After a long hiatus from this blog, during which I was basically swamped at work, I return to the idea of how to redefine or perhaps restructure law school to make better use of its faculty, give more to the student, and get away from the traditional models of revenue and federal aid reliance. I seek to “edupunk” law school.
I don’t have all of the “tenets” of the edupunk and edupreneur movement in front of me, but some really stick. One key aspect is that, since salaries make up a huge portion of a school’s costs, it is critical to make the most of every dollar. Especially with faculty that one must lure away from other schools, the amount of time each professor spends actually imparting wisdom unto students is the major metric. Especially for law schools, where salary (rather than tenure and job security) is often the number one reason that a lawyer would leave a lucrative position at a firm in order to teach, maximizing the contact between student and professor is important.
One means of achieving this is to bring in more adjunct faculty to do the “dirty work” for the professor. Creating exams, grading, even evaluating written assignments could conceivably all be done by lecturers or other faculty that are not on the track to tenure. Of course, this requires that the adjuncts work very closely with the professor so that the grading and exam methodology be in sync with the course materials and the professor’s style of teaching. Now the tenured faculty can spend their time in front of and with students and, hopefully, engaging others about how to change the way law is taught in an environment of continual creativity and improvement.
However, the Edupunk model falls shortl because even the adjunct faculty are often a significant financial load on a law school, much more so than that of the lecturer that runs between jobs in different fields at four separate colleges in an attempt to bring in one decent salary. Also, many adjunct are practicing lawyers and even sitting judges. These are not secondary members of the faculty that do supporting educational work for the school. These adjunct often teach courses that are popular electives with student, and they need to be in front of students just as much as the tenure-track faculty.
The question therefore, is whether there is a role for non-tenure-track faculty at a law school that are valuable both in teaching their own courses as well as being part of supporting the overall work of a tenured faculty that is presumably one of “the” reasons for attending that school.
So…this trend doesn’t work for law schools. This method of saving costs wouldn’t work for a law school.
Hopefully more success in the next attempt.
Something a bit odd happened earlier today. An e-mail had gone out to various senior members of the law school that came from one of the school staff but looked a bit fishy. Had some elements of unsolicited spam in it – “Have you heard the latest on..” and “the biggest scam you’ll find is…” Stuff like that.
I immediately informed several people that this person was indeed someone from the school, and that I’d look into whether there was anything wrong with her computer or perhaps if someone else had been infected with a virus and was spoofing her e-mail address. I was going to get to the bottom of this, I was going to set things right, and I was going to prevent bad things from happening to my colleagues. I was going to be the Assistant Dean of Awesomeness.
When I called up the person and asked if she had sent the e-mail on purpose, she explained that she did indeed send it, and that it was on behalf of one of the faculty she supports.
Me (somewhat deflated but still wanting to be helpful): ”Oh, okay, well just wanted to check because some folks thought it might have been spam or you had a virus.”
Her (non-chalantly): ”Okay, my computer is fine.”
That’s it. Simple. Seemed like a done deal. I summarized my findings to the senior staff who had first inquired and thought things were done. Wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing but at least I figured things out.
Then…the person sent the message again, with the little added “sent on behalf of Professor X,” which is how it usually is handled. I’m not on the list myself, so I didn’t know she had resent it. I also don’t see until later, when I am once again included in the conversation, that she has been mildly lauded for having corrected herself and that it was good of her to clarify her intent in sending the original e-mail.
So, because I had chosen to call her, because I had let her know that she had committed a bit of a faux pas, she corrected herself, and avoided a bad impression on the school, and in fact possibly made a good impression on some. Yet no word to me, and maybe even not much acknowledgement.
I don’t know where I’m going with this but sometimes this kind of stuff rubs me the wrong way. Is it too much to ask for a “thanks” or to acknowledge that someone helped you out of a situation?
I have been reading a book called DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education on my kindle. I’m fairly familiar with the overall Edupunk movement, which has primarily focused on moving away from commercial, enterprise level (and therefore expensive) solutions and towards a more DIY, open-source kind of environment. But this is the first formal book on the topic and quite an interesting read, too.
Several themes are addressed in the book (and they lead to a somewhat scattered approach, IMO, where the book just seems to jump from different educational model to the next, rather than a large scale, overview-type look at the higher education arena). A key one is that one needs to lower costs. Edupunk approaches can help do this by “debundling” the various services that are provided by faculty (teaching, testing, and grading) and increasing efficiency per dollar spent. There are other ideas, too, such as blended learning with a social side, etc.
One of the questions I’ve been posing to myself is how to “edupunk” the law school environment.
Part of me is of the very mindset that the book argues against – that there is something “special” about the expensive, private higher education environment that makes it different and better. That students that get into such programs – whether undergraduate or graduate – are in a better situation than those that go to less selective, public institutions. It’s pretty hard for me to admit that, but part of my brain has been sufficiently scrubbed that I do think that.
That part also wonders if law school just needs to be taught a certain way, and that edupunking the system doesn’t get one very far. The socratic method is connected at the hip to big lecture halls, rather low-tech environments, and just a lot of talking. It’s not interactive, it’s not blended, and it’s not particularly practical. It’s all theoretical, at least during the first year.
I’m going to spend the next few posts thinking about how one might change the instruction of law. I don’t want to go so far that I’d being ABA-accreditation into question. The book talks about how these is a shackle on the process of innovation, but it’s also a reality. I don’t think it would be productive to go all the way to “accreditation be damned, as long as the student learns what he or she needs.” I think there is a middle ground. And I intend to explore that over the next few days.
For a university, that is, looking to cut costs in a world where we spend more and more each year to meet basic expectations.
Far too long ago, I hypothesized a scenario where a university might choose to outsource strategic decision-making on technology. Let me clarify exactly what it is to which I am referring – right now, just about every university has a person or group that looks at different trends out there, considers what current needs exist, and try to balance all of that within a general framework of “being innovative.” I challenge anyone to point to a university that doesn’t want to be innovative and therefore consider my last stipulation a reasonable one.
Provided that there is some semblance of logic to this process, what we’re talking about is strategic decision-making, not just outsourcing in general. A method through which an over-arching theme emerges that guides when to say yes and when to say no. When to invest in that $250,000 ERP system that must replace the aging system in place and therefore sacrifice the time-saving management system for staff. Or how high student productivity ranks on the list of priorities.
Rather than having people in charge of this, why not just outsource it all? That is the question that I put forth.
If I were a university president, this would be a tantalizing option for cost-savings. Everything about running a university involves rising costs, but some things just cannot be sacrificed. If you need top-notch faculty and they collectively lead to a cost of $X, then you must spend $X. If you decide that a new Welcome Center will help put a pretty face for visitors and you must invest $Y over the next 3 years, then you allocate and spend $Y. Plain and simple.
Right now, staff salaries are rising faster than most other operations (insert appropriate citation here – I’m pretty sure it’s in DIY EDU somewhere). And a lot of staff are needed to manage, maintain, install, learn, use, train, and just be around technology. And deciding how much to spend on what and then implementing those decisions involves a lot of people, too. Overall, the number of staff that surround the need to be “innovative” technologically is increasing. So what do we do?
Get rid of all of them, right?
here’s a thought: why not outsource IT strategy?
I’m not talking about IT infrastructure or tools. I don’t mean using Amazon EC2 for computing power or S3 for storage, much less Google Apps for Education. I’m not talking about outsourcing specific services.
I mean outsourcing the actual decision-making process that drives our services and overall strategy. I am talking about outsourcing IT and Academic Computing leadership. In my case, I am talking about outsourcing myself.
What’s to stop a university from hiring a consulting firm to watch for technology trends, identify threats and opportunities (SWOT, anyone?), and make recommendations on what should be done. The university then picks things that it can afford and that fit together (again, by recommendation from the consultants), and just does them using the appropriate resources.
Perhaps the IT department still has system administrators, and perhaps outsourcing leadership has nothing to do with outsourcing services. Maybe the consultants recommend keeping e-mail in house due to an analysis of how the school’s General Counsel likes to interpret “exposure” (trying not to use FERPA as a shield here – it’s about exposure due to regulations such as FERPA. Not FERPA unto itself). So using consultants to identify trends and basically make strategic decisions doesn’t mean outsourcing everything.
But it could mean the elimination of the very type of job I have. My next post, which I hope to have together in the next day or so, will follow through on how this might look to a university president. Then we have to ask ourselves about how we can add enough value that no one ever actually does what I suggest in this post…
Dear University General Counsel,*
I write to ask you to help foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and to engage us in how to push the envelope, rather than present to us the dimensions of said container and the strength of the glue that keeps contents within.
I ask that you consider how important innovation is to the process of learning and teaching. That it is a powerful skill and force within an organization that benefits all.
I ask you to see the thread that ties innovation and experimentation with effective execution and meaningful results. Thinking outside of the box doesn’t have to mean that we’re just coming up with crazy ideas. We can think outside of the box and come up with solutions that will immediately impact everything that faculty, students and staff touch and use.
I ask that you help create an environment where we seek not to copy someone else’s RFP on “some-technology-someone-else-is-already-doing-exactly-the-way-we-are-thinking-of-doing” but instead to be the ones that write the very first such request for proposal. Let us live in a place where we set the trend
I challenge you to fling wide the gates labeled FERPA and PRIVACY. I urge you to knock – nay, tear – down those gates and turn them into paths. Wide paths upon which we can walk and find our way to new solutions while staying within the right boundaries.
I challenge you to always ask us what we want to do next, rather than to tell us what we cannot do today.
I challenge you to stand with us as we forge into new territory, rather than be in the shadows, waiting to be called upon.
I ask that you let us – upper management, CTOs and CIOs – surround ourselves with the best and brightest. I challenge you to let us let them run wild.
I challenge you to let us run wild with them.
*this is not directed at any specific university, much less my own. This is a general comment on the need to unshackle many of those that are trying to innovate in technology & higher ed but are held back by legal concerns. I think that should be obvious by the time you’ve read
As I’ve described in two previous posts on my efforts to use Google rather than Groupwise for work e-mail and calendaring (1 & 2), as a connection point for my Android phone, I have run into a lot of interesting behaviors. I’ve had challenges and successes.
Right now, I have Groupwise set up to straight forward all incoming e-mail to Google. I set up a separate google account just for work, and use the web interface to work with my calendar, etc. I keep things separate from my personal Google account simply by running the work stuff in one browser and my personal stuff in another one. Different browser apps, different cookies, no conflicts.
Even this basic forwarding has had problems. I’m still not 100% confident that when an e-mail comes into Groupwise, it is forwarded right away to Google. Most of my uncertainty can be tied to a power outage about a week ago, which caused a whole lot of problems. But there was at least one other instance when I just stopped getting e-mail for a few hours. Then suddenly everything from a 1.5 hour period came at once. As a result, I set up an IMAP connection to my Groupwise account so that I can double check there. Kind of defeats the purpose.
As for Companionlink for synchronization, I am now dead set against it as a recommended solution because it is not an enterprise-level product. I knew that going in, of course, but if someone at the school were to ask what smartphone to get, I’d say “Blackberry” in a second (we have an Enterprise Server on campus). Also, it has some quirks. For instance, if I set up a repeating event in Google, only the first one shows up in Groupwise (this happened with another Groupwise calendar-only synchronization software package, too, so it might be a GW thing). Also, while invitations to meetings do show up in Google, I only get an option to add it to my calendar. Not to actually respond to it. I know I tested this before and I had “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” as options, which was nice (maybe allowed me to have it show up as declined but still visible on my calendar). I can’t figure out why it’s not working.
So I do a all of my meeting proposals in GW. I often accept meetings there, too.
In the end…it’s a tough call. I miss a lot of the functionality of the blackberry and might even go back to it as new versions come out. But right now the benefits of the Android phone (the HTC EVO 4G in this case, but it could be any one) outweigh things overall. Many of my core apps exist on the Blackberry OS, but are not nearly as easy to use. For instance, I can view an excel sheet on my large 4.3″ screen and actually see the important information without losing view of every other cell. Things scale well when I zoom in. I can’t do that on the smaller Blackberry screens.
I have instructed my staff to recommend Blackberry units without hesitation. We have the Android units only so that we can play with alternative smartphones. We already know how to set up a Blackberry account in about 10 minutes, but this is the first extensive testing with something else.
I read through a post by a friend who has been struck by the changes between working at a start-up and now in academia. I, in turn, have been thinking a lot about whether I’ve been painting myself into a professional corner. Making myself irrelevant to the rest of the working world…
About 4 or 5 years ago, I applied for a job “in corporate” – aka a for-profit company. Here in Silicon Valley, and quite a prominent company. The job requirements were pretty straightforward. It was for product management, and they had both an entry-level and a lead position open. I needed to have 5 years experience managing projects from start to finish for the entry-level position, but at least 5 for the team lead job. To be honest, I was pushing it a bit on the lead job, but as far as my resume sounded, I met the requirements. When I finished my interview, I inquired about whether I could put my name in for the team lead job.
“Well, you don’t meet the job requirements for that position. You need to have at least 5 years experience.”
“I have been managing teams and projects for the last 5 years, as you can see from my resume.”
“Yes, but that’s in higher education. That would be more like 2-3 years if you were in corporate.”
This struck me as a bit odd, since I was not aware of some kind of fractional multiplier when converting from “higher education experience” and “corporate experience.” But at least at this company, there seemed to be something of the kind.
Ever since then, I have been wondering if, as I move along on my career path in academia, I’m boxing myself in, professionally. That I’ll reduce my chances of ever working in corporate with each passing year in some weird way.
It’s not that I’m trying to change careers. And it’s not that there aren’t any jobs out there for higher education professionals. Many companies (admittedly larger ones) have higher education vertical units, where entire groups focus on products being used in academia and/or strategic planning for the market. But it still lingers in the back of my mind that as I make progress one way, I may be making myself less and less relevant other ways.
In my last post, about approaching outsourcing in higher education from a strategic view that goes beyond simple cost savings or privacy concerns, I talked about how outsourcing should either lower costs, increase value, or do both in order to help an organization develop and maintain a competitive advantage.
Defining competitive advantage in higher education or specifically IT therein is not easy. It’s more than simply how a university or college does in rankings or how well it attracts students. It might be measurable in terms of how it does compared to its direct competitors – how many times a student that applies to both schools chooses a particular one is somewhat indicative of a competitive advantage.
But let’s just presume that there are a great many factors that lead to something akin to an advantage that is useful when in competition for the best and brightest students with other schools. The quantity of factors makes it all the harder to quantify the benefit of specific strategic planning decisions, but overall there is at least room for reasonable conjecture.
So the question remains – what should be outsourced? What activities do technology departments in higher education engage in that are not directly beneficial in terms of competitive advantage? What activities could be best outsourced such that cost goes down, value goes up, or both, leading to more students choosing one school over another?
A hot topic for some time now in Higher Education is outsourcing. Generally, this has taken the form of using Google for e-mail. In fact, other than a handful that use Microsoft’s live@edu for e-mail…I can’t think of anyone else doing anything through outsourcing. No storage, no running of Exchange in the cloud, etc.
Having said that, this is a really heated and controversial topic for a number of reasons. There is the legal one – FERPA states, essentially, that an educational institution cannot provide student information to an outside organization. Whether having Google host your e-mail, which is relatively secure behind encryption, etc, is violating FERPA has often been based on interpretation by General Counsel. Second, I am convinced that there is a strong belief that university data should stay on university servers. Even more than what most companies feel at an emotional, possessive and perhaps maternalistic level, universities have this suspicion about letting data go. Academia is free and intellectually unbound and independent – to host data at Google is like selling one’s soul.
Personally, I’m interested in taking this a step further. Let’s talk about outsourcing as a strategy. Right now, universities that have gone to Google have done so out of cost savings. No storage servers, fewer admins, etc, and you save money in providing e-mail to faculty, staff, and students. This is often the end of the discussion.
But if one were to take the emotional aspect out of things, and presume (fiat power!) that the school’s interpretation of FERPA allows for off-campus storage of student data, then one can start applying more strategy-based approaches to outsourcing. (more…)