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CLAC 2015

During our driving trip last couple of weeks, we stopped in Virginia Beach. This was from one of the evenings.

During our driving trip last couple of weeks, we stopped in Virginia Beach. This was from one of the evenings.

I was at the annual conference of Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLAC) last week. It is a really fun conference, where you get to meet colleagues from other small liberal arts colleges and exchange notes. Wellesley was well represented in terms of presentations, one of them that included remote presentations. The conference website is a good place to check out the schedule and other information such as the twitter feed and photos from the three days. Wellesley had a total of 5 presentations. My two presentations were well attended and the attendees had some really good and probing questions.

The two keynotes were very interesting. One was by James Higa, who was the “right-hand man” for Steve Jobs in Apple. Since James requested that we do not discuss his presentations in public, I won’t. Angel Mendez, who is the senior VP for transformation at Cisco, gave an excellent presentation on a variety of topics.  He was sharing a lot of the information from Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends. The numbers are sometimes beyond comprehension, especially when it comes to the growth in data storage and big data that is being generated. It is very clear that small institutions like us are simply not positioned to support these internally – we simply do not have the human and financial resources. This is why taking advantage of external resources, or relying on hosted services comes into picture, something we have been successful in doing.

In addition, consortia like CLAC provide a venue for us to collaborate and work together in choosing similar platforms and infrastructure. Angel’s call for action to the CIOs included “Stay current – engage experts, participate & study; Foster the digital learning of your constituents; Speak the language of the institution; Collaborate, break the silos; Allow the stakeholders to learn what is possible”. Right on! Every one of these is what we have been trying to do and have been pretty successful in many of these areas. One advice he gave is for the CIOs  to do something hands on. As many of you know, I am a firm believer of this not just for myself, but also for every manager in the organization.

I am very happy to report that based on an informal benchmark, we are doing great! However, we can aspire to do a lot more and that will be the plan for the upcoming year.

Dear Vendor, Please read this carefully.

Dear Vendor

I fully understand that you have job to do, which is to try to sell your products. I am pretty sure that you have obligations to call and bug as many CIOs as you can, as many times as you can and at whatever time you can. But, you see, we CIOs know a thing or two about this. So, we screen calls in one of many ways and for the most part ignore you. We do the same thing with emails. So, your hit rate must be pretty poor. I feel sorry for you, but you must be able to target the clients in a more intelligent way and find ways to get their attention through channels that they trust, like, a publication or two reviewing your product or creating a buzz through reliable social media methods.

I hate it when I get an email from you where you address me “Hey Ganesan”. Sometimes, I send these emails to Trash with such vengeance  that I can hear my keyboard cry! Few times when your number seems close enough to a recognizable number, I pick up the phone and out of pure politeness, I give you 30 seconds to convince me why I should continue to listen. 95% of the time you have barely finished asking me how I am doing and how the weather is, before 30 seconds pass by and I cut the conversation. Sometimes, you try to impress me by saying how great my blog is or my tweets are. Thank you so much for doing some homework. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a product that matches our needs, this doesn’t do you much good, but I sincerely thank you for your efforts.

If you read my blogs carefully or follow my tweets, you should have a pretty good profile of our philosophy. We love open source, we are on to a careful management of our product portfolio, and we generally are cheap, among other things. I may have introduced myself as the Cheap Information Officer for that reason! BTW, don’t let our endowment fool you, so saying what it is and thereby implying that we can afford to buy your product will take you nowhere. We are no different than many other Higher Eds when it comes to tight finances.

Please understand that I have a job to do which already takes up a lot more time than the regular work hours. So, if I don’t respond to your emails or voicemails, take it as a No! Saying things like “I have already written to you two or three times…” doesn’t make me feel bad or guilty for not having responded. Responding to every vendor who tries to reach me would be a full time job in itself. By the same token, if I accept to go to every dinner invitation thrown my way, I can eat free food for months and possibly put on a lot of weight. Thanks for those invites, but I don’t fall for them.

CIOs tend to be very well connected and rely on our group for referrals and explorations. We each have other trusted channels that we read from where we gather information about products. We go to professional meetings where we look at some of your products. These collectively help us chart our plans for the future. Not random calls from vendors about whom we have absolutely no idea. Sit for a minute and think if you would buy anything from a random person calling and trying to sell you something.

Finally, I have a request for my brothers and sisters from India. Please don’t try to fool me with an anglicized name and fake accent.

I hope, Dear Vendor, you are reading this and giving up on calling me or sending me emails. When I come knocking on your door because you have a great product that I found out about, you can tell me “If only you had taken my call earlier…”

Sincerely

Call me just Ravi!

MISO Survey – Where do we need to do better?

MISO (Measuring Information Services Outcomes) survey is a very popular survey that measures the performance of information services organizations. The then IS at Wellesley administered it in 2008. After I arrived in 2010, I made a decision to wait a little bit for the reorganizations and the repositioning of LTS to settle before we administered it again. We finally administered it in Feb 2015 to the campus faculty, students, and staff. All the faculty and staff, and a sample of Wellesley students (with balanced class participation) were invited to participate. The overall response rate for the faculty was 62% whereas for the students and staff it was over 50%. For some administrative offices, the response rate approached 90%. This is pretty impressive and therefore we can also rely on the results of the survey to measure the responses and respond appropriately.

The survey LTS administered in 2015 aimed to collect feedback on three areas: the importance of library and technology resources and services, satisfaction with those resources and services, and an assessment of how informed the faculty, students and staff are about LTS resources, services, and policies. Whereas we were very interested to know how well we are doing, the most important reason for the survey was to understand where we could be doing better. It is extremely hard to gather a coherent picture of this other than a survey with such a high response rate. You can read more about this here.

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2 Factor Authentication – How I panicked today

I have been using the two factor authentication for Google for quite some time and have never had any issues. I have it turned on for both my personal Google account as well as for my Wellesley account. On the latter one, it is of limited use because of our own use of single sign on. I experienced a real panic this morning that was an eye opener for me.

All began with me getting excited about a Chrome extension called Spaces for Chrome. Since I am big user of spaces on Mac OS, I got all excited about using this. I typically have 20-25 tabs open in my Chrome browser and I hate restarting it. Since this Chrome extension seemed to address grouping of the tabs as well as CPU/Memory savings, I thought I would try it out. I installed and happily reorganized my tabs based on some themes. Then I noticed that the Calendar extension had a red X on it. It said I needed to reauthenticate. So I did. Since I have set up two factor authentication, I was sent a code and everything seemed OK. But then, the red X came back. Disclaimer: I have no proof that it is this chrome extension that caused the problem. It is just an assumption!

I went to look at Chrome settings and it had an authentication failure. I reauthenticated, got the code on my cell phone and everything was fine again. Except… Read more »

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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Change

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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