Blended Learning gathering – Colgate, Davidson, Hamilton, and Wellesley

I am very excited to be able to spend the day with colleagues from Colgate, Davidson, Hamilton, and Wellesley to see how best to collaborate on matters of common interest in the area of blended learning. I will write more about what we discussed today after the meeting is over, but if the discussions last night at dinner was any indication, we are in for a great day.

What brings the four of us together is that we are all small liberal arts colleges who are also members of edX. We also have grants from Mellon foundation to collaborate on “blended learning in the liberal arts” context. Whereas edX provides us a fantastic and solid platform to experiment with the MOOCs, the way teaching and learning happens in a small liberal arts college is very different from the large universities and therefore, through collaborations such as this, we can help edX understand our needs and support us better.

We have a session where students from all four colleges will help us understand their perspectives on matters related to MOOCs and blended learning. I find the student feedback essential for us to be able to strategize the future in this area.

I wrote earlier about the course that I am currently enrolled in – The Analytics Edge and the competition to develop a model to predict which blog posts in NY Times are likely to be popular. I am happy to inform that I placed reasonably well and received a very nice grade. As the toppers are discussing their strategies, I am thrilled to find out that my model was not that different than theirs! What gave them the edge was their patience and persistence in playing with the model to remove a few words that were “over contributing” to the model.

Off to the meeting…

Excuses, excuses, excuses!

I have been pretty bad about not writing for the past several days. I have been very busy – what’s new? The Board of Trustees were here last week. I had to attend a retreat followup and several other meetings. Wellesley faculty did a great job talking about the MOOCs and other blended learning activities taking place at the College. Trustees were very impressed. I was so happy how the faculty acknowledged the partnership with LTS several times. Our staff members who are contributing to all of these collaborations deserve a lot of credit for their enthusiasm, creativity, hard work and patience.

I have been spending every waking moment of the past week thinking about a “competition” that I am part of. Well, it turns out that I was also dreaming about it and waking up in the middle of the night. As I may have mentioned, I am enrolled in a fantastic MOOC – The Analytics Edge. I have learned so much from it in terms of data handling techniques and statistical modeling. I have also learned the open source statistical programming language called R.  We have been given access to very interesting data sets for analysis ranging from Framingham Heart Study to data from Netflix as it related to the Netflix Prize.

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I attended a gathering of several senior managers at the College as a part of a Leadership development effort. The topic of discussion is managing change. We had a very interesting meeting and discussed the challenges everyone faces in trying to affect changes at the institution. It was great to hear the different perspectives on the same issue. This also provided us an opportunity to interact with colleagues with whom we may not interact in the same fashion. I learned a few things about what is going on at the College.

It was apparent that each of us, because of a variety of reasons, including the position we occupy and the areas of our responsibilities, bring a different view point to  change management. Since LTS needs to deal with change on a regular basis, I wanted to share how we tend to implement changes.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Software

After an all nighter watching India lose pretty badly to Australia in World Cup Cricket semifinals, I am beginning the healing process. One of the things that will make me heal quickly is for Australia to lose to New Zealand in the finals. Given that the New Zealanders already beat the Aussies once in this tournament and won their semi finals in a dramatic fashion, I am hopeful that they will clinch the finals. I know most of you don’t care about cricket, sorry, but remember I am going through healing.

I was invited to watch a demo of yet another software product that we are looking at that will help us with affordable care act reporting requirements. (As a side note, ever wonder when these regulations will stop adding to the cost of Higher Ed?) In light of this demo, I was thinking about our experiences in purchasing third party software and it immediately dawned on me that “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” is so appropriate parallel to software.

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EDUROAM – A great collaboration

We can point to so many different success stories in the open source world. I have a long list of favorites, but some of the top ones are:  Linux, Apache, Drupal, Moodle, Hadoop and R. I have personally benefited from all of this tremendously and at Wellesley we use Linux, Apache, Drupal and R. We also use Sakai, which is another open source software. I am taking a course titled “The Analytics Edge” from MIT and loving it. As a part of this, I am cracking away at R. It is such a brilliant system, which has matured so much in the past two years. I have been involved in data modeling in collaboration with my wife for quite some time and was looking at R to replace SAS for . The last time I seriously looked at it was 2 years ago, but ruled out on lot of counts. But, the progress in the past couple of years has been tremendous and along with R Studio, a GUI front end to it, it is awesome.

Along the similar lines, I wanted to talk about eduroam, another brilliant idea. It is one of those collaborations amongst higher ed that works great. As I have written several times before, collaboration in higher ed a lot of times is simply more talk than action. Here is one where it is a tangible collaboration that we can all point to and be proud of.

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Disruptions in Higher Ed

It is fair to say that the financial crisis in 2007-2008 affected higher ed in ways that no one would have predicted a few years ago. It exposed several structural issues in our space and there have been numerous calls for the need to make significant changes. The word “disruption” came into play a fair amount and I would say Clayton Christensen’s “Disruptive Innovation” had something to do with it. The cost of higher ed is often cited as the reason why we need a serious disruption, rightfully so. However, no one offers any magical answers to solving this problem, which can be frustrating. One of my colleagues remarked “people have always complained that the Colleges cost too much money”. There is some truth to this. You can look at the trends in tuition, fees and board here and here. The latter one is pretty comprehensive and I suggest you look at all the data. Data will be interpreted in different ways because the topic is complex. Besides, aggregate data typically tells a very different story than data for a particular person. You may be paying for your children’s college a lot of money and based on your personal situation your story may be so different than what the reported aggregate data may be telling. However, if you you look here, the key points talk about some salient points and the important note says how the net price a student pays after taking into consideration of grant aid and tax considerations has been trending lower.

Regardless of all of this, we, in higher ed, collectively feel that we are at a point in time where disruptions are inevitable. I think some of the recent events should serve as a reminder that we are not immune to disruptions and the more we accept and prepare ourselves, the better our future will be.

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Apple Pay, Samsung Pay etc. and security

I do not have an iPhone, sorry! However, there are a couple in my family who do, so I am aware of the apps and advances in that arena. I have been following the Apple Pay technology with a lot of interest. The fact that it is is touch free (“contactless”) is cool in itself, but I am very impressed by the thought that has gone into securing the information from start to finish. The web page titled “Apple Pay security and privacy overview” clearly explains how the technology behind Apple Pay works. I strongly suggest that you read it. In simple terms, a device and credit card specific “secure element” is stored on your iPhone. When you are at a place that accepts this form of payment, using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the iPhone and a payment terminal communicate. After you enter your passcode on iPhone, it then transmits a dynamically generated encrypted information that contains the secure element for the credit card you choose, along with a few other information (presumably, the vendor name, the actual charge etc.). This data is received by the bank or the payment network, which then verifies all of this information and accepts the transaction. The key to all of this is that the information is secure, encrypted and is stored on your device as well as the bank. No one else, including Apple and the vendor has access to this information except perhaps in transit, but without the appropriate keys to decrypt, the information in such a short transit is not useful.

Samsung has come up with Samsung Pay, which is very similar, but has one advantage over Apple Pay. It also can communicate with the traditional magstripe terminals. Google is rumored to be revamping its Google Wallet  to measure up to these. It is fair to say that most of us are not ready to use these and continue to use traditional methods of using the credit cards in the stores as well as through online. There have been numerous breaches where, because the stores retain our information, they have been stolen. Credit card companies are getting better and alert us of fraud detection, which sometimes can be annoying (because of legit charges) and they tend to arrive at the most inopportune moments, such as when you are just about to embark on a trip. I would love to transition to one of these more secure methods asap. In the meantime…

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Is the CIO still relevant?

I came back from a fabulous gathering of colleagues from Colgate, Davidson, Hamilton, as well as from Wellesley to discuss some of the next steps in blended learning/MOOC collaboration. What brought us together are two similar Mellon planning grants to see how we can collaborate on this subject. Another glue that binds us is that we are all offering or will soon be offering MOOCs through edX. We came up with specific action items and I will write about that later.

Today, at 2 PM, there is a twitter based discussion being organized by on the topic “Is the CIO still relevant?”.  An intro to this is available here. And it begins by saying “The traditional CIO is dead. Emerging from the ashes is a new breed of many-sided digital frontiersmen trying to find their place in an evolving enterprise.”. You get the picture.

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Higher Ed apps – why are they so bad?

SNowIt is snowing heavily and snow everywhere you turn!

While I was at a retreat last week, one of the faculty members was explaining to a trustee how easy it was for her to install and use apps like Uber and Lyft, she has a lot of trouble with software that the College asks her to use, such as Banner and Sakai. I wrote about a similar app that I used in India called Ola cabs. I agreed and gave her some reasons why.

One of the major reasons is that many of the software we use were originally developed very early on and due to a variety of factors, the software companies are simply building on top of older software. The newer “apps” are built using very efficient and modern programming paradigms and have a huge advantage as a result. In other words, if one were to design a brand new learning management system from scratch today, it is likely to be far more in line with the available technologies of today and will look and function very differently. Workday is one such example of an administrative system. It looks very polished, functions very efficiently using technologies such as virtualization in a seamless fashion whereas comparable software like Banner or Peoplesoft have the old look and feel and are monsters in terms of resource requirements. They do use virtualization, but nowhere near to its fullest extent.

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A New Portal for Wellesley

Wellesley has had Luminis portal for quite some time. We began actively promoting its use in the past 4 years. However, this is a very challenging system to understand, implement and maintain. The origins of Luminis are in an open source portal called uPortal. Ellucian, whatever the company was called back then,  decided to take a version of uPortal and implement it to work with Banner. This is the simple version of a long story.

Unfortunately, such techniques just don’t work as well as developing something that coexists with your software in a more integrated fashion. And it shows. I just spent a few weeks trying to unravel the mysteries of Luminis in order to get the information out so we can use it for our new portal and I was flabbergasted.

So, why a new portal? The version of Luminis we are currently running is being phased out & it is running on older operating systems that are not being upgraded. We spent considerable time and effort to look at what it would take to implement the upgraded version of Luminis, which in my opinion, is yet another mistake. Ellucian has decided to take LifeRay, a new open source portal, and branch it off to suit their needs. We estimated that the total resources required to implement and maintain the new Luminis portal is not worth it. We are not the only one who has come to this conclusion.

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