Adapt new teaching methods or become irrelevant?

PSU is writing a strategic plan for information technology. In particular, we're exploring how information technology will shape the classroom in the years ahead. We hear a lot about social networking and this generation's use of tools in extraordinarily new ways. Very few, however, have truly explained what social networking technologies, a world rich with information and collaboration, mean to transforming the classroom.

This is something every college and university instructor should listen to. Grab your coffee or a glass or wine and sit back for a spell. I guarantee you will be left thinking. Also, stick around for the questions. They'll be asking some of what you might be thinking, too.

Sarah B. Robbins-Bell, issued a warning to professors that unless they adapt to new teaching methods with technology, they could become irrelevant because students can find places other than traditional universities to learn. Ms. Robbins-Bell is a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition at Ball State University.    From the Chronicle. Nov. 3, 2008 at the Educause Conference in Orlando.

Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Technology and PSU

  1. The Help Desk is always your first and best line of support if you have a computer problem or question. If they can't answer your question right away, they will find who can. Call 5-2929, email or walk on in to the Lamson Library.
  2. Increasing security measures are going to force you to change a few habits. Starting this year, you will need to change your primary PSU network password every six months.
  3. NEVER store personal, sensitive student data on your laptop or other portable media, like USB keys, CDs or whatever. If you do and it's lost, PSU (and you) will make headlines. We have a responsibility to protect our students' data and we take it seriously.
  4. PSU email is and will continue to be our primary means of communicating with students. Even the new student voicemail system, which you can call and leave a message for students, is tied to their PSU email accounts.
  5. If you want the most immediate notification of University closings, delays or emergencies, you need to sign up for PSU alerts in myPlymouth (see left side panel)
  6. Sunday mornings between 6-10 are maintenance time for network and information systems. Watch myPlymouth announcements for any that are expected to be more than a few minutes. Every effort will be made to minimize the downtime.
  7. You do not need to cancel classes on snow days or inclement weather. If you prepare in advance, and have some materials and exercises ready, when PSU closes you can go into online mode. It's a good idea to make that clear in your syllabus, too. Contact the ITS academic technology team for ideas and support.
  8. For on-campus phone calls, you need to 'dial 5' first. Every campus extension starts with 5 and is 5 digits long. And, for the most current directory information, see myPlymouth.
  9. Hundreds of thousands of spam emails are blocked from the PSU network each week. Some, particularly new and innovative ploys, get through. You have the ability to tighten your spam filters to a higher degree. Learn how by typing in ’spam filter’ in the Search box of myPlymouth
  10. The most common form of identity theft is gullibility. Phishing schemes, emails that request us to update our accounts or respond in some way with sensitive information, exist because they work. Don't bite! If in doubt, ask!

Cell phones, the pros and cons

The cell phone is ubiquitous among students. Most of us have them now, too. It has become our primary and most immediate means of communication.

The fact that nearly all students have cell phones is an advantage. We can alert students to urgent situations, like campus dangers, snow days, etc. Students can maintain contact with their family members like no generation before them. Text messaging allows them to network and stay in touch with their friends. Cell phones are the quickest and most direct method of communicating to students.

Cell phones also require management in the classroom. There are simple rules of etiquette expected of students. It is entirely appropriate to put in your syllabus and to make clear to them early on that cell phone ringers should be turned off when in class.

This goes for us, too. Turn 'em to vibrate in meetings and social settings. There's nothing more embarrassing or distracting than when YOUR phone goes off, especially with hokey songs or melodies at full blast. Make it a habit to turn those ringers off.

For more on cell phone guidelines, see What is Cell Phone Etiquette.

Web 2.0, Social Networking and the Classroom

You’ve most likely heard of Web 2.0 tools. And, if you’re like most, you’re somewhat befuddled as to what it all means. Did we miss Web 1.0? When was the upgrade to 2.0?

The key concept to understand is this: Web 1.0 was/is dissemination of information on the web. It was not dynamic, but plentiful pages of static information. Web 2.0 implies interaction. What you find on the web you can interact with. For instance, a blog, or web log. You can write and publish, like the one you are reading now, and comment. You can agree, disagree, or simply add to the discussion.

Web 2.0 is also about information systems that are embedded within page structures. Look at myPlymouth as an example. This is a ‘portal’ of information connected to various other systems hosted at PSU and elsewhere.

To take it a step further, there are Wiki’s. Wiki's are the underlying foundation of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written and developed by, well, everyone. While some may derail it as less than the venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica, it is a participatory endeavor that is a collection of knowledge that has fared well in comparison. Wiki tools are available for all of us for group writing and editing. If you want to see how they work, see Wikis in Plain English (on YouTube). And, if you haven’t been to Wikipeda, you should. Your students do!

You also have tools available in Blackboard to engage students in online discussions. Use them. Seed some provocative questions about your course materials and post them as questions. Require them to engage, to not only respond to your questions but to interact and play off postings from one another. This is a good contingency plan for snow days and weather cancellations. You don't need to miss entire classes. If you plan to do this, make it clear in your syllabi.

FaceBook and mySpace are other examples of Web 2.0. Students come in our door fully networked with friends in mySpace or Facebook. Many of us think we should meet them there, have our own FaceBook pages. But most of us are stuck in Web 1.0 mentality. We sign up for FaceBook and create a page that becomes static (Web 1.0). They, on the other hand, are using it constantly, communicating back and forth and keeping friends current. It's also important to know that this is a social space for them, an area where they don't necessarily want us. In fact, many will block our ability to view their pages.

However, the transformation that occurs over four years of college should see those social networks turn to professional networks. An e-portfolio is a compilation of a student’s finer work products, their career goals and their resume. Instead of sending potential employers a resume, they will be forwarding links to their electronic portfolios. It will be a grown up and responsible FaceBook.

And then there is the networking. All of us can interact and garner the collective resources and knowledge of those with interests and expertise similar to ours. We can tap that vast resource to improve what we know and bring to the classroom.

What does all this mean to you in the classroom? Maybe nothing, maybe something new and exciting. It depends. But it is important to know about these tools. Look at the learning objectives of your course. You don't need to require the use of these tools, but you can allow and encourage students to use them to accomplish those learning objectives. You will see how they work and the students will be using collaboration tools that are gaining footholds in many areas of our economy.

More weathuh, less class time

If classes are delayed or canceled, do you have contingency plans using Blackboard or any online tools? Do you compensate ‘seat time’ with online engagement? My guess is that a few of you are, but most of us aren’t.

What have we learned about our preparedness and our response to environmental extremes? How would we hold classes if there was, say, an avian flu outbreak? How would you conduct your courses? Could you?

I ask not to provoke but to think. Many of us in administrative roles spend a lot of time preparing for a wide range of emergencies. We do many ‘what if’ scenarios. Emergency and disaster planning are now core to what we do.

What is your classroom 'what if?'.

This year, I’m afraid all we did was cancel classes. If I was a PSU student or parent, I might be asking for more. They’re paying for it and we have the tools.

How do people respond to an increasingly rapid pace of technology change?

We all respond to new technologies in our own ways, at our own pace.

Some take to the latest and greatest technologies with zeal. They're known as early adopters, techno-enthusiasts at heart. They keep pace with new developments and strive to keep up with the latest and greatest. They speak a language of their own. To call them geeks may understate their passion. They're the ones who stood in line for an iPhone. This group comprises about 2.5% of technology users.

On the other end of the spectrum are laggards. They could care less about the iPhone, if they even know what it is. For them, technology is a burden. They get flustered by it and ask others to set it up for them. Begrudgingly, they learn rote tasks, but their focus in life is on other things. They like things the way they are. Only when a technology becomes truly mainstream will they use it. This group represents about 16% of technology users.

Within that spectrum are early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%) and late majority (34%). You can get a better sense of the groups and how they respond to change on the Innovation and Adoption Curve. These middle groups make up the vast majority of technology users.

On a university campus, IT departments have to play to both ends of the spectrum. We test and play with new technologies, we remain current in our field. We adopt new technologies that survive the initial hype and become new footholds. Once we implement new technologies, we lay out plans to help the early adopters and the majority of users to absorb the new technologies so they can perform their work in new ways. As for the laggards, we hope they come along, but we do not spend an exorbitant amount of time with them. It's not that we are insensitive, we simply have to play to the masses.

Often times, ITS staff are on the front lines of change. We don't ask for software and hardware upgrades. There are times when we want to develop new systems to help you in your work, but most of our change is imposed on us from a hyper-competitive industry that waits for no one. If Oracle, Sungard-SCT or Microsoft upgrade their products, we have little choice but to go along. If there are changes in our systems hosted by USNH and Durham, we need to respond. We are dependent on them. We can bide our time, but sooner or later we're going to have to go with the flow. And we do.

But lest you think we are all passionate geeks that chase new technologies with reckless abandon, take heart. We scrutinize many changes in our industry and assess:

  1. is the technology aligned with our mission as a comprehensive, regional university,
  2. what are the short- and long-term costs, and
  3. do we have a choice?

This semester, many of you are experiencing the fruits of our upgrade labors this summer--for better or worse. Some people roll with the flow. Others are cursing ITS. Banner and WebCT were upgraded. myPlymouth has a new look and feel. Many of the new computers on campus will be sporting Microsoft's new Vista operating system and Office 2007. We also have a new email and online calendar program called Zimbra. Every one of these system changes requires us to do aspects of our work a little differently. We need to learn and adapt to how these systems work.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you curse or thirst for new technologies?

Me, I just want everything to work. 😉

Technology Update: Fall 2007

Welcome back to campus everyone. And new faculty and instructors, welcome to PSU! Here’s what you need to know about computers, information and accountability. Please take a few minutes to review.


1. Where do I get information?
2. What’s new?
3. How does PSU communicate in case of emergencies?

4. Are we still using WebCT?
5. Why so many upgrades and systems unavailable?
6. Are there times we can expect the systems to be down?

7. What is the best way to look up students, faculty and staff?
8. Where do I go for help using technology in the classroom?
9. What are my rights to privacy?

10. Which Windows operating systems are supported? (Vista?)
11. May I bring my own laptop to the PSU network?
12. How do I get software loaded on computer clusters?

13. How may PSU classes are online?
14. What are the technology goals for this year?
15. How are decisions about technology made at PSU?

16. What technologies should we be paying attention to?
17. Where can I get computer help?

Where do I get information? The best source of campus information and communications is myPlymouth. This web application underwent a major upgrade this summer, along with the overall PSU web site. These two sites comprise our INTERNAL and EXTERNAL communications strategy. myPlymouth is where students, employees and constituents will get most of their information and online services. More and more communications will be posted to myPlymouth. The main PSU web pages now target prospective students, parents and everyone else outside of our organization.

What's new? Over the summer, upgrades occurred to Banner, WebCT and myPlymouth. The first two were relatively minor, but myPlymouth got a major facelift. Check it out and customize your myPlymouth page so it works for you. myPlymouth is your primary source of campus information and services. There is also a new email program called myMail. It is designed to work primarily as a web application, helping you communicate, schedule, maintain contacts, and share documents and calendars. Many new computers are being installed with Windows Vista. Also new is our emergency communications system (below).

How does PSU communicate in case of emergencies? PSU has partnered with e2Campus, an online service that students and employees may opt into. e2Campus allows PSU to send emergency alerts, snow cancellations, flood warnings and other critical information as text messages to cell phones, alternate email addresses and/or in customized home pages in Google and Yahoo. These are the communication tools of students and, increasingly, PSU employees. . You’ll hear more soon on how to sign up. This is all part of an upgraded emergency communication plan that distributes communication via multiple channels. PSU will continue to use email and the Web as primary communication tools, too.

Are we still using WebCT as our primary learning management system? Yes. WebCT has been in operation at PSU for the past 6 years. In 2006, Blackboard, an industry competitor, acquired WebCT and plans to support it several more years. Eventually, WebCT and Blackboard will not be separate products. For now, we continue to run WebCT from the Blackboard company. More and more, it will be call Blackboard CE and Vista. See

Why so many upgrades and systems unavailable? Software upgrades have become a way of life. The technology industry is highly competitive and new, updated software versions come frequently. We avoid the bleeding edge, but we keep pace with the changes. That often results in impact to users. Our goal is always to keep you informed, minimize the down times and look for periods during the year that are least disruptive to your work. We plan most of our upgrades during semester breaks. We also have a weekly maintenance window every Sunday morning, 6-10am.

Are there times we can expect systems to be down? Sunday mornings, 6-10am is a weekly time when systems or network maintenance will occur. Not all weekends, and not without advance notice to myPlymouth and the community.

What is the best way to look up students, faculty and staff? PSU publishes a student and faculty/staff directory each year. Like most types of phone books, they're going away. The advertising model that always supported them is no longer effective. The most current directory information will always be online through our main web page directory or within myPlymouth. You can also dial 3333 on any campus extension and speak the person or department’s name in our voice-activated directory.

Where do I go for help using technology in the classroom? Multimedia support is available through the Learning Commons and/or by seeking Equipment Reservations in myPlymouth (left column, see Services). The Learning Commons is available 7 days a week for your support in any number of ways. Stop in, call 2929 or email them at

What are my rights to privacy? The email system, PSU-issued computers and the network all belong to the University. Within that framework you have a high degree of academic and personal freedom. No one tracks your surfing or email. You do, however, leave tracks everywhere you go. And since 9/11, there have been numerous changes in laws that have reduced the degree of privacy. Still, privacy and personal responsibility remain core PSU values. Please read the PSU Acceptable Use Policy. We are all accountable to it.

Which Windows operating system is supported? PSU is rolling out Windows Vista on computer labs and many new computers. Students will also be bringing new computers with Vista to campus. We will continue to support Windows XP, too, for quite a while yet.

May I bring my own laptop to the PSU network? Yes. Like students, PSU employees may log on to the PSU wireless network with an appropriate username and password. They may also plug in to network ports in the library. Your computer needs to be current with Windows security updates and have MacAfee Anti-virus software installed. Personal computers cannot, however, plug in to office ports unless their computers have loaded several more PSU network and security components. This is designed for security and network protection. Those who choose this option should have a fair amount of computer savvy and troubleshooting skills. ITS desktop support for individual employee computers is limited. Service is available through the University Computer Store.

How do I get software loaded onto the computer clusters? Faculty and instructors receive notice every April and December alerting them to submit requests for software to be installed on our network and in computer labs. Because there are so many software applications already loaded, new requests have to be tested for compatibility. If it passes muster, the new software is loaded and made available the following semester. This delicate process constricts ITS's ability to load any software at the beginning or other times during the semester. It poses risk to the stability of other applications.

How many PSU classes are online? This past year, there were 104 classes offered online. That's almost double the number from the year before (61). Most online classes are offered in the summer, followed closely by winterim. More and more classes, however, are offered during the fall and spring semesters. If you would like to explore options for online courses, contact the Frost School.

What are technology goals for this year?

  1. Improve Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans
  2. Enhance academic technologies in the classroom and ensure that PSU has a learning management system to meet the needs of students and faculty
  3. Implement New Email and Content Management Systems
  4. Explore Overall Communication tools for Telephony and Unified Messaging
  5. Manage Online Relations with Varied Constituents: Prospective Students, Parents and alums
  6. Improve Identity Management System: Required to address security, regulatory compliance and campus interoperability
  7. Improve Institutional Reporting
  8. Expand Wireless Access Points across Campus

How are decisions about technology made at PSU? The Technology Advisory Committee (TAG, see myPlymouth Groups for documents and agendas the past several years) meets monthly during the academic year. Made up of faculty and staff (and occasionally students), TAG tackles a variety of technology issues that impact students and faculty. It also creates ad hoc groups and reviews policy recommendations. TAG is led by the senior technology officers: The CIO, Dwight Fischer, and the Director of the Library, David Beronä. TAG recommendations on major PSU decisions flow up to the President's Cabinet. In addition to TAG, there is an Executive Steering Committee for Information Systems (ESC). The ESC includes vice presidents, TAG leaders, Graduate Studies and others as needed. ESC has purview over all aspects of information systems, project priorities, data and network security, major system upgrades or replacements, and regulatory compliance.

What technologies should we be paying attention to? Think about trends more than specific technologies. More and more software is made available as web applications. Email is a good example. Microsoft Outlook, an application that resides on your computer, used to reign. Now our email, calendar and documents can all be on the web with our new myMail system. This practice is far more prevalent with students arriving at our doors. There is, however, a trade-off in your control and local storage. You're good as long as you’re connected. (Good if you live around Internet connections, not so good if you live in the sticks.)

Where can I get computer help? The ITS Help Desk is located in the Information Desk of the Learning Commons in Lamson Library. You may walk in, call x2929 or send a note to The Learning Commons is staffed by students and experienced IT professionals. They work closely with library personnel to integrate our services around information, research, multimedia and support. Don't hesitate to contact them first if you are experiencing difficulties. Chances are you may not be the only one with a problem. And if you are, they can escalate the issues to appropriate ITS staff to get it resolved. The Help Desk, like the library, is open seven days a week.

Best of luck in the new semester. We're here to help.

Dwight Fischer, CIO
Information Technology Services

ext. 2443

Upgrades to email and myPlymouth


As most of you head out for the summer, I thought it a good time to give you a quick update.

Over the course of the summer, ITS is planning on upgrading our email program. We've heard plenty from you about problems with email in myPlymouth, WebMail and a lack of reliability this year. That has caused some of you problems at critical times of the semester. Our regrets. Several ITS managers met with student leaders in April to discuss what students need from an email program. This is what they said:


  • Simple, uncluttered web interface, like Yahoo, Google and HotMail.
  • Calendar that can be shared
  • Easy, intuitive navigation
  • Ability to store contacts
  • More storage capacity for personal documents
  • Ability to send large attachments
  • Reliability!


We explored options, such as outsourcing student email to Google. After careful consideration of the pros and cons, we (and many faculty) felt that driving students to GoogleMail as an official communication tool would compromise some security and privacy. This was not unanimous, nor would we rule it out in future years, but at this time we decided to bolster our resources internally.

When you return in the fall, you will find a new email program that will meet all the needs above. We heard you.





There will also be a major facelift to myPlymouth on Memorial Day Weekend. Think of it as a Botox injection. We think you'll like the new layout. It's less cluttered and more functional. Tighter.

At the same time, the PSU Web pages, with a focus on external audiences, will also be unveiled.





ITS wishes you all a safe and enjoyable summer. For graduating seniors, congratulations! We'll be looking for you in the Alumni myPlymouth.

Dwight Fischer, CIO

Trade in Microsoft Office for Google Apps?

An interesting trend is emerging in how basic computer software is delivered. Google has introduced new programs--Google Apps--for word processing and spreadsheets. These new programs are designed to work with several other online Google applications; email, calendars, web documents and photo management. All are types of software we've traditionally installed on our personal computers. Google is offering them as an online service. Your computer doesn't host anything, it connects you to a Google-hosted space of your own.


This piece was written in Google Docs, an online word processing program. It has all the basic formatting, editing and proofing tools, yet it's a lot less sophisticated than the ubiquitous Microsoft Word. And while I've been weaned, trained and reliant on Word for almost two decades, this is an interesting challenge to my habitual self.


Google Apps is 'software as a service.' You don't buy the software as you would with Microsoft Office, you connect to Google's applications online. You save your documents on Google servers. You'll never have to upgrade the software, Google takes care of all that. You just use the application. Log in and write. The same with spreadsheets. The interface is designed with an emphasis on simplicity.


Documents created with Google Apps are sharable. Simply invite others via an email link to join in. The document can be open by several users simultaneously so they can collaborate in its development. That alone is worth the cost of admission.


Ah, but it's free.


This is a shift from software delivery of yore. We used to install and host software on our personal computers. Microsoft was the most common application with their Office suite of products. Veteran users of these products--Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook--have come to rely heavily on them.


Yet here comes Google with their free apps. Software as a service. They want to entice you to use their services. For Google, everything is about getting us to use their search function.


Here are some significant differences in using Google apps.


  1. The applications are only available online. You have to have an Internet connection to access them.
  2. You store your documents (and ideas) on Google servers.
  3. The applications are far less sophisticated than those in Microsoft Office.

For many of us, those trade-offs are too high a price to pay. We prefer to keep our documents on our computers and local servers. Yet Google is playing to a new generation for which instant messaging, mySpace and web-based applications are second nature. They're innate googlers.


The question for mature and sage users of Office: Would we change our personal computer paradigm?


  • Would we buck the Microsoft empire to go with the emerging Google empire?
  • Will we continue to pay a hefty annual sum to Microsoft so that all of our employees can use Microsoft Office?
  • And, the question I hear most, would we store our precious and confidential documents on Google servers?

Ask your own questions. Anyone can google 'Google Apps' and start the process by signing up for a personalized Google account.


I'm thinking about what I want to say to new PSU students at orientation this spring. Many ask about computers and software to buy. I think the best advice is to get a good laptop and hold off the purchase Microsoft Office. Rather, sign up for a Google account. Unless they're writing super-sensitive, personal documents, storage of their work on Google servers isn't an issue. A student could keep all their materials online. Man, would they be dialed in. Drop in at any computer connected to internet and access all their documents.


If I was 18, that's what I'd be thinking.


Your thoughts?

Wireless in the Classroom: Asset or Distraction?

Like most colleges and universities, PSU has spent the last several years expanding wireless access to the network across our campus. Except for the residence halls, where population density precludes good wireless service, we've installed wireless in most public and academic buildings. You want to connect, we're usually there for you.

Faculty are raising concerns, however, about the distraction of wireless in the classroom. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Distractions in the Wireless Classroom, cited the example of one observer…

"[we] were intrigued by the tapping of the laptop keys as students appeared to be taking copious notes. As we looked over their shoulders from our back-row seats, we found instead they were on Facebook, Dave Matthews Band Web sites, instant-messaging friends, and e-mailing fellow classmates." <>

While laptops make for better note-taking and in-class exercises, their connection to the vast media, communication and information of the internet poses somewhat of a challenge to an instructor who is trying to get your focus on a specific topic. After all, that is why you're paying tuition.

Frankly, laptops are not the biggest problem. It's cell phones that are changing the nature of the classroom. Imagine the distraction to an instructor when the cell phones go off or vibrations send reverberations through the class. Think of what it does to your focus, then multiply it for the classroom.

I'm not sure there is a simple answer here. For some instructors, those who are more facilitators than information disseminators, student connectivity to the internet poses a wealth of opportunities for in-class discussion, research and analysis. But pity the lecturer, the old-style of class delivery where they are the vessel and you are the receptacle. That tends to lend itself to surfing. Regardless, if you don't respect some basic guidelines of class manners, more and more you'll see syllabus components that prohibit ANY laptops in the classroom. That would be a shame.

I write with a certain sense of authority on the matter. I have my smartphone with me all day. I get text messages from colleagues who want my attention right away. I am always on-call. If someone raises an issue, I quickly get on the internet and get more information. And, if I'm bored and less-than-engaged in a meeting, I check my email. I admit, I'm addicted to my connectivity.

I've found, however, that this type of behavior is perceived as rude and insensitive to those around me. I don't like it when others do it in my meetings.

I also dislike what this constant connectivity is doing to our culture in general. Spend time in an airport, look around at the mall. Everywhere people congregate, they are yakking it up on cell phones, oblivious to those around them. We are fast losing our sensibilities and courtesies in public areas.

There was a time when public phones were in booths. They were designed to help you talk in privacy. Maybe we should create booths for cell phone users.

Regardless, and more to my original point, turn off the signal and stash your phone while you're in class. Use your laptop wisely. It's your money, it's your education. Be courteous.

Penny for your thoughts...