Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Report Card for 2012

A year ago, I set out my resolutions for 2012. Here’s my report card.

What I said I would do: Write more. Use both blogging and twitter as a part of my overall leadership and communication strategy for the IT organization I lead at the University of Georgia.

What actually happened: My performance was inconsistent; sometimes I would write a new blog each week and tweet daily, but in some months – not much happened at all. Earlier in the year, I was asked to start contributing my blog The Accidental CIO as a part of EDUCAUSE Review Online, which is a great platform and opportunity to spread some of my ideas. Over the next year, there is an opportunity to contribute more. My grade: C+

What I said I would do: Reduce costs. Start my organization down the path to taking 5% out of our cost structure over the next 12 months, while increasing productivity so as to not reduce service quality.

What actually happened: Although we have not had the chance to actually tally up the score for this year, my sense is that we achieved at least 2/3 of this goal this year, particularly by eliminating or drastically reducing some maintenance costs. The problem – increases in other maintenance contracts and state budget cuts took up most of these savings, leaving less opportunity to invest these funds in new strategic endeavors. My grade: B+

What I said I would do: Design and develop a new HR model for positions, career ladders, and professional development and lay the groundwork for implementation of this plan in 2013.

What actually happened: Nothing. As we were proceeding to acquire some consulting assistance to launch this project, we were waved off by our internal HR office, who asked that we pause this project until they lay the groundwork to shift their system it to a broadband model. My hope is that we can pick up this work in 2013. My grade: Incomplete.

What I said I would do: Nurture and develop individual leaders and groups to support the new student system implementation at UGA, so they are prepared to lead our University into what will undoubtedly be a very challenging and demanding three years.

What actually happened: This is proceeding fairly well. Over the last month, along with colleagues overseeing the project, I have had the opportunity to sit down with key leaders and review the progress of the project. I remain very impressed with how the leadership at multiple levels are taking ownership over key issues and grappling with them fairly well. The biggest concern I have over the next year is the workload itself, and I will be investing my efforts at limiting scope of the project over the coming year, so that each individual working on the project has the best opportunity to be successful. My grade: A.

What I said I would do: When it comes to both our technological infrastructure and our internal processes and procedures, we are being held back by complexity and bureaucracy. Those reporting to me will be encouraged (and held accountable) to make significant gains in this area in 2012.

What actually happened: In many of our areas, particularly around enterprise architecture and system integration, we have made some very significant gains in this past year. We have implemented CAS for single-sign on, performed some very significant processing cleanup in the identity management area, network engineering is proceeding well, and in the next six months, we will begin investing in upgrading network switches in buildings across the University. Our Boyd data center is also looking pretty bare, as we have decommissioned racks and racks of equipment as technologies such as virtualization take hold. On the process and business side, there remains more do to – but I am very pleased with the work to revamp our inventory processes in order to be more timely and accurate. My grade: A.

What I said I would do: Lose that last 15 pounds I have been working on for the past three months.

What actually happened: It’s been a year of ups and downs, and it looks like I will end 2012 about 5lbs lighter than when I started the year. That sounds pretty good, until you consider that in the summer I was 10lbs lighter. Oh well. Both Gail and I have never been healthier and we are blessed to be able to live and enjoy very active lifestyles. My grade: B-.

What I said I would do: With my wife, find meaningful ways to become active in our new community.

What actually happened: Mission accomplished – Gail and I have become very active in Green Acres Baptist Church in Athens, and have taken advantage of the opportunity to make many new friends this past year. Later in the year, we were asked to serve as a deacon family and I was ordained in November. My grade: A+.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I’m Looking Forward to EDUCAUSE Next Week

Next week is the annual EDUCAUSE conference, with this year’s event returning to the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Attending the annual EDUCAUSE event remains one of the highlights of my fall semester. Here are some of the things I am looking forward to next week.
  1. Giving something back. The EDUCAUSE events provide each of us the opportunity to give back some of that special knowledge and experience that we have developed over the past year. We are all working together on common problems and seeking new solutions and best practices – and we all have something to offer the community. Whether you are delivering a presentation, serving as a convener, or participating in one of the many groups or roundtables, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to speak up and offer your experience and wisdom back to our community of professionals.

  2. Learning something new. As I think about picking and choosing among the variety of sessions offered, I always look for topics that are new or on a subject that I don’t know much about. This annual event provides one of the best professional development experiences around, and as I go from session to session I will be looking for some things to take back to the University of Georgia for us to focus on next year.

  3. Becoming more inspired about our profession. Absent two or three areas, I cannot think of a more difficult profession in higher education than working in IT leadership. This is a tough business we are in, and we spend far too much time managing expectations and bringing them in-line with shrinking resources. While doing so, it’s easy to forget that technology can and should be strategic for our institutions. This year’s program provides ample opportunities to be inspired again about these possibilities.

  4. Seeing old friends. Over the past ten years I have worked with colleagues from different institutions and vendors and one thing I can count is that most will be at EDUCAUSE each year. I am looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends and spending some time with them catching up, and introducing them to the new friends I have made this past year.

  5. Fellowshipping with our community. There is no more strategic endeavor in higher education today than working in IT. We should never forget that the future fate of higher education is deeply intertwined with what we do each day, and spending a week with thousands of other committed professionals excited about this cause is truly an honor. I am expecting a great week of fellowship with my colleagues from around the country!
While attending the conference, we shouldn’t forget that the event is the result of thousands of hours of work by EDUCAUSE volunteers and professional staff who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to make the event a success. Every time that you see one of them be sure to tell them thanks for their hard work, commitment, and dedication to our community.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Status and Activity Report for Technology at the University of Georgia, October 2012

It's the first of the month and that means it is time to release an up-to-date status report on technology activities and projects at the University of Georgia.

EITS Status and Activity Report for October 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Vicious Cycle

This past week has seen considerable discussion on the EDUCAUSE CIO listserv regarding a recent CIO piece by Bryson Payne, who is soon stepping down as CIO at North Georgia College and State University and returning to its faculty. In this piece, Bryson asks a powerful question we don’t often think about – what will your institution’s next CIO focus on first and why aren’t you working on those issues yourself? He suggests three general areas:

Pain points – these are the technical issues that are causing immense pain for end users, and pose “low-hanging” fruit because they can be easily solved. Your next CIO will start their tenure by having conversations with students, faculty, and staff to look for quick wins. Bryson asks, when is the last time you had one of these conversations with your community?

Jackhammer issues – many times, we become blind to longstanding pain points because they have been around forever. Like a jackhammer constantly working outside the window, we learn to ignore it and work around it. Your next CIO will come in and hear the jackhammer and pronounce, “How can you work like this? Let’s fix it!” Bryson asks, when’s the last time you stopped long enough to actually hear the jackhammers?

Relationship rescue – your next CIO will be clued in during their interviews as to the frayed or damaged relationships that are in need of repair in order for the IT organization to work across campus more effectively. Bryson asks, what’s stopping you from trying to repair them today?

For some of my colleagues, this article has brought up jokes about whether being CIO stands for ‘career is over.’ But the stereotypes about revolving door CIOs constantly job hopping or being shown the door are seldom true (see research by Wayne Brown). Sometimes institutional leaders, including the CIO, find themselves mired in long-standing problems caused by lack of ownership, accountability, or the inability to make difficult decisions, and think that yes, it will take new leadership with a fresh perspective, a long honeymoon, and more authority to make IT services more effective. In such situations, greener pastures often look much greener. But, I’m not convinced that wholesale changes are always required to address these types of situations.

In 2004, Broadbent and Kitzis set forth in The New CIO Leader two simple principles that govern CIO and IT organization effectiveness over the long-term: the credibility cycle and the cycle of over commitment and underperformance.

New leadership brings with it an infusion of trustworthiness, appreciation, and goodwill – otherwise known as credibility. During the early months of their tenure, this credibility allows new leaders to do things that were more difficult for their predecessors, putting them in a better position to negotiate for additional resources or to tamp down out of control expectations. A honeymoon is a very nice thing, indeed.

Past that initial period, however, both outcomes and results lead to either increased credibility (when things go well) or a loss of credibility (when things underperform). Unfortunately, loss of credibility erodes trustworthiness, appreciation, and goodwill – which reduces one’s negotiating position when vying for resources or managing future expectations. If you have ever found yourself in a position where negotiations over resources or commitments are extremely difficult, step back and ask yourself what are the past results in the eyes of those with whom you are negotiating. Doing so may key you into the pain points or jackhammer issues Bryson talks about.

Diminished credibility often puts IT leaders into a position where they are constantly incentivized to overcommit their organizations above their current capacity, which can lead to continued underperformance.

Spiraling downward, the cycle of over commitment and underperformance is a vicious cycle where – in order to maintain or replenish depleted stores of appreciation, trustworthiness, and respect – excessive and unwise commitments continue to be made. Or, to put it simply, IT leaders give in to the pressure to say yes when saying no is much more prudent. I’m mindful of a story one of my staff recently told me: they had pulled one of their staff off of critical infrastructure work – work necessary to minimize unplanned downtime – to do smaller, less important tasks for a remote unit for fear that they would complain about a lack of responsiveness on the part of their team. While I am a firm believer that it is critical that IT organizations “do what they say they will do (DWYSYWD)” in order to maintain credibility, I also know that the most important predictor of success when it comes to DWYSYWD is to not engage in overcommitment in the first place.

How can an IT organizations break the downward spiral of overcommitment and underperformance? Is new leadership with a fresh infusion of credibility and a new honeymoon required? Not necessarily, particularly if the conditions that led to this cycle are structural and not clearly reflective of prior leadership. In those cases, new IT leaders will find themselves in the same positions as their predecessors once their honeymoon ends. 

In my own work experience, when seeking to break past cycles of overcommitment and underperformance and instilling an organizational culture to keep this cycle in check, I have found a couple of simple principles critical:

Understanding the end user point of view – many times, IT organizations perform poorly in the credibility department because their definition of positive outcomes is entirely different from that used by the end user community. This is what leads to pain points and jackhammer issues in the first place. Getting the IT organization to view their work in the same way as its end users is a critical shift for IT organizations if you want to remove these issues permanently. Doing so is one of the prime ways an IT organization can develop or sustain their credibility, whether they are reinforcing past success or breaking out of past cycles of overcommitment and underperformance.

Focus on effectiveness – it is effectiveness, defined from the viewpoint of end users, which leads to improved performance and increased credibility. Many times, particularly when dealing with tougher relationships and the need to manage expectations, the burden of history and what was fair or unfair in the past remains lurking in the background. Stop thinking about it! In each and every conversation you have about IT services, simply focus on what it takes to become more effective, regardless of what has transpired in the past.

Most importantly – never be afraid to apologize when performance has fallen short of expectations, but at the same time don’t put yourself in a more difficult position moving forward in order to make up for it. Instead, as Bryson says, zero in on those pain points – those jackhammer issues –with a laser like focus on becoming more effective. More than anything else, these steps will help IT organizations become more credible, regardless of whether their leadership is new or well established. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


At the 2012 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) Symposium a few weeks ago, I was asked to tape an interview on the use of analytics in higher education. Here's the clip.

First thing after seeing this, one of my staff asked how well I have taken my own advice (see clip of me near the end). Probably not as well as I should, but when thinking about analytics having good authoritative data and a well-defined area of inquiry are critical.

Thanks to EDUCAUSE for including me in this clip.

Friday, August 10, 2012

EITS Status and Activity Report for August 2012

Over the past ten years, I have found it helpful to issue a monthly CIO report on the status and activities of the organizations reporting to me. We begin this tradition at the University of Georgia this month. Below you will find a link to our status and activity report for the month of August 2012.

EITS Status and Activity Report for August 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

What ConnectUGA is About

One of the more memorable experiences from earlier in my career was sitting with the Director of Human Resources at Texas A&M and hearing her recount a frustrating experience she had had with the IT director managing the University’s payroll system. She and I were talking about a project to better manage the University’s classification and employment records and she was telling me about her need for authoritative data about employees. What she got from the payroll system wasn’t quite what she wanted and certainly was less helpful than expected. When Susan asked the IT director about what some of the data meant he responded by saying “what do you want the data to mean?” And that was one of my first real lessons on why authoritative data is really, really, important.

Most in higher education can recount a similar experience when faced with an inability to get at timely, accurate, and authoritative information when it was needed. Yet, among the same group of individuals, you would never find a single one who could tell you when either they or someone they know made the conscious decision to choose not to have authoritative data. That’s because problems with data management in higher education do not happen because of commitments we make at a more conceptual level, it happens as the sum total of smaller, more isolated decisions that don’t seem to matter much by themselves, but over-time result in untenable situations where institutions are not sure how much timely and accurate data they really have and where it might be. That shortcoming is handicapping higher education at a very critical juncture in its history.

Timely, responsive, and accurate data has never been more important to institutions of higher education. When you look at the challenges institutions face collectively, as well as the challenges each institution faces uniquely, responding to them requires that decision-maker’s have the most relevant, the most timely, and the most authoritative data available to them to inform decision-making. Student information system replacement projects like the one we are now embarking on at UGA – the ConnectUGA project – at their core are really building better capacity for authoritative data.

The challenge with such projects is that it is very easy to get off track and if you are not careful you can end up on a circular path that leads you back to the same exact circumstances that you began with. That’s because technical issues tend to not be the largest drivers behind a lack of authoritative data, it is a symptom of decentralized business practices, too much decision-making by exception instead of policy, and by many times choosing specialization when best practices would have been enough. A project charter that outlines the desired outcomes of the project, the guiding principles that are associated with those outcomes, plus appropriate financial resources and an institutional commitment to stick to it are key if these projects are to avoid the circular path. We are blessed to have all of those things at the University of Georgia.

But as critical as they are, those are not the most important component. In the end, successful projects find that their work was really about people and was much less about the technology itself. The expertise, dedication, loyalty, and creativity of the individuals working on these projects are the reason they succeed. They are the most valuable and important resource that the entire institution possesses. In this regard, we are very blessed at the University of Georgia as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Clarity, Honesty, and Steadfastness

Don’t expect a lot of consistency if you ask CIOs who they should report to.

Is reporting to the President (or Chancellor / CEO) necessary to be effective as CIO? Some CIOs I know aspire to report to a President because of the perceived credibility and political heft that comes from reporting to the top. Others I know say that it only needs to be one of the three primary C-level executives (President, Provost, or CFO/COO) but not necessarily the President. The latter view is one that I tend to agree with. Reporting to one of the three chief executives helps to ensure that the CIO is positioned to weave IT strategy and facilitate IT operations effectively throughout the entire organization, consistent with the organization’s unique culture and the CIOs established credibility (which is probably the biggest long-term driver of CIO effectiveness).

I do believe that it is vital that CIOs have some regular face time with the President, but not just for the reasons you might think. Serving as a University President is one of the more demanding jobs that there is, and being around a good one will teach you more about leadership than you will ever find in any book. Over the past ten years I have been fortunate to have been around three of the best: Robert Gates at Texas A&M, Andrew Benton at Pepperdine, and Michael Adams at the University of Georgia. My time with them has taught me three important things about leadership that are vital to being effective as a CIO.
  • Clarity matters. Good leaders are ones who can communicate a vision, strategy, and set of goals in clear and concise terms that let each and every employee know their role and responsibility in supporting the effort. When doing so leaders find it much easier to quickly change the strategic direction of any organization whether large or small. In our fast changing world being a change agent is a regular part of a CIO's job.
  • Honesty is expected. IT is a critical function for any organization and IT operations are many times fraught with difficulty and risks. In communicating about challenges, opportunities, and risks, the glass is never half-empty or half-full; there are only facts and honest appraisals of those facts. Learning how to sit one-on-one with a President and have a frank conversation – whether it is about discussing risks or delivering bad news – is a rite of passage for every CIO.
  • Steadfastness is required. Exercising leadership is about creating context by convening conversations about mission, strategy, and goals, collecting data and accepting the wisdom of others, making decisions, and then sticking with them – even when they prove to be unpopular. Effective leaders strive for consensus without insisting on it, while not being stubborn or inflexible. A good CIO knows how to do both.    
All CIOs finds themselves faced with challenges that require clarity, honesty, and steadfastness. Being around a campus President is one of the best ways to learn how to exercise leadership over large organizations, and these traits matter. Developing them is crucial for any CIO who desires to sit at the executive table or keep their seat once they have earned it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dysfunctional Politics?

Last week Gail and I watched a PBS documentary on Harry Truman and found the parallels between the presidential election of 1948 and the current election striking. Anytime you turn on the news you can’t get away from media attention on our supposed dysfunctional government and the inability of our political leaders to compromise. Is today’s political dysfunction unique in our history? Not really, it’s par for the course.
  • Go back to the presidential election of 1984, the rancor then over tax policy and federal deficits sounds eerily familiar to what we hear on the presidential campaign trail today.
  • The relationship between the president and congress in 1948 parallels what is happening in Washington today. Issues such as the proper role of government and the question of free enterprise vs. government overreach were as key then as they are now.
While compromise remains critical to our collective history, political compromise at the federal level seems to happen more often during narrow windows of opportunity either before or after elections. Beyond that both parties tend to stay in their corners, hardening their differences and waiting for the next election to settle them.

If you are interested in some historical perspective on the nature of political division in the United States, pick up a copy of Ed Larson’s A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. Gail and I got to know Ed while at Pepperdine University and this book will reveal that both partisan rancor and nasty, personal politics are a part of our country’s DNA. Later this year John Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power promises to shed some light on the origins of current debates on freedom, economic vibrancy, and the role of the state.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Favorite Tweets from #ECAR12

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2012 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Symposium last week. One of the things that I appreciate about these smaller EDUCAUSE events is that they provide a setting for more intimate conversations (or sometimes rigorous debates) about key issues in higher education. This year’s topic was analytics and both the speakers and panelists were excellent. Let me recap the symposium by sharing with you my favorite Tweets from the event.

We started off the event with a great talk by Henry Eyring (@majordecisions) from BYU Idaho about the need for change in higher education. One of the things I appreciated about his talk was that he presented a hierarchy of different needs that encompasses all of what higher education today offers, from the research university to continuing education programs.

Many conversations about change and reform were discussed in light of the recent governance controversies at the University of Virginia. Given that there were attendees from UVA this was not surprising. Conversations about the need for change were prefaced with an assumption that reforms should flow from and work within the established culture of higher education if they are to be successful.

There was also an implicit assumption that it is what people do with technology that matters; that successful outcomes tend to have less to do with the technology itself.

Another interesting conversation concerned the role of the CIO, who often have a strategic view on University issues because of nature of the services provided by their organizations. Several panelists suggested that CIOs should not be shy about sharing that strategic view; but there was recognition that doing so required credibility.

In fact, you only really get to be involved in more strategic conversations if you do your day job competently - running that utility business known as IT.

Finally, there was lots of talk about the IT / Institutional Research partnership, which was viewed as critical if campuses are to get serious about building better support for the use of analytics. Again the emphasis was on what we do with technology and less about the technology itself - a view that I try to always be mindful of.

Congratulations to Susan Grajek and her staff at EDUCAUSE for a great event!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" Looks Like

Late afternoon on Friday, September 30, 2011 I got a call from our Information Security Officer who told me that there was a report of a Web accessible file containing 18,000+ records of sensitive personal information on UGA employees. And so I began my career as Chief Information Officer at the University of Georgia. My first month on the job was focused on responding to this incident and working with others to put together a plan to reduce the risk of something like it happening again. Phase 1 of those efforts, directed primarily at better securing routine transfers of sensitive personal information, has just been completed.

Since that disclosure over 11,000 hours of effort have been directed at examining, eliminating, or encrypting regular transfers of sensitive personal information, with the result being a 93% reduction in the routine transfer of such files. Additionally, where such transfers are required for business or regulatory purposes, the sensitive personal information is encrypted so as to reduce the risk of inadvertent disclosure should the file be lost or intercepted.

For my organization, completing this work was a mammoth effort that required us to turn the strategic direction of our application development teams on a dime so that they could focus on this project and complete this necessary work. For CIOs and IT organizations trying to get their hands around big projects that sometimes lack momentum, here’s what worked for us.
  • Depend on your best and brightest. The project succeeded because it was led by the right team of individuals who, possessing the right competencies, were ready to take on a project of this magnitude. I’ve yet to be let down when handing off our biggest challenges to our best and brightest employees.
  • Clear their plate of all other responsibilities, there must be no distractions. Big projects require focus, so when assigning your team a big project you must clear their plate of all other responsibilities. Otherwise, the priority work really isn’t a priority.
  • Support from those outside IT is critical. In the case of our remediation efforts, the tradeoff for prioritizing this work was less attention for regular, routine requests for application support. Having support from our University leadership and administrative departments for this shift in resources was critical.
We are not yet done; this is only phase 1 of our efforts to more fully protect sensitive personal information at the University of Georgia. As we move forward, our implementation of the Banner student and financial aid systems will continue these efforts on the student information side of our administrative applications. On the finance and human resource information side, we are working application by application to identify and take advantage of opportunities to better protect the use of sensitive personal information. While we will never be able to eliminate the risks of disclosure of sensitive information, these efforts will go a long way towards reducing them through enhanced awareness and better technical controls.

Last year I wrote a piece for EDUCAUSE Quarterly called "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" where I argued that we need to keep strategic activities in-sourced and that more transactional IT support activities are stronger candidates for outsourcing. I think that many times we get this backwards, particularly when we hire expensive teams of consultants to tell us what to do about complex problems we don't fully understand. Our approach to UGA's SSN remediation efforts mirror what I believe is the right approach. The thought leadership about what we should do, how we should do it, and when was accomplished by our management team in EITS, led by Jenna King. When we needed more help with the more transactional parts of the project, specifically the editing of mainframe programs and JCL's, we turned to a third-party IT services firm for additional support. This is what "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" looks like in reality. In my fifteen years in this business, I have never been more proud of the work of a group of individuals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Student Centered Reform Might Look Like

A few weeks ago I caught a quote in the Wall Street Journal by Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System. In discussing the resistance by the UT Board of Regents to continued increases in undergraduate tuition he stated "the trend of consistently raising tuition to counter reductions from other funding sources is not sustainable for students and parents." Therein lies the problem: if you plot out the current trajectory of tuition increases, by 2030 a traditional college education could likely be out of reach for all but those with substantial economic means.

I worry that higher education reforms, particularly those focusing on scalability and access (think online education), could result in a two-tier system where those with economic means benefit from a traditional experience while those without such means are left with something potentially far less. I would be willing to bet that both elite private institutions and research-oriented public flagships would remain viable in 2030 even at $130,428 or $57,609 a year, but less selective public institutions and tuition-dependent privates likely would not; thus requiring reforms that potentially lead to a two-tiered system. While we must alter our present course, we must do so in a way that ensures that higher education reduces social and economic inequity and does not perpetuate it by decoupling access from student ability.

A recent bright spot in my weekly reading was an article discussing what students want from a reformed higher education, which contained some real nuggets of wisdom.
  • The face-to-face experience matters. While social networking tools and online communications constantly consume student’s attention, it often results in social isolation that is undesirable when it comes to learning. While students think online courses are good for completing prerequisites or obtaining remedial instruction, they want face-to-face collaborative learning experiences with faculty and other students.
  • They want earlier career advice that ties career choices to a major. While most students engaged in a deliberative, thoughtful process to select a school, their major was often chosen haphazardly. Students want to be engaged about career choices and majors in a more thoughtful and deliberate way once they step on campus.
  • Majors are less important than they used to be. Students feel that the notion of a traditional field of study is outdated and has more to do with how faculty organize their work and less to do with what serves student needs. Students would prefer a set of learning experiences that emphasize information processing, increases their capacity for critical thinking, and helps them to become better communicators, regardless of subject matter.
Such a model would not be a one-size-fit-all model exclusively centered on career development, but one that would allow students the opportunity to design their own learning experiences consistent with their unique goals and aspirations. If we follow their advice we just might be onto something.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So, where do your kids go to school?

Last week, after reading what must have been more than two dozen pieces on the need for change in higher education, in such forums as the New York Times, Forbes, the Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher EducationI tweeted the following.

Later, I started pressing some of the tweeters using #highered and #edtech whether or not the revolutionary changes they advocate would provide a sufficient higher education for their own children and grandchildren.

@tvanderark dodged my question. So did @Learn4Work, especially when I asked her if her own traditional education (via Linkedin) is the “elite education” that now might be worthy of some scorn.

It seems that not a week goes by without some conservative, liberal, or libertarian thought leader (think David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, or Richard Vedder) decrying our supposedly broken higher education system, with its out-of-control costs, unproductive faculty, and inability to fully prepare students for successful careers. While it is true that we have to figure out how to take out costs, increase productivity, and become more competency focused – that is far too broad of a stroke to paint us all with. I'll stand any day for the education that is delivered by the University of Georgia or that my kids received from Texas A&M. My own hypothesis is that when you control for student ability, the selectivity of their college or university, and the quality of their secondary education, you find that higher education does a much better job than it gets credit for. But that doesn't make for sensational headlines.

That's not my point though. The real question for me is what type of higher education do we want for our kids and grandkids? Do we aspire for them a more traditional experience that broadly prepares them to be fully engaged citizens? Or, do we want something that is designed more for vertical scalability (think MOOCs), driven by cost-effectiveness, and aimed largely at career development? Count me as being naive, but I still believe that the better you do at the former, the better the chance the latter takes care of itself.

But that is not what I am worried about. My fear is that reliance on market-based reforms and decreased emphasis on regulation, particularly controls on federally sponsored financial aid, will have the same effect as they have had throughout our economy: a widening separation between the haves and the have-nots and further undermining of the American middle class. We have to reform higher education, but we cannot do it in a way that preserves a traditional higher education for those with economic means and something much different and potentially far less for everyone else. We should have higher aspirations for our kids and our grandkids.

Anyway, I’ll get more excited about what David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Richard Vedder have to say about #highered reform when they tell me where they want their kids and grandkids to go to school.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If I Could Do It Again...

Lately, we have been doing some concept work at UGA EITS around Amazon Web Services (AWS) and what its cloud computing, storage, and other services could mean for us. I am very intrigued by the possibility of moving from a model where we throw large one-time dollars ($) at capital needs, buying capacity for some hypothetical peak use that happens sparingly. This approach also drives our software licensing costs through the roof, because those licenses are also specified for the maximum peak usage scenario. I wonder, with most UGA students now gone for the summer, how many servers in the data center are sitting idle?

As we have been thinking about the possibilities of leveraging AWS, I have been reflecting on my experience bringing up the IT infrastructure for a new college of engineering in Qatar (2003 – 2007). Today, the IT infrastructure in place at the Texas A&M University branch campus there mirrors what you might find at any university. There is a data center, many racks of servers, a SAN for storage and backup needs, and a large high performance computing center to support faculty research. Had cloud-based services like AWS been viable in 2003, how might things have been done differently?
  • Our network design and implementation plan would remain unchanged. Getting the Qatar Foundation and Qtel to give us two OC3 equivalents to the United States, connecting to Internet2, was a brilliant move by Pierce Cantrell and one that continues to pay dividends. 
  • For authentication and identity services, we would have extended current LDAP/Kerberos/Active Directory services from the main campus into an AWS EC2 instance and then down to a local physical server in Qatar (as opposed to bringing up our own AD forest). This would allow employees to authenticate with the credentials they already know and would have allowed us to get better economies of scale around identity management.
  • For employee email, we would have adopted Live@edu because it works better with Microsoft Outlook calendaring. For students, we would have put them into the student email system from the main campus (instead of bringing up a separate physical Microsoft Exchange instance supporting everyone).
  • No way to get around the need for a local file server (because of network dependency and latency issues), but one physical server acting as an AWS S3 Storage Gateway would make sure that all files are automatically backed up to the U.S. For PCs and servers (virtual and physical) an AWS based solution like JungleDisk would also ensure that backups automatically reside in the U.S (as opposed to a tape backup system in Qatar).
  • All application servers, database services, Web servers, and the like would be delivered through AWS EC2 and RDS instances (as opposed to bringing up dozens of physical servers). In regards to PCs, the traditional desktop model would reign – network dependency and latency issues would make virtual desktop computing too risky. 
  • In regards to high performance computing, faculty researchers with the need for parallel processing capabilities would have been handed credits for AWS EC2 instances and S3 storage (as opposed to building large computing clusters physically). For faculty whose research required large shared-memory computing, such as that for visualization, a large shared memory machine physically on the ground would be required (as was implemented in Qatar).
Nine years of technological evolution, together with an identical amount of experience and maturity on my part, would lead me to take a fundamentally different approach to building out the IT infrastructure for this campus. In the end I would expect that services would be more flexible, require less upfront capital investment, and benefit from more efficient and productive disaster recovery / business continuity mechanisms. But the real benefit is this - instead of spending so much time on physical IT we might have been able to focus just a little bit more on the people side of IT. That’s what makes the adoption of cloud-based services like AWS truly compelling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Taking Things Away

This past weekend, I caught a Tweet by my good friend Nancy Hays (@EDUCAUSEEditor) mentioning Thomas Friedman’s latest missive “Do You Want the Good News First?” Friedman describes changing economic conditions as our world shifts from one based on one-to-many exchanges to a world where central authority has been eroded and decentralization rules on a massive scale. Friedman’s points are simple: first, that we need to recognize those shifts and embrace them; and second, we must continue to build a strong economic foundation by investing in education and research which, together with a prudent immigration policy, will allow us to take better advantage of these shifts.

So, just what are these shifts?
As CIO’s we are not immune from these forces. We have to focus a little less on the traditional responsibilities of resource allocation and policy enforcement (i.e. gatekeepers) and become stewards of innovation and conveners of important conversations on campus. We also have to stop doing things that matter less in order to invest in things that matter much more. Some of our collective opportunities include:
  • Email and storage services – if you are not out of these businesses yet you are late to the game. Microsoft and Google are ready for you.
  • BYOD is a real possibility – but proceed carefully in concert with your students and faculty. We’re not too far from the day when we can begin decommissioning most of the large computing labs that have been built over the past fifteen years.
  • Data centers – cloud computing is becoming more viable so start your research now. At some point in three, five, or seven years it will be time to decide that we no longer have to run large data centers when Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM can provide utility services that scale at an incremental cost.
As we take things away, it is critical that the underlying resources be shifted to those things that are real differentiators for higher education. Your campus network, its backbone, and its connectivity to the world has never mattered more as online collaboration between faculty and students drives revolutionary changes in learning. And having accurate and timely information, flowing from centrally supported administrative systems, has never been more important for academic and administrative decision-makers. Forward-thinking CIOs will be the ones who stop doing lots of things in order to shift scarce resources to these critical areas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yes, I believe Platform APIs Should be Protected by Copyright

I am not sure how many takers I have when it comes to the principles espoused in last week’s blog regarding intellectual property protection in a many-to-many world. To respond to some would-be criticisms of these ideas, let me be precise about my thinking.
  1. No, I don’t believe that every.toString() interface should be protected by copyright. I am being very specific when I use the phrase “platform APIs” and by that I mean the entire set of APIs that constitute a platform. It is the platform and its corresponding APIs that I believe deserve copyright protection.

  2. In the case of platform APIs, I believe that the definition of infringement should be narrowly construed to apply only to those instances where a party’s reverse engineering of a platform is motivated by a desire to avoid negotiating with or obtaining a license from the creator / owner of the platform. In the case of Oracle vs. Google, I am persuaded that this was the case.
I’m not convinced by those who would suggest that extending copyright protection in this way would make the use of programming languages unworkable, particularly concepts like inheritance. Nonsense. Every time I install a set of developer tools, including open-source tools, I have to agree to a click-through license agreement. Thus, when programming I am already doing so through a license agreement with the intellectual property creator / owner. And for those intellectual property owners who would seek to use such protections to engage in abusive or monopolistic practices, I remain confident that free market forces would deter such behavior. Nothing destroys a platform’s viability more quickly than engaging in behavior that drives developers away. At a minimum, the situation would be no different than what we experience today when vendors seek to lock customers into their hardware or software platforms.

But what about the traditional distinctions between copyright, which is thought to protect creative expression, and patents, which is thought to protect unique functions or processes? A traditional view would suggest that APIs do not represent creative expression in the same sense as music or literature, and that patent law is more applicable to the functions and process represented by platform APIs. My response is this, that the traditional distinctions between copyright and patent protection are best suited to a world dominated by one-to-many relationships or one-to-many economic exchanges, where there are consistent and regular vertical and hierarchical structures that protect the rights of intellectual property creators (or at a minimum deter would be infringers). But in a world of many-to-many relationships, or a world characterized by many-to-many economic exchanges, the sometimes chaotic forces unleashed by widespread availability of cheap storage, digital distribution, and technical know-how requires a different approach (see this blog post). Dealing with these forces have left intellectual property creators to do things that make little sense and could actually stifle innovation (through patents on things such as one-click shopping). They need better avenues to protect their innovations.

At a minimum, I am deeply troubled by the prospect of individuals copying the APIs of an entire platform, and reverse engineering the implementation of those interfaces, when their primary motive is to avoid obtaining a license from the intellectual property creator / owner. We need a better way to protect the efforts of intellectual property owners while also creating an environment where those creators feel free to innovate. The long-term viability of a dynamic and growing economy depends on it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rethinking Intellectual Property Protection in a Many-to-Many World

When it comes to the partial verdict in the Oracle vs. Google trial, I am pleased with the jury decisions thus far. This dispute, over whether the reverse engineering of platform APIs amounts to copyright infringement, may prove critical as we seek to reconceive what intellectual property protection means in a world dominated by many-to-many exchanges. Here is where the case is as of today.

  • Oracle has enjoyed a partial verdict. On the first critical issue, whether Google infringed on Java's platform APIs, the jury rules in the affirmative – a resounding victory for Oracle.
  • On the second critical issue, whether the copying of platform APIs can be considered “fair use”, the jury deadlocked – which some feel is a win for Google.

In the past, when vertical one-to-many exchanges were typical, the very nature of efficiency and productivity yielded more centralized authority that was better able to leverage monopoly power in the protection of intellectual property (see this previous blog post for more context). In today’s world of many-to-many exchanges, facilitated through the speed and efficiency of the Internet, power is much more diffuse. When it comes to the protection of intellectual property, the availability of low-cost storage, software for dissembling and removing digital rights protection, and ease of know-how, has rendered traditional barriers to copyright theft less than effective.

In one sense, broadening the definition and applicability of copyright and patent protection is one solution and the partial decision in Oracle vs. Google reflects that approach. Should the judge ultimately find that platform APIs are subject to copyright protection, this decision would allow intellectual property creators to stand on firmer ground when seeking to establish control over the use and distribution of their innovations. In regards to the second key issue – whether the copying of APIs amounts to fair use of intellectual property, the court should stand down for now. Deciding this issue might inevitably tip the scale too far in the favor of either intellectual property creators or those who use or distribute their innovations. The judge in this case would be wise to put the case back in the hands of both parties for a negotiated settlement - under the threat of resolving the remaining issues in an unfavorable way for all parties. Doing so would leave the resolution of this dispute in the hands of free market participants who can best settle their claims through negotiation.

These are critical issues. One thing that has helped Western economies remain the traditional anchors of innovation has been a rich tradition of protecting the rights of intellectual property creators. Absent such protections, the innovative engine powering our economy could be at risk. While the world of many-to-many exchanges is fast eroding traditional notions of power and authority, we would be wise to not let this erosion undermine intellectual property protection. Our economic vibrancy depends on it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Don't Dictate, Facilitate"

Last August, Andrew Barbour (see "An Issue of Credibility"), executive editor of Campus Technology asked me if I would be willing to write an op-ed on the changing nature of IT leadership in higher education. This is a real honor for me personally and professionally. It was shortly after the start of this year that I turned to the task of writing this piece, doing so while I was also putting together a planned keynote for February on the changing nature of higher education. The topics dovetail well: both IT and higher education are in a symbiotic relationship and are working through the ramifications of shift from a world based on one-to-many relationships to a world based on many-to-many relationships. The final piece, "Don't Dictate, Facilitate" hit the physical shelves and online world today. Here's a brief introduction.

As IT professionals, we are just starting to come to terms with what the internet has truly wrought. For the better part of 10 years, we viewed the internet age as a shift from a bricks-and-mortar world to an online, digital world. CIOs and their IT organizations expected to be at the forefront of the resulting transformation of higher education. We were wrong.

To a large degree, "Don't Dictate, Facilitate" creates context for understanding the principles on IT leadership and organizational change first laid out in "A Roadmap for IT Leadership and the Next Ten Years" and "Technical Skills No Longer Matter". I do strongly believe that we are just at the cusp of radical change for both IT organizations and higher education. What we have been through the past five years doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what is to come. IT organizations, in my view, have a simple choice: adapt to the economic scarcity, decentralization, and decentered authority flowing from today's many-to-many world or wither on the vine. This, I believe, is the challenge for IT leaders today.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

EITS Priorities for the Next Year

It is that time of the year where we have completed both employee performance reviews and our annual reporting to the University on accomplishments for the past year. We are also wrapping up our annual TechQual+ survey of students, faculty, and staff which provides crucial data on where we are in regards to the effective delivery and use of IT at the University of Georgia. As we complete our assessment and planning each year, I have found it helpful to write a memorandum to the organizations reporting to me that outline our collective priorities for the next year. That memorandum went out Thursday afternoon and over the course of the next twelve months you will see us focus on the following.

Priority #1: We shall update the Compact Planning Process by adopting TechQual+ as the starting point for annual IT planning and making it the foundation of our annual assessment processes. These processes shall culminate each year in an annual planning memorandum that shall reflect on what has been accomplished and that shall set out priorities for the following year. Our Leadership Council shall be the body charged with annually analyzing and preparing recommendations for me based on this data, and I would like to see the Information Technology Managers Forum (ITMF) to be engaged in this endeavor in a meaningful way (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 1, Goal 1a, 1b, 2a, 3b). I have asked Lynn Latimer Wilson to take ownership of this goal.

Priority #2: We shall embark on a collaborative project to revise and update our present system for career ladders and position descriptions, in order to develop greater precision that defines for you the career choices that are available to you in EITS, the areas where you should invest in your own professional development in order to maximize your potential for advancement, and to provide clarity on what is expected of you. In do so we shall aspire for a new model that does not artificially separate technical from functional, but instead emphasizes technology as a necessary but not sufficient condition, and versatility in terms of communication, planning, functional knowledge, and leadership as an additional necessary condition for effective employee performance. I hope to begin this process of reassessment this fall, and you can expect to have the opportunity to participate in this process by working together to define those traits necessary for the success of your areas and those that distinguish high performers among their peers. (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 10, Goal 1a, 2a). I have asked Alan Katz to take ownership over this goal.

Priority #3: As a parallel endeavor, I shortly shall be convening a group of staff and managers to revise our performance evaluation process to ensure that it provides us with an appropriate way to evaluate the productivity and effectiveness of the work that each of you undertakes each day. My desire is to have a new performance review form ready for consideration by the Leadership Council by July 1, 2012 and use during mid-year performance reviews this summer (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 10, Goal 2a, 4a). I will be asking for three representatives from both our staff advisory board and managers advisory board to serve on this group.

Priority #4: Building on the momentum established by our Training Council, we shall reallocate internally over the coming four budget years so as to build a stable, base pool of funding to support employee training and professional development that is no less than 3% of our level of state funding, or approximately $480,000 annually (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 10, Goal 2a, 4a). Lynn Latimer Wilson and Donna Chandler have previously been tasked with ownership over our Training Council processes.

Priority #5: We need to develop a comprehensive methodology for application development and system implementation – one that will provide all of us with better tools as we propose projects, estimate their required resources, manage scope changes during implementation, and contract for those services. Doing so will result in a strengthening of our capabilities for costing, scoping, and change management that will in turn lead to improved consistency of approach, better definition of requirements and cost, and better understanding and acceptance by our customers (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 1, Goal 1, 2a, 4b). I have asked Greg Topp to take ownership over this project, to be assisted by Danna Gianforte.

Priority #6: We need to simplify the policy, standards, and practices in regards to information security, so as to reduce complexity and improve understanding across the University. I would also like to see us redesign the information security Web site to improve usability and provide a consistent look and feel with the EITS Web site (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 5, Goal 1a, 4a, 5a). I have asked Brian Rivers to take ownership over this goal.

Priority #7: We must continue to invest in the University network, in terms of capacity and redundancy, and security. By the beginning of the fall 2012 semester, I hope that we will have in place two 10gb connections to our regional network provider, and we will have increased commodity Internet capacity that exceeds what is currently available through PeachNet and that should meet our capacity needs for the coming years. We should also adopt a commercial package for extending network authentication in an easy-to-use way for end users that is consistent across both wired and wireless access. I want to see us move to one common SSID for wireless networks across the entire University of Georgia (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 4, Goal 3, 3a). I have asked Brian Rivers to take ownership over this goal. 

Priority #8: We need to eliminate the service delivery, financial, and technical issues that pose obstacles to our establishing central control over the network from the campus core to every wall jack and to every wireless access point across the entire University. However, this shall not be a project that is enacted through policy changes and central authority, but one driven by delivering a higher quality of network support at a significantly lower cost, while allowing distributed IT staff to better focus their efforts on strategic activities local to their unit. Our first step in this process shall be a significant reduction in network support partnership rates at the silver and gold level, that could begin as soon as FY13 (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 6, Goal 1a). I have asked Alan Katz to take ownership over this goal.

Priority #9: We shall be reorganizing, parallel to the Banner implementation, to form an integrated portal, Web content management, middleware, and integration team that can take on new initiatives – either those of our customers on a cost recovery basis or those strategic projects that are funded centrally. A multidisciplinary team, akin to what Purdue has established with their STUDIO team, is my aspiration (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 1, Goal 5a; Strategic Direction 2, Goal 1, 1d, 1e). I have asked Danna Gianforte to take ownership over this goal.

Priority #10: It shall be the goal of all of EITS to internally reallocate 20% of its base state funding over the next four years. The share of this burden undertaken in our administration and business affairs (the overhead in EITS) shall be greater, equal to 30% of current expenses. These reallocated funds shall provide a stable level of support for the initiatives outlined in this memorandum, as well as those to be outlined in future memorandum. In doing so, we simply cannot opt for “starving the beast” or “trying to do more with less.” Our success in reallocation will depend on our ability to eliminate redundant shadow systems, platforms, and processes, invest in automation that increases all of our productivity, and leveraging better economies of scale in terms of technology but also our own internal expertise. Everyone throughout the organization has an important part in helping us reach this critical goal (Information Technology Master Plan Strategic Direction 8, Goal 1, 6). 

Come back in one year for an update on how we have fared with these priorities.

Monday, February 20, 2012

This Week's Reading List

A faculty member grapples with loss of authority, higher learning for a one-to-many world, and a pioneering school continues to innovate, all on this week's reading list.

"The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia"
This is a very nice article in The Chronicle Review that covers the experiences of a faculty member, a known expert in a certain field, who attempts to "correct" a Wikipedia article covering his area of expertise. What follows is a frustrating experience for the faculty member, but is characteristic of what happens when one-to-many notions of authority collide with our many-to-many world.

"MIT launches free online 'fully automated' course"
MITx continues to lead the development of online coursework. All portions of this fully free course, on the subject of circuits and electronics, are online: including the course content, the exercises and virtual laboratory, and discussion forums. The course is proclaimed to be just as rigorous as the same course on the Boston campus. The question remains: is this indicative of a higher education or an exercise in vocational certification? And if learning becomes separated from face-to-face collaboration, are we really creating the types of innovative thinkers our economy needs?

"A Bachelor's Degree for $10,000"
Excelsior College is known for innovative programs that help adult learners complete a college degree. This announcement of a new program, that pares students together with free, online courses that prepare them for credit by exam testing. President John Ebersole is a leader in this field, and this program ranks up there with the competency-based programs of Western Governors University in terms of outreach to post-traditional college students. When we fully crack the college completion puzzle, it will be because of innovations like this program.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Introducing Valdis Krebs

Last week I blogged about the tensions inherent in the shift from a world characterized by one-to-many relationships to a world characterized by many-to-many relationships. This week I want to continue this thread by talking about changes in the nature of efficiency and power that this shift poses. It is these changes that are driving the social tensions discussed last week. In doing so, I want to introduce the work of social network theorist Valdis Krebs who has done some very influential work on the nature of power in social networks. 

From my earliest childhood memories, I remember sitting at my grandparents breakfast table in the early 1970s and watching my grandfather read the morning newspaper The Tyler Morning Telegraph. This, together with the CBS News at 5:30pm, was the primary way that our family received the news each day. In terms of communication paradigms, this is about as close to the one-to-many form as you can get.

Relative Cost / Efficiency in One-to-Many News Dissemination (Circa 1971)
This way of receiving the news each day was near universal at the time. The hierarchical relationships in the one-to-many model were highly efficient and very low cost. The daily newspaper was less than .25 cents and CBS, ABC, and NBC were basically free if you attached an aluminum antenna to your roof. Communications between others at the bottom of the hierarchy, unless they lived next door, was just the opposite - they were incredibly inefficient and very costly. If we wanted to talk to my Aunt and Uncle in Dallas, about 2 hours away, it took either a stamp and a week or a phone call that would cost much more than .25 cents / minute.

Today, my wife and I both sit at the breakfast table with laptops and with the TV on. By the time we have finished breakfast, we both typically will have responded to a dozen or more email messages and will have read the news from dozens of Web sites or Twitter feeds. When thinking about the costs of the way we consume today's news, our DirectTV subscription at $150/month has replaced what used to be free. But reading email and browsing the Web costs us practically nothing! The nature of the collaborations in the many-to-many world has reversed the efficiencies and costs inherent in the way we consume information and collaborate with others. Today, it tends to be much more inefficient and much more expensive to communicate in a centralized fashion. Many-to-many communications and collaborations are just the opposite.

The relationship between efficiency and cost correlates with the nature of power in both one-to-many and many-to-many networks. This is where the work of Krebs and orgnet is authoritative. 

Valdis Krebs, Power of Networks
Compare the two social networks in the above image: on the left is a typical one-to-many network and on the right is a many-to-many network. Krebs has mapped out the relative power inherent in the relationships of all participants in these networks. In the one-to-many network, the heavy centralization, high efficiency, and low costs of centralized communications results in a power score of 1.0 at the top of the hierarchy and the low efficiency and high cost of communications at the bottom results in a power score of .286 for each participant. Now, compare these power scores to those for the participants in the many-to-many relationship. The significant collaborations and free flow of information, made possible because of the low cost and efficiency of many-to-many collaborations, has diluted the power of participants at the top and have resulted in an even sharing of power between all participants.

With this in mind, let's go back to the examples I highlighted last week:

It is this shift that has disrupted traditional notions of power and authority, whether we are talking about the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the faculty rebellion against publishing giant Elsevier, or the recent backlash against the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

What we see in each of these examples is the power of individuals coming together, through communications and collaborations made possible by the Internet and mobile technologies, to shake up established hierarchies of power and destroy the business models of the past. I have one question for those of us in higher education: what makes us think that we're immune from these forces? And, just for fun, if you happen to be a CIO running a central IT organization think about what these changes pose for your future.

Monday, February 13, 2012

This Week's Reading List

More on the need for change in higher education, an introduction to Obama's data wonk on higher education, and concerns about the college completion agenda, all on this week's reading list.

"What You (Really) Need to Know"
Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary and President of Harvard, takes his turn at the wheel to tell higher education how and why it must change. However, unlike the one-to-many world approaches espoused by some, the recommendations by Summers have some significant many-to-many world potential. At the center of Summer's prescriptions is a focus on learning as a collaboration between faculty and students, with a focus on how to process and use information instead of simply imparting it. Those along with several other juicy nuggets make this a worthwhile read.

"A College-Cost Policy Wonk Brings Data on College Costs to the Table"
Jane Wellman is a "pull no punches" self-proclaimed number cruncher, who is advising President Obama on ways to make higher education more affordable. With a reputation for "calling it as she sees it", Wellman is well known for using data to hold all sides accountable, including both state governments ("public universities are getting screwed, and particularly community colleges are getting screwed") and college presidents (who engage in "trophy building" by hiring expensive researchers who never teach). Wellman's work through the Delta Cost Project on on Postsecondary Education Costs is an influential voice in the debate over the affordability of a higher education.

"We're Losing Our Minds"
Is the college completion agenda, the agenda for increasing the numbers of college graduates, hostile to a learning agenda that focuses on deepening the impacts of a higher learning? It could be, particularly if increased use of technology is done only to increase the scalability of a one-to-many model of imparting knowledge. Also covered, why is it that college professors struggle to leave the one-to-many lecture model? Could it be that they do not receive sufficient instruction in teaching while in graduate school? This makes me think back: in the 100 credit hours of my combined Master's and PhD coursework, only one hour was dedicated to a seminar on teaching.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Using Metrics

EDUCAUSE yesterday released a short video that features me and Martin Klubeck of Notre Dame discussing the importance of metrics.

Martin is the leader when it comes to the use of metrics for IT organizations in higher education, and it was an honor to share the stage with him. His recent book Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results is a valuable resource for IT leaders and it features a case study on my research through the Higher Education TechQual+ Project.

Thanks EDUCAUSE for featuring our work!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tensions Inherent in the Many to Many World

As I prepare my keynote for THE Conference in Doha, Qatar later this month, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the changing dynamics inherit in the shift from the one-to-many world of our past to the many-to-many world of our present and future. If you have been following my twitter feed, you will have noticed my preoccupation with the concept of the many-to-many world. As I think about opportunities at work, challenges and opportunities in higher education, and social struggles in the United States and elsewhere, it's increasingly obvious that many of the tensions we see today are natural consequences of the shift from a world characterized by one-to-many relationships to a world characterized by many-to-many relationships.

I use the phrase "many-to-many" in the context of the different types of electronic communications made possible by the Internet. The first type, the one-to-one form, is represented by email, where one individual uses the Internet to communicate with one person. The second type, the one-to-many form, is represented by the World-Wide-Web, where individuals use platforms like this blog to share and distribute content to as many individuals as possible. The third type, the many-to-many form, is represented by social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, where individuals use the Internet to collaborate with others on a massive scale.

I operate from an assumption that the one-to-one and one-to-many forms were about using the Internet to replicate the basic types of social relationships that existed in the physical world.  But the shift from one-to-many relationships to many-to-many relationships represents something quite different than what has existed previously.

The One-to-Many and the Many-to-Many Worlds

While the Internet resulted in one-to-one and one-to-many communications that were more efficient and less costly, it did nothing to disrupt the traditional, hierarchical relationships present in the physical world. That is to say, that the Internet dramatically increased the scalability of the first two forms of communication, but did not fundamentally change the nature of power and authority inherent in most social relationships - that is, until widespread adoption of social networking sites and mobile devices. With the adoption of these tools, our capability for many-to-many relationships has increased exponentially while the costs for such collaborations has dropped to next to nothing.

This has inverted the value propositions inherent in one-to-many and many-to-many relationships. Previously, hierarchical models were more efficient and less costly, but social networks have changed that. It is this shift that has disrupted traditional notions of power and authority, whether we are talking about the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the faculty rebellion against publishing giant Elsevier, or the recent backlash against the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Each of those stories is about individuals, who tend to have less power in one-to-many relationships, coming together through social networks and leveling the playing field against entrenched powers.

Whether this is good or bad depends upon your perspective, as one individual's positive change can be another individual's mob mentality. This is because the rise of the many-to-many world has also disrupted traditional notions of authenticity. What is fact and what is opinion? If thousands of individuals believe something to be true even though mathematically it might not be possible, does that make it less true or less factual? The post-modernists would say that it doesn't, but it is the nature of these tensions between power, authority, and authenticity that are hallmarks of the many-to-many world that we today find ourselves in.