MOOCs – Yup, they are live & well!

If you follow me on twitter you must have seen my tweets from the edX global forum in Washington DC from 8th Nov till the 10th. As an early adopter of MOOC, we have been extremely happy with our decision to get into MOOCs as well as with the success of our MOOCs. Measure of success is clearly in the eyes of the beholder. Those who are non-believers will point to the very poor completion rates (compared to the initial registration). Those of us who believe that MOOCs have a place in Higher Education will point to a whole list of other things – those who complete our MOOCs are still several multiples of face to face class size, our faculty are engaging with the global audience to help them learn the “liberal arts” way, they are learning from teaching in a new platform to a global audience for the benefit of the students in face to face classes, our students say that the MOOCs help them as a valuable additional resource to their face to face class etc. We are not going to settle this debate any time soon, so let us move on.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting. The presentations and panels were impressive. The networking was excellent. I got to meet a lot of people from Europe, some from Jordan, a few from Japan. I was fascinated to meet a young man from Sri Lanka who supports MOOCs from Kyoto University. Of course, he does not speak Japanese and I found out that he is a vegetarian. Talk about an outlier! It is also fair to say that he would be one of the rare Sinhalese Vegetarian.


EDUCAUSE Core Data Survey

We just finished & submitted the EDUCAUSE Core Data Survey and I thought this is a better forum to discuss than the narrow discussion in EDUCAUSE CIO Listserve. Today is the deadline and we finished it.

First off, what I say below hopefully will help improve the survey and bring more clarity to us as those providing input as well as benefiting from such an important dataset. As a CIO I totally get it that the users are not shy when things don’t work and are deeply silent when things do work. In this case, I am a user! And a dedicated one in that we have submitted the surveys every year that I can remember though to be honest, its value is diminishing for reasons that I will touch on below. Dedication also comes from a deep rooted fear that not filling out the survey will result in us being kicked out of Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLAC)  (Filling out Module 1 is a membership requirement). CLAC membership is one that I treasure tremendously!


Technology Rush & the Suffering

I was in Indianapolis attending EDUCAUSE Annual Conference last week. It was a reasonably good conference. Every year I come back and say to myself that I am going to seriously look into whether to go next year or not. I say the same this year. The conference has grown tremendously and the leadership was proud about 7000 attendees. Reminded me about admissions officers being proud of the number of applications. As always, the best part of the conference was meeting some of the colleagues. Some of the presentations I attended were interesting and so were the general sessions. This time, I also enjoyed meeting a couple of senior folks from companies with whom we either have a relationship or plan to.

I would have expected the programming to be a bit more interesting and diverse given the number of attendees. When I heard at least a couple were presenting twice, I was a bit surprised. Panels are great, but when most of the events are panels, where each presenter gets between 5 and 7 minutes to present and everyone is trying to be nice to the other presenters and therefore trying to keep to their time, it gets a bit restrictive. Now, on to the subject of my blog.


What if????

I am in Indianapolis attending the EDUCAUSE Annual conference. You can see my tweets from the conference. We had an early start at 8 AM to listen to the first keynote by Daniel Pink titled “The Cascade Effect: How Small Wins Can Transform Your Organization”. It was interesting and there were a few good take home lessons. The talk was mostly about motivating the staff in your organization. He referred to a collection of social science research in his talk the conclusions from which can be summarized as “If the work involves even rudimentary cognitive tasks, then better rewards by themselves don’t improve performance”.

Some of the recipes provided were useful, such as constant feedback, providing autonomy etc. One thing he mentioned was to give the staff an hour a week for them to explore new things. As you see in one of my tweets, I am very happy to say that we already have this in place in LTS at Wellesley where we encourage the staff to take 2 hours a week to explore new areas. He stressed the importance of weekly meetings where feedback is provided, but change every fourth such meeting to talk about something totally different, such as career ambitions etc.

I also attended a couple of other talks, one on digital scholarship and another abut “what’s next in higher education”, both were a bit disappointing. However, during a dinner last night I was talking to a few colleagues from other institutions and what caught my attention was how many times the “What if?” question came up.


Data Governance

“Data governance (DG) refers to the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity, and security of the data employed in an enterprise. A sound data governance program includes a governing body or council, a defined set of procedures, and a plan to execute those procedures.” This operational definition, by Margaret Rouse, captures what data governance is all about. I think it is fair to say that in most of Higher Ed, access to data is far less than optimal. The reasons for this are varied.

In “Choosing Governance Models” , Gwen Thomas outlines some of the important things to consider when it comes to data governance.

  • Top-down
  • Bottom-up
  • Center-out, or
  • Silo-in

This will provide a window into why access to reliable data in a secure way is a huge issue in higher ed. First and foremost, until recently we have not had any formal governance structures. In many cases, it has been bottom up, decisions were taken in data silos and no one was willing to disturb the status quo. These have resulted in incoherent policies, over control of data and in some cases misinterpretation of the laws governing data. In general there are a lot of users in the institution complaining about problems and not many who are interested in participating in finding a solution.


Top 10 Issues

Earlier this year, EDUCAUSE published Top 10 issues facing technology organizations. In an opinion piece, Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian at Temple University, posted a similar list for the Libraries “Top 10 Academic Library Issues for 2015 | From the Bell Tower“. These lists provide us a way to look at what we do and gauge how we are doing. Sometimes, it is pretty heartening to see that we are not the only ones facing these issues and other times you are glad that these are no longer “issues” for you.

It is not my intent to go over them one at a time, rather just highlight some of them.


The (repeatedly) broken promises about Integration

Data integration is a fact of life for those of us who are in the information technology business. Since we are yet to invent a single system that does everything for everyone in an enterprise, it is inevitable that we have to support and deal with multiple systems. It is equally true that unless the data from these diverse systems are integrated, we will not be able to understand the data in a coherent fashion. With the proliferation of “best of breed” solutions we have a complicated mess in hand.

Most institutions have a large administrative system like Banner or PeopleSoft that is considered to hold the authoritative data. In addition, for the purpose of reporting, we all have a data warehouse or a data mart into which data from the central systems is inserted typically on a nightly basis. The general premise of this is that the administrative systems were originally designed to take in the transactional data and therefore optimized for that purpose. They were not designed for complex reporting. Combining both of these in one system means a drain in resources and everyone suffers. Modern systems like Workday claims to have designed their system in ways that you can do all activities in one system. When you have multiple systems, generally, the data is integrated with the administrative systems, though in some cases, directly into the data warehouse.


What’s in a name?

It turns out that “Name” is complicated business. For all the official purposes, we use the legal name. When someone begins at Wellesley, this name is recorded in Banner, our ERP and is used to generate a username and email aliases. This then propagates through integration to several other systems, some internal and some external. In other words, the fist instantiation of this official name becomes pervasive.

There are many reasons why the legal name is not enough. Many use their middle name instead of their first name and would prefer that this is properly noted and used in some fashion. There are several others who would prefer to use a nickname. For example, several of us from Southeast Asian countries prefer this approach as a way to spare the rest of the world from the agonies of learning to pronounce our complicated names. There are many cases where our given names, when not correctly pronounced, may mean something totally inappropriate either in English or in our own languages! I strongly recommend that you read this article titled “Personal names around the world“.


Viewpoints – from inside and from outside

I really liked the piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Administration Vacation“. I think the paragraph “In short, we as faculty members and administrators have to stop viewing one another as monolithic and antagonistic entities, and instead begin seeing ourselves as dedicated individuals and shared stakeholders working toward a common good.” captures the current situation in Higher Ed accurately.

Each of us is on the “inside” in several aspects of our work and life and “outside” in others. And our view points differ so drastically depending on the view that we have. The article suggests that we should have the faculty shadow an administrator for a few weeks and vice versa as a way to get a better understanding and appreciation of the other side. This is the same as moving someone from the “outside” to go “inside” to get a better understanding of the situation.

The practicality of this is a serious issue, but we all can benefit from trying to find some common ground, whatever the path is. (more…)

Teaching & Learning – What problem is technology trying to solve?

I have touched on this topic several times in my postings, but it is always a good reminder as we begin another academic year.

We often see the tension around which technologies will enhance teaching and learning as perceived by the various players. The predominant public discourse on this comes from those connected to education in some fashion or the other, but not from the faculty and the students, . In many higher ed institutions, instructional technologists play the role of both being the resource for the use of existing technologies (such as classroom technologies, learning management systems etc. etc.) but also researching emerging technologies and finding appropriate venues to talk about them to see if the faculty are interested.

There are also institutions where the adoption of technologies seem to be more a top down mandate. I was talking to a friend of mine who is an excellent teacher in a very prestigious institution who was complaining about the pressure to flip classrooms. He flipped and it was a big flopped classroom! (more…)

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