of the community.

Consider how students store and transport their information. The most common scenario: a student is working on her term paper in her dorm room. But it’s late, and she doesn’t finish it. The next day, she decides to take the paper with her, and finish it in one of the campus writing labs. Not too long ago, in the 1990s, she saved this data on floppy disks. The most common capacity of floppies stored 1.44 megabytes of data.

Now most of our students have never even seen a floppy disk. Technology has moved on. Just a few years ago, this student might have carried a USB flash drive to transport her data from her dorm room to the classroom. In response, campus bookstores now stock a seemingly endless supply of USB flash drives of various sizes, expecting that students will use them. And a few students do, although if my campus is any indication, an increasing number of students won’t deign to use something so quaint as storage media to save their files. Even a 16 gigabyte USB flash drive (considered huge only a year ago) is obsolete, especially when students can now save all their files remotely (for example, in the “Cloud”), and access them anywhere using a Web browser.

However, storage is just a symptom of a larger trend. Technology is changing, and changing rapidly. How will students access information in another year, or five years? Or ten years? We cannot continue to rely on old methods. That's why campuses constantly need to look toward the technology horizon and think about how the academy will respond in the face of new technology.

The next fundamental technological change is how students interface with teaching and learning. To understand this future landscape, let me first provide the context of past methods.

Learning has always been about students sitting in a classroom, pen and paper in hand, taking notes during a professor’s lecture. But, in the early 1980s, IBM introduced the IBM-PC, which put individual computing power into the hands of students. Almost overnight, institutions needed to integrate the computer into their pedagogies. Those universities that resisted this change, relying solely on traditional teaching methods, did so at their peril. While enrolled students would remain to finish their degree, incoming students exercised personal choice, and opted to attend universities that successfully integrated computing with teaching and learning. Adopting new technology became a matter of attracting students.

Computing has continued to change how the academy serves its students. Today, every campus provides general computing labs, computer labs focused on writing, and other labs that specialize by discipline and software. My own campus has over 15 computer labs, serving 1800 students. While we are proud of the technology centers that we have established on our campus, we must recognize that increasingly fewer students use them. We built large computer labs that are open 24 hours a day, only to find students prefer to do their work on their own laptops. Our focus has shifted from computer labs to always-on wireless so our students can continue to access campus resources no matter where they are.

In response to this ubiquitous computing, many universities have already moved from a pen-and-paper learning model to electronic learning systems, or e-learning. With e-learning, students access their class notes via a course website, participate in online discussions with other students, download certain class materials, submit assignments, and receive grades and feedback from their professors. Universities that adopt e-learning are taking the first step towards the classroom of the future. But these campuses should not rest on the accomplishment of e-learning. How students interface with e-learning continues to evolve and is the next trend that will hit the academy.

Two years ago, most students preferred laptops for their personal computing device. Slowly, a few students began to bring iPads and other “mobile computers” into the classroom. Today, mobile devices are everywhere, and their numbers are growing. My campus estimates about two-thirds of our students use a mobile device to interact with the university. According to a November, 2011 study by research firm Nielsen, two-thirds is typical of mobile device adoption with 18-24 year olds. Students look to their smartphone to check email, not a laptop or a lab computer. They want to access their electronic learning systems via an iPad.

In a listening session conducted this year on my campus, a major concern from our students was how to access e-learning systems from their mobile devices. With a loud voice, our students demanded that we develop learning interfaces that support the iPhone or Android phones. They want mobile accessibility, with better mobile carrier reception across the campus. Students no longer expect the campus wireless network to be their only means to access e-learning; in effect, they now bring their networks with them in the form of their mobile phone data plan.

This is the new landscape. With the widespread adoption of these mobile devices, e-learning quickly shifts to learning on the go. With mobile learning, or m-learning, students continue to interact with e-learning systems throughout their university career, but they increasingly do so via mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. This radically changes the new model of e-learning and how students access the e-learning systems. M-learning is about the mobility of the user, recognizing that students can continue to learn wherever they are and no longer need to be anchored in a classroom. Learning will become increasingly portable, relying on mobile carriers to connect with the university’s online systems.

Mobile computing and m-learning will only expand. In the next five years, I expect to consolidate our computer labs and reduce their numbers. Instead of dedicated spaces, students will access software and programs within these labs through a “virtual presence” via a mobile device. Echoing the mainframes of days gone by, students will use a virtual terminal on their tablet or smartphone to provide a window into the computer labs; the real processing will take place on university systems, located in an isolated server room but accessed from anywhere.

Even after we have built this m-learning utopia, we’re not done. Students will eventually move beyond m-learning to new technologies that we have yet to discover. That’s the reality of computing. And it’s our responsibility as stewards of university technology to uncover the new trends, to continue looking ahead, as we serve the campus mission.
This is a copy of a chapter I wrote for an ebook:
Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+Stories from the Digital Frontlines brought together 130 faculty, staff, and students to generate new vision and direction.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Computing Services is now Information Technology

I want to share that this summer, Computing Services changed our name to Information Technology.

Computing Services was established in 1971 to provide computing resources for the Morris campus. We have retained that name for the last 43 years.

However, the services provided by this department have changed dramatically. We no longer provide only computing services (VAX, computer center, etc.) but we primarily deliver information resources (web sites, reporting, data feeds, etc.) and technology services (wireless, networks, computer labs, etc.)

We have only changed our name; everything else remains the same. Please continue to work with us for networking, computer labs, web sites, data feeds, etc. We are still located in Behmler 10.

As always, for technology help, your first stop should be the Helpdesk at x6150.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Building corporate culture

An article at Destination CRM discusses the importance of corporate culture: Great Customer Experience Starts with the Right Corporate Culture. Engaged employees make for more satisfied customers. You may recognize that as cultural. But how do you foster and encourage the right culture? The article offers these Dos and Don'ts about encouraging a constructive culture.

  • Be clear about company values.
  • Implement the right technology.
  • Spend time in employees' shoes.
  • Measure effectiveness with the right metrics.

  • Don't tie employees' hands.
  • Don't do employee surveys just for the heck of it.
  • Don't just motivate with money.
  • Don't ignore the hiring process.

The article emphasizes that companies that don't engage a positive culture will cultivate a lack of enthusiasm. Employees will become disengaged, which leads to lower customer experience and falling customer satisfaction. In contrast, highly engaged staff raise customer satisfaction; the article cites a study demonstrating a "positive linear correlation."

From the article: "One of the main drivers of employee satisfaction and engagement is good leadership." And coming with that responsibility, good leaders need to engage with their employees if they want their employees to engage positively with customers.
photo: Wikipedia/Pumbaa80

Friday, August 14, 2015

What's on the horizon?

As IT leaders, it is our responsibility to look ahead towards the future, to see what is coming next. In Morris IT, we try to look ahead to the next year, and the next five years. What's next on the horizon?

I see three major innovations that will dramatically reshape campus technology at Morris:

Google Classroom
This is a relatively new feature from Google. Initially aimed at secondary education, Google Classroom is also being used in higher ed. This year, two of our faculty are piloting the system. Our faculty partners have found a few limitations in the system (for example: it seems we can only set an assignment's points on a broad "step" scale, like 1, 5, 10, 20 .. rather than setting a 15-point quiz or a 2-point discussion item). Once these limitations are addressed and Google Classroom becomes more mature, will this replace Moodle? [Update: looks like the points scale is a usability issue in Google Classroom. You can set a specific point value for any assignment; just type it in.]
Computer labs
We have been examining virtual applications in our labs. By virtualizing an application, we can have it execute on a central server, but display on the lab computer. This may mean we can make all licensed software available on all lab computers, license costs permitting. Additionally, we see more applications moving to the Cloud. Over time, the combination of Cloud and virtualization will mean computer labs become less important in a general sense, as students bring their laptops to campus and connect from there. Labs will probably shift to "print centers" for students to print out documents for class. Computers in these labs will then become low-power devices like Chromebox or ComputeStick.
Active Directory
Several years ago, we implemented AD services for managing desktops and laptops, and providing network storage via the S: and H: drives. I imagine computer management will remain an issue, but over time we may see the network storage become less important. Already we are planning for an eventual retirement of the separate NetFiles service, as Google Drive replaces Cloud-based file storage. Will this eventually displace the S: and H: drives? Perhaps some "local" network storage will remain for high-security projects, but most of our file services will likely shift to Google.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minnesota e-Learning Summit wrap-up

Last week, I attended the Minnesota e-Learning Summit. A colleague and I were invited to present a poster, but it was also a wonderful time to interact with peers from other institutions and learn from them about what works best in online and mobile learning environments. Over half of the presenters have shared their materials via the e-Learning Summit online repository. I encourage you to review the presentations for topics that interest you.

A few presentations that I found most engaging:
Accessibility & Universal Design in Online Learning
Scott Marshall, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Sara E. Schoen, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Kimerly J. Wilcox, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

5 Words You Never Thought You'd Hear at the eLearning Summit: The Cognitive Science of Clickbait
Ann Fandrey, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Alison H. Link, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Cristina Lopez, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Creating Engaging Recorded Lectures
Robin O'Callaghan, Winona State University

Keeping yourself organized when designing courses
Mary Bohman, Winona State University
Robin O'Callaghan, Winona State University

Web Accessibility Assessment for Everyone
Tonu Mikk, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

The Open Textbook Network: Building Capacity and Momentum
David Ernst, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Speeches That Changed the World: Using Software to Help Students Analyze Rhetorical Patterns
Jim Hall, University of Minnesota - Morris
MaryElizabeth Bezanson, University of Minnesota - Morris
That last one is the poster session that Dr Bezanson and I gave about using DICTION in her "Speeches that Changed the World" class. I've mentioned the DICTION software before, as a way to make rhetorical analysis easier. If your research involves analyzing texts, you may be interested in this software.

DICTION is a computer-aided text analysis program for determining the tone of a verbal message. Conceived by rhetorical analysis scholar Roderick P. Hart, DICTION generates a "fingerprint" about rhetorical texts based on several key variables: Activity, Optimism, Certainty, Realism, and Commonality. This analysis gives the researcher a jump start in examining a text. DICTION can be used to analyze all sorts of texts: speeches, novels, political ads, inaugural addresses, court opinions, etc. If you can put it into a text file, DICTION can analyze it!

The power of DICTION is comparing multiple texts at once. While we have some reservations about the normative measures used in DICTION (the processes to apply norms to texts is hidden) we were able to escape this limitation by using means and standard deviations, to compare texts to each other. In our poster, Dr Bezanson and I demonstrated DICTION analysis of Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas speeches, throughout her reign: (the poster has the same charts in a slightly different format)

In this analysis, you can see several peaks and valleys. For example, the three-year peak in Optimism around 1960 was the Queen discussing royal births, and what wonderful lives they will have. The spike in Realism and Certainty in 1968 was the Queen's commentary on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, and how this was a moment in history and civil rights that cannot pass unmarked. The dips in Activity in the late 1970s and in 1999 were from the Queen's reflection on a major anniversary of the British Empire and the passing of the Millennium, respectively; in these speeches, the Queen did not advocate a particular agenda or action, but reviewed events in history and quoted past leaders.

We also demonstrated an analysis from the Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage) Supreme Court decision, with the majority opinion and four dissents:

For example, you can see that the majority opinion scored high (relative to other opinions on the same case) on Realism and Commonality, and low on Activity, as the justices ground the case in legal theory and use language that seeks to unite. In the dissents, Justice Thomas has higher relative scores for Activity and Certainty, and lower relative scores for Realism and Commonality, as Thomas has a tendency to speak ex cathedra (based mostly on personal opinion and a sense of "The Right thing"™).

DICTION doesn't provide all of the rhetorical analysis, but is one tool to help researchers and students to jump start their deeper analysis.
photo: Pam Gades

The iPad as desktop accessory

Two years ago, I shared a vision of the future about the convergence of mobile devices and laptops. Some vendors have experimented in this space, with mixed success. Developers seem to focus on one or the other: either a laptop or a table. Microsoft's Surface seems to be a step towards unity, in that the Surface presents itself as a PC in a tablet form factor. The Surface isn't a perfect mix; stuck between two worlds, it doesn't really advance us to a new mode of computing. But it seems only a matter of time until someone strikes the right balance and this new unified device becomes the next "must-have" technology that displaces even the iPad.

In that vision, I shared my belief that Apple will be the first to find the "right recipe." Apple has the right mix of customer base, brand loyalty, and the engineering to do something truly remarkable in this space. But I also commented that Apple is currently less engaged in innovation, so would require several steps to become successful in this new space.

I looked ahead one, two, and three years to predict how Apple might merge the laptop and the iPad. Here was step one:
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.
With that in mind, it's interesting to note a recent addition to the Apple app store: Duet Display. Duet Display allows you to use your iPad or iPhone as an extra display to your laptop, either MacBook or Windows. Just install the app, connect your iPad or iPhone via the usual cable, and you're all set!

Sounds very similar to the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" I described in 2013, doesn't it? This is a "smart" version of the device I described, leveraging an existing iPad or iPhone as the second display. But with Duet Display, you can use the touch display to tap on icons and interact with the second desktop. This is a big step forward to converge the desktop and the tablet.