Should PSU Host Blogs?

There’s been a good debate about whether or not PSU should support blogs. Who among you think this is important for PSU to invest in and support?

Blogs, or web logs, are used more and more for individuals and organizations to publish material to the web quickly and easily. Any individual can set up a blog and write until their heart's content. They can publish their thoughts to the world and with no editor, filter or moderation. If they have good ideas and can write effectively, others take notice. They may also establish a feed from your site. That means every time you post something on your blog, it is pulled to their attention.

Like so many new aspects of the web, water seeks its own level. If you are good, people take notice and your hit count increases. Some may get their 15 minutes of fame. For most, it simply brings the satisfaction of writing and publishing.

Some PSU classes use blogs. Students are required to set up a blog and post materials there as part of assignments. Some students who are less extroverted in the classroom can be more effective communicators in writing. (and vica versa)

Over the past year, PSU has been hosting a small blog server in a pilot study. Several departments have signed on to use them, along with a few individuals. The very blog you're reading now is sitting on that server. Yet we cannot continue to expand its use without investing in more equipment.

With that background, here is the issue. Should PSU host a blog site for individuals or not? Should we invest PSU resources in the hardware to host blogs in the PSU domain? It might cost around $7-8,000, plus someone’s time to maintain and upgrade it in the future. Or should we use and encourage blogs, but use any one of the many blog sites free and easy to anyone on the web. There are two camps of thought.

Camp One: PSU should not only support, but encourage blog use. We are an academic community where free exchange of ideas and thoughts is fundamental to our mission. By encouraging the use of blogs, we can bring more attention to PSU. In a Google Economy, this is muscle. It could also be a marketing boon. $7-8k in cost is nothing considering the larger cost of technologies on campus. PSU can and should invest in this rapidly expanding means of communication. It is core to what we do. Also, by hosting the blog site at PSU, we do not require students sign up for web services outside of our control.

Camp Two: PSU should encourage and support blog use for anyone interested, but why invest in hardware and support when blogs are a commodity readily and easily available on the web? Anyone can sign up for a free blog by establishing a username, password and verification of age. (, for an example) There is nothing overly personal or sensitive in that information. (If you don’t want to give your real birthdate, don’t.) There would be no cost to PSU and the same functionality would exist. Besides, given the rapid pace of change around web applications, we might want to wait this out and see if it’s a fad or a true wave of the future.

I’ve simplified the debate to this core issue. There are pros and cons to each. The crux question to you is whether or not you feel this is important to what we do at PSU? The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) engaged in this debate in their September 2006 meeting. Their recommendation was that PSU should support and host blogs.

It will be presented as a budget priority for next year. It will compete with other priorities for new funding.

What do you think? Do blogs matter to you and if so, should we host or post elsewhere? I’d love to hear from others in the campus community.
(ITS’ers and blog aficionados, let’s give others a chance to chime in first)

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 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

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. Comments welcome, but no obligation.

Dwight Fischer, CIO


>>> Back to Campus Update, Fall 2006 (

Living in an online world.1 (

Living in an online world.2

Security is Everyone's Business (

File Sharing, Cut it out!

Allemp (Changes to email list to all employees) (


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 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. 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.

Living in an online world

I took some time off blogging this past month. It felt good. Blogging is new for me and I’ve grown to like it, but not the obligatory part. I spent time disconnecting last month. That's what summer should be.

We’re now looking at the start of a new academic year. One of the thoughts I’ve pondered on this summer was how to better engage faculty members in understanding and using some of the new tools that are second nature to our students. 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, there is community online. 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. You need to be prepared.

Many of your students this year will have web pages. Maybe on, maybe on 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. Casey Bisson noted this, too, in a recent blog post.

I know. Our two daughters, 16 and 13, and all their friends, live for this. They take pictures, post them online, write and chat with others. We teach them safety and etiquette, and share stories about how some people make big mistakes, but then monitor their pages and then let them go.

Funny thing is, these are probably more like the tools they will need as they enter an increasingly complex, networked employment world. And won’t it be something when we, as we age, revel at how natural they make it seem.

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 A few of your colleagues are already there. Check out this one:

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.


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!)

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.

Technology Churn

Do you read the manual when you get a new cell phone? Or do you just figure out how to dial and be done with it?

One of the greatest challenges in our ever-changing world is adapting to and learning new technologies. Sure, some of them are cool and fun, but once you hop on the technology train, it’s hard to jump off.

Think about it. Once you start using a digital camera, you have to maintain your pictures on your computer. Then you have to learn the software that comes with it so you can manage your photos. Once you fill your hard drive with pictures, you need to buy more disk. And, just when you think you have it under control, you’re told you need to upgrade your computer to the latest operating system. You do, then you find that not only does your camera software need an upgrade, but so do many others. You’re fit to be tied. You feel like a fish on the end of a hook being reeled in slowly but steadily.

As more and more technologies become available, it is getting harder for the average person to adopt and adapt to them. It’s called technology ‘churn.’ It refers to the pace at which new technologies are developed and their impact on an individual’s and organization’s ability to incorporate them. Some people simply cannot absorb ever more new technologies—and don’t want to.
Here’s an example of technology churn at an organizational level. WebCT, PSU’s course management software, recently sustained a major upgrade. For some, this was a walk in the park. They just point-and-clicked their way through it. Yet for many others, those who came to WebCT reluctantly in the first place, this was a major hassle. Just when they got comfortable with the old system, we went and changed it on them. Those old overheads are looking pretty good.

Ongoing learning is part of life in a technology-laden world. In fact, it is incumbent upon all of us to learn how to use the tools required for our jobs. You can shrug it off, convince yourself that you’re not a geek and you can live without it. But don’t be surprised when the next generation of students starts whizzing by you.

If you don’t know how text messaging works, or how new cell phones are capable of playing music, videos and podcasts, or how students communicate with one another today, you may find that teaching a class is quite a frustrating experience. On the other hand, if you gain some familiarity with these tools, you may just find some new opportunities to exploit them in class and communicate with your students in ways that may be very effective. At the very least, you’ll be able to speak knowledgably on how to manage your class more effectively.

We all need to get used to the perpetual learning curve required of technology use. Training programs are becoming fewer and fewer as more help is either embedded in the device itself or available in the little manual with it. Be thankful you have a manual.

We can put the tools in front of you. But the only person who can really make it happen is you.

Crack open that manual. Spend a little time learning how that unit actually works.


On a related note, a recent article in Educause focused on support for specialty software in academic departments. (I would extend that to all departments.) It’s entitled Supporting Specialized Academic Software: Is it Possible? The basic premise is no, that central IT departments can no longer be assumed to provide this support. IT departments are consumed with managing enterprise systems, desktops, network and security. They are also integrally involved in scoping new projects…including building construction, campus initiatives and other endeavors in which some aspect of technology is integral. Their ability to learn and become experts in niche software is very limited (unless, of course, you find ways to lure those occasional individuals to hang in your department after hours and lavish them with apple pies and heaps of praise…).

The onus of support is up to your department, and well it should be. Expertise cannot be limited to its use, but its overall maintenance and support. Only then will you be free of an unhealthy dependence on over-taxed IT professionals.

This is a key concept—distributed IT support—in the PSU Long Range Technology Plan.

More on classroom technology

This from a reference in today's Chronicle.
There are three elements of learning technology that have become mainstream in this time frame:

  • First, classrooms and campuses have continued to incorporate more and more technical infrastructure in terms of networks, Internet connections, smart boards, etc.
  • Second, course management systems (CMSs) have been widely adopted at an institutional level providing, for the most part, an online communications hub for posting of class materials, syllabi, etc.
  • Third, for those institutions, or operating divisions within institutions that have a mission of outreach, there has been a rapidly growing number of online courses and programs that are taking the place of, but better than, older alternatives for distance learning.

Of course, many ideas and predictions have not become mainstream realities. Among these are:

  • Students did not rush to consume new forms of online digital content for studying.
  • Institutions did not jump on the bandwagon to allow commercial benefits (either to themselves or third party vendors) from student portals.
  • The very large majority of faculty have not opted to become “course developersâ€? and develop online courses using the CMS.
  • Use of digital content and third-party digital courses by faculty has remained in a small minority.
  • Portals attempting to aggregate courses from multiple institutions have mostly failed with a few limited exceptions.
  • High production value courses, sometimes featuring leading authorities or fancy problem-based, interactive learning approaches, have seen several dramatic flops with only a few limited successes in niche areas, such as remedial math.
  • While use of PowerPoint, and in some cases the Internet, has become mainstream, in general faculty don’t feel that all the technology in the smart classrooms has significantly improved the teaching or the learning experience.