Author Archive: kaiyen

orchids and weeds. not your normal garden.

A number of years ago (7?), a colleague of mine at Stanford – Carlos Seligo – introduced the concept of “Orchids and Weeds.”  He meant it jokingly at the time, but it has stuck with me ever since.

Basically, there are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to technology, support, and adoption.  There are orchids, which are elegant, beautiful and perfectly aligned with needs but require an incredible amount of attention and resources to get running and properly supported.  It is unlikely that support will become more efficient over time.  Weeds, on the other hand, spring up organically and often as ancillary to something else.  They germinate quickly and soon adoption is very high and usage has proliferated.  Weeds might even be used in ways never originally intended.

An example of an orchid might be the Sakai Learning Management System, which has been developed by universities, for universities, but is quite a beast to implement and manage.  Perhaps even some of the major Microsoft products – Sharepoint comes to mind – would be orchids, too.  They can be ridiculously powerful if done right, but needs a lot of resources to get there.  The two “big” weeds would be e-mail and SMS text messaging. SMS is in particular is a great example.  Originally designed so that cell company employees could report coverage outages and other problems, it has become the primary way for many people to communicate (I send about 2000 texts a month and yet use fewer than 400 minutes).

It is important to note that there is nothing inherently bad about an orchid.  By definition, it is beautiful, elegant, and a perfect solution for the job.  It offers very high value and probably commands a high price (the amount of effort users are willing to expend to access the service).  But the cost is also extremely high.  So the overall value-cost gap (or V-C “wedge” as we’d say in my Capstone MBA course) is smaller than, say, text messaging.

But if the fundamental basis for maintaining a service portfolio is value, orchids are just fine.  You just have to pick and choose the right ones.  And that means a strong rubric for getting rid of the useless orchids (just pretty, but not the right fit) from the truly wonderful ones.

Basing services on value provision is pretty simple.  Well, actual “value” is hard to quantify, even in the business world where there is a number for everything.  But if you start with price – again, the expense of time/effort/distance traveled/hoops jumped through/etc that a user is willing to take on in order to use the service – then you can get an idea of value.  Value is always the same or higher than price (unless you have one seriously messed up measurement system).  If you put something somewhere (physical location of a high-end lab, a web service behind so many clicks of the mouse, etc) and people are still rushing in droves to use it, then the price is probably quite a bit lower than value.  Whether the price is too low is unclear, but it’s not like you’re going to disassemble that lab and move it farther away from the dorms or put even more clicks in front of the web service.  Bottom line – value is high, and it can be gauged if not measured exactly.

So once you have that, you just roll out services that are high value or high V-C.  The value could be high in an absolute sense, in which case cost is not an issue (striking a deal with a cloud-based backup company where the student pays and you get all the kudos but none of the liability).  Or it could be high in a relative sense (buying a bigger SAN for $75000 to do multiple redundant backups of faculty and staff data, on-site, in exchange for peace of mind to those users.  cost and value are high).  But if something is low in value, just don’t bother with it.  Because if it’s not of value to anyone, why are you wasting resources on it?  Worst case scenario, cost is HIGHER than value, and you’re just burning resources for nothing.

Ideally, you go low cast and high value – look for weeds.  Get as many of these as you can because they require low overhead but adoption will be high.  I’m not sure people will “value” it the same way they would with other things but they will surely use the service.  Align your staff to take advantage of these.  Have fewer staff managing more weeds – the ratio will be different.

Then go looking for orchids.  You will probably need project management staff just to test them, then a much lower staff:service ratio to maintain them.  But if you figure out the right potential orchids during testing, then deploy the best 2-5 or so and it’ll be worth it.

 

not reinventing the beeping noise

  • On our 2008 Honda CR-V, we have different beeping, alarm tones for leaving the key in ignition, headlights on, and parking brake on.  3 different tones.
  • On our 2005 Mazda 3, we have a single tone that is used for both the keys and lights.  No parking brake.
  • Of all cars, the 2004 Jeep Wrangler – bare bones vehicle, zip-up windows, etc – had a single warning signal for the lights, keys, and brake.

How is it possible that that three different cars utilize different methods for the simple task of notifying a driver that he or she has forgotten to do something, or left something behind?  The ones that are most similar – the Honda and the Jeep, are almost as far apart as possible in terms of types of car (well, if it was an Acura or something that would be farther…).  And somehow the Mazda can’t even bother with all three tones.  The features of the Jeep – a car WITH NO WINDOWS – are more user-friendly than those on our Mazda.

It’s not as if the beeping sound for the brake was first invented by Jeep, musth less copyrighted (which would be required in this scenario, since the Jeep is older than the Mazda).  Nor the idea of different tones being used in the Honda.  And it can’t possibly cost much in terms of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), which affects margin, for there to be either three tones or three different tones.

If I had to fill out a form right now asking for features I’d like in a car, having tones (same tone okay, since I can never remember which tone is for which problem) for all of those items would be on that list.  These simple things.  Just take the simple things that others have done, and make sure that you have at least those same things.  Then innovate from there.

How is this at all relevant?  Simple – if you’re running a Help Desk, get the basics of support, time to resolution, quality of customer service, etc , to the standard that others schools with roughly the same resources and limitations have achieved.  If you have a small server farm – or a giant data center – look at what others have done and just flat out copy the best of breed basics.  I don’t mean the whole kit-and-kaboodle.  I don’t mean just copy every last detail.  But there have to be common denominators that have sound solutions, proven over time, that are easily replicated.

Just as Mazda should not spend much time deciding whether or not to put in 3 bells – which can, I think, be concluded is a better solution than just 2 bells – why not just start off with 3, and spend more time deciding if an auxiliary audio input should be put in or not? Or, a year later, when all Mazda 3’s had those inputs because basically all cars had them, how about making the front console more user-friendly or improving something else?  Innovating beyond the basics.

I’ll admit that we are not doing as good of a job at this as I’d like.  And hopefully as we’d like, either.  But once we can get everything to a baseline standard – and it is definitely feasible – then we can start to really mix things up.  Think of new things and build up an overall structure that is above and beyond.

So let’s get started on the foundation.

do more with more, more efficiently, in the same amount of time

I loathe the phrase “do more with less.”  I abhor it.  I loathe and abhor very, very few things in life, and I reserve those venomous verbs for rare occasions.  Yet I both loathe and abhor the phrase and the idea behind the notion of “doing more with less” as a management tool or concept.

The idea that any organization – whether it be an entire institution, a school, a department, or even a single project team – should be expected to provide, say, 125% output with less than 100% resources is utterly absurd.  When this is used during times of economic crisis – which is what we’re looking at right now in higher education – the philosophy can be something of a necessary evil.  When budgets are tight then almost any project will have less than 100% of funding.  When hiring freezes occur then existing staff are spread more thinly across projects.  Resources – both dollars and staff – must be at less than 100% in such a situation.  And at least for the short-term the same set of services must persist.  There simply isn’t enough time to retool an entire department, help desk, or other operation in the face of a sudden budget crunch.  Dollars per capita (DPC) goes down because it has to, at least for now.

But this cannot become standard, ongoing policy.  Service portfolios must be reviewed, staff must be rearranged, and overall operations must be reorganized to accommodate the new monetary restrictions.  Only those services that can be offered at the same, pre-crunch level should remain, and overall DPC should be restored.  This has to happen, or everything and everyone suffers.

So “more with less” cannot work as a long-term response to budgetary constraints.

As a general inspirational philosophy, however, it can have some kind of meaning.  “More” and “less” are relative terms.  Provided that there is not the expectation that we somehow work 125% time (in the perhaps utopian world where everyone works to capacity and capability, no one can work more than 100% of what he or she is capable), doing “more” simply means to provide some additional quality with the work we do.  For me, I use value to customer as the yardstick.  How much value are we offering to our students/staff/faculty (or some subset – residential students?  just the financial aid office?) with our services?  How can we provide “more” value by doing X instead of Y?  Or perhaps by doing a new version of X?

Similarly, “less” just means using a lower quantity of available resources.  It does not and should not mean that there are fewer resources, in an absolute sense, with which to provide the same value.  Just in a relative sense.  In other words, using “less” is all about efficiency.  How can we provide value in a manner that consume less time, less dollars, or both?

Ideally, how can we provide more value, more efficiently than we are doing now?

Taking the value concept further, it is quite possible that there are extremely high value products and/or services that are actually extremely costly in terms of resources.  In a perfect world we offer huge value at a low cost – a major streamlining of workflows for a specific office using open source software that is easy to install and maintain.  But if the value boost is high enough – providing a toolkit that makes Santa Clara Law students “twice” as useful to law firms than students from other schools – then cost becomes less of an issue.  Maybe that toolkit involves building multiple web-based software tools and purchasing, installing, and maintaining a very expensive piece of software that provides practical training.  Maybe it’s worth it.  Maybe not.  But it is a possibility one should consider.  The “more” value part should be the first consideration, with the “less” resources – efficiency – part coming next.  Hopefully if we offer this huge value, high cost solution, at least whatever resources we are expending are the absolute lowest amount required because we are very efficient.

Now – my preferred way of approaching this concept, the only way in which I am truly comfortable espousing anything along the lines of “more” and “less” is to:

“provide more value with more resources, using less resources and being more efficient, all within the same or less amount of time.”

Now, that’s awfully long-winded, but that’s also the history major in me.  It is, however, important that all of these points be included.

Provide more value:  covered above, but again the key thing is that we first want to provide value.  If the customers don’t get the value then we shouldn’t offer it.

With more resources: if I’m asking you to find a way to provide more value, then I’m going to give you a bigger pool of resources – staff and money – to help shape things.  To help form the project at the outset.  Start with loose reins, then bring them in when you are underway and need control.

Using less resources and being more efficient: Of course, it is not acceptable long-term to add services to our portfolio that consume resources disproportionate to the value being provided.  At the least, when pilot leads to production, the service should be streamlined and using fewer resources than all other alternatives.

All within the same or less amount of time: This is key.  We all work 100%.  For most people, that means 40 hours per week.  So what I want is for my staff to do all of this, develop new projects that provide more value, etc, all still within those 40 hours per week.

Of course, if you’re being efficient, then what is really happening is that whereas you provided X amount of value during those 40 hours, you are now providing, say, 1.5X or even 2X in the same amount of time.  The entire department is better at providing more value, and over time we do more with more while using less.

low on resources – what to do?

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of dollars per capita re: resource shortages rather than simply number of staff or absolute budget.  This may be something that all IT leaders have already discovered on their own, but to me, divorcing myself from thinking in terms of absolute budget (well, of course Santa Clara has a smaller budget than Stanford or a huge state school) or number of staff and thinking in relative terms really helped open my eyes.  Basically, the real issue at the university or even project level is how much funding is available per user/customer/student/etc.  It’s not about an absolute budget.  $10,000 for 1 customer is enough to buy a whole dedicated server plus a decent bit of enterprise software.  But the same budget for an entire project meant to serve 1000 students means sapping staff time and other resources from other projects and initiatives.  That actually provides poor DPC for the one project, and decreases DPC for the other one(s).

Of course, low DPC is a problem that plagues many organization, especially higher education.  Let’s face it – many corporate IT departments, for all their notoriety for being somewhat “faceless,” would still laugh at higher ed budgets in relation to goals.  When a for-profit company decides to do X, and doing so requires $Y, then they find the money (or they cease to exist as a company, I suppose).  That’s not the case in higher ed.  So how do we address low DPC?   (more…)

just big enough to falter

At first, this post started out as commentary about the challenges that schools of about the same size as Santa Clara University face re: technology, infrastructure, and other needs in relation to the available resources.  That, in turn, would lead to some discussion on how to best address such opposing forces.  This was fundamentally about how Santa Clara was just big enough to need enterprise-level services but not quite big enough to have the staff to maintain such systems, especially over time.

However, I found myself having a terrible time writing because I eventually realized that this isn’t about the size of school.  Whether your institution is a research or small liberal arts one, state or private, funded primarily by endowment or tuition, what fundamentally matters is operational dollars per capita. (DPC)

In other words – for any one (relatively large) project, the issue of size vs. resources is about how much money is available per student/faculty/staff/overall user group.

On the one hand, this sounds really obvious.  Sure, if one has less dollars, then it must be less dollars per person.  But if the project is small with, say, 100 users, then it’s possible that even a small school could get a research grant that yields high DPC.  Which means resources are likely going to be sufficient.  Also, universities of roughly the same size could have wildly different ratios, leading to completely different environments.  Santa Clara University and Stanford, for instance, differ by only 1000 or so undergraduates (SCU being about 5400, Stanford 6500).  Yet Stanford’s huge endowment, research funding, plus incoming tuition make for a much higher DPC figure, on average, than is the case at SCU.

Both SCU and Stanford are “big enough” to need a large scale ERP like Peoplesoft.  Stanford has probably 25 systems administrators in their overall group, not counting the database administrators and storage administrators that help round out the PS operations.  SCU has far fewer.  Peoplesoft itself is scalable – there is likely little difference between managing 5500 students and 2000 or so faculty and staff at SCU vs. 6500 students at 8000 faculty and staff at Stanford, in terms of the software.  But management is not scaleable in the same way.  It might take 10 admins – systems, database, and storage – plus a handful of others (security, data center managers, etc) just to get PS up and running.  At Stanford, because of a much higher DPC figure, will always have that number available, plus more to make the process more and more efficient.  SCU might have just barely that number of staff to begin with and once other projects are considered then, in reality, staffing is insufficient.

Dollars per capita.  That is the problem, and the “resource shortages” that it produces in institutions with low DPC go much further than simply having enough staff for a particular project.  The shortages in one department lead to decisions to cut back here, eliminate a service there, etc, that another department (perhaps one in the same overall organization) actually needs for its constituents.  So now low DPC has created a spiraling, self-reinforcing interdependency of inadequacy that is no one’s fault, but must be arrested at some point.

Case in point:

  1. Novell Groupwise e-mail system is managed by Networking and Telecommunications Group BU
  2. due to staff shortages, NTG has decided that the feature that allows standard ActiveSync connectivity (Mobility Pack) for devices will not be installed.
  3. Service Center BU has identified that providing connectivity for devices such as iPhones and Android phones is a needed part of their portfolio
  4. The devices support ActiveSync natively, but of course Groupwise does not.  Service Center BU has to purchase and manage a third-party product that acts as middleware and is close to but not quite perfect ActiveSync functionality.

The result:  most features work on iOS, Android is hit or miss if it’s anything other than stock, original versions of applications (AOSP), and on both users find certain features missing, or mishandling of events or contact details.  I personally have had to basically hack both of the Android phones I’ve had so far in order to get them to work (even though the first one I had is specifically mentioned on the third-party vendor’s site as being “certified”).  One of my staff that uses an iPhone who eagerly agreed to be the iOS support person has learned that there are, in fact, a few quirks that he has to help users with.

In this case, because of DPC being low for both groups, neither is able to take advantage of scalability or other options and work together to provide an identified, needed service via tools that are actually already built into Groupwise.

Let me make this disclaimer now – this is not a criticism of SCU Central IT.  It is indeed very tempting to point fingers when I have a faculty member doing just that at me because the mail app on the iPhone isn’t working “as expected” or because that professor cannot buy that Android phone he or she wants because it is not compatible.  But I don’t think it is right to blame either group, or anyone in those groups, in Central IT.

Santa Clara University needs an enterprise-level e-mail system.  It also has users in its community that need connectivity via a variety of mobile devices, smart phones, etc.  SCU is big enough to need both of these services.  But the dollars devoted per user (in this case those that need mobile device access to the e-mail and calendaring system) is not nearly enough to provide an effective solution, even when two different groups are working on the same problem.
The question, therefore, is whether there is any “hope” in such a situation.  Whether a school such as this is destined to slide further and further down the hole of decreasing resources in the face of increasing demands, or whether something can be done about it.
This post has gone long enough in setting the stage and asking the questions, I hope.  Next comes some ideas on what to do next.

a platform for accountability

As I have been considering various changes in my approach to management, leadership, and IT in higher ed, I am reminded of the importance of accountability.  This is one of the most important parts of a successful team – it is part of the foundation upon which productivity and teamwork rests.  In fact, it is part of a critically important cycle that is self-reinforcing – each phase of the cycle helps strengthen the continuation of that process.  Accountability begets ownership.  Ownership leads to a sense of responsibility.  Feeling responsible results in a greater understanding of accountability.  And the cycle continues.

Accountability must be pervasive, as well.  It cannot be just to one’s supervisor or manager that one is accountable for his or her activities and performance.  Peers must feel that they are part of the success of each of their colleagues and the team in general.  Conversely, not only should managers be able to hold staff accountable, but peers should have the ability to “call out” those that are not helping meet overall expectations.

The thing about accountability as a departmental, top-bottom, bottom-top, side-side trait is that nothing is explicitly confrontational.  Even the most severe conversation becomes about team and goals, rather than personal slight.  Instead of “you are messing up my ability to get my job done,” one can say “we must rely on each other to get this project done to achieve a common, team goal.”  I realize, of course, that we do not live in a utopia and that the former statement will still occur even in the most collaborative of environments now and then.  The point is that co-dependency can become the foundation for discussion in a system that relies on accountability and shared ownership.

The question, therefore, is how to build what I call a “platform” for accountability.  Much in the way that Windows or Facebook is a platform for development of software, accountability can be the foundation upon which projects and communication is constructed.   (more…)

black Friday and beyond

My weekend (and the future):

  • Wednesday: good news:  got to leave work early with permission from Dean.  bad news:  still got dragged into work-related brouhaha a few hours late.  Almost made me miss The Muppets.  Which was so awesome, it would have been a TRAGEDY.
  • Thanksgiving Thursday: Ate a lot of food.
  • Black Friday:  Did almost nothing to help major retailers start to make a profit for the year.*
  • Small Business Saturday: Did just a tiny bit to help small businesses with their cash flows.  Still scared of overall crowds.
  • Sunday:  Did battle with yard.  Yard won.
  • Cyber Monday:  Contacted Cybertron, informed Autobots and Decepticons that it was time to start buying online (hey, we all need to look out for Gold Box Deals on Amazon)
  • Techie Tuesday: – Called all engineering friends and told them to take over the world.  Oh, wait.  They all work at FB or Google.  They have already taken over the world.
  • Wacky Wednesday: What happens on wacky Wednesday, stays with Wacky Wednesday
Not sure what the future beyond Wednesday will bring.  I’m sure that somehow there will be Black Friday deals running for many weeks beyond…Black Friday.  All for items that were good last year but aren’t worth it this year (60Hz LCD TV?  Pffffffft!).
*Occupy protestors in San Francisco (and I’m sure elsewhere) affected Black Friday shopping.  Isn’t it contrary to the “movement” that they would negatively affect GDP (whether to large or small companies)?  A movement without a rallying cry…or much logic, it seems, these days.  Onto SOPA I guess.

 

managerial crossroads

I find myself at a strange intersection in my professional career.

On the one hand, I have prided myself on “doing more with less” in terms of what our department has accomplished with a significantly smaller budget than comparable groups on campus (to be clear – the “more with less” motto that is often used when budgets get tight or staff are laid off is one which I am firmly against and perhaps abhor as a managerial method.  We can work on getting every last drop of productivity out of our resources, but we can never do more than 100% of capacity, and we should never ask our staff to even try).

On the other, I find myself saying bold things that I have yet to back up with my own actions.  For instance, of late I have spent much time thinking about the future of IT in higher education.  This has been stewing in my head for some time now but Theresa Rowe‘s opening plenary at the SIGUCSS Management Symposium in San Diego really crystalized things.  We simply cannot keep doing things the way we always have been.  Maintaining the status quo – including the thus far incremental improvements to our systems and services – is not sustainable.  We must radically reassess our service portfolios and even reconsider whether we have the right job descriptions – much less the right people – to meet student, staff, and faculty needs going into the next decade or more.  Are we structurally sound and prepared to meet the challenges of delivering Google and Facebook-like services and innovation on the budgets that we have?  Can we really keep trying to achieve enterprise-level performance on budgets that corporate IT departments would laugh at?  I have long asserted that we have to make tough decisions and invest in those services that give back the highest value, not just the ones we “have always done.”  Rowe gave an even clearer and more comprehensive analysis ranging from technology trends to HR to management to budgeting.

Yet…have I done this in my own job thus far?  Have I actually led my staff in the charge to reduce our service portfolio to offer only high value services?  How do I even know the value level of our current services such that I can make an assessment?

I have spent the last 4 years building up the reputation of Law Technology and Academic Computing at Santa Clara Law School.  We are not perfect and many people know that.  But few point to those deficiencies as symptoms of a dysfunctional department.  There is a faith in our department – and the effort that we put into each of our duties – that has become the fundation of our role at the school.  I am extremely proud of where we are compared to when I arrived.  It’s been a combination of marketing, professional development, management, hopefully some leadership and definitely some changes in personnel.  But it’s real.

And it’s time to take advantage of it.

2012 will be our “crash” year.  This will be when we take all of this goodwill and faith in our department, bank on it and make the potentially radical changes that address the changing needs of academia.  I am convinced that, in the long run, all of our changes will make people happy.  I am also certain that in the short run several people will be upset by the removal or alternation of some services.  But during 2012, we will assess where we are, decide in what we will invest, identify what we must cut in order to achieve those goals (and things will be cut – I will not allow our portfolio to just increase without change elsewhere), and make significant changes.  We will use personal interactions, school and university-wide marketing, a bit of political maneuvering and I’m sure some apologies.  But this will be the year.

January 3 is when we return to work.  I’m sure you’ll hear from me by the end of that week…

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011.

This is one of the things that has driven me (and lots and lots of other people) insane over the past few years.  In almost literally econ 101 (my intro macro and micro classes in my MBA program), supply and demand and Keynesian principles – and rules – were clear and easy to understand.  I’m not saying that everyone out there should be a Keynsian economist, but the ideas behind it are clear.

Yet we can start with the very beginning of the economic crisis, with the bail-outs of Merril and Bear and the government and Fed “buying” into all of these entities that it has never touched before.  It’s one thing for the government to put money into circulation for stimulus.  It’s another to start owning companies.

But two things that are key to basic economics were ignored amid all the yelling.  First, that the government is the only entity big enough to make such massive economic moves – short of JP Morgan (the person) back in the day, no one person could pump that much money into the economy as the ARRA did.  And yes, the budget that first year was MASSIVE.  But from day 1 Geithner and Obama said that this was temporary, that the government must pull back at some point.  Bernanke said that he had a plan already in place for “unraveling” the Fed’s involvement in these companies.  So the government had to do this stimulus spending (Keynsian) but it also had to stop at some point and address deficit concerns, etc.

Second, that claims made about how dangerous these spending policies were and about the “fixes” failed to address supply and demand (the $2/gallon promise) or the fascination/obsession over a balanced budget.  Remember the last time we tried a balanced budget during a recession?  Yeah, that led to the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans just aren’t that bright.  Sorry, that’s not fair.

The majority of Americans do not want to listen.  They want to hear that gas prices will go down.  They want to hear that a deficit (isn’t that inherently bad??) will go away.  They want to hear that it is possible to balance a budget (and nothing will go wrong, right??).

I want to hear those things, too.  But 99% of my brain knows that such things are pipe dreams.

And there is a deep-rooted fear that this appeal to the masses, if you will, will unseat many truly smart people, doing good things, just to put others into the White House and Congress who will either do the same things anyway (because, after all, when the $2/gallon promise falls through, it’s still just supple and demand) or, even worse, hold our government hostage while sound policies are derided in the name of some ridiculous ideal.

what to do when students don’t want to learn

The strangest thing happened to me the other day while helping train some students on a collaboration suite we have at work.  The professor had already explained that students would be working in teams, with their laptops, to develop the beginnings of a legal outline.  They would use the software/hardware solution – powered by Tidebreak’s Teamspot software – to interact with the shared document.  Hopefully, the students would discover greater productivity and learn more about how to develop the outline through this collaborative effort.

That’s all and good.  It’s to be expected and the professor had a really great and open mind about how to use the suite that night, possible uses in the future, and ideas for best practices.  What was not expected was students asking me this:

“Do I have to take part in this project?”

or

“I downloaded the software.  Now I’m trying to decide if I want to install it.”

My basic response to these comments was along the lines of “well, it’s for a class assignment, and I believe the professor wants all of you to work as a team, with your laptops, on the shared display.”

This did not produce much of a response.  In fact, one of the students showed a rather blatant disdain towards me and commented on how she was willing to install the software only because she was using a Mac.  She would not have done so with a Windows machine.  Clearly implying that for some reason I would be recommending the installation of software that was either going to compromise her computer or, even worse, was malware to begin with.

This honestly baffled me.  On the surface, I couldn’t believe that students would question whether they should take part in a class assignment, as requested by the professor.  Even if it’s a situation and/or environment with which they are unfamiliar – this is the professor asking them to do an assignment that is, ostensibly, critical to their education (are assignments ever not critical to your education, really?).  And while a bit of caution when installing software is always prudent, why would someone think that I, an assistant dean, would be asking them to install malicious software?

We in Educational Technology are in the business of improving the teaching and learning of our respective fields (or, perhaps, to challenge existing paradigms that have generally governed those methods).  Most of the time, we seek out innovative technologies but, more importantly, act as consultants and work with faculty to find a tool – whether new or old, cutting-edge or somewhat banal – that will help them in their tasks.  We are here to help improve things.  We are not here to cause problems, to decrease productivity or success potential.  We are certainly not here to put viruses on your computers.

I’ll admit that when I introduce myself I was sufficiently befuddled that I sounded 100% geek.  I didn’t get into how part of my department’s charge is to introduce innovative technologies and methods to faculty.  I sounded like a robot.  A nervous, very geeky robot.  But that’s not the point.

If I’m there, it’s because the faculty member has agreed that there is potential for benefit and/or improvement to teaching and learning.  If I am asking you about your progress with some technology, it’s because I want to see how far along you are in getting set up to use that technology to improve your classroom experience.

Netgen, Gen X, part-time, full-time – whatever student category you fall into – understand this.  The faculty, the staff, and certainly my department are there to help.  It is to your benefit to let us do that.