More on Educause MWRC07

The conference wrapped up yesterday at noon or so; I spent the afternoon grading in the hotel lobby, Rock Bottom brewery (darned good Hefe), and Union Station. Some more session recaps:

A pretty good discussion of social software Tuesday afternoon; Facebook, Second Life, etc. I talked about using my delicious in 480. I was disappointed that more than one person played the “I don’t have time to play with this stuff” card. I should be used to that by now, I guess. (I’d love to do something besides read from these yellowed lecture notes, but I just don’t have the time!)

Tuesday concluded with a “lightning round,” eight five minute presentations given one right after the other. The organizer, David Stack of UW-Milwaukee, allowed each participant 10 PowerPoint slides, and collated them into a deck which he advanced every 30 seconds. One fellow sent in a podcast. The result was fast-paced, funny, and engaging. Presenters had clearly rehearsed their presentations; only two did not finish on time, and both of those simply stopped talking when their last slide turned over. This was an absolutely perfect way to end a full day of sessions while at the same time squeezing more presentations into the conference. I once gave a presentation which clocked at 2:39, so I can say with authority that if you plan, you can do a lot with five minutes. And these folks did.

For me, the lightning highlights: how Ralph Shank and others at UI-Springfield manage their projects; bandwidth allocation and virtual networks by Mark Strandskov at Central Michigan; Joann Martyn on integrating visuals into assignments at Carleton.

Wednesday morning I attended a good session from the UW-Milwaukee professional development team, outlining their efforts to improve the training opportunities available to IT staff. Their methods were very labor-intensive: f2f contact with supervisors and team leaders, recursive planning, and quarterly and annual reporting. Faculty with expertise in adult education led the process. Clearly, they were committed to improving the work environment for UWM folks in a variety of ways. I also attended a presentation from Purdue security and legal staff regarding social security number privacy and security breach reporting; an obvious interest for me given WIU’s abysmal record in this area. Again, the presenters made it clear their focus was matching the university’s core mission (teaching and research) to their execution of the policy—not the other way around.

Wednesday keynote continued the trend of disappointment which I felt after the first featured speaker, though for different reasons. Both Richard Katz (opening Monday session) and Tracy Mitrano had very mixed quality talks. Both seemed to misunderstand the audience; I felt like someone was holding my hand throughout their presentations. Katz was very repetitive; he talked for 30 minutes then showed a movie which repeated a lot of the things he said (sometimes verbatim). The movie was pretty cool, but it would have been just as effective to introduce it for five minutes, show it, and open the floor for questions. Mitrano’s talk suffered from a lack of focus; she talked about IP, social software, and electronic surveillance. Her brief discussion of branding, identity, and Facebook/Myspace was interesting but too short. Neither talk really had an argument, but just “presented issues” and “provoked discussion.” Too bad.

More lessons for WIU:

  1. We are not only not keeping up with our in-state neighbors and IBHE peer institutions, we are falling further behind them. UI-Springfield has been using iTunesU for a year. UW-Superior is in its second round of IT review, tweaking the structure they put in place in 2005. Central Michigan automatically switches infected systems on ResNet to an isolated VLAN with minimal connectivity until they are remediated. Creighton provides weblogs to any interested faculty based on a custom installation of WordPress (and that code is being integrated into WPMU; gotta love open source). Eastern Illinois uses thin clients in the English department. Everybody has wireless all over the place. I wish I could name one cool IT project at Western we could hold up to these.
  2. Our technology planning process needs to go forward as rapidly as possible, naming specific goals for IT capabilities, infrastructure, and support, with timelines for the implementation of those goals. If the first plank is “Make Dilger Shut Up,” fine; as long as we have a plan. If we screw it up, we can fix it later.
  3. We should do more to make the work environment for our IT staff better: hiring more support staff, publicizing the work they do, and providing opportunities for advancement and education.
  4. More student and faculty involvement in every phase of IT is critical. Without it, it’s impossible to know if we’re spending our limited funds in ways which support research and instruction. Multiple presenters showed that faculty and student ideas drove innovation and high-engagement IT. Planning processes not headed by faculty and/or students were the exception, not the norm. I fear the reverse is true at Western.

I’m glad I was asked to attend the conference. I hope the folks who asked me to go use the lessons learned there to snap WIU out of its IT funk.

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