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.