Work-related

Novell bets on Google Wave to replace its struggling GroupWise platform « Boy Genius Report

Novell bets on Google Wave to replace its struggling GroupWise platform « Boy Genius Report.

This is one of the most…amazing things I’ve read in a while.  I would normally say “exciting” because it is also that.  But it’s so exciting that it’s amazing.

I won’t lie – I’m not a big fan of Groupwise, and I say that while working at a university that uses it.  I know that Novell’s suite can be very powerful when implemented in the right environment, but I’m not sure that a university is the right one.  Just too many variables at play for something that needs to be fairly controlled yet is not pervasive (such as Outlook via Exchange – of which I’m not a huge fan, either).

But of all the things I thought Novell would do, to base their next e-mail generation on something like Google Wave is BOLD BOLD BOLD.  Wow.

the sanctity of our electronic data…

NB and caveat:  I say “we” a lot in this post.  I do not mean the “we” that is my organization and/or the university at which I work.  I mean academia in general.

There has been a lot of debate – everywhere, but especially in academia – about outsourcing.  Lately, this has been e-mail.  The most notable and commonly used has been Google mail for Education. Their suite of products offers quite a few features but, by a mile, the major feature used is mail.  Integration with existing user accounts, maintaining domain name, etc – Google has done a good job (though I have mentioned before about how I don’t think they’ve done a good job developing their products beyond an initial stage).  Microsoft has entered the fray with their live@edu product, which is obviously aimed at schools.  It integrates well with Active Directory from what I’ve heard, so it’s ready for what many schools are already using for directory management.

However, that’s mostly been just e-mail.  And even then, there is a lot of debate about whether it’s “safe” to have one’s e-mail data off-campus.  There is this opinion that one’s e-mail is apparently too important to outsource.  Now, presuming that FERPA security and privacy rules have been met, it doesn’t make any sense to me.  First, if an accounting or law firm can outsource, then so should a school.

But, fundamentally, what makes our e-mail so special?  What makes our data in general so special?  What’s wrong with outsourcing?  At the very least, we are looking at a less expensive option, with sufficient security (again, presuming that a school’s counsel is comfortable with FERPA compliance), and a whole lot more engineers and system administrators running and maintaining the system.

I have been putting forth an effort to provide substantial network-based, enterprise-level storage for the faculty and staff at the law school.  Of course, I want to work within the university infrastructure first.  But we still run into the same issue – fewer system administrators, fewer people managing the servers.  We have some great staff at the university that are dedicated to their jobs, but you can’t compare the admin to system ratio and economies of scale (in both human and monetary capital) that a big outsourcing company can provide.

This proposal means putting all of one’s data on someone else’s storage solution, off-campus, and in the “cloud.”  In some cases our data might be across the country.

But what’s so wrong with that? Why is our data so important that we can’t accept this as a possibility?

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?

the oppression of the iPhone

Here at Educause 2009 in Denver, I’m finding myself once again feeling left out because I don’t have an iPhone.  An application with all of the program information (you don’t have to pick up one of the paper booklets, perhaps) is available, and everyone I talk to just keeps asking me if I have an iPhone.

No, I don’t, and I don’t think I should keep getting left out even by Eduause, of all groups, because of it.

Please note that I in no way think that Educause is doing this purposely – the iPhone is an extremely common platform and it makes a tremendous amount of sense to build an app for that.  And I have yet to run into anyone that has asked me “do you have an iPhone?” or “are you using the iPhone app?” that has had a hint of judgment upon hearing my answer.

But there is an almost oppressive emphasis on using the iPhone at this conference.

I mean, I can use twitter (search, post, etc – va uberTwitter), post to facebook, tag people in photos, etc with my Blackberry.  If mine had a camera (it’s a “business” model), then I could even doing twitpic, too.  Or post to FB’s mobile uploads.  I am more connected to my university’s systems with my Blackberry than I ever could be with an iPhone (due to our infrastructure).

So why I do feel diminished in some way here, at this great sharing of knowledge and ideas, because I don’t have a particular phone?

sigh.

making lemonade

I have to admit – I’m a big fan of the phrase “when the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

It’s not that I’m some die-hard optimist, nor that I always see the sunny side.  Actually, I might like that phrase because it helps me get through the day sometimes, when I’m being more pessimistic.  But fundamentally, I think it’s a good way of looking at the world, the curveballs that life tends to throw one’s way, and how to come out of things feeling positive and productive.

I have been thinking more about the phrase, though, and how making lemonade can be very different when put into a different context.  In this case, a business one.

Let’s say that we have various beverage producers out there.  To keep up the analogy, different groups and organizations make different kinds of beverages based on their ability to make better quality lemonade than others.  Perhaps great efficiency or even just staff, stuff like that.  I’m going to split off of the actual lemonade analogy now, but stick to the beverage one.

Some groups out there make wine.  These groups are far from those that must remind themselves to make at least lemonade.  They are not only efficient at dealing with problems, but have the skills and/or resources that allow them to produce a high-quality beverage that requires great skill, lots of equipment, land, etc.  They have the machinery, people, and organizational structure to take, say, sour grapes and make at least decent wine.  That’s pretty impressive.  And such organizations are in a completely different league than those trying to make lemonade.

One step down are those that can make, say, sparkling cider.  Not as much skill is required here – there can be a bit of variation in the flavor, perhaps, as long as it still tastes apple-ish, and one can probably use some artificial flavoring to make up the difference.  Equipment and resources are still needed, though.  Skilled workers must be present to operate the machinery to make the actual juice, convert it to cider, and then carbonate it before bottling.  These people likely won’t have the expert-level knowledge of a winemaker or many of the people that work in a winery.  But they are well-trained, and they can make cider.

So where does that leave people who are just trying to make lemonade?  Well, first of all, while this low rung might not be competing with those that can make wine, those that can make sparking cider present a challenge.  When an organization is surprised by something, or has to work with less-than-ideal tools, if one group has the infrastructure to make cider but the other one can only squeeze lemons, perhaps manually and therefore inefficiently, and throw just sugar in there and mix, then something is amiss.  And if the latter group does not move from lemonade to sparkling cider capability at some point, then that group isn’t growing.  And the leader of that group is not doing his or her job.

It’s rough trying to make lemonade in a market where people only recognize the wine, and may, at times, acknowledge the cider…

Circus Ponies NoteBook 3.0 Review

Circus Ponies NoteBook 3.0 Review.

Mac Law Students, started up by an SCU Law alum, is a great resource for all things related to technology and law school.  Yes, it is targeted at mac users, but the ideas and concepts presented are very relevant nonetheless.

Notebook, from Circus Ponies, truly is an interesting product.  For notes, I still like OneNote (which is a PC app so is not relevant to their blog, of course).  But the project management stuff looks intriguing…

Laptops & classes – the slippery slope

Let me preface this a bit – I work at a law school.  Unlike most other groups at a university, where the laptop ownership rate might be very high but the “actually carry laptop to class” rate might be quite a bit lower, just about every law student owns a laptop, and uses it in class.  

Also, first year classes (1L) are almost always large, lecture-style sessions.  Even the faculty that are most steeped in the socratic method, calling out students randomly, can ask any one student a question only so often when there might be 80 students in a room (that’s about what our 1L classes are like).  So a student has to know his or her stuff, but the opportunity to drift off now and then over a 1.5 hour class is non-trivial.

Therefore, the question of laptops in classrooms is rather magnified for law classes, and is a touchy subject at times with law faculty.  Basically, the concern is that students are surfing the web and, depending on how broad one wishes to draw the lines, simply tempted to distraction via the web.  The temptation alone is too much.  There has been much subjective opinion that generally argues that laptops and web access is bad.  There has been a bit of anecdotal commentary about how laptops might be better than they are worse.  And there have been two recent articles about how, at the least, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  You’ll find my blog entries with links to the articles here and here.  

Many faculty at several law schools have asked their respective technology groups about blocking internet access during class.  The gist is that it’s controversial.

Yesterday, a 1L came to me with a rather interesting idea.  Basically, some way of either blocking internet access during class via a “blacklist”-style system based on who is enrolled in what class and when that class meets or allowing access but monitoring what students are doing.  

Please read on – this post is getting a bit long for the front page, but please read on…

(more…)

Technology is everywhere, and nowhere

I just came out of a meeting where the various deans at the School of Law met with directors of some of our major centers (Global Law, High Tech, and Social Justice) to talk about how the centers and the school might work better together.   It was a lively discussion, with contributions from just about everyone.

I did not say a word.

Why?  Well…because, when it comes to technology, it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Just about anything that anyone wants to do – connect with alumni, improve the learning experience, etc – can use technology.  And when I say technology, my job is to make sure that we’re doing technology the “right way.”  Not just throwing it out there, not just spend ing money on something that we think will work.  But putting a solution together that adds the most value.  That is compelling.  I define “technology” very broadly, from whiteboards to computers to smart boards to walls to…you get the idea.  Instructional technology, servers, e-mail, collaboration tools.  Technology, and my department’s area of jurisdiction, if you will, is very broad.

So, unless I am raising my hand for every sentence, I keep my mouth shut the whole time.  

Weird experience.  

ps – if I had felt technology was ignored or undervalued by any of the people in the room, that’s a different story.  But I think my colleagues all have a good understanding of what my department does, and where I do and do not fit in.  Just to be clear.

One never has enough resources, but that doesn’t hurt any less

I know that every manager faces the issue of not enough resources.  I can’t think of anyone I know that has enough or too much, certainly.  There’s always one project that one wishes can be done, but can’t due to budget, resources, etc.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.  We operate basically with one person-per-area, which means almost no redundancy.  It’s a small staff so once we try to build staff redundancy everyone is doing 3 jobs.  I’ve done what I can to reduce the issues – we’ve taken all of our servers virtual, we’ve been pushing the use of students to get more and more everyday work done, etc.  But some things require full timers, and when all hell breaks loose, like it did yesterday (and bleeding into today), that means someone stays for 40 straight hours getting servers back up and running.

I know this.  I know we could use more resources.  I know that there are not any additional resources to be had.  But that doesn’t mean I can sit here and not be immensely bothered by it.