the online allan

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if you don’t put up a new building, you might as well give up

The title of this post is purposely provocative.  Over and over again, we are seeing examples here at the Leading Change Institute of these innovative, collaborative and creative spaces that are parts of new or heavily renovated buildings.  Redo all classrooms, put in tools for untethered teaching, and now you’re an examplar of innovation.   Tear out all the traditional materials in one space and convert it into an innovation space and you are cutting edge.

The depressing part of these examples is obvious – if one cannot do such extensive renovations or new builds, are we destined to fall behind?  Should we just give up?

Of course I am aware that it’s very possible to be very innovative while utilizing existing spaces, or perhaps with only minor changes.  We can put in untethered teaching tools while doing a “standard” technology refresh for a classroom.  We don’t need entirely new buildings.  A conference room with new monitors, screens, and white boards is suddenly a dynamic collaboration space.

But the examples, time and again, are of new buildings, and it is depressing at times.  Let’s start focusing on existing spaces that have been converted, without massive related changes.  If you have to completely alter one practice in order to free up space – that doesn’t count.  Can you take a location, building, lounge, etc. and modify it in perhaps several small ways and provide dramatically improved teaching/learning/social interaction aspects?  Let’s hear about those.  Let’s see photos of those spaces.

 

brain space

Something else I’m learning from the Leading Change Institute from CLIR/EDUCAUSE?  That a lot of people keep track of a lot of trends, articles, and ideas, all the time.

“Have you read that article from X?”

“I was thinking about the writings of Y and how they apply to what you are saying”

“Well, if you consider the ideas put forth by Z then you can really understand your point better about topic ‘something I don’t even understand yet'”

All of this makes me wonder if I just need to spend more time reading things, need to spend less time worrying about the “weeds” and day-to-day (those first two go hand-in-hand of course) or, perhaps, if I just don’t have the brainspace for all of this.  I have not even heard of the things people are referencing, much less unaware of the specific article being cited.

This is humbling more than anything else.  And instructive. To be an effective leader and one recognized as being knowledgeable, I do need to read more.  I need to track trends but, more importantly, I need to keep track of who is saying what.  If I know what one author has been saying about a topic, then I can more effectively track other ideas coming out of that field.  I’ve always been a pretty prolific reader, but I need to take it up a notch in sophistication.

Here’s to all those other attendees with me in this room with their incredible pool of knowledge.  I am truly impressed.

choosing to take the back seat

Last summer, I attended one of the EDUCAUSE Leadership Institutes.  I attended two different ones but I’m choosing not to identify which one this particular post pertains to.

One exercise that seems common among the various leadership programs from EDUCAUSE is that we write a card to ourselves.  Stuff we want to remind ourselves to do afterwards, or perhaps an important lesson we might forget that we need a reminder on.  One thing I did last time, for instance, was to design a staff retreat using certain principles we had learned.

In one of the two institutes I attended, we also had to write a card to the person sitting to our left.  Which meant that, 6 months later, I got a card with a suggestion from someone else, who had observed me during the week.  To paraphrase, this card said that I had

lots of great ideas and energy, but need to slow down and ask others for their opinions before speaking up.  You need to include others.  Only then would I be successful

To be honest, at first this was rather hard to take.  I felt a bit insulted and hurt; I wouldn’t be successful until I changed something?.  Of course, I soon realized that the person didn’t intend it in mean-spirited way at all, and that, in fact, he was right.  I do tend to let my enthusiasm and energy overwhelm the need to be thoughtful and inclusive.  Oddly enough, I also tend to be inclusive overall, wanting to keep everyone involved.  The two forces conflict, and the energy one sometimes wins out, such in this case.  This particular institute, I found myself on the minority of ideas a lot, and therefore caused some tension now and then.  I was frustrated by my group, overall, and even apologized to them in the end.  So yes, the part of me that gets overly excited to the point of excluding others became an issue.  This card reminded me of that.

Here I am today, at the EDUCAUSE Leading Change Institute, and I’m working hard at asking others for their opinions and letting others do the talking and presenting.  I’m not saying I’m doing a good job of it – but I am definitely letting others talk.  And I have to admit that it’s been really tough.  I want to say every idea I have, and I want to be the one to present it to the attendees.  I want everyone to know that I’m a presenter, comfortable talking with people, affable and funny.  I feel this especially at an event like this because I don’t know the other attendees very well.

But I know I need to let go, and I need to trust in others.  I have been trying really hard, with mixed success (as I was writing this sentence, I interrupted someone just out of enthusiasm.  Definitely still working on it).

It will be a good thing in the long run and I still have a ways to go.  I am determined to reel myself in for the rest of the week, and ask others for opinions and actively listen as much as possible.  I want to be thoughtful.

Not easy, but an important skill, without doubt.

the great pretender (syndrome)

This is one of those posts where I”m choosing to be really honest about myself.  The good thing about that is that I’m taking the time to look at myself, consider who I am, where I am, and where I still need to go.  My shortcomings as well as my strengths.  And that’s, generally speaking, a good thing to do.  The bad part is that I could reveal something about myself in a very public forum that allows readers to focus on only the weaknesses and miss the strengths.

I think it’s more important to be honest, sometimes, even in an open space, than not.  So here I am.

Right now, I am at the EDUCAUSE/CLIR Leading Change Institute, their top leadership workshop program.  There is a part of me that feels out of place.  Perhaps even a pretender at times.  I am around campus leaders at universities that are orders of magnitude larger than my institution, both in student population and level of IT complexity and sophistication. We might be facing the same challenges, conceptually, but the basic fact is that the specific topics they are working on are far beyond what I’m doing, at the least in terms of scale and sometimes for bigger reasons than that.  For instance, we have an ERP, and so do other schools.  We have to deal with the data integrity issues that accompany such a system just as other schools.  But our ERP is small enough that we literally moved it from one location to another by picking up a single box and carrying it from one building to another, whereas other schools have dozens of servers and incredibly complex network environments that would make such a concept a herculean operation.  In this case, I enjoy freedom from the smaller size of Menlo College, but I also find it hard to relate to such a dramatically different environment.

In the “scarier” case, the other institutions are dealing with challenges that aren’t even on my radar.  Items that are just beyond the scope, entirely, of what we need.  I don’t spend any mental cycles on these topics at all, yet they are important to the overall field of higher education IT.

I have spoken with a few other CIOs about “imposter symdrome.”  This isn’t a new idea – someone gets a job and feels he or she doesn’t below there.  They feel they are not qualified, the others are way more qualified, etc.  Since I got to Menlo College, I have felt this at times.  However, I feel it more when I am away, working with those from other institutions.

It’s not that I think Menlo College is an easy place where just anyone with a brain can be CIO.  It is a challenging place for a leader and manager, and the kind of strategic planning required takes skill and focus.  My job is not easy by any means.  But I feel I have earned a spot at the table.  I definitely don’t feel I am over-qualified to be at the leadership table, mind you.  Just that I am comfortable being there, at Menlo, where I have established my credentials (I think and hope).  I certainly still feel quite in awe of the others at that table more often than note, and sweaty palms prior to speaking up are still common.

Here at the Institute, “big data” came up over casual dinner.  Now, I’m well-versed enough to know what big data is and the hundreds of ways different schools approach interpreting and managing it.  The challenge of big data is how to analyze it effectively.  Beyond this basic understanding, though, I felt lost.  We don’t have big data problems at Menlo.  Take our ERP example.  Our entire enterprise database fits on a single server.  The stories from others at the table were  astounding, in terms of scale, and sophisticated.

To my left were two people talking about not only data warehouses and technologies such as Hadoop, but how to effectively utilize data warehouses beyond the basic notions.  They were past the fundamentals, and onto how to be more efficient, more effective, etc.  Business process that leads to business intelligence.  They were on step 2 (or, depending on your institution, step 10 or 100).  Others at the workshop speak of managing departments of dozens of staff.  An introduction from another attendee spoke of the initiative to design a new integrated IT/Library/”knowledge center” of the 21st century where the budget had been slashed to “only” $1.2M.

My entire budget is $1.5M and our entire department is 7.5 FTE.  Including myself.

I have to admit, I felt like a pretender and a bit of a crisis of confidence arose.  I almost forgot what Hadoop was for a minute, and then, in a terrified state of ignorance, couldn’t think of other alternatives at all.  And I have never been involved in a business intelligence project beyond the superficial, despite my professional goal to bring greater awareness of operations to Menlo.  My version of business process improvement is to get people to use our ERP tools more often.  Yes, I still think that the breadth of what I work on justifies my title, but I was reminded of how small my world is compared to others.

This morning, while ruminating on this sensation during my walk to breakfast, I tried to think of analogies that would help me wrap my mind around this sensation of not belong.  I first came upon the idea that while I’m not ready for the majors just yet, in my most optimistic mood I was at least a top prospect in the minor leagues.  The organization (EDUCAUSE) thought I was worth some investment, and I was hitting well with a good OPS+.  I’d be called up in a year or two.  I felt this was a good analogy, and felt a surge of confidence about my future.

That is, until I realized that the minor leagues are no substitute for the majors.  Thousands of top-flight prospects in the minors never make it to the big show.  Hundreds make it and are complete failures.  How many actually succeed, truly?  And while such failures are hard to diagnose, sometimes it’s something very simple.  The competition even at the highest levels of the minors just isn’t the same as at the major league level.  The fastballs are faster and the curveballs break better.

This realization didn’t do much for my confidence, and I continue to struggle to find a good mental balance.  After a few hours into the first session, I felt much more at ease and of course realized that I have a lot to offer to the overall group.  And my ambitions for my career remain the same, and my drive undeterred.

I am truly honored to be in a workshop along side these other attendees, because I could tell just over dinner that they truly are campus leaders today, deserving of inclusion at such a program that will only improve their abilities down the road.  I am flattered that EDUCAUSE thinks I belong among them.  I know that what I do on a daily basis is in the realm of a CIO and not, say, a director.  But I was reminded last night that scale does matter and, while perhaps the “minor leagues” is not a good analogy, there is something to that idea that is perhaps more applicable than not.  And it is eye-opening in a good.

finding your inner avatar

I’ve probably given dozens of talks to students about the importance of being aware of one’s online presence.  The importance of having a professional picture on LinkedIn rather than using the one taken at a party with friends holding red Solo cups on Facebook.  Or even just cropping the party photo.  And I’m not even a career counselor.

Most of these chats have been pretty rudimentary.  Maybe just a couple of topics beyond the photo one and letting students know that many companies will do research into their social media activities in one manner or another.  My thoughts on this, therefore, have evolved towards what I like to think of as a higher awareness of one’s online presence.  More than just how one represents one self superficially, through pictures and the types of facebook wall posts or Instagram photos.  But at a deeper level.  At a point where what one posts online in all manners is part of a cohesive persona that is purposely chosen as a representation of your identity.

We use avatars all the time, but the most common instance is in video game play.  In those cases, a great deal of effort is often put into the avatar’s appearance, from clothing to armor to weaponry.  More than that, though, there is a conscious choice about the type of “person” that avatar will be.  The personality reinforced by actual behavior.  A wizard tends to be seen as sagacious, and I know many players who “speak” as their avatar in language tending towards the more knowledgeable and learned.  I know others that have chosen to be represented as warriors, and speak aggressively and sometimes even belligerently.  Certainly oftentimes these avatars are somewhat similar to the actual person – one that it perhaps a bit more fight-oriented chooses to be a soldier.  But sometimes the connection isn’t so obvious, and, again, some kind of decision has been made to not only look the part, but act and speak it, too.

Similarly, we should paying attention to not only how we look (better than that facebook party picture, hopefully) but also how we represent ourselves online.  Do you blog?  If so, what do you write about?  It could be about the intricacies of leadership and communication, which perhaps shows that I am one is a bit nerdy or bookish or about cooking, which demonstrates a life outside of work.  Something enjoyed on a different level.  Do you tweet?  About what?  Is the train late?  Or is there an interesting article about new trends in higher education?  What else do you use?  Might you actually use a facebook page as a discussion point above and beyond the purely social?

More importantly, have you made a conscious decision to do some combination of these activities?  If so, have you developed a kind of online personality through such an amalgamation?  Is it one that you like or intended to create?

embracing ignorance

I have been working on this post forever – well over a month.  My apologies.

Back in November, I was returning from a conference and was on the shuttle ride with two women from the UK.  They were here on business and had only 1.5 days to see San Francisco.  I gave some tips about what major sites to visit or, if they preferred the less crowded spots, some ways to finding the more hole-in-the-wall restaurants, etc.  Overall a good conversation.

At one point, though, I demonstrated a remarkable level of american-centric ignorance.  I mentioned how, at the conference, I was at the snack area between sessions and ran into someone from the UK who was confused about why there was honey available by the tea selection.  Showing some poor judgment, I presumed that while sugar and milk were staples of tea in the UK, honey must not be used at all.  I commented to my two shuttle-mates that this was a great example of differences in culture, even down to how we drink our tea.  I thought I was being pretty intelligent and insightful.

Of course, I was immediately informed that many, many British tea drinkers use honey, and that I just happened to be speaking with someone from a family that did not.  I felt rather foolish.  Why would everyone in the UK drink tea exactly the same way?  Why would I make such a presumption?  How could I let my ignorance rear its head so dramatically and embarrassingly?

As I slowly let myself off the hook for this, I realized that this was an important lesson and reminder about dealing with one’s ignorance.  In a social setting, one probably wants to avoid looking so poorly.  Best to know your stuff before opening your mouth.  But in a professional setting, where one is managing a disparate array of services, you have to embrace the fact that you will be relatively ignorant of at least some of those areas.  You have to push past that and still ask the questions that need to be asked, even if you look like an idiot.

As I’ve embarked on a few new projects lately, it’s become clear that I am really short on detailed knowledge ins some areas.  I’m not a systems person in general, have never managed anything beyond Windows Server 2000 in my life, and am a completely blank slate when it comes to networking.  It would be easy for me to either shy away from these topics or, at a bare minimum effort, just delegate it out to others and be hands-off.

The first scenario isn’t an option.  These are important topics (especially since networking goes out into security) and they cannot be ignored.  The second option – just letting others take care of things with a form of blind faith – is a truly bad idea because it involves completely detaching myself from potentially core operations (which, in turn, affect long-term strategy).

I have no desire to manage our network, but I’m going to ask questions.  I don’t want to know which Cisco switch is the right one, but I want to know why we want this feature vs. another.  And perhaps why we shouldn’t consider a different brand altogether.  I’m going to propose alternatives, even if those ideas are completely ludicrous and excellent examples of my lack of knowledge in the area.

I have to embrace my ignorance on these topics.  I have to embrace ignorance on a lot of topics.  At some point, if one continues to move up in an organization, he or she will be overseeing some area that is not within one’s expertise.  Ideally, you rely on your team to be the experts.  But our team is very small, and we honestly have no true networking staff available.  Even if we did have more staff, it would be unwise to completely disconnect merely because I don’t know the language.  Trust your team, but stay engaged.  Continue to ask others to explain concepts “as if you were a 4 year old.”  Read that article in the tech magazine and ask whether the big flash advertisement for some new product means anything.

We’re all basically ignorant about some topics.  At a dinner party, I’m not going to talk about firewalls and 802.11AC wireless (for more reasons than just my lack of networking knowledge…).  But at work, I’ll be the first to ask.  And the second, and the third, until someone has taken the time to explain to me to the level that I need to know.  I don’t need to know everything, but I can’t remain ignorant, either.

out with the old, in with the old

As a leader and manager, there are few times as trying on one’s…patience and personal confidence as when a project designed to improve operations is well planned, coordinated, and apparently implemented…and fails.  When one has taken a problem area, identified a solution, yet finds the institution in the same exact undesirable situation again and again.  I recently had this happen, and it has left me questioning everything from my core abilities to, at times, my sanity, it seemed.

I think that everyone hopes that, with a new year (in this case a new academic year), a new page will be turned, old problems will subside, and we will be faced only with new challenges.

I am certain that the 4-5 people that will read this are already laughing cynically at that statement.  We all wish this.  We never seem to get it.  And it’s not always that the problems are the same ones – sometimes it’s just the nature of the problem. Sadly, sometimes it is literally the exact same problem as a  year ago, with the exact same cause, and the exact same limitations in why we cannot find a better solution.  Budget constraints mean we can’t implement a new solution.  Staff issues (office politics?) stand in the way of change.  There simply isn’t a better way to get something done, within the nature of the current environment.

But occasionally there is an opportunity.  And hopefully that comes about because of good planning, strategic thinking, and months and months of wise decision-making, well-considered pros and cons, and decisive leadership (exaggeration added).  We do the right things over the summer (or even just “since the last time that process broke”).  We analyze the issues, suggest changes, get bids, and put in place a “fix.”  We use best practices.  We use proper project planning. And things still go awry.

These can be the times that are the most trying.  There are few things that can wear down someone involved in a project, from planner to implementer (and sometimes those are the same person…), than going through all the “right” steps only to have things unravel just like before.  To see an elegant fix turn out to be just another sub-optimal solution with as many problems as before. We all have our stories.  Perhaps one day we can all share them.

My next post, coming shortly, discusses the trials of trying to be a good communicator during such situations.  That’s part of good management and leadership, too.  Being present, visible, and taking responsibility.  But sometimes that means putting one’s self in the line of a lot of fire and flak just to keep a face to the organization, and that is certainly wearying, too.

Educause Institute – Learning Technology & General Leadership Programs

I have been working away at a post about my experience at the Educause Leadership Institute for weeks now.  In particular, I have been trying to contrast it to the Learning Technology Leadership Institute, a similar program from the same group, but with different faculty, curriculum, and type of attendees. I have realized that I just need to get my review out so here goes…

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Thoughts from the Educause Institute Leadership Program, volume 2

I’m a day late on this one, and I will in fat roll the last two days into just this one post.  Some of my thoughts have been formulating over a while anyway.  Plus, due to some technical issues, I am having trouble effectively composing posts from anywhere but our meeting room.  So it just hasn’t been easy.

One thing that has really impressed me, as my team has been working on our presentation to the “executive council” (played by our faculty) and while talking to other attendees, is that so many of the attendees have made these kinds of presentations already.  They have already been on the radar of their upper tiers of their organizations.  In a way, this means that this really isn’t all that hard of a task and that arguably attendees are far closer to being high-level leadership positions than perhaps I had anticipated.  I figured everyone would be high level directors, but the director of, say, all customer or systems support for some major state university is pretty high up there.  Even in terms of scope of work, what I do as CIO at Menlo College is not that far off from their work.  The only difference I’ve generally felt about my role has been its scope.  Not so much even by now, before the workshop has even ended.  It’s really impressive.

As far as the workshop itself, a few things have jumped out at me.  The first is that, while we did spend time talking to our executives as prep work so that we understood that level of leadership.  So that we could separate really high level strategy from the “tactical” work we do.  This was very useful, but we haven’t really returned to the strategic during the presentations as I would have expected.  We’ve talked a lot about regulations, about what we need to worry about as leaders, and even how to manage relationships, but that’s really it.

Without an explicit, ongoing emphasis on strategy, it’s really easy for us to all get “into the weeds” and talk tactics and specific solutions during our conversations. We get out of the strategic.  There are some important points here and there.  Looking at governance from a high level (see my note below about emphasis on size of institution making these solutions less relevant to me, however).  Examining IT security as part of a general campus risk security model is a powerful one.  But those were not really the core emphasis of some of these presentations.

Also, and I’m borrowing from another attendee here, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about how to maintain innovation while handling all these other issues.  Yes, we need to care about compliance and cyber-security, but what about our responsibility to foster creativity and the ability for faculty to be free to be innovative?

Finally, there is the empahsis on large institutions.  The faculty are all from fairly large ones, and I can understand a bias.  But while it’s always diffficult for me to take ideas and apply them to an institution of our size, all the talk about deputy CIOs, relying on large staff with multiple layers, etc makes it tougher than I had thought.  I’m getting stuff out but, in the case of governance, for instance, I was generally taking information from about 1/3 of any other institution’s solutions, with full knowledge that I hav no capacity to dfo the other 2/3s.  That is truly frustrating, and more of an effort than I had anticipated.

On a more…personal interaction note, I really need to learn to shut up more.  We all have great ideas, and they will conflict at times.  It’s not quite an issue of “put 7 leaders together on a team and it’s chaos,” but if some don’t step back, it is a lot of discussing and less productivity at times.  And I personally feel that I’ve been contributing less valuable content than others.  In no way has my group made me feel like an outsider or have they ostracized me in any way.  I do feel that my opinions are contrary to the general flow perhaps more often than not, but that itself doesn’t mean I should step back.  But for the sake of getting things done, I need to sit back more and just listen.  Of course, this is a lot easier when the overall work of the team is really excellent.

The jury is still out on whether this will be a good educational experience.  I’m learning more through direct conversations with the faculty than the curriculum, it seems,  We’ll see.

thoughts on the Educause Institute Leadership Program, volume 1

A while back, I did a series of relatively short posts on a leadership program I attended.  The Learning Technologies Leadership workshop offered by the Educause Institute.  Many may wonder why I am now reviewing this program again.  In fact, this is a different one.  One month later, I find myself back at the Hilton Orrington in Evanston, IL.  This time, it’s a general leadership program, with a very different crow.

Yesterday was just a half day so my observations are more about the differences in the crowd.  I don’t think I know enough to make comments on the curriculum.  I can certainly talk about my trepidation prior to the start of the session.

Before things commenced I was very concerned about how I’d fit in.  Would everyone be from really big universities?  Even against a director, my experience at such a small college might not translate.  I might be this useless appendage.  I’d still learn just from hearing everyone’s experience but I want to contribute.

Fortunately,  my fears did not come true.  While I am a bit surprised by the number of folks that work in administrative systems (rather than customer-facing programs), but overall there is a lot of diversity, in jobs, age, years in job, and institution (or department).  I think things will work out.  More on that as the week goes by.

The team project, which was a linchpin of the LTL program, is handled a bit differently. I ‘m sure the actual presentation will be similar an the team dynamics will still be key.  But we heard about the team topics last night – we had to pick two, and therefore had no idea what we’d get.  And for me, this is especially harrowing because I don’t know if I’d end up doing a potentially big topic – but one that interests me – with really big institutions that just won’t speak on the same terms as me.

Because this is a group that are aspiring CIOs, we did spend a big section yesterday talking about the changing role.  On the one hand, this is a critically important topic and discussion (one might think differently based on my recent post about an article in Educauseu Review, but that’s because I felt that was intended for other CIOs, not aspiring ones).  On the other, I felt that we jumped a bit too far into the changing role.  We discussed the changed role – what it is now, under the presumption that we had preconceived notions.  Maybe we did.  Just an observation.

Overall, while I had a pretty full afternoon, it was not as intense as the first day of the LTL.  But I am perhaps more excited overall, and look forward to the week.