Category Archives: Educause

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 We know we must continue to increase our WiFi density, move stuff to the cloud and relax our outdated control policies.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.

Finally admitting that we are under attack from China

Cyber attacks sure do seem to be on the increase as well as getting more sophisticated. Finding out today that Educause has experienced a security breach motivated me to offer up a post. Is anyone surprised by the attacks being traced back to the Chinese Army. Those of us with systems under attack have known for a long time where most of the serious traffic was coming from. And although we did not have a specific building in Shanghai, however, we did know that attacks were originating in China. I guess they finally went too far and the Pentagon had to go public with the story. Of course the official report issued by the security firm Mandiant Technologies could not be ignored especially after the New York Times hack was made public.

The cyber attacks were not sophisticated direct penetration attacks but instead just very well done phishing attacks. Phishing as in tricking users into allowing their account passwords to be discovered. The White House and many universities in our country, mine included, were heavily targeted by spear-phishing attacks in the Fall of 2012. The results of these compromised accounts translated into massive use of our email servers to send out Spam email. This turns out to be a very profitable product for the successful hackers. However, the positive outcome from these attacks is that our university is now willing to get far more serious about implementing stronger security measures. Leading the way will be a stronger password change policy. But the real reason for changing passwords is to protect us against the compromises we do not know about.

Reflecting on my trip East so far

I will blame not posting on my transition between jobs but I find myself in a hotel room in Rock Springs, WY on my way across America with some time for reflections. I am driving my beloved car from Oregon to Missouri via Denver where I will take in the ELI Conference on the 4-6. This Western half of the trip brings back many memories for me.
Leaving the Portland area through the Columbia River Gorge reminded me of the trip I took in the opposite direction in 2004 when I came to Oregon and George Fox University. What a dramatic portal it provides to the Northwest. I was extremely thankful that my trip east on a good highway was so much easier then Lewis & Clark had to deal with. I reference this concern because my entire trip in the heart of winter is a bit precarious in an Acura RSX that looks more like a snow drift to the trucks and snow plows that I have been dodging. Yes the Blue Mountains with snow packed roads kept me a bit tense. As I approached Salt Lake City with a plan to work my way down to I-70 for rendezvous with colleagues in Grand Junction, I had to abort due to a pesky storm hitting the area. Luckily diverting to I-80 worked out well and allowed me to reminisce about my earlier life in Mine Engineering and Electric Power Generating out of NW Colorado.
Rock Spring, WY, an oasis for coal miners in one of the harshest environments in the US. It is about 30 F and the wind is blowing 40 mph as it typically does. But there is coal in these parts and rivers to set power plants next to. Now they have added wind powered generators so there is plenty of electricity flowing out of this desolate place helping to light the cities of the West. Tomorrow I hope to make it to Steamboat Springs, assuming their recent 2 feet of snow does not stop me. There are still good friends and lots of memories there.

Continental Divide between I-80 and Baggs, WY

Continental Divide between I-80 and Baggs, WY

Update: I tried to get to Steamboat Springs but turned around at the Continental Divide on the road to Baggs, WY. Glare ice, 40 mph wind and big trucks caused me to reevaluate the risk/reward and decided to drive to Denver via I-80. The next day I did get to go Fly fishing on the head waters of the South Platte near Decker, CO. And yes, I caught a nice trout.

Final update, I did make it to Rolla. Bought a house the first day, love S&T and Rolla, MO.

Reason for Learning Analytics

I’m in Austin at the Educause ELI conference. This is an interesting conference, not because I am connecting with my peer CIOs, but instead because I am a CIO minority observing our Higher Education’s world of Tech savvy faculty, Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers. I believe my interest in this area of HE is the reason I was asked to join the ELI Board of Advisors. And I agree, I look at all of this through different eyes, and I believe this community may have to be the change agent that helps Higher Ed deal with the coming disruptional change.

My general observations confirm that Educause’s ELI is putting forth a good effort to support this critical community. The release of NMC’s and ELI’s Horizon Report is a major influence on the conference which is evident from the current trends of Mobility and Pad device utilization. But it is the emergence of Learning Analytics which is moving up the ladder, now expected to be formally adopted within 2-3 years. This topic was also highlighted as the BoA discussed future ELI events. What has caught my attention is that I am seeing a far more varied and complex justification for Learning Analytics then I had previously been aware of. Truth be told, I have avoided Learning Analytics for years. My previous colleague at IUPUI, Ali Jafari, was campaigning for my IT support back in the late 90‘s so that he could develop an E-Portfolio solution. My objection was always that a premiss based on a student’s voluntary submission of coursework would never work. Today we primarily want to mine our LMS data.

I continue to question the justification for investing in Learning Analytics because I still question the validity of the various methods. But I came to this conference with the acceptance that we had to invest in Learning Analytics mostly because of requirements for such data to fulfill various accreditation requirements. I have also noticed that our government appears to be taking a greater interest in some sort of institutional validation that learning is taking place, but I thought that was driven by questions about the quality of the for-profit side of Higher Education.

The ELI conference was kicked off by Adrian Sannier’s talk “If not Now, When?”, Challenges facing American education are formidable and seem to call for change more radical than incremental. Adrian was vintage Adrian with shock and awe. I have heard this talk before but this time I sensed a different undertone of disagreement. Then I took in some sessions focusing on current activity around Learning Analytics and I sensed an elephant in the room. Which was: Learning Analytics was now critical to justify our (Higher Ed) existence. And what was driving that need for justification? I believe it is the emergence of free and massively available access to live open course delivery such as from Stanford, MIT and Harvard. And most importantly the certification that is now available from those courses. If you supplement your education with the Khan Academy and successfully complete some of the advanced courses from these prestigious institutions, you will probably be successful. This can’t really be a concern, can it? It can if you believe that “Disruptive Change” could hit Higher Education and that typically that change comes from where you least expect it. How about the masses of people trying to enter the workforce that are denied an opportunity for a traditional college education?

Higher Education can react to this threat but the first step is admitting that the threat is real.

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