Category Archives: Higher Education

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

The Great Potential of SAP HANA

DeloittePresentationSM

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

Educause Learning Initiative 10th Anniversary

I just returned from the Educause Learning Initiative, ELI, Conference in beautiful and warn Anaheim, CA. Another solid conference bringing together higher education teaching and learning innovators. ELI also celebrated their 10th anniversary and said goodbye to their successful president, Diana Oblinger, who will retire at the end of May. I have always been impressed with Diana’s leadership, she has been a master of motivation for ELI programs and she has also been a beacon light on future concerns for higher education. In her conference keynote she touched on all that is new and exciting and again reminded us of the growing influence of Competency Based Education. She also brought up some good questions about the state and purpose of the college diploma. An interesting question posed was, should we consider the ability to update a diploma?

ELI has served higher education well and Diana deserves a lot of the credit. The next decade in higher education signals a far more disruptive era, will ELI be a guiding light?

Disseminators of information must adapt to the culture of the consumer

I came across a blog article I would never have found on my own thanks to a reference from a colleague I was following. The post, “The world is going digital; Where is Extension going?”, by Greg Hutchins, Associate Vice Chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Extension. I was stimulated to open the link since I know what Extension means in the context of Cooperative Extension Service because my father was an Extension Agronomist at Purdue. The actual definition expands greatly but here is Wikipedia’s stab at it: the mission is to “advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities” by supporting research, education, and extension programs at land-grant universities and other organizations it partners with. This is a very important service that focuses on farming, food and nutrition with a foundation based out of our land-grant universities. I have always explained it in reference to my father’s occupation as he taught farmers how to farm.

The blog post title immediately interested me to compare how this higher education connected service was struggling with their digital future. What I found was an excellent article presenting the reality that change was inevitable and you can look to many similar industries for validation. This post used the decline of the newspaper industry. The connecting thread was the challenges facing those entities whose mission it is to disseminate information for the purpose of creating knowledge. The obvious connection for me would be the struggles facing higher education in general, but this sector touches home. The extension agent’s work is based on providing information through personal communication. My father was successful serving the farmers of southern Indiana because they let him into their culture. No academic from Purdue was going to tell these German heritage farmers how to farm. But they did need to be reached so you adapted to their culture of eat, drink and then talk farming.

How does the Extension service reach their constituency today? For the most part same way they always have. And all can agree that their effectiveness is in decline. So do you open your eyes and anticipate the future or do you rationalize the present. The comments to Greg’s post were so typical of our industry. Many applauded his vision but many also cautioned against how change could underserve the less fortunate. But the arguments about protecting the less fortunate were really about protecting a way of life that they love. A professor can mount an effective argument about why their lectures are the most effective way to teach students. But all that really matters is the motivation of the student. How does the new farmer of today learn about farming? They go online and look for resources. How about the NFL football player, Jason Brown, who said he learned to farm by watching YouTube. Something tells me that if the Extension Services of the Land Grant Universities coordinated and invested in their YouTube video efforts they would bring great visibility to their mission. And the Extension agent would find a way for the underserved less fortunate customer to benefit from this effort.

I think the most important thing for all of us involved with the dissemination of information for the sake of learning is to to realize that you have to adapt to the culture of the consumer. You must stay relevant with the current generation or your mission will fade away with your generation. My father was never going to understand how to use forms of digital communication, but I think he wanted to. So have an open mind and try to be supportive of change.

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.

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.

They are changing the face of education globally

I checked out Coursera’s course offerings and I have to admit they have a great lineup of quality courses. I signed up for “Introduction to Logic” from Stanford which begins soon so I could evaluate the process and quality of delivery, plus I am somewhat interested in logic. Then I signed up for “Introduction to Genome Science” from University of Pennsylvania for a fun refresher to my MS in Bioinformatics where my thesis was “Security of Our Personal Genome”. Purely continuing education but what a huge market that could be. You do realize this is wave 2 of open courseware. Coursera’s quote: We are changing the face of education globally, and we invite you to join us. Let’s assume Coursera is able to competently deliver these courses to any number of students. And let’s assume their student assessment techniques allow them to validate that learning took place. They have the prestigious of elite institutions of higher education. What does this mean?

What if a year from now millions of people are successfully completing courses through Coursera, Udacity and probably other copycat competitors. First Coursera is going to be worth billions and second a benchmark will be established that will define what is a quality online course. What will this benchmark mean? It will eliminate the argument that legitimate For-Profit online providers lack in quality. But more important it will validate the other argument that many of the online courses from traditional non-profit institutions are not worth the bandwidth you are wasting on them. So what does this mean for most of us (higher education)? Our online or blended offerings which we realize we must offer will have to be of similar quality to the free offerings from the Coursera’s of the world. We will have a benchmark. And then we just worry about holding on to our control of accreditation for validating what is a college degree and what is it worth. I am thankful that we will still have the value of the campus experience, but again, what will it be worth.

Update July 17, 2012 – More research universities join Coursera

Universities Moving from Elite to Unique

There must have been a press release by Coursera recently to fuel the many articles today about their new partnership with Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to join their charter partner Stanford. This is all about elite universities embracing massively open online courses, or MOOCs. I think this signals a major move of the changing strategy of higher education. And I think this is significant enough that all universities need to take notice and evaluate how this might affect their course delivery strategy and the future of higher education.

MIT, Harvard and Stanford have shaken things up by driving these MOOCs and in some courses offering a certificate of completion for those who have successfully participated. This is not a credential that has any official meaning, however, why doesn’t it. It can now be argued that one could present their successful completion of a series of courses from these prestigious institutions as validation that learning took place and should now offer a certain level of qualification similar to a college degree. That is extremely scary to higher education, but why not to these universities that have pioneered this MOOC strategy?

It appears from the articles that faculty at these institutions are highly motivated to participate in offering these courses that are open to students outside of their traditional classes. Maybe they are inspired by how Stanford engineering professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng parleyed their efforts into the startup company Coursera funded by $16M of VC money. But why are these universities so supportive? Are they jumping into this just because they can? I don’t think so, I think they understand the transition that higher education is going through and they plan on be at the front end of it. They see that that an online component for a course brings the value of the community. And they have decided to perfect this online component to ensure their leadership in leveraging these communities. Not to grow their online revenue, although that may very well be an outcome, but instead this partnership with Coursera allows them to effectively bring the world to their classrooms. If the paying students who benefit from advantages of F2F also have an opportunity to collaborate with an unlimited number of students from the world, then they win. These institutions will move beyond just “Elite” they become “Unique”.

“Flipped Classroom” debate reminds us of our real product

The recent discussion created by Stanford student, Ben Rudolph, in his blog post about the Rigor of Stanford’s Free Classes, is a good opportunity for us to step back and critique the larger picture of our digital course delivery strategies. The reality for most of us is that we will deal with an increased adoption of online interaction in higher education teaching and learning. For pure online courses there are best practices, similar rules for blended or hybrid delivery and yes traditional course delivery can benefit from the adoption of online tools. But we have to keep a proper focus on what the product really is. For the traditional college degree which still relies on a Face-2-Face model, that product may be less about the dissemination of information but it will always be about the shaping of knowledge.

Stanford student, Ben, does ask some valid questions about why his course experience may be diluted by a course design that caters to a massive public audience. And it may be that this specific course lost its true compass, but it has caused me to consider where this may be headed. I think most of us have been intrigued by the increased amount of open access to courses at some of our most prestigious institutions. I have written it off mostly as publicity that they can afford. Of course it does offer valuable structured learning material that is sometimes helpful to other educators. And these open courses that Stanford and MIT have offered that connect a form of certification of completion do move toward a new form of a student’s accreditation of learning. This is good for our society, it provides opportunity for all. But let’s make sure we in higher education understand our product. We help a student transform information into knowledge and hope to mold their character so they utilize that knowledge to benefit a greater “Good” for all. Higher Education must deliver a version of that product and our warranties must be true to the expectations of our students.

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