Category Archives: academic

Promise Keepers PKIndy

It was the spring of 94, and I was living in Cincinnati working for Hewlett-Packard but was in the process of moving to Indianapolis to switch to the PSO Division of HP. Friends of my wife were talking about how their husbands were going to the Indianapolis Promise Keepers Conference later that summer. They gave me a application for that event that I sat on for many weeks procrastinating as to whether I wanted to go. However, I did have tension in my life that God could help with. I was taking care of some computer issues for the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing, MI when one evening at the hotel I felt that I should give this PK event a try. So I filled out the application and had the front desk fax it to PK for me. I got a ticket and later found out that I was probably one of the last men to get a ticket. 

Now living in Indianapolis, time came for the PK Conference and I was reluctant but forced myself to give it a try, at least for the first Friday night session. Well, I was impressed, you could feel God’s presence with great speakers and 60,000 men singing praise songs. I was in agreement that men needed to step up as spiritual leaders of their families but it was speaker. Rev. Jeffrey Johnson, pastor of Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church, who helped me to connect with another theme that resonated within my soul, and that was the issue of Racism in America. Promise Keepers had taken a stand for racial reconciliation and called men to unite as brothers. Rev. Johnson captured that for me with his statement; “If God is your father, then I am your brother”.

Bill McCartney

Promise Keepers traces its origins to a conversation in 1990 between then Colorado head football coach Bill McCartney and friend Dave Wardell while the two were driving to a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Pueblo, Colorado. During the conversation McCartney stated his desire to see large gatherings of men come together “in the name of Jesus, worshipping and celebrating their faith together”. Bill McCartney, University of Colorado Football Coach, had just come off a very successful season. He was at the top of his coaching career when he announced he was retiring in order to focus exclusively on building the Promise Keepers movement. I suppose this got my attention as much as anything causing me to give PK a chance.

The Indy Conference had created all kinds of discussions in my mind about my relationship with Jesus Christ. During the following weeks I had a lot of time to think about all of this on my drives to and from Lansing, MI. It was during a drive north while listening to praise music CD from the conference that the song  Purify My Heart finally hit home. With tears in my eyes, I pulled my car off to the side of I69 near Ft Wayne when I rededicated my life to Christ.

Getting Involved

One of the first things I did was to follow up on my concern for racial reconciliation. I saw that Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church was holding a men’s conference of their own, which I decided to attend. That was an interesting evening spent with a full church of black men praising God. I think there may have been a couple other white men there, but it must have been obvious that I was there with an open mind and heart. At the intermission, some of the leaders came up to me and asked if I would come up front to say why I was there. I guess God was starting to use me. In my own church, I got involved with an accountability group where the foundational book, “Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper” laid the groundwork for how to be a Promise Keeper.

Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper Book

When I am inspired, I want to get involved and that is what began to happen for me with our Men’s Ministry program at my church. I also visited the Promise Keepers offices and struck up some strong relationships with Ray Hilbert and the PK leadership team. This also included meeting Bob Buckner who was starting LoveINC, Love In the Name of Christ. I basically asked what could I do to help. Through the next year these connections and commitments grew, but I also used some of my computer skills to create the website PKIndy.

PKIndy Website Header, GIF image – 13 KB

This was 1994 and websites were a relatively new form of communication, but luckily the Internet provider SurfICI donated the hosting of the site. I used PKIndy to be a focal point for PK and Men’s Ministry activity in the midwest around Indianapolis. I became a PK Ambassador and was also asked to be the Housing Coordinator for the 1995 PK Conference.

Housing Coordinator

Promise Keepers was in serious growth mode in 1995. Many new conference sites were added and I believe all were selling out. Serving as the Housing Coordinator was a fun job allowing me to communicate with many men who were not just looking for a place to stay, but who wanted to create the ultimate experiences for the men’s ministry groups. I was relying heavily on the housing option provided by local high school athletic programs that would open up their school on Friday night providing a floor to sleep on and the athletic bathroom and shower facilities for bathing. One great story that I remember occurred at Crispus Attucks High School. This option for high schools was a great fundraising opportunity based typically on the men making a donation to the athletic program. However, at Attucks there was renovation work taking place that was not completed when expected and caused the high school to not have shower facilities available. I’m not sure how it happened but the school offered the men the option to shower using the sprinklers on the football field. Well you can imagine how much fun 100 men can have playing in the sprinklers on a football field.

Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteer Organization Work

Moving into 1996, I had gotten more involved with PK and they asked me to be the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator for the upcoming Indy Conference. This was a little daunting in that we had to help find over 3000 volunteers for the many conference assignments dominated by ushers, store workers, and food distribution. PK was implementing a new computer database program to manage the volunteers and I remember that my IT experience was needed as we debugged the program. Finding the volunteers was not difficult but slotting them into the roles they desired became the real challenge. By 96 I had involved a number of men from my IT staff at IUPUI. Marc Wilson and his wife became valuable store managers and Emil Luca helped me a lot with the database. I was also heavily involved with my own Church Men’s Ministry which birthed a number of PK related events and a weekly Wednesday morning gathering at Perkins. One of the Men’s events that meant a lot to me was getting the hero of the 1987 Indiana Hoosiers NCAA Basketball Championship, Keith Smart, to be our guest speaker for a church full of Indianapolis men.

My original passion for racial reconciliation was continuing to be emphasized with various interactions of Indy black churches. I remember many accountability meetings with Chris Reeder where we found ways to serve the Indy community through LoveINC. But my most cherished involvement came from getting a group of white brothers from my church to venture down to the inner city every Saturday morning to seek out pickup basketball games. We would find a court in some of the roughest neighborhoods where we would just start pickup basketball games. A group of white guys playing basketball here was obviously out of place, which generated interest from local guys to come by to question what we were doing there. These introductions allowed us to invite the local men to play and learn about Promise Keepers. It was during one of these basketball mornings when I had my vision of Jesus. It was a misty wet court where black and white guys had a great game going on. It was spirited basketball and I was out front on the point when I saw a vision of Jesus in sandals elbowing for position under the basket. I remember I kind of went into a trance for a few seconds, it was very real. That vision epitomizes my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Promise Keepers was really starting to get noticed by 96. Conferences were selling out and donations were pouring in to make PK a powerful voice for Men’s Ministry in America. The anticipation for the 97 conferences had exploded. Tickets were grabbed up quickly by church men’s groups. Local PK activities were also growing with the PK designations of Point Men and Ambassadors trying to help church men’s group grow and be more effective. As I remember, serving as the Volunteer Coordinator for the 97 Indy Promise Keepers Conference was not about finding volunteers, but more about trying to appease everyone’s desire for certain assignments. However, there was a memorable crisis at the 1998 conference that I had to navigate. On the Saturday of the conference we needed to feed 60,000 men within a small window of time for lunch. We facilitated this by contracting with a food service contractor that provided box lunches delivered in refrigerated semi truck trailers. All I had to do was find 50-75 volunteers who would be willing to unload the box lunches to make them available for the thousands of men to walk by tables and grab a box lunch. These volunteers were typically women from a few large churches who were free to com down in the morning to prepare this distribution.

It was about 10 am when I got confirmation that the primary provider for these volunteers was not showing up. So here I am, the guy responsible for volunteers who had no volunteers to unload 60,000 box lunches in the next 2 hours. I think I contemplated my option for a few minutes before I settled on going out into the arena to find men willing to volunteer. However, I distinctly remember telling my team that we did not have time to randomly ask men to volunteer due to the lack of time and lack of organization that we had available to us. So I looked up at the men around the stadium and noticed groups of men with the same T-Shirts on or same hats. That is when I decided that I needed to go to one of these groups, find out who their leader was so that I could ask them if they would be willing to rally their men to save the conference. Well you can imagine that the response was exactly what I was in need of. One large group of men that essentially represented a large Church Men’s Group said,” heck yes, how can we help?” I just said to him to follow me and the day was saved.

The culmination for Promise Keepers in 1997 was the Stand In The Gap, A Sacred Assembly of Men.

This gathering of more than a million men on the National Mall in Washington DC on October 4th, 1997 was the pinnacle of the Promise Keepers Revival. This event was significant, but I got the impression at the time that news coverage was tempered because it was a Christian based movement. I heard that most every charter bus in the eastern part of the US was taking men to Washington DC. No, I did not go but I assumed I would until I realized that my wife was to be ordained as a new minister during that weekend. So yes, this was the pinnacle and PK began to fade away over the next few years. I feel that one of the major reasons for the fall was the decision by PK to make all conferences free from then on. A wonderful thing to do to make sure that anyone could attend, but that is not how men operate. Men want to provide a benefit, not receive one. The stage was set for the largest conference schedule yet for 1998.

In 1996 Promise Keepers held a special conference in Atlanta exclusively for 40,000 Pastors from around the world. This set the stage for PK to present regional Pastors Conferences in 1998, and Indy was scheduled for February 19th. Well by then we had a very competent local team able to facilitate a Pastor’s Conference that was held at the old Pacers’ Basketball Arena. I remember it was a high energy event with great speakers, but what I remember most was the healing that was needed for our Pastors. I remember it was time to get Coach Bill McCartney to address the conference but he was serving the needs of broken pastors in the prayer room. When I found Coach, he was on his knees hugging a pastor who had completely broken down. It was obvious that the conference was going to wait so that coach could help heal this man. That is when I truly saw God working through Coach Mac.

A Friend of Jesus

I want to tell you about a friend of Jesus, whom I got to know through volunteering for the 1998 Indianapolis Promise Keepers Conference. Early in the week of the conference, we were starting to put together the infrastructure that would help manage the many volunteers that would make the conference a reality, Becky Minglin, the most wonderful Volunteer Checkin Supervisor that a conference could have, introduced me to Art Remington. As you shook his hand and made eye contact, you knew you were in special company. His prominent nametag among his conference security credentials simply stated “Art Remington, Friend of Jesus“.

Through the rest of the week, I was blessed by getting to know Art better. Art had been serving our Lord as a minister in California when his life took a turn. His wife went to be with God and then our Lord instructed Art to get involved in some sort of traveling ministry. This traveling ministry turned out to be volunteering for every Promise Keeper Conference since her passing. The Indianapolis PK Conference was like the 50th conference he had worked. This really had an impact on me regarding his commitment, when I saw the old red pickup truck with a camper shell that had over 200,000 miles on it! He called this his home.

It quickly became apparent that all of the PK staff regulars not only knew Art, but felt a sense of ease knowing that Art was there. I’m sure there was not a job that Art had not performed at a PK Conference. I was blessed because he was actually focusing his time to support my group, the Volunteers. Art was to be the Volunteer Staff Representative, VSR, for the upcoming Omaha PK Conference, so he was working with us in final preparation. Yes, Art was invaluable to us, if there was a problem you called Art. You may have seen him driving around a yellow flatbed cart that became known as the Art Mobile. I’ll never forget the time Friday evening after things started to calm down a little. Art had been out on Capital Street with a bullhorn redirecting men with registration problems, as well as recruiting more volunteers. I called him on the radio just to ask how and where he was. The reply came back, “I’m writing another chapter of my book out here on Capitol Street”. Art was ministering to a group of brothers, amazingly, he always had time for that.

I’m sure Art could write many books with all of his PK experiences. But I want to convey more about Art then just the service that he provided. Art is not only a friend of Jesus, but more like one of Jesus’ Disciples. Whether it was working side-by-side with him, talking about basketball, or just looking into his eyes, he affected you for the good of God. I know the prayer he gave to our Volunteer Check In team after we closed down Saturday was straight from our Father. I stayed late into the night on that Saturday, working with Art, just so I could have more time with him. Archived Web Page referencing the 1998 Indianapolis PK Conference.

Final Conference

We had another PK Conference in Indianapolis July 9-10, 1999, which took a scary turn for my involvement. A few days before the conference began, I woke up to find that someone had thrown major rocks through the back window of my Ford Taurus. It was also obvious that the vandals had urinated on the back of the car which was parked in my driveway. My Taurus was easily identified as a supporter of Promise Keepers as well as for the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade to be held in Indy later that year. This brought everything into perspective. Satan was not happy with the progress being made by these movements. This act of violence did not influence my involvement, however, I was not going to let my family stay at home without me. This actually turned out to be a blessing for my family, who came down to the conference, and helped serve throughout the weekend. I do believe the experience was quite meaningful for them. I then understood how important it was that hundreds of women prayed over every stadium seat in the arena before every conference.

Promise Keepers had given me my Born Again Christian start which steered me into various faith based ministries. I helped start a chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at IUPUI. I was also actively involved with Tres Dias Weekends which spawned the creation of New Hope Great Banquet with an emphasis on serving men from the inner city. As I was finishing up my Masters Degree from Indiana University I started looking for a new university where I could serve as the CIO. Nothing was really clicking until I told God that what I really wanted was to serve at a Faith based university preferably in the West. The next day I responded to CIO opening at Carroll College in Montana and George Fox University in Oregon. I ended up at George Fox where I thoroughly enjoyed working for a true Christian University. Plus I helped start a new chapter of LoveINC in Newberg, OR.


I had gotten involved with blogging to document my various backpacking trips which are relied on by other backpackers in this unique community. I have also created an occasional blog post about other activities in my life which eventually grew to a point where my blog is really my life’s diary. It has become my written legacy for future descendants. This post on Promise Keepers has been in development for many years and became even more important as I realized how little was documented about this Promise Keepers Revival of the 90s. Well this post has found its way to various brothers in Christ who have enjoyed the reminder of Promise Keepers. However, I was especially encouraged by reconnecting with Art Remington, “Friend of Jesus” who I mentioned in this post. Art is alive and well living in Pennsylvania, still serving our Lord. We had a great conversation by phone where I discovered that Art has been involved with Promise Keepers all this time. He mentioned the release of the Documentary “Stand In The Gap 25th Anniversary Celebration“. This documentary reminded me of how PK really got it right. There cannot be any political or denominational agenda associated with a true revival that is ordained by God. That is what made PK so powerful and is why it would be so difficult to replicate in today’s landscape. But that does not mean that we should not try.

Promise Keepers Today

The Promise Keepers organization does still exist after a few restarts. It is just a shell of its glorious past, but the message is still on target and as important as ever. They have excellent resources for men’s ministry which includes a powerful PK Mobile App that adapts their message to our current digital world. They have various Bible course study options that can be facilitated by this app or in your men’s ministry group. And they have held a few large gatherings of men that can be reviewed via their website.

Great Possibilities for my New CIO Role

I just finished up a visit to Western Washington University where I will be the Interim CIO for a year starting June 20th. I pleased to say that I am very excited about the prospects for the job and the university. Once I came out of the wilderness at the end of 2015 I decided I was ready to return to higher education and the opportunity that I selected was this unique role as an Interim CIO for one year. This all began thanks to a recommendation from an external review of the WWU Information Technology organization conducted by Marty Ringle, President of the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium, NWACC. One of the recommendations offered was to consider hiring an Interim CIO who would be able to work with the TBD new President exploring how WWU might want their Information Technology organization to be structured. Well I was one of the possible candidates and the stars aligned with respect to their believing in me and my ability to commit to this interim role.

Spending 2 days in Bellingham meeting most everyone who has a vested interest in who the new Interim CIO will be was more exhausting than a typical job interview. This was because we had dispensed with the possible and commenced to the real issues that we want to consider. Think about this opportunity. We joked about how I can blame everything on my predecessor CIO and how I have an exit strategy. Translated, that means we can actually place issues on the table with the freedom to actually address them. The reality is that my predecessor, who is retiring after an impressive career, has done a great job to set the stage for moving the IT organization forward. Everyone agrees that budget cuts after the 2008 downturn hit IT especially hard and it has taken a number of years to recover to the point now where they can focus on building rather than just surviving. Yes, I am really excited about the role I will be able to play in leading the Western Washington University Information Technology organization. WWU is a great university located in the beautiful Northwest near some fabulous backpacking opportunities, imagine that. But more important, it is a university where people want to be and that is why I am excited to be one of those people.

Views of Western Washington University

A MOOC Strategy that Worked

It appears that Udacity, one of the early MOOCs, founded by Sebastian Thrun, has found a profitable model based on vocational training. When the MOOCs started out the assumed model was the college course which made total sense with respect to attracting university partners and investment dollars. What a frenzy they created 3-4 years ago as the elite universities strutted their expertise in education technology. MOOCs could make college accessible to the masses, unfortunately, that may not have been what the masses needed nor what the higher education wanted. The elite universities jumped on the bandwagon to make sure they had some control over the destiny of these Massively Open Online Courses, MOOCs. MOOCs have been successful with respect to exposure of college courses to the masses but they have been a dismal failure when evaluated against traditional college courses. That is exactly what higher education wanted, validation that their course delivery model was superior to these new online options.

The New York Times article, “Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast” gives us the story on how transitioning to a vocational training model is paying off for Udacity’s bottom line and for the careers of their students. The test market was obvious, software development, which has been pioneering new models based on the boot camp concept of intensive training typically under the guidance of the interested employers. Good jobs exist for coders of today’s popular development platforms. AT&T has been a leader in trying to manipulate the traditional computer science degree feeder system. I was highly impressed with their Georgia Tech and Udacity partnership to create an affordable MS degree in Computer Science. But that degree program was about affordability and marketing, not about a more successful MOOC model.

Udacity’s new program, Nanodegree, “Credentials built and recognized by industry leaders to advance your career”, appears to be the successful outcome to all of the trial and error experience gained by the MOOCs. The financial commitment of $200 per month with the incentive to receive half of it back upon successful program completion within a year is the motivation needed by the 10,000 students currently enrolled. The concept is still work at your own pace so one could turn this into a very affordable boot camp solution. I am currently enrolled in the Udacity course “JavaScript Basics” for the fun of it and so far Udacity has done an excellent job of coaching me to be successful.

The MOOC supporters such as AT&T may have finally found the right formula with Udacity’s Nanodegree. Instead of hiring college graduates with programming aptitude and retraining them maybe the corporate employers have finally found a way to satisfy their appetite for software developers.

Teaching Real Business Skills

SAP University AlliancesI recently attended the SAP Academic Conference Americas 2015 in Tempe, AZ. I was invited to help present a session on how we had stimulated teaching and research with the purchase of our own HANA appliance at our university. I have mentioned this in previous posts but that was more about the strategic reasoning for why I invested in the leading “Big Data” solution. This conference was for the business professors who are committed to teaching SAP ERP and are excited about teaching the upcoming S4HANA Business Suite.

Yes, everyone was very impressed with how we have integrated HANA into our teaching curriculum and have shown how it can aid in scholarly research. But that success is due to our dedicated and talented professor, Bih-Ru Lea, who totally gets what our corporate partners want from her graduates. The conference attendee audience really could not fathom how a CIO would invest in technology that would actually advance their academic mission. This was flattering for me but what I took away from interacting with these professors was far more interesting. I sensed that most of the academics were just glad to have a job and teaching SAP ERP was a dependable niche. Many were at the conference hoping to discover options for how to get their research publication selected by an accredited journal with the inevitable goal of achieving tenure.  And most seemed to be very frustrated with the lack of support they receive from their institution.

There were a few shining stars at the conference though, such as Robert Léger at HEC Montreal who helped develop and now champions the use of the ERPsim simulation or Bret Wagner at Western Michigan, another ERPsim contributor who is developing improved algorithms. This was encouraging to see this commitment to giving students an education that directly translates into real life jobs. However, the stars had to buck the academy in pursuit of this more effective teaching strategy. You see, developing this real life business simulation gains very little credit toward promotion and tenure. What I loved was that this didn’t really matter. They were way beyond that lunacy.

There is change in the air but Higher Ed is not behind it. The underlying stimulus for building a curriculum of these useful business skills is coming from the private sector. Obviously SAP has a vested interest, but they have to balance their commitment. SAP still wants to make a profit off their professional training but expanding awareness of their product justifies their support of the higher education ERP program support. It is the consulting companies who are beginning to supply the fuel to this development.

We have been working with a group from Deloitte who are doing their own research on enhancing their student recruiting strategy. PWC was at the conference and I’m sure the other firms are aware of the value of hiring a more experienced work force from higher ed. I know that the graduates who have been fortunate enough to acquire this hands on ERP knowledge are being well compensated. So why isn’t higher education catering to this demand? Because this model does not fit into their academy. And it is the pressure to adapt to the academy which is generating the greatest stress among the professors involved with the SAP Academic Alliance. They need to get published.

I don’t have the time or the stomach to debate the current state of the promotion and tenure process of higher education, but it is broken. I just applaud the professors out there who have abandoned their concern for the process and are actively working on improving their teaching deliverables.

The Great Potential of SAP HANA


The experiment with integrating SAP HANA into teaching and research here at Missouri S&T is paying off. Last week I observed our Business and Information Technology, BIT, students presenting their ERP Simulation projects to a team from Deloitte SAP Service Line. What caught my eye was that the students are now incorporating data from our Autism gene mapping research project, which is a university research project that my IT DBA staff are collaborating on in order to learn how to better support SAP HANA. This goes back to my original strategic decision to invest in SAP HANA to allow our researchers and students to align more closely with the desires of our corporate employers. See my blog post from last year. I elaborated on the concept of IT’s changing role as a facilitator of teaching and research in this article published in “CIO Review” last Fall. Observing our students understanding of the potential of SAP’s HANA for the Business Intelligence support for their projects is justification enough for the investment. But the excitement is now being generated by how HANA fits into our overall STEM teaching and research environment.

 The Autism project was a fortunate opportunity to learn and explore the potential of HANA. Feedback from my DBA’s about how HANA is different from their traditional relational database experience is encouraging as well. What I hear is that HANA is initially daunting in it’s complexity. However, it makes the initial database layout easier because it shows you so many more possible relationships. Of course this is the Hadoop foundation based on large in-memory utilization. The HP SAP HANA appliance just packages it all into a more effective tool chest. Combine HANA with an already rich set of BI and Visualization tools, then let talented students run with it and you see the potential is endless.

Back to the Autism Project, the study is fascinating, especially to me with my bioinformatics background. The research investigators include: Drs. Tayo Obafemi-Ajayi, Bih-Ru Lea and Donald C. WunschHere is a portion of their abstract:

Several studies conducted on autism gene expression analysis suggest that autism can be linked to specific genes though there are still no genetic markers that are undeniably diagnostic for idiopathic ASD. What is known is that the genetic landscape of autism is complex, with many genes possibly contributing to the broad autism phenotype. Genetic data analysis involves big data analytics. The ASD HANA in-memory database project will facilitate the goal of the ECE researchers to develop novel computational learning models for analysis of ASD genetic data. The genotype data of these ASD patients is available through the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC).

So the research is progressing and we expect significant new funding thanks to the proof of concept work already done. Chalk up a win for stimulating research. But another win is how the students have applied a portion of the data to create BI class projects. Now they see the connection to the Health Science industry. Because we now understand the potential of HANA we have also validated a research connection for the petroleum industry. This was the hope for the HANA investment, a perfect storm matching STEM savvy Business students with corporate recruiters identifying research ideas is a Win for all. This is the type of IT support flexibility needed by the emerging higher education teaching and research model of the future.

SAP Community reference to our use of HANA to leverage research and teaching

TLT at S&T March 12-13, 2015

Fresh back from the ELI Conference I wanted to compare the agenda for our upcoming Teaching and Learning Technology Conference, TLT, scheduled for March 12-13 here at the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus in Rolla, MO. This conference has matured over the years to be a leading regional conference for Education Technology. Under the direction of Meg Brady, Director, and Angie Hammons, Manager, of Education Technology at Missouri S&T, this conference has an all star lineup with extremely relevant sessions. 

Plus: TLT will be hosting a CanvasCon by Instructure on the 12th.

The Keynote Speakers:

Robbie K. Melton, Ph.D. — Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization Emerging Technology; Tennessee Board of Regents,  “The Emergence of Mobile and Smart Devices: Is Your Device Smarter than You?”

Jeff Schramm, Ph.D. — Associate Professor of History & Political Science; Missouri S&T, “MOOC’s, LMS, ELI, PRR, CB&Q and EMD: What the history of technology can teach us about the future of higher education.”

I love the fact that this conference brings together many innovative professors in higher education along with their Instructional Designers, Developers and Technologists, plus many from K-12 who want to make sure their students are properly prepared for college. TLT does carry some Missouri S&T STEM influence but I believe that it only strengthens how EdTech is applied to the liberal arts community. An exciting area of development in the last year has been with the preparation of virtual labs for chemistry and biology.

OH yes, did I mention that our TLT is FREE….

Return to the One Room Schoolhouse

I have seen a trend with my STEM connected colleagues over the last 6 months wanting to discuss concepts of adaptive or competency based learning, CBL. These discussions evolved for many reasons such as; lack of classroom space, course scheduling problems or issues surrounding non-tenure track faculty. This discussion is right on target when it occurs with younger faculty, however, now older faculty are asking questions and seem to be contemplating how this could work. Generally there is agreement that it is inevitable that education will move in this direction, but then you start talking about the repercussions of what that might look like to the higher education business model and fear returns to the conversation. I guess what is different is that now there seems to be recognition of the value of the learning model and discussions are tending toward how we might implement it.

Personalized Learning

I decided to write this post after a number of discussions yesterday, some stimulated by those who viewed CNN’s airing of the “Ivory Tower” documentary. As we talked about implementing adaptive learning to our STEM courses I was drawn to the vision of the old one room schoolhouse. STEM possibly more then any other academic discipline is based on building blocks or competencies. Math and the sciences dominate this with competency based requirements built into courses as well as with interdependencies between courses. So when I thought of the one room schoolhouse I saw it as similar to the students that we receive. In the one room schoolhouse students have to progress through levels of reading, writing and arithmetic, and they had a built in remediation process. The teacher was there to help at all levels.

How did we get to our current college degree attainment path based on taking a selected number of courses that may or may not actually give you all of the competencies that you or your employer desire? I think we used to have a much more standardized entry path to college. Students from high school, mostly Americans, had very similar competencies due to similar curriculums that could not be supplemented by additional information as is now available via the Internet. The over achievers could go to World Book, but for the most part if a student got accepted to college then they pretty much entered at the same level and the progression through a standard set of courses with a few electives worked fine. That world no longer exists. We have screwed up high school believing that standardized testing validates competencies. Combine that with the financial pressure universities are under to maintain enrollment and you end up with a freshman class that is much more in line with the one room schoolhouse.

Change is coming and it will be heavily influenced by competency based learning and I think STEM may be well positioned to adapt to this. We have been working on this concept in our general ed core curriculums of math and science. At first it was about trying to figure out online or hybrid learning but now we are starting to see how we may need to change the academic business model. The emerging CBL providers such as Western Governors are built upon a personalized learning foundation that allows the student to progress at their own pace. Tuition is based on a period of time not on credit hours, which creates the incentive of “the faster you progress, the more you save”. Maybe there is a hybrid version of this that can work for the traditional residential university.

I’m going to take a stab at what this might look like for STEM degrees. I’m looking at this as realist considering what might be acceptable for our entrenched higher education culture, today’s student and the political and financial forces that will inevitably force the change. The first 2 years of most STEM degrees are fairly similar based on the need to build a foundation of math through calculus, basic concepts for the sciences with English and physics typically being foundational as well. This is true for pre-meds through engineering and it is typically fairly challenging to ensure that we are not wasting our time on the students in the upper level of the degree program. So how about a one room schoolhouse for each STEM discipline complete with a set of competency based learning modules designed with assessments that provide adaptive options to complete each step. We have talented non-tenure track faculty always available and still teaching but not on a fixed lecture circuit. The environment would facilitate collaborative learning along with the necessary lab requirements. The student pays the same tuition, and heck we even keep the semester structure. The advanced students finish early or have more time for extra curricular activities such as undergraduate research or experiential learning options. As the student emerges from this general ed core they enter into the more traditional degree completion with the upper level courses and labs taught by tenure track faculty to complete their STEM program.

I’m going to stop here without digging into the obvious questions and details. But what do you think? I think it might be an improvement.

Providing Technology that Students Actually Use

While eating lunch at my desk I opened up the webcam view of our new Nonavitra 6K Visualization Wall we built for use in the library. Three students jumped on the system and proceeded to spend 15 minutes exploring chemical bonding options starting from some periodic table application. I wouldn’t say that it was utilizing hi-res graphics but what was important is that the students were having such a great time exploring. This brings me to what I feel is one of the most important reasons for giving our students access to this visualization resource. The opportunity to explore and gain experience in working with resolution that is typically reserved for corporate showcases or expensive research facilities.


Nonavitra Visualization Wall

The library had an open house a few weeks ago where they introduced Nonavitra and ever since we have seen the reservation schedule for the resource fill up with student groups especially in the evening. In fact one of the first uses for the wall was the rugby club using it to scout a future opponent. But what I love is that student study groups are reserving it.

In the beginning my Research Support team started bugging me to allow them to build some sort of a visualization facility. They wanted to build an immersion visualization experience reminiscent of CAVE2 at the UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). And yes that would be fabulous but we need to walk before we run, which is why user adoption is the overriding requirement. Last year’s V4DiR focused on 3D data review and the Nonavitra Visualization Wall now allows us to put a powerful visualization resource in the hands of our faculty and students. The one condition that I set was that I would not build a visualization resource that would become relegated to providing campus visitor demos. We seem to be having success with these technology rollouts. The 3D Printer program in the library has been extremely successful. The secret to success is to put your effort into engineering the business process for making the resource available.

Considering Hire Education

I try to discuss innovation and disruption in higher education on my blog. However, it is difficult at best to dig too deep into these areas since I am digging from the inside. That sounds a bit like digging your own grave and I’ll just leave that comment hanging. But I have been accused of being the most innovative and too innovative and because of that I must carefully manage that perception as it relates to disruption. Higher education as it is primarily established today cannot handle the disruption which tends to evolve from innovation. Very sad really, it means that any innovation in higher education must fit into the existing structure which tends to predict its doom. But it is that structure that is predicting higher education’s doom.

My motivation to open up this topic comes from my increased interactions with our corporate partners looking to hire our students. This is a good thing that we have corporate partners who want to build a relationship with us because the trend is not necessarily moving in that direction. Two recent Gallup Polls revealed that although 96 percent of chief academic officers believe that they are doing a good job of preparing students for employment, only 11 percent of business leaders agree that graduates have the requisite skills for success in the workforce. I hear the same concerns but thankfully we do produce graduates that are acceptable to employers but we cannot rest on our reputation. The skill sets needed by employers is changing much faster then our curriculums.

It is commonly accepted that higher education is approaching a bubble of dramatic disruption. Theories on what that might look like range across the spectrum typically dependent upon what role one plays in that industry. But when you step back from personal feelings it is hard to understand how this system designed centuries ago can continue much longer without some serious overhaul. Of course change or innovation rarely occurs from within, it will be outside forces that create the bubble. Those forces evolve from our customers and the options that they explore. I think the most significant force will come from the employers of our graduates. The Christensen Institute has helped alert us to disruptive signals over the years and I think they have produced an excellent review of how our employers are shifting their tactics in their latest publication “Hire Education”.

The publication as mentioned in the video shifts focus to an examination of online competency-based education. Unfortunately for our traditional institutions of higher education online competency-based education would probably have the most disruptive affect imaginable on our current business model. I do sympathize with the overall value proposition that higher education offers and we should not lose what is working in HE, but I think we know that change is coming, so shouldn’t we we planning for it. Read the “Hire Education” report with an open mind and consider how we might adapt our credit hour, semester based approach to conveying a degree. I am fascinated by how we might adapt our ERP systems. I could see year round college campuses where you protect all that is great about a residential and experiential learning college experience. Maybe some of the students are working in a competency based track and given support from subject matter experts and academic staff. It may not be the tenure track dream job but it could still be an extremely rewarding alternative.

Research Support and Student Experiential Learning

The pursuit of a STEM degree has gained significant attention in recent years as we evaluate the ROI for a college degree. A recent article in NerdScholar by Yesenia Rascon, “Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Research University” highlights the importance of experiential learning, access to research facilities and hands on career development quantifies many of the reasons we allow our IT student workers the opportunity to participate in exploratory projects. This all relates back to a culture that we promote for our very successful IT Research Support Services, RSS, group here at Missouri S&T. I have been fortunate to be in a position to carve out some IT budget to dedicate to research support. However, because some of my funding comes from student tech fees I make sure that the students benefit from our efforts. This translates via the hiring of student workers, but extends beyond tradition tech support jobs. We hire students in RSS who seek out that opportunity and we benefit from important support services that they are able to provide to our university. However, we also reward them with the opportunity to own their own research projects. Our staff does offer advice and support but we also let the students fail.

Our students also earn the right to attend national research conferences such as the annual SuperComputing and Great Plains Network. These opportunities provide them excellent presentation experience which we utilized this summer by having our students conduct a workshop for the CyberMiner camp for high school students. We asked them to present their current projects to about 50 high school juniors and seniors. We designed the workshop to encourage the campers to engage with our students and it was truly an inspiration Geekfest showcasing our future technology leaders.

Here is a quick glimpse of the projects they presented and a sense of the workshop.

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes which is a digital signage project based on using the Raspberry PI computer connected to any monitor with access control given to designated administrators. This was a project conceived by a biology student last summer and this summer we are preparing it for version 1 production deployment on campus and in our community. Somewhat of a surprise to us was that this project generated the most interest by the high school students as they were intrigued by the coding behind MinerBytes.

Drone Project in Initial Phase

Drone Project in Initial Phase

The Helicopter Drone Project is in its infancy which was good to be able to show the campers how a project gets birthed. We don’t know where this project will go but we believe we should be on top of the explosion in use of drones. We have ideas for using it in creating virtual tours.

First Segway Prototype

First Segway Prototype

The Segway project started out last summer and has proven to be the perfect multi-discipline opportunity for our students. With a heavy electrical, mechanical and software development component we have had many students involved with this one. Our students presenting the Segway gave the campers some excellent advice based on their experience in designing the controller boards which they fried more then once. They told the campers what they appreciate most about their opportunity to work on these projects is that they are allowed to fail, and that has been their greatest learning experience.

Video Wall built by Students

Video Wall built by Students

The Segway prototype moved to a production design this summer which offered an excellent opportunity to display how they used SolidWorks design software on the new Video Wall that RSS built this summer. The Video Wall currently named MinerView is built on solid computer video display principles but was built from scratch with special attention given to the structure to mount the 9 55 inch high resolution monitors. The students had just a few hours to assemble the video wall in the classroom used for the workshop.

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

The Video Wall will be used in the upcoming Research and Technology Development Conference, #RTDatSandT on September 15-16 where representatives from Indiana University and the University of Texas will show off the latest in visualization techniques. RTD2014 is another great opportunity for students at S&T.

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Of course the Video Wall has many uses and will be an important addition to our Library where it will be made available to the entire campus for visualization. We already know that it will be instrumental as a foundation for our Business and Information Technology department’s ERP Center.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what is possible if your Information Technology department combines the needs of the university with an opportunity for experiential learning.

This New RSS website presents the students projects very well.

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