Our students live in an online world....do you?










One of the greater challenges in the classroom today is bridging the widening gap to students who are more connected than any generation in history. Students are using technologies that many faculty and instructors do not use, much less understand. While the work of faculty is demanding enough, failure to understand these dynamics may place them at a severe disadvantage.

Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, recently stated that the greatest challenge we face in higher education is the explosive evolution of technologies juxtaposed to stagnant pedagogy.

More and more, our students navigate within a real and virtual world of vast amounts of information, media and stimuli. Some of it is very real, such as blogs from war zones, and other parts are more surreal, like gamers. But more than anything else, they are the generation of online social networking. While we sit back and observe, maybe pass judgment on the folly of it all, they are running in information circles around us. They communicate and network like most of us have never known.

Most students have social networking web pages. Maybe on www.mySpace.com, maybe on www.facebook.com. If you want to get to know them, this is where they hang out. Avoid a critical eye; use a listening eye. To know these places and how interaction works is to gain understanding of your students. While some are getting press on irresponsible postings, there is a far greater story about how youth today are presenting themselves, their interests and their skills online. These sophomoric beginnings will evolve to emerging electronic portfolios.

I know. Our two daughters, 17 and 13, and all their friends, live for this. They take pictures, post them online, write and chat with others. They record videos, edit and integrate with sound and special effects, then post to youtube.com and link to their pages. As parents, we emphasize safety and etiquette, and share stories about how some people make big mistakes, but mostly we allow them their rites of passage.

These tools and skills will become increasingly important as they enter a complex, networked employment world.

How can you use this information to reach out in new ways, to incorporate some of your coursework into an online experience? First, spend some time online. Get into Facebook and find your way to Plymouth University. Look up some of your students. You might even ask them for their facebook addressees.

You might want to create your own page in Face.book. A few of your colleagues are already there. Check out this one: http://plymouth.facebook.com/profile.php?id=44603719

You don't need to be a convert, but if you know your students better, this information can be useful in connecting with them in class and helping them better understand the material you teach.

You can also use some of the more dynamic tools in WebCT to strike up some conversations in ways you never dreamed.

I'm not saying whether this is good or bad. In fact, there are elements of both in this new world. I am saying, however, that any tendency to shrug this off as a passing fad is to miss a key ingredient in understanding students of today. They are the employees of tomorrow. Those who will be successful will be those who exploit their online networking and community.


PSU Directories

There’s been a lot of reaction to the new PSU print directory. I was involved in the decision not to include employees in this year's directory. Here’s some of the background.

The central issue is this: The print directory is a cumbersome process to produce. Not so much for student listings, but employees. It is driven by a publication deadline, designed to get this to campus as soon as possible after the start of the semester. This deadline generates the need to have all employee listings by the end of August. That may seem easy, but it’s far more challenging and time consuming than it looks. First, not everyone is on campus during the month of August when this information is needed. Second, we are hiring a lot of people right up to, and beyond, September. As a result, the employee directory is an incomplete snapshot of who is here at the end of August. And even then, titles and roles change, so a large percentage of the employee listings are incomplete or inaccurate. When the print directories arrive, and throughout the year, we weather a storm of complaints about the directory.

Over the summer, our folks in ITS spent a lot of time developing and making improvements to the search function in myPlymouth. In fact, our web portal is one of the finest I know. myPlymouth is the envy of a lot of schools. When our folks go to industry conferences, colleagues from other schools are ravenous to hear how we do it. They waive registration fees for many of our people just so they’ll come and talk. I could not be more proud to oversee such a fine information system and the talented individuals who put it together.

Given those two factors, I advocated for a shift from print to online directories. This was presented to the President’s Cabinet last spring, at which time they responded that the print directory was still needed. To alleviate a no-win situation on the employee directory, I made the call to place the emphasis on the online directories and rolling out the new voice activated directory. And acknowledging that there are many who still need a print version, we made that available for anyone to print.

Since the directory was delivered, here’s some of the feedback we’ve received. Thanks to the many of you who delivered this feedback in tactful ways. 😉

The print version used to have titles attached to each individual. The online look up function does not include them. People would like that back.

Response: This provokes a bit of humorous history. Several years ago, the print directory had many employees listed with their official titles in the Banner system. Yet they were truncated to something like 8 characters. We had many ‘admin ass’ who were none too pleased. Thus began a laborious, annual process to get the data from Banner and go through and edit them. This added to HR’s burden and duress in August. However, because we know this is important to you, we’ll be looking for ways to get that info into the online directory.

Many people simply prefer the tactile print booklet. It’s always there, even when you log off or power down. It’s very easy grab and look up.

Response: Touche'. Which is why it is still printed. But we want your employee data to be as accurate as possible. A printed insert is available in myPlymouth. It’s only as accurate as the point in time which it was produced.

The advantage of the online version is accuracy, currency and darn near 24/7 availability. And when you leave the office, and the print version, you can access directory information from home or elsewhere.

The online version is pretty good for individual look ups. Nice improvements over the summer. But hey, can you speed it up? If you search by department, you can go get coffee before it is completed.

Response: Thanks, and we’ll be working to speed it up.

Who the heck made this decision without seeking input from users?

Response: That would be me. And this is where you can comment and give me some feedback. I simply ask that you let things settle a bit and spend some time using the two new systems. Dial 3333, call a colleague. Try it. Spend some time in myPlymouth. This is and will continue to be where more and more information is stored.

We are committed to making these new systems work for you. Please understand that we cannot simply add new functions online without letting go of some old processes. That is and will continue to be my mantra.

That said, we will compile the feedback received this year and consolidate it into recommendations for next year's issue.

This is unfair to the trades people. They often don't have ready access to computers. They keep a print directory with them and use it often.

Response: That is why we created an alternative print copy. I know it’s an extra step to get and print it, but it’s there for you to get and place within your print version. Also, try the 3333 voice activated directory.

So that’s how this whole thing transpired. If you have comments or feedback, please let me know in here. Use the link for LEAVE A REPLY at the top and bottom of this page. We’re listening.

Finally, as with most evolutions in technology, we need to try and adapt. I simply ask that you give these new systems a try.

Thanks for reading.


Dear PSU Faculty...

In addition to a recent update to the campus, I wanted to provide you, faculty and instructors, with a few more updates.

First, if you are new to the PSU community, a warm welcome from ITS. Information Technology Services is comprised of telephones, network, central information systems (Banner, myPlymouth, email, web, etc.), WebCT, and classroom and academic technology support. You can always reach any of us through helpdesk@plymouth.edu or 535-2929.

WebCT has evolved and we have a new support team. John Martin, formerly the manager of the Help Desk and the Learning Center, is now leading up the academic technology support team in the Learning Commons (Lamson Library). John's expanded role in this area reflects the growing need for more support for instructors using WebCT and looking at new methods of instruction using the latest technologies. If you have any questions about WebCT, contact John at jemartin@plymouth.edu.

Dan Bramer, who managed the WebCT support last year, is shifting his role to help more with back room tasks. WebCT has a significant amount of integration points with myPlymouth, Banner, Library systems and more. He'll be working closely with the Systems folks in Hyde Hall.

Did you hear that the Help Desk is now located in the Library's new Information Desk? Seven days a week, call, write or stop in. Jo-Ann Guilmett, who headed multimedia support to the classroom the past few years, is managing the new Learning Commons Information Desk. In addition to multimedia (now managed by Brad Hachez), Jo-Ann oversees the Help Desk staff cross-trained in library and IT services. Stop in and see.

I've been hacking away at some campus technology issues online. If so inclined, take a click. dcfischer.blogs.plymouth.edu. Comments welcome, but no obligation.

Dwight Fischer, CIO


>>> Back to Campus Update, Fall 2006 (http://dcfischer.blogs.plymouth.edu/2006/08/19/back-to-campus-fall-2006/)

Living in an online world.1 (http://dcfischer.blogs.plymouth.edu/2006/07/27/living-in-an-online-world/)

Living in an online world.2

Security is Everyone's Business (http://dcfischer.blogs.plymouth.edu/2006/08/14/security-is-everyones-business/)

File Sharing, Cut it out!

Allemp (Changes to email list to all employees) (http://dcfischer.blogs.plymouth.edu/2006/08/03/allemp/)


Balancing Security, Access & Services

The laws pertaining to networks and data—and those who provide them—are changing rapidly. Graham Leach Blighly. FERPA. HIPPA. BIPPA. (I made that last one up). But you get the point. There are the most common regulatory requirements for establishing security standards. They require PSU to act in a secure and responsible way with our data, the computers and devices that carry data, and the network upon which data travel.

Picture PSU as a virtual place. It's called the plymouth.edu domain. We own that territory, that space in the Internet. Think of it like a castle within which there is a community of groups and individuals. Some areas of our community are very secure; only those who have a legitimate reason to go there are allowed to pass.

We're also an open environment, where academic freedom and access to information is valued. We bring people to our domain. We make an attractive web and help outsiders find information about us. We splay ourselves and our ideas for all to see.

We have data that is used for a variety of online services, some for external viewers, some for internal viewing only through myPlymouth. Register for classes, pay bills, access syllabi and course materials, converse with classmates in discussion groups. Access a wealth of online research and reference materials. Email. Surf. And, if you’re inclined, give online.

PSU is a private ISP, or internet service provider. It is a closed network, opened only with a valid login from a PSU student, faculty, staff or recognized friend. We provide guest accounts for short-time use. Otherwise, our internal network is closed. That's good…you want us to do that. To protect the data that is transmitted for all those above services.

Last year, in a big step toward cleaning up our network, we started a new program where all students connecting on the network had to have computers that had current security and antivirus software (that we provided). That was also true of wireless users. Not only do you have to have a valid account to get on the PSU network, you have to have a clean machine.

It's like living in a community and having to show proof of inoculations. Sad but true. But once you come in, you get more than your money's worth.

That's because there's some serious talent under the PSU technology hood.

Living in an Online World.2

I’m following up a post from last week. The more I see and hear about this generation’s use of technology for online networking, the more ideas I get about how to translate them to the classroom.

There are some new and popular trends occurring through internet sites. Anyone with a digital camera can post video to YouTube.com. For many, that capability comes within their cell phone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of average-to-sophomoric material, but some of the good ones are most intriguing, entertaining and provocative. Applicability in the classroom: talk about how communication changes in an online world. Look at how this new social engineering is impacting business and economics. Think about challenging students to submit well-conceived, well-presented videos as semester projects.

Another trend we see emerging is the use of online applications. Writely.com is a site where several people can write and collaborate on a document. Go there, try it. You need to sign on for an account, but it’s quick and painless. Working collaboratively on a document with colleagues? This is the place. On the heels of Writely is Google’s Spreadsheet. It won’t be long before we may see an end to Microsoft’s lock on applications we place on the desktop. Applicability in the classroom: Talk about writing across the curriculum. Write across classes. Partner with another class and develop small teams to write something together. Computer Science and Business. Writing and the sciences. Composition to composition class. (apologies in advance if I’ve stepped in any sacred cowpies)

Have you seen Google Earth? If you watch the ABC Evening News, you will see they use Google Earth for all maps. To run Google Earth on your computer, you need to go to the site and download a small application. Once on your computer, you can go anywhere you want on the globe and drill down to towns and, sometimes, building structures. I went to the home I grew up in and zoomed down to see my father’s Buick. It wasn’t well defined at that level of magnification, but jeezum, it was his car! Applicability in the classroom: I’m sure our friends in Geography are already there. But if you are talking about anything in the world, or climate, or international business…or, sadly, war, taking your class to the precise place on the world behind you on the big screen, well that might be impressive.

The whole idea is to start spending time in the world they navigate more freely. While this is clearly a developmental environment, those who learn to navigate it can keep pace with the changes. And, the skills that are developed by engaging in these online environments will be essential in many careers.

I’d love to hear what some of you are doing? And what would you like to do? We’ve got some talented people in ITS who know and breath this stuff. Ask us, we love to help.

Bold & Audacious.Part 2

Thank you all for your submissions on ‘bold and audacious’ ideas. As I mentioned in a previous post, I dislike ‘safe.’ Part of our job is to push the envelope, to make people think about how we use technology and, better, how we support the primary mission of the University. We watch industry trends, assess user needs and take steps to converge them at points in the future.

However, while I received some very interesting and provocative comments and ideas, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to include them in the annual report. They are not official, just ideas.

What I received is still worth a look. Sharing them here is a better venue. They’re less official and more open to ongoing debate. Here’s the list so far.

• Do not add any new technologies unless something else of similar value is dropped.

• PSU will never be in the headlines for data security or identity theft incidents

• PSU should block and prohibit all file sharing of music and video files on our network.

• All PSU courses should be developed and presented in WebCT.

• Discontinue support and acquisition of discipline-specific computer clusters. Instead, request that students bring their computers to class

• Require all students to develop ePortfolios.

• If we’re going to standardize on one computer platform, let’s make it Mac.

• Outsource management of the network. It is costly and time-consuming, and others would be willing to come in and provide this service for us.

• Stop using email for news and updates to all employees. Reserve allemp for priority messages. All others should go to the web portal or RSS feeds to which employees can subscribe.

• The role of the librarian as gatekeeper and information overlord has ended. The future of librarianship will go to those who understand and navigate the Google Economy.

• We should place all the reference books and periodicals in storage, retrievable on demand. In their place, we should create more space for students, faculty and staff to work collaboratively and discerningly around online research materials.

• Should we continue to provide email to students when they come to campus with free (and preferred) email accounts?

• Should PSU get out of the phone business? At least we should migrate to VOIP.

• Should we discontinue using Microsoft Office in favor of Google applications that are free and Webiquous?

• Why are we providing computers all over campus if students are bringing their own?

• Why do we not share more hardware and resources with sister campuses in USNH?

• Why don’t we move our Help Desk into the Library (hey, what a good idea!)

The IT Versatilist: Neither specialist nor generalist

I'm listening to Tom Friedman's book entitled The World is Flat. This is an excellent assessment of the recent history of information technology and its impact on the global economy. While I am moved to write about many aspects of this book, I simply recommend it to anyone who is looking at their career and how to remain viable.

Friedman cited some studies by the Gartner Group that refer to the valued employee of the present and future: neither a specialist (one with a unique but narrow and deep skillset) or a generalist (knows a lot about a lot but not in much depth), the versatilist is what employers are looking for.

A versatilist is someone defined by prior work and assignments. It is someone who has performed work in several areas, can apply experiences of the past into problem-solving today and tomorrow. Versatilists learn and understand the business units in their organization: how they work, their objectives and their customer needs…and help align their work with organizational goals.

How would you describe yourself? (rhetorical, but have some rhetoric with yourself)

Losing the print directory?

Our job is about managing change. Change is about altering behaviors.

Here’s another example of how technology offers students and others new services but requires us to rethink how we work.

Consider the PSU printed directory. It’s the yellow pages for PSU. In order for the publication to be produced each fall, significant work is required from people in HR to get all the information current. Calls and calls to department contacts who are not always here during the summer. Lots of manual data entry, data that exists elsewhere in our information systems for employees and students. And as soon as the work is finished, it is sent to the printer. Every week after it arrives, the directory becomes more and more dated.

Here’s the rub. Many employees want and use the directory. It can sit by a desktop or bedside, it is quick to look up a name. You don’t have to be online.

Yet in the past few years, we have developed alternative methods to look up the same information via the web directories, PSU’s Google Search and the new automated voice directory system. If you dial (535) 3333, you can name any employee or student and get directly to their phone or voicemail. Go ahead, try it. It’s new this year and we’re still working out some bugs, but it’s coming along nicely.

With these new technologies, why should we continue to go through the paces of producing a printed directory? Students don’t use it, they operate online.

Managing change is about changing behaviors. We need to train ourselves to look up information in new ways. We expect that for some people, especially those that need information quickly at all hours, they may still want a printed form of directory info. We can provide that in an alternative format that people can print on their own. For the rest of us, lose the print and get online. That data is always current.

Bold & Audacious Goals for ITS

The ITS annual report is just about done. It’s a snapshot in time, a bit of bragging and directions on where we’re going. But so far, it’s a relatively safe document.

I dislike safe. It needs a section on Bold & Audacious. What are the questions that no one wants to ask? What are the sacred cows? What might a naïve outsider ask if s/he was new to our environment?

To seed ideas, here are some questions posed by others at other institutions.

  • Should we continue to provide email to students when they come to campus with free (and preferred) email accounts?
  • Should we get out of the phone business?
  • Should we discontinue using Microsoft Office in favor of Google applications that are free and Webiquous?
  • Why are we providing computers all over campus if students are bringing their own?
  • Why do we not share more hardware and resources with sister campuses in USNH?
  • Why don’t we move our Help Desk into the Library (ooops, that’s a hangover from last year)

I’m asking for your help again. Send me bold and audacious ideas. Send them electronically or written on a piece of paper in an envelope addressed to me. I’ll pick the ten best and get them into the report. Think about things we might start doing, and others we should stop doing.

Maybe they’ll prompt a few more people to read it.

How do we prevent data un-integrity?

I was asked by higher ed business publication about data integrity and how we maintain it. Specifically, how does PSU assure that we do not have multiple databases where key data is not current or consistent? I felt like the answer was too easy. When you have an integrated information system, your people need to work integrated. Then I realized the real challenge had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with people and working effectively together.

First, not all schools work the way we do. We have a good system users’ group. (Studard) All the major stakeholders participate. The Registrar, Bursar, Financial Aid, Admissions, Grad School, ITS and others realize that it is in our collective best interest to work together - with common data and standards - to serve our students, admin and faculty well.

Second, you need to have a strong executive steering committee where higher-level, strategic decisions can be made. It requires VP's to work well together and make decisions as a group. We’ve got that, too.

Finally, when you implement a new, integrated information system, you agree on standards, on data and business practices, and you make that the context within which everyone works. When everyone reads from the same sheet music, the harmony is wonderful.

PSU, appreciate how well we have it! Apparently there are many others who don’t.