Category Archives: academic

Producing “Big Data” Scientists

I wish that I would have attended the Big Data in Higher Education Conference at SUNY last week. Harper Reed @harper, former Obama campaign CTO, was the keynote speaker and according to the Chronicle review, he told it the way it is. ‘Big Data’ is Bunk. His message highlighted how the Obama campaign utilized analytics from “Big Data” to help win the election. And it sounds like he presented how higher education could take advantage of this technology but that the vendors for “Big Data” solutions were using the term “Big” to mostly sell big computers. I agree that we don’t need huge computer resources to utilize “Big Data” analysis concepts. However, we are going to build a Big Data system that probably leans toward an In Memory model. I also realize that higher education rarely utilizes “Big Data” effectively for business or academic advantages but that is a discussion of its own.

Harper also offered some advice in another session, “Data Scientist: the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” which hit home for me here at Missouri S&T. We are currently building a new cross discipline program around the buzz term “Big Data”. We have our Business and Information Technology, department contributing to the client end including the tie in to ERP. We have Computer Science and Computer Engineering focusing on the infrastructure, data models, analytic algorithms, programming and visualization needed to produce the kind of data scientists that Harper said he wants to hire. This is why I came to S&T, to help a world class STEM institution create products that can help change the world.

Comments from Disney Educause Week

The best place to hold an Educause conference is in the happiest place on the earth, Disneyland, especially during a week of sun and 70’s. This is the time of year when all collegiate techies compare notes, renew friendships and chart the future of higher education. Educause keynote speakers try to shock us, console us and then inspire us. But there rarely are any roadmaps provided for us to follow. We know we must continue to increase our WiFi density, move stuff to the cloud and relax our outdated control policies. But mostly we network with our peers.

Trends discussed at Educause that I have interest and insight had to do with the future of ERPs and LMSs. Lot’s of my colleagues are looking for answers to their ERP dilemmas. And it seems like many Blackboard customers are planning their exit strategy to a Canvas or Moodle. And in the background are all of the solutions that will insure that teaching and learning takes place more effectively. This all threatens our old school technology empires but can generate great excitement for the new school.

Yes we do need to get our act together with respect to running the business of higher education. We drank the kool-aid served us by corporate ERP solutions that we were told could be adapted to higher education. And they have been adapted at a ridiculous price. However, did we ever receive serious advice to simplify our business processes? I was recognized at the Oracle booth as the poster child champion for the most successful PeopleSoft implementation they have seen. But not for the most profitable. When I implemented PeopleSoft 3-4 years ago I forced business process change to adapt to the base system because of budget and talent constraints. But that was just a consolidation of best practices for higher education. We did not have an opportunity to redesign our business. So my advice to all of us looking for solutions to our ERP predicaments; maybe we should investigate a more effective way to administer the business of higher education first. We might be shocked at how easy it could be to adapt an ERP to a business process that made sense.

And what about Learning Management Systems? My only comment is to again step back and realize how simple LMSs are. I guess we took the opposite approach with them. We have a fairly good business process that we have over complicated by computerization. Maybe it was because we created them but were taught by our corporate ERP vendors how to commercialize them. Bottom line is that an LMS is nice to have but is not critical for teaching and learning. There are plenty of tools that can help a professor to be more efficient but no university should be held hostage to a single tool. Hmmm, that is sort of the academic way, we do all the work and another business entity charges us for it.

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

So enough of the trials and tribulations of the season. What about some bright spots like my being ranked the 38th most Social CIO or how cool our rollout of 3-D Printing for all of the students at S&T has been.

TV segment by KY3 in Springfield, MO, on the rollout of 3-D printers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Library.

Research Technology Day

Research Technology Day

A benefit that I thoroughly enjoy from being the CIO at Missouri University of Science and Technology is the opportunity to promote, support and participate in research activities. The capstone event that represents IT’s involvement with research is our “Research Technology Day”, RTD, that takes place next week, September 9-10. Pulling off a significant conference such as this is a tremendous amount of work but we must persevere because what good is research if we don’t share it with others.

This year’s RTD takes on additional value for me because it is my first opportunity to place my mark on our research support goals. But it also allows me and my research support team to gauge where our state university system wants us to be and where our neighbors and peers are at. My impressions and observations so far:

It is easy to generate interest in a research conference with your peer IT support colleagues. It is difficult to generate interest within in your own research community. However, that is just a communications problem, once you breakthrough there is plenty of interest. Then it becomes a race to keep up with the demand and pull it off.  This year’s RTD will be great; awesome speakers, interesting research topics, good food and real “Fireworks”. But it will also be important for aligning the future of our institution’s research strategy with the changing landscape of today’s higher education research environment.  The overall motivator – this along with teaching is the major reason why we exist.

Update: Opening night of the Conference was great. I don’t think I have ever seen a better fireworks display. Way cool being showered overhead with such a show in the middle of campus. The S&T Pyro team offers us a unique skill set. Here is a video of the Display

First Encounters with Internet Technology

The following post is my essay I submitted for peer review for my Coursera course, Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance. The question to be answered: Write an essay about how you first encountered the Internet or an earlier networking technology. Describe the technologies you were using, some of the activities you did “on line”, and tell us how having a new form of communication changed the way you think about the world.

The first two weeks of the course have been an enjoyable stroll down technology memory lane. If you are interested I believe you can still get in the course. Here is my essay:

I was a young chemist sparked by the discovery of computer programming at the end of my college career and then ignited with the purchase of an Apple II computer in 1979. My obsession with this new computational freedom motivated me to open my own computer store with a college buddy in 1980.

Scientific Frontiers Grand Opening 1981

Computer Store Looks to Future

I was programing on an HP 85 and we sold mostly CP/M based computers. Commodore emerged as our main microcomputer product line. A product that we tried to sell which I totally believed in was the “The Source”, it may have been the first online consumer service. Readers Digest believed in this enough to pay 6 million for the service in 1980. It was touted as a self-help service with a Google type dream search of that time. Access to the UPI newswire and conceptually encyclopedia type information had me believing it would change the world. However, technology was based on 300 or maybe 1200 baud acoustic modems with very few local call options. The cost per line of knowledge never built an acceptable ROI, but I do believe we saw the future. I still have one of the coffee mugs that we gave away for promotion.Source Mug

During the same period of time when I owned the computer store I travelled to Las Vegas to attend “Comdex”, pretty sure it was the fall of 1981. I was mostly interested in the battle lines that were forming between Apple and this new IBM PC. But at that show I remember checking out the Xerox Star workstation, famous for presenting the concept of the Graphical User Interface. I was impressed but did not get it. I remember scoffing at the idea of linking your hand via a mouse to activity on the computer screen. Oh well, I was not as imaginative as the Steve Jobs who did see the potential.

After the computer store and a fling with the Oil Shale boom and bust, my career moved to Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley, in 1987. I was in heaven, driving through the bay area at that time was like perusing a live PC Magazine. By then I believed in Windows and actually did a lot with HP’s New Wave interface. The Bay area was exciting up until the earthquake in 1989. That combined with the effect of California’s Proposition 13 on public school funding caused me to request that HP move my young family to Cincinnati in 1990. I was a systems engineer supporting the LIMS and LAS market segment, that is Laboratory Information and Instrumentation Management which matched well with my chemistry background. My early viewpoint of the “Internet” was shaped by how great the open access to DOS and Windows apps via the BBS services had become. Do you remember the “Wildcat BBS” software that was the engine for most of those services?

Access to the BBS services in the early 90’s was exploding into viable business opportunities. I used to maintain a “Best of the BBS Apps” floppy disk where I would store the coolest PC tools and screen savers of the day. I would always be asked by my customers for the latest copy of that diskette. The Hayes Smartmodem was reliable, affordable and fast enough to open the door for the geeks of the day to explore the potential of this new world of information. This reminds me of the second technology opportunity that “I did not get”. It was probably late 1992 when a co-worker of mine in Cincinnati was involved with a BBS out of Dayton, OH. He asked me one day if I would be interested in an opportunity to link his BBS to ARPANET a connection he had via a friend at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There was some cost involved and as I remember access was limited to a small number of users, but my question was more about what value ARPANET would provide. I could envision the potential of public access to what the academic community was playing with and open source collaboration seemed to be alive and well. I didn’t see how a path through ARPANET was going to help. But it wasn’t about ARPANET it was about seeing the potential of what soon became the World Wide Web, WWW. We were actually talking about developments taking place in this arena since we were playing with the early concept of HTML and the MOSAIC project in our X-Terminal environment.

It is fun to look back and second guess. There were lots of winners and losers. Remember Ashton-Tate’s dBASE or VisiCalc? I never thought Microsoft would amount to anything and with respect to the Internet they really didn’t. I remember how brilliant I thought Bill Gates approach was to the Internet in wanting to carve out a cost per transaction. Trouble is he never could gain control of the connection. Oh well, it was fun writing this assignment for my Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” and I am definitely interested in how this peer review grading is going to work.

The Best STEM Graduates in the World

I have been at my new university for about a month trying to assess a constant flow of data about how and why everything is as it is. My overall observation is that it is good, but that has a lot to do with the fact that my world renown science and technology university does not worry about the same challenges facing much of the rest of higher education today. What we deliver is highly valued in our technological world even if we are using a century’s old pedagogical approach.

We do have modern pedagogical teaching and learning success stories here at S&T, but we also have excellent traditional course delivery of science and engineering classes that do not need to be adjusted. So why do we also find ourselves pressured to offer more blended and online courses? Because unfortunately most of us fit into a much larger higher education structure that will be pushed and pulled by many reactions, some of which are “knee jerk” in nature. But that is OK, we must all ultimately be responsible for our own response.

I mention these early observations in my new job as sort of a preview to what I believe will be an amazing journey that I will share will my talented faculty and highly motivated EdTech team as we adapt to the changing world of higher education. Our greatest challenge may be to understand that even though change is not required it is also not bad. If our typical highly motivated STEM students are coming to us from a different culture then maybe changing our pedagogy a bit to compliment their learning preferences could be a way to make our end product even better. The challenge that brought me to S&T was not to save them but to have an opportunity to improve them. On the world stage today I see the real challenge for the United States is not just to produce more STEM graduates but to produce the Best STEM graduates. So maybe I get a chance to help change the world.

Impending Disruption to Higher Education

I have spent a lot of time in the last week thinking about what disruption to Higher Education will really look like. I got to spend some time with Richard DeMillo after I read his book, “Abelard to Apple“. The book is an excellent review of what Higher Ed was and in some cases still is. And Richard offers sound ideas about the obvious need to adapt education to our current information rich world. What struck me was that he identified the significance of MOOCs before they had evolved as we see them today under flags of Coursera, Udacity and edX.

DeMillo was a guest speaker for our NWACC Summit which happened to be our 25th anniversary with a major strategic planning purpose. So it also surprised me that discussion amongst the 30+ CIOs from the Northwest also focused heavily on the ramifications of the MOOCs. You see MOOCs are not the disruption, they are just exposing the problems so that we will finally need to deal with the disruption that is already upon us. Many have chosen to focus on the MOOCs themselves, determining how they will inevitably fail to compete academically and with respect to profitability. But it is not about the MOOCs succeeding in our traditional measures. The MOOCs have been funded by venture capitalists who tend to know when a profit is to be made and the Monetization value of MOOCs is starting to become clear. Exposure brings fame and fortune and access to valuable data or clients does as well. Coursera Career Services is not just about about helping their students find a job. I believed for many years that there was no way Amazon could ever make a profit, now I realize there are bigger forces at play.

The disruption comes from the MOOCs exposing the weakness of our traditional Higher Education course and degree delivery system. An obvious threat comes from the career service aspect. That is a domain that Higher Ed needs to control. Our degrees need to be the preeminent standard for validation that learning has  been accomplished. At the foundation of our system is the credit hour. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced this week that it is rethinking the value of the Carnegie Unit for which we have defined the credit hour. Higher Education; we need to respond to this disruption with innovation rather then denial.

Good Look at our iGFU Mobile Portal

Our student News team wanted to do a story on our iGFU Mobile Portal. They tried to video record a demo off of an iPAD which was not going to work so iGFU author, Brian McLaughlin, made them a simple tutorial that we now use on our website. Checkout the tutorial if you have any interest in what a university mobile portal needs to be. Remember, our mobile portal is basically a skunk works project that leverages the flexibility and performance of HTML5 using Java and PHP to access useful data from general data feeds, Moodle and our PeopleSoft ERP.

The tutorial also highlights a couple of other useful tools. Brian made the video by using an App called AirServer that allows him to mirror an IOS device to his MacBook. He then records it with Quicktime and with a little editing on iMovie you get a very real view of a mobile app. Then we upload the video to our new ShareStream video distribution system which gives us total flexiblity to manage and distribute video (especially if we want to manage copyright). We are investigating if AirServer might offer a better path for iPad mirroring to projector in the classroom.

Year of the Mobile Portal

This year we realized that our mobile portal was ready for some real marketing. I guess up until now we were content to let our customers discover it and utilize it as they desired. What we came to realize was that way to many of our customers had never heard of our mobile portal. How could that be, isn’t IT and the services IT provides at the center of all that happens at a university??? Actually our mobile portal iGFU.georgefox.edu has received a lot of accolades mostly from Oracle Higher Education folks since we have done a great job in leveraging our PeopleSoft data for useful mobile services. So maybe it is better known outside of our university. Recently a couple of our iGFU developers were recognized by NWACC and given an Exemplary Practice Award.

This year we are actually promoting iGFU and usage stats this first week show us that most everyone may finally be using it. We have opted for some promotional gimmicks like allowing our food service provider or bookstore to offer deals that can only be redeemed on someone’s smart mobile device. This new IT Video promotes a number of services that IT provides including iGFU.The most common hits are for class schedule information right now but the administrative services especially for academics are receiving a lot of praise. The class roster service spawns options for a professor to communicate with their class, offer a survey, view photos of individuals or the entire class (on a Pad or Computer display), monitor Moodle Class Forums, show student’s major,  and academic advisor(s).

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

Information for a specific course provides all the normal course description, books required and the syllabus if available. Course schedules show you what you have today as well as for the rest of the week. Students can map their Moodle assignment schedules into their Google Calendar, and the list goes on. The real key here is that if a Professor asks for something we always seem to be able to deliver with limited complexity. The administrative side of iGFU has also grown with services. The live budget update service has generated the most praise but another useful feature allows our development officers to lookup their prospects complete with all of their notes. Zoom into the prospects house with the linked Google Earth and certain priorities can be considered.

The bottom line is that our mobile portal has redefined what efficient presentation of data should look like. The directory lookup feature is now a standard page open on most of our administrator’s desktops. A major advantage which makes the mobile portal much more effective is how we can easily use our role based access structure from PeopleSoft to customize what each user is presented. So that is enough bragging about iGFU.

Thanks to recognition from Oracle it is not uncommon to be contacted by another university asking about how we created iGFU. Why go with a web design vs. and app design? How were we able to approve features with typical university committees. How were we able to access so much data from our ERP?

Going with the web design is the obvious choice if you want rapid and flexible deployment and no hassle device deployment. If you design your data access efficiently then performance is not an issue. This more then justifies the loss of some native app features. But the real key to our success comes from the design and development strategy. The most important design strategy is whether we are create something that would be useful for someone walking from lunch to class. Also no committees deciding or designing features. My key developer happens to be my DBA, so in his words he is able to accomplish so much because he holds the keys to the kingdom. He would never let another programmer gain so much access to the database. I let my developers respond directly to feature requests. They crank out another feature and we decide within IT whether it is acceptable for release and then we get appropriate pilot feedback if it deals with access control. But mostly we quickly turn around requests and fine tune a feature based on real user feedback.

This all may sound to simplistic but that is the key to a successful mobile portal. Of course talented programmers with great development tools working from a clean ERP system designed for web clients makes the job a whole lot easier. But any university holds the data necessary to build an effective mobile portal, finding some development talent empowered by some creative freedom could also release these mobile services to your customers. If you do not have the resources to develop a mobile portal yourselves then you may want to consider a couple of commercial option focused on PeopleSoft: HighPoint or BASHmobile

Faculty Conference Kicks Off the New Year

We held our faculty “Kick-off the Year” conference yesterday and I would say it was a great success considering it was the first time in many years that we did not hold the conference down at the coast. The focus of the conference was about incorporating various aspects of technology in support of teaching. We had a great keynote speaker in Bill Rankin from Abilene Christian University. His talk “Flights of Discovery: Transformation in Third-Age Education” sufficiently conveyed that we need to change our way of dealing with this Data driven era, “But How”. Plenty of good examples about how students are learning more with real world experience and less in old world classroom lectures. But how might we change this? I pitched the services that my IT department provides for our faculty but we don’t come close to offering the resources that they really need. This video touches on the less obvious.

I listened to our faculty ask great questions about how they might engage or inspire their students. Sure the use of technology could help, especially shifting to a more blended learning approach, but that is not the total answer. My take-away was that we can only do the best we can under the current structure. And by structure I mean classes delivered in a weekly schedule over a semester type period of time. Sure it would be great if our Social Sciences courses could hold class in a homeless shelter in downtown Portland, but that doesn’t work in this structure. So then I contemplated different structures like courses meet for a week at a time a few times through the semester, but that does not work. When you have many students all trying to piece together a schedule that accommodates all their needs and the needs of all the other students and faculty we end up with what we have. What would it take to really shake this up? I’m not sure but I think it may involve tearing down that structure. Maybe redefine what a class is altogether. Yikes, a bit scary but you know, it may be worth exploring.

Time to Invest in Video Distribution

Video distribution is high on my priority list. We have made the most of iTunesU, our own Darwin streaming server, You-Tube, Vimeo and even Moodle. But the effort does not justify the means any more. Dealing with copyright issues is becoming more strategic and of course the overall amount of media objects being distributed has been exploding for a number of years now. We tried to conquer the OpenCast Matterhorn project, but it is not hard to figure out that open source projects either have momentum or they fade away. Plus most of the solutions that have been pitched have more of a focus on the ingestion of video for processing help. Distribution is a by-product that is typically not fully developed.

Lecture capture has been the commercial money maker with value coming from the ease of capture and production. But why would we want to capture lectures when the reason for all of this extra video is to supplement the trend toward blended learning. We have a fair investment in Camtasia so we are interested in video distribution of these Camtasia video vignettes  so maybe Camtasia Relay makes sense. But I think we are really looking at a solution like Kaltura, ShareStream, MediaCast or Ensemble. And I lean toward a hosted solution since my network is not optimized for streaming nor should it be. The solution must focus on the flexibility of access control so that we can comply with copyright. A little help with video ingestion formatting would be nice but our media students are very good with that support. Option to integrate with our Moodle LMS is important. And it does not hurt for the solution to help manage other content streams like podcasts or other commercial video repositories. I will let you know what we select.

Results are in – we will be going with a ShareStream hosted solution. Our media team is very excited about moving content over to a distribution system that provides access control. The Moodle interface is good but they probably need to focus more on the major LMS in the world.

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