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.

reflections on the Educause Institute Learning Technology Leadership program

The last week of June, I attended the Educause Institue Learning Technology Leadership program.  This is an intensive, week-long workshop (that’s the best term I can think of it – it’s not a conference, it’s not training, and I don’t really think it’s a workshop, per se, either)  on how to be an effective leader at one’s institution.  It is aimed at those working in educational technology (instructional technology, teaching and learning, lots of other names), but it goes way out to how one might do presentations for new programs to executive officers, handling 6 or 7 figure budgets, and a number of other high level topics.

Overall, it was a very positive experience.  But the real “meat” of this post is a bit more nuanced than simply whether I learned a lot or not.  For instance, in terms of just leadership skills ranging from one’s team to one’s institution, there was lots to learn.  But that’s not entirely why I attended.

As a CIO, I must admit I felt a bit out of place.  But we don’t have an educational technology program so it’s not like there was someone else to send.  And we want to start one up, so we did want to send someone.  But, while I did have these very relevant reasons for being there, I definitely had a different perspective than most.  To be honest, I think this caused a bit of…disconnection and possibly abrasion with my teammates.  I am sure they are all gracious enough to disagree with me, but if I’m being truthful, I think at times my tendency to think about issues such as liability and institutional fit instead of creativity and pedagogical impact was a hindrance to overall productivity.  I apologize to a great overall team for that.

When I signed up for the workshop, though, my key question was “is there something about leadership in learning/educational/instructional technology that is different than leadership in general?” (more…)

thoughts from the EDUCAUSE LTL volume 4

I didn’t get to write a post yesterday because I was exhausted.  Our teams do presentations on the 4th day, yesterday, that is meant to “make the case” for some proposal for a fictional institution.  We worked late into Wednesday night, I was rehearsing my section of the presentation even later than that (into Thursday morning), and then the presentation itself certainly was a high pressure situation.  We were all just very, very tired.

I’ll have a recap post at some point of the entire experience but, as was the case the first couple of days, a quick reflection is still important.

With all the work done to find our strengths so that we can apply them effectively, I have come to appreciate that strengths can actually be weaknesses themselves.  It’s all about context.  When working in a team where everyone is a highly-motivated, potential formal or informal leader, strengths such as being an Achiever (wanting to accomplish things), an Arranger (always understanding how things work together), and Input (wanting know more and more) can be a problem.  They can make me inpatient, they can make me potentially disruptive.  Considering the effort put in by my fellow teammates, I can only hope that I did a mildly effective job of keeping myself in check.  Perhaps most of the time.

This means that there is even greater nuance to dealing with strengths and weaknesses than I had realized.  Before, it was know your strengths, which helps you understand your weaknesses, then either address the weaknesses head on (out of your comfort zone) or find a complement.  But strengths themselves can be weaknesses.  My, this can get complicated.

One thing I saw during the building of our presentation was that all of us having to just buckle down and get the thing done allowed our “executor” strengths to come through, and then our other strengths could rise above that.  It was almost like a base or “safe space” for us to start opening up.  I felt a lot more comfortable knowing we all had this common goal that included a timeline, where we really knew we had to just get down to it.  But even so, no one stopped indicating those existing strengths.  I found this fascinating and I truly enjoyed just turning to others and saying “I’m not good at this, someone please help me.”  Others rose up, gave me ideas, and things came together.

Considering that “leading from where you are” is a fundamental part of leadership in general but also key for those of us that are parts of larger organizations, this was pretty cool to watch.

I want to thank all of those at LTL 13, and to my teammates on team 5 in particular for an amazing experience.

thoughts from educause LTL volume 3

So..I’m really tired, and this is going to be short, to be honest.

Last night my team worked on finishing the presentation we will make today to the “senior administrative leaders” that the LTL faculty will be “playing.”  We are to pitch a specific idea, with implementation, budget, etc., that will address a strategic concern of a college.

Until last night, I have to admit that I haven’t felt completely at ease with our group.  This is not a statement about the people, much less about any one person in particular.  It’s about trying to form a team made up of people that have all come to a workshop designed to build leadership.  This is a group here to become better leaders.  Putting us in groups is going to cause some unease.

But there is nothing like a project, trying to make something concrete, to bring people together.  As we worked together, our skills and strengths emerged naturally.  Even more impressively, the way we offered to help just flowed.  Someone would ask for help (I know I did several times) and others would start working on solutions.  One person made headway, and ideas were thrown about, and we ended up with a great product.  When we did a run-through, we all gave feedback equitably and fairly, and we have, I think, a solid product.

I don’t know what today’s reflection piece will be, but I know that last night’s collaborative experience will be the sticking point for me for the day.

thoughts from the EDUCAUSE LTL, volume 2

I a still at the Learning Technology Leadership program from the Educause Institute, and the latest reflection piece we’ve had is on leadership.  Unlike the first assignment, this one was done in the morning, before getting on with the day.  So it’s shorter.

We were asked to discuss how the first day’s discussion may have changed our views on leadership.  My response follows, and additional commentary past the jump.

While the concept of leading from within a group (rather than at the forefront) is nothing new, the discussion that stemmed from the governance committee model at Northwestern still struck a chord. Even at a small institution such as mine, where working with anyone means working with everyone, maintaining a steady focus on communications and sharing the ownership of knowledge and understanding is a powerful tool.

Unfortunately, this also takes a lot of energy. I am inspired by the prospects of what such shared communication can provide. Yet I am also concerned about the sheer amount of effort required to sustain such a program.  At a larger institution, you not only have more resources in terms of number of people from your own organization to attend these meetings, but just more people in general.  At a small institution, at some point, these committees are all the same people, and you have to watch for burn-out, disillusionment, and perhaps even annoyance with the process.  That is completely counterproductive.

It will be a delicate balance and I will be adding “informal” to many of the names of these governance/communication groups, but it certainly has great impact, regardless of institution size. And that means it’s worth the effort, in almost any case.


thoughts from the educause learning technologies leadership program volume 1

Day 1 of the Educause Institute for Learning Technology Leadership came to a close last night.  For just a half-day session, I am truly exhausted.  I am also excited that such a dynamic experience will span the next 3.5 days.  I’m sure I’ll get a lot out of it.

We are asked to reflect upon a specific topic each day.  Last night, we focused on the results of our StrengthsFinders surveys.  This tool, which I’ve used a few times now and find quite useful, tries to identify 5 strengths based on a big, long series of survey questions.  They are actually statements, and you have to choose which one better describes you.  For the most part, they are not opposed, which means it’s not easy to decide which one fits you best.  So you make a decision that is a combination of logic, thoughtfulness, and gut.

Below is a slightly-edited (just tightened up) version of what I wrote in our internal Yammer group.


the disappearance of the life of IT folks..or not

One of the most common “issues” and topics of discussion among IT professionals in higher ed is our potential obsolescence in the face of the changing student population, the infusion of uncontrolled media, and non-university solutions for connection – IM, Facebook, etc.

There are various articulations of this fear, but the gist is that because of all of these changes, the way we have always done IT will no longer be relevant, and we will lose our jobs.  Or, at the least, that we need to watch for and perhaps even fear these changes.

I am, as I begin this post, attending a keynote regarding the paradigm shift that social media, desktop servers, cloud computing, and other technologies present to (university) IT departments.

Let me rephrase that to work better for me:  the SUPPOSED paradigm shift…

As I often do, I must preface the rest of this post with a bit of a disclaimer.  The keynote is by Sheri Stahler,the Associate Vice President for Computer Services at Temple University.  She is clearly an intelligent person and I’m sure she’s a great VP and manager.  She certainly is a very affable and friendly person – at least she was when we ran into each other in the elevator at the hotel at which this conference is held.  This is not a criticism much less an attack on her in any way.  This is about the points being made.  These perceptions are not uncommon in higher ed (certainly evidenced by some of my fellow attendees that raise their hands to certain queries posed by Ms. Stahler) and that truly and deeply worries me.

Ms. Stahler’s points surrounded a supposed paradigm shift caused by web 2.0, 3.0 (2.0 + federated ID via Facebook Connect, etc), social media, and the changing perspectives of today’s students.  This shift jeopardizes the very jobs of IT staff in higher education.  Our methods are no longer effective, and our jobs are in danger.  This is a gross oversimplification, admittedly.

I had the pleasure of convening and attending a presentation by Dr. John Hoh, the Director of Information Technology Services at the Harrisburg campus of the Pennsylvania State University later this same day.  While it’s awfully difficult to describe the entire session, the gist is that one must look strategically and quite critically at one’s service portfolio, identify what are commodity services that can be outsourced, what are high-maintenance, low-value services that should be handled by only a small set of staff, and what is the “meat” of your overall services.  The stuff that you want to be good at, and that you want others to know about it.  Determining this requires a very forward-looking perspective on matters. As Dr. Hoh said, the goal is to become solution-providers, not break-fixers.

Being a solution provider means that one can identify issues, see trends as they emerge, and move to take advantage of those trends as appropriate.  If one is a solutions provider, then one’s job cannot be, by definition, in danger.  It is the very nature of one that needs to see emerging technologies not just for the dangers they pose to our existing duties but also for the opportunities they present that future-proofs such staff from becoming obsolete.

Even without taking Dr. Hoh’s aggressive, progressive stance, I would argue that we are all in the business of analyzing the eco-system that includes technology and higher education.  In the same way that we must now consider how to deal with the emergence (eruption?) of the tablet device or the commoditization of Help Desk services, IT departments had to previously examine the commoditization of personal computers and the emergence of computers as a part of everyday academic life and develop those very same Help Desk services.

In conclusion, we must look at ourselves as solutions providers, and ones that determine those solutions based on our ability to analyze changing scenarios.  We have never just been IT folks, and we certainly should never be people that focus on how the “way we’ve always done things” is or is not threatened by change.  Our jobs should be to analyze and change with new trends.  While our duties might change, our job does not.

what is a “disruptive technology?”

The other night and throughout Educause, people have been talking about “disruptive technologies.”  Because I’m getting my MBA, I think back to disruptive technologies in terms of products and markets.

For instance, the transistor was a disruptive technology.  However, many manufacturers of radios considered it a process change – they put them in their existing, big radios rather than tubes.  But other manufacturers (Sony, with the Walkman), used it to create a whole new market.  The actual disruptive technology is the transistor, but the innovation was how it was used.

And it is always about how it is used.  How something is put together to create something new.  Google Wave, for instance (yes, I am still trying to get my head around it), combines several items that aren’t really all that disruptive anymore, if you think about it.  Instant-message style communication?  That’s old.  Threaded discussion?  Been there, done that.  Multi-contributors?  Well, a mailing list is a communication “stream” with lots of people contributing, too.

Does combining them all together make it disruptive?  Honestly, in this case, I don’t know.  I don’t see this as creating a new market, for instance, at least in terms of education (I think it does for project management, btw, though it needs to be combined with other tools like document management and calendars, etc (you listening, google?!?!?).

Are there other disruptive technologies out there?  Twitter is massively disruptive (I’d still get in on the VC funding for that (with strong liquidation preferences) if I could).  Wikis are/were, too, but they have not evolved as much as I would have thought.

I have found it useful to take a business approach to a lot of these topics at Educause.  Anyway.

google apps…and what the heck is wave?

So far, after just 1 day at Educause (and pre-conference day, actually), there has been quite a bit of talk about campuses that have gone with Google Apps for Education, and about their latest product, Google Wave.

The talks about Google Apps have gone in 2 parts, it seems.

1 – migration to e-mail was not terrible, technically.  Programmatically, it takes some effort to get buy-in, but ultimately if it makes sense, then it’ll work and it’ll happen and it’s not a big deal.

2 – students are in fact using the other apps, especially Google Docs.  They even write collaboratively.  However, they still save out to Word and send that to faculty (electronically – they could just send the URL to the Google Doc).

I find this second point very interesting.  To me, outsourcing email to Google isn’t a big deal (well, privacy, etc is a big deal, but in a less FERPA-y kind of way, it’s straightforward).  But I seriously wonder whether students are getting the extra advantage of all the collaboration tools.  Signs point towards yes, which is great

What stinks, though, is that it’s so hard to collaborate on Google Apps.  Yes, it’s easy to share a doc and write together.  Recently, however, I wanted to set up some items for my final MBA class.  In order to meet my needs, I did:

  1. Create a Google Group.  Invite people to that
  2. Create a Google Calendar.  Invite same people to that
  3. Create a folder in Google Docs.  Invite…same people to that.

Thank goodness I can at least share folders rather than having to have a document first.  But why can’t Google let us create a site that would have all of these things, available to a set list of people?  An actual collaboration space?  Kind of ridiculous, IMO.

Then there is Google Wave.  I am pretty sure I can figure out how to use it, especially for projects.  But I honestly don’t know how I’d explain it to faculty, or develop a good use case for pedagogy.  Someone suggested that it’s

  1. a new communication paradigm
  2. wiki meets gmail meets IM

So, first, I’m not 100% sure it’s a new paradigm.  I guess definitely a new construct.  Not sure about a new paradigm.

I’m also not sure about the wiki part.  We aren’t creating a cohesive page, after all, with a wave.  More like a stream of messages.

Which does mean that gmail meets IM makes some sense.  But how do I explain what that means to faculty and students?  Especially without Google Docs integration?