Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Best Gift for Education: Fixing the Funding Gaps

Check out this story on the funding disparities driven by our current DOE formulas. We need to aggressively address these and other disparities if we truly want to address the achievement gaps in this country.

On a related note, it still breaks my heart that the wealthiest in our country still focus so much of their giving in support of the mega endowments such as Harvard's $30 Billion. There is no denying that those who need it the least, get it the most--money to support education that is.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Creative-Class Promised Land: The Kalamazoo Promise

We’ve spent a good deal of time on this blog talking about changing and fast-intertwining economic and education dynamics. We’ve reviewed Thomas Friedman’s argument about the role of education in an increasingly “flat” world. We’ve also explored Richard Florida’s argument that the rise or flight of the creative class—dynamic, educated, and talented people staying or leaving—is either empowering or disabling communities. Here’s a stunning response from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Kalamazoo Promise was announced last year and is now in full swing. Through the generosity of anonymous donors, the Kalamazoo Promise set up a permanent scholarship fund to pay for four years of college for any child who graduates from the Kalamazoo public schools. There is a sliding scale of support based on the number of years in the schools system, with a minimum of four years required. However, the promise is basically this: stay here or move here and your kids go to college for free. The promise supports up-to-four years of attendance at any of the states’ public community colleges or universities (or any combination thereof).

Prior to the announcement of this program, enrollment was sharply declining in Kalamazoo schools. The economic development outlook was bleak. Property tax revenue was in free fall. Now each of these indices is moving in the other direction. Folks have moved from as far away as Hawaii to locate in Kalamazoo and take advantage of this unique benefit. Enrollment is up, property values are up, and prospects are rising—all because of this unique investment in the creative capital of a community. Jamal Abdul Alim—who recently studied the impact of the program—describes it this way:

“The program is as much a social experiment aimed at leveling the playing field of access to higher learning as it is an economic development initiative meant to generate school revenue, boost the economy and reverse the effects of a middle-class flight.”

Initial estimates place the program cost between $3-5 million for the first few years. In peak years, it could cost more than $20 million. However, the donors have assured the community that there is enough money to support the program in perpetuity.

Looking at the road ahead, this may be the best money ever spent. For many families—as Abdul-Alim notes—Kalamazoo has just become “the promised land.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

Flogging Blogging

A special thanks to Gerald Napoles, a doctoral student from the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, who sent us this link to an interesting story about college presidents: College Presidents’ Blogs Opens Door to Controversy: Some Get More than They Bargained For.

What’s somewhat striking about the article is how it portrays the blog as a somewhat new phenomenon in making information more public, allowing anonymous attacks, and stirring up controversy. I hate to break it to the author, but these are the same challenges that group e-mail, listservs, and bulletin boards—or just basic web sites—have posed for more than a decade. Indeed, folks have been using web tools to attack administrators and faculty for years. Whether it’s “Corruption at LaGuardia Community College” (an attack that has been going on so long it’s almost comical) or, the online world is not shy about ganging up on folks. Indeed, the folks at the Cluetrain Manefesto have long posited that this postmodern pattern will be a pernicious day-to-day affair for organizations trying to serve any clientele.

This always-on, often-attacked phenomenon is one of the major arguments for extreme authenticity; because in a connected and transparent world, you’re not going to hide anything for long. What we’re getting more used to however, is what folks in small towns have known for a long time. In tight communication circles, some stories are true and others are just really interesting or really inappropriate.

I am concerned that the presidents from this story aren’t more careful about moderating their blogs. While moderation slows down the conversation a bit, it’s the only fair thing to do for your online participants. There are plenty of other open air communication vehicles for folks to vent; why would you allow your blog to be hijacked by the hyperbolic? Good online teachers have known this for years. It’s one of the reasons many choose moderated threaded discussions over chats for class online discussions.

In short, let’s not flog the blog. Let’s instead learn how to leverage it more effectively as an ongoing communication vehicle for communities committed to learning together.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Are Student’s More Engaged Online or In-Class?

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) just released their 2006 Annual Report. This survey of 260,000 randomly selected students from 523 colleges and universities had some interesting findings, not the least of which was that online learning students report the same-or-higher overall engagement scores when compared to in-class students. The data actually make sense if you think about the high numbers of students in large-lecture classrooms in the US who at best feign engagement throughout the semester en route to taking two multiple-choice tests (mid-term and final exams) that measure their “learning.” However, online students did report lower active and collaborative learning scores than their in-class counterparts.

Given that most students will experience a blend of teaching and learning methods—online and in class—we need to explore these data carefully to see what works best in which context to achieve specific learning objectives. However, something NSSE is being criticized for is the private nature of much of their data. Unlike its sister survey CCSSE, which demands public reporting from all participating institutions, many NSSE institutions are able to keep their data from students. I guess some institutions don’t want to engage their students or us in conversations about engagement!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dying to Learn Together

In the run up to the dotcom boom and bust, Cindy Miles and I published an article called Are you Dying to Use Technology. In the piece we made the case that you could track many faculty members’ adoption of technology along Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of death and dying. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance were everywhere, as the uses of E-mail, PowerPoint, and the Web were driving toward the mainstream.

Casey Green’s annual survey of higher education’s adoption of technology—the Campus Computing Survey—is pretty clear that these basic technologies have arrived. Indeed, over the last fifteen years, we have moved technology and technology leaders from the basement to the boardroom (literally in some cases). Most campuses now employ a chief technology officer and target an increasing amount of their infrastructure budgets toward technology.

This technology mainstreaming notwithstanding, conversations about technology are changing. Folks today are not wondering whether their colleges will leverage technology, but whether or not they are getting a true return on investment—is student learning really being improved with all these bits and bytes. And it’s not just about technology use. There are national, state, and local dialogues about all of our administrative and academic strategies and their effectiveness.

Enter a whole new phase of “dying to use” adoption. This time, it’s about research and analytics, the use of data to inform decisions about reaching and teaching students, or evidence-based education. The beginnings of this movement can be traced back to the days of total quality management and then the learning revolution. Terry O’Banion’s A Learning College for the 21st Century is the seminal work in the latter movement. In this book and in speeches nationally and internationally, he argued that colleges in the future would need to consistently and doggedly answer two key questions: (1) do our policies, procedures, and practices improve and expand learning?; and, more important, (2) how do we know?

As I’ve noted here before, groups like the Community College Survey of Student Engagement have begun to collect data directly from students, and use national benchmarks, to try to answer these questions. Projects like the Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream are pulling colleges together to develop common data definitions (e.g., what is a full-time student, part-time student, course success) so they can start using common data across multiple institutions to really get a handle on what works in driving access and success in community colleges. The Education Testing Service (ETS) recently held a summit in Charlotte called Building a culture of Evidence from the Ground Up that explored these programs and others in community colleges. The reports from the presenters noted that it is hard, but incredibly substantial and rewarding work. It really is making a difference.

CCSSE, Achieving the Dream, and ETS Summits are happening in the context of accrediting agencies demanding plans from institutions to define and measure learning outcomes as part of their accreditation reviews. Moreover, the federal government is beginning to poke—and poke hard—at our use of data with reports like the one recently published by the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Not surprisingly, we are beginning to see the movement of institutional research tools and personnel from in-the-shadows staffers to center stage.

Because of the push from programs and the powers that be, folks are once again feeling like they are “dying to adopt” something new—this time it is analytics and data use. All stages can be seen, sometimes in different people, sometimes in the same person over time: (1) Denial: “These data cannot be right!” (2) Anger: “Don’t these **#$@ administrators have anything better to do!” (3) Bargaining: “We can measure passing, but we’ll never really measure learning” (4) Depression: “I think it may be time to retire”, to (5) Acceptance: “I wonder what these data really mean?”

However, as was the case with technology, we’re always better if we don’t drive this as a fad or as a top-down directive. We really don’t have to slam people through stages of death and dying. The folks at CCSSE, ATD, and ETS note that we’re much better off inviting faculty and staff to the table and inviting them to help shape the process.

For example, Steve Mittlestet at Richland College in Dallas Texas—a college that recently became the first institution of higher education in the country to receive the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award—states that his college focused first on building a culture that valued learning together. He cautions colleagues that when beginning to do work on analytics, outcomes, and data you have to stop the natural tendency to adopt a culture of blame (e.g., who is failing with these students!), and promote a culture of wonder (e.g., I wonder what we can do together to turn developmental math around?). Talented faculty members are trained to wonder. Give them good data, invite them to the table, and be willing to start the conversation. When we can substantially improve student learning in the process, this can be a compelling conversation indeed!

Learning together is never easy. But, it’s at the heart of quality work in the academy. To do our part in the process, NISOD will be hosting an analytics summit at our annual conference in May 2007. We set this kind of stage because we know that talented teachers strongly believe in the CASE method—Copy And Steal Everything. Folks who care deeply about reaching and teaching students have always enjoyed learning together, always enjoyed the task of tackling tough problems with talented people. Now, with better information at our fingertips, we’ll have more tools in the toolkit than ever before.

This time let’s make it clear, we’re not “dying to adopt” a new trend; but we are dying to learn together, so we can help our students learn for a lifetime.

Monday, September 25, 2006

They're Raving About It

We’ve taken some time in this blog to discuss the use of gaming in education, as well as working to use alternative strategies to connect with hyper-connected students. We’ve shown some of the unique strategies to reach out to post-modern student interests with viral marketing and more engaging content.

But now comes the Rave! While visiting the good folks at South Texas College (STC), I heard about the results of their new strategy to reach out to younger students. For those who don’t know, STC was formed thanks to the leadership of former Governor Ann Richards and others in an effort to better meet the educational needs of the Rio Grande Valley area—a predominantly Mexican-American community. It has grown from a bold idea in 1992 to a thriving institution of more than 18,000 students today, offering everything from certifications to four-year degrees. It is proof positive that we underestimate the educational needs and capabilities of minority populations all too often. And when tapped, amazing things can happen in terms of supporting human potential and expanding workforce development.

Anyway, about the Rave. I was present for their all-college convocation when they announced the results of this innovative strategy. They held an all-night Rave Registration, allowing students to do everything from admissions to paying for classes—at 3:00 am if they wanted to—with food, fun, music, and lots of college support.

Some folks thought that the student services folks where out of their minds for proposing this, that only a handful of students would even be interested. They ended up with close to 500!!

All night Rave Registrations. Talk about 24/7 student services! I love it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lighting Candles

Educators coming together around the use of research and analysis to drive decisions. Practitioners and policy makers calling for more openess and transparency in exploring outcomes. Is this a meeting of the Spelling Commission? No. This is the University and College Information Systems Association’s (UCISA) seminar on the rising use of business intelligence in education. UCISA is the UK equivalent of Educause, and it held this futuristic meeting in the hallowed halls of the University of Bristol, just outside London.

After writing about the Power to Know You’re Making a Difference and the Need to Know Situation in Education, it was quite interesting to hear the challenges that US school districts, community colleges, and universities are facing in their efforts to gather and leverage data to drive decisions being echoed by colleagues in the UK. We heard about the “Edinburgh Enlightenment Project,” from the University of Edinburgh. I liked the take of the “Knowing Me, Knowing You” presentation—complete with ABBA soundtrack—from Liverpool John Moores University as well.

One key consensus point from these presentations—the technology is not the tough stuff in insight initiatives. It’s the people, processes, and culture that are most challenging. Moreover, a key element of all three of these issues was emphasized here: power. Those in power have to get it, support it, and be willing to use it, or else intelligence systems will never get off the ground.

The money quote from the seminar was borrowed from Sir Winston Churchill (a former Chancellor of University of Bristol): “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it.”

Here’s to lighting candles with the good use of information. Our students deserve it!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ingredients and Recipes

Reading the President of Iran’s comments about how more than 150 years of academic freedom—or secular education—had poisoned Iranian youth, I’m reminded of a very basic fact: ingredients do not equal the recipe.

For example, the tough lesson we see in practice in the Middle East and South America is that democracy does not ensure freedom. Indeed, democracy without quality education, freedom of the press, and stable civic institutions, is typically just mass manipulation--dashing demagogues dominate the ballot box and drag their societies through all sorts of nonsense. In short, democracy in and of itself is not a recipe for freedom.

Education is not a recipe for freedom either. While I and others wax poetic about the power of education, the truth is that without true academic freedom, freedom of the press, broad access to public education, and more, teaching and learning can be terrible and lethal. Schools and universities can be used to inculcate the worst of values and the most dangerous of thinking—not to mention developing the most terrible of talents (e.g., think about building nuclear devices).

Remember, education literally changes the brain (great book by the way). My worst fear is that millions of young people will live neither well nor free thanks to the “education” provided by some hateful regimes. They will be burdened with patterns of thoughts and constructions of reality so warped, that all of our cogent arguments, good intentions, and peaceful gestures will be hard pressed to make a dent in their version of reality.

We’ve got to tackle this head on. Yes, democracy and education are deeply intertwined. However, they are only ingredients in the larger recipe of free societies; moreover, as the Iranian President makes clear, they can be used quite dangerously in isolation.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Interests and Interest

Steve Gilbert, the leader of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group (TLT Group), and I had an interesting conversation yesterday. We were doing an interactive interview/conversation piece for use with his national listserv and online community.

As we talked about the usefulness of student evaluations of instruction, new course designs at MIT, and broad strategies to increase student engagement, another topic kept popping up. The persistent theme we circled back toward involved the modern push and pull between preparing our students—and ourselves for that matter—for a world of rapid change, career mobility, and shifting priorities versus challenging our students to be part of a community, to develop a sense of authentic purpose and belonging. This conversation got me thinking that this dynamic strongly relates to a defining dialectic of our postmodern age: practical cynicism and individuation versus daring to believe in something and becoming a caring member of a community.

I’ve seen it in almost every world in which I’ve worked over the last ten years: education, association, and corporate. People are torn between looking out for number one and looking out for each other, focusing on their own interests or really showing interest in someone else. It’s as if we are desperately hopeful for real, authentic, inspirational leadership that will make us a substantive part of something larger than ourselves, but cynically resigned when our greatest wishes are dashed away by scandal, betrayal, or incompetence. I touched on this a bit in the Don’t Stop Believing post a few months back.

What is this duality doing to us? Maybe it’s a healthy dose of reality therapy, and this push and pull is an important part of being hardy enough to take the “slings and arrows outrageous fortune.” Probably true. However, there is also a possibility that this duality is becoming so pronounced that whole groups of people are swinging too hard either way. Some are becoming so cynical and individually focused that they’ll withdraw from any position or stand. They sit on the sidelines deriding all players on the field. Others are so fanatically obedient that they dutifully play their part in partisan divides or, worse yet, will blow themselves to bits for a cause.

What is the perfect pathway to the balance of interests and interest? I’m not sure. But we might want to challenge ourselves to be even more thoughtful of our own take on this divide. Even though we are hard pressed to prepare our students for a fast changing world, we may be sowing some hurtful seeds if we don’t also help them learn more about being thoughtful members of a community. In this regard, developing interest may actually be in all of our interests.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I’m being serenaded by the sounds of my oldest son’s video game, soothed by the sight of my daughter playing on the swing set outside, and amused by the antics of my youngest. You see I’m home after making my usual August tour of education institutions, speaking at convocations, opening staff development weeks, and leadership workshops. I’ve been to K-12 districts, community colleges, and universities on this go around, jumping from Tulsa to Tampa, from Illinois to Indiana. I’ve also visited more Walgreens and CVS drug stores in more states than I care to remember. No toothpaste allowed in carry-on bags, remember.

Because I’m finally home after thousands of miles of travel, this entry won’t be that long. But, I do want to share a quick observation about a common cluster of questions that came up in working with faculty across K-20, and from whom they came.

In my town meetings and Q&A sessions, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the challenges and opportunities facing the world of education. Teachers, reachers, and leaders alike seemed eager to rise to the challenge of swirling students, global social networks, and rising insight initiatives. There is an almost overwhelming acceptance building surrounding the fundamental overhaul our education system is undergoing, and deep interest the shape it might take. What was unique, however, was the reaction from cohorts that usually remain either quiet or contentious.

During these dynamic dialogs, there is almost always a contingent of faculty and staff that wait patiently as we “consultants” do our thing. Some are polite and quiet, just waiting for it to be over; while others like to throw bombs in the forms of observations and/or questions just to see how you might react. It’s just part of the process. However, this time, there seemed to be something different going on. I got the sense that many of the folks that often fall in these camps were engaging in a different way. They were asking hard and heartfelt questions. Questions they might not usually ask. Things like:

“Okay, I’m interested in these technology tools; but how am I supposed to find the time to take try these new things? I’m already buried under paper grading and advising. I’m serious, if I was going to try one thing, what would it be?”

“How am I supposed to support a ‘culture of evidence’ when our technology systems won’t even spit out a clue . . . much less evidence? I really do want to know if we’re making a difference, but I don’t control the information I get. How can I change that?”

And there was a different tone. I didn’t get the sense that these where excuses for not changing in the forms of questions—which is often the case. There was a somber seriousness in these sentiments. These were veterans who really wanted to know what the risk/reward ratio would be, what the right strategies might look like.

I tried to be as responsive as possible. I noted the reality that there was real work to be done to get our systems in line to enable the “front lines” to meet rising student expectations. But I also noted, the great news that when it comes to ideas for where to start, it’s often nice to be “the second mouse to the cheese.” And if you’re willing to honestly look, there are models all around. We just have to be open to trying, to putting our proverbial toe in water.

This little observation about the questions and questioners could easily be an artifact of these August engagements. However, it just may be that we’re approaching a critical mass. Maybe we are reaching the Tipping Point in the coming overhaul of our educational system. Maybe the policy and practitioner worlds are finally beginning to align around fundamental ideas of access, affordability, quality, and engagement. Maybe were on the verge of an exciting decade of dramatic change, where even the most caustic cynic will carry the transformation banner. Or, maybe, listening to my oldest son, watching my playful daughter, and laughing at my littlest boy is making me just a little too hopeful. Maybe.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Learning and Living Well and Free

I spent the day yesterday with a passionate group of educators—career and technical program leaders, teachers, and reachers serving in the Orange County Public Schools in Florida. These are the folks who teach kids and adults courses and programs in electronics, construction trades, business entrepreneurship, information technology certifications, and whole lot more. We dove deep into future trends surrounding technology, globalization, and student social networks, and how each of these drivers might impact career and technical education in the years to come. More interesting, however, was the town meeting we had later in the day, which evolved into a deeper and more interactive exploration of these trends.

Joining this conversation with these educators brought to top of mind an important truth—learning is valuable in many forms. Learning about literature has incredible value; but so too does learning about career and technical topics. Academic rigor is essential; but so too is engaging and practical education. All too often, however, we see divisive wars of importance emerge in educational settings. Liberal arts educators denigrate practical training, and career educators disparage the utility of Shakespeare. “Higher learning is more important than training,” scream elitist English teachers. “Philosophy degrees simply help you think deep thoughts about being out of work,” sneer testy technology teachers.

Of course, both camps are wrong. And both are right. They are wrong in assuming that either is of greater value. They are right to think that their focus on learning is essential. As with many debates, the answer to this conflict is found somewhere in the middle.

Without higher-order learning and an academic core, students who aspire to any career will have a difficult time keeping up with the modern reality of lifelong learning. However, without practical, job-related skills, it will become increasingly difficult to find employment in a job market increasingly requiring certifications of learning. From doctors to electricians to real estate agents to network administrators, demonstrated and continuous learning are essential to employment.

We have to remember that our local, state, and national learning systems need to help people live both well (e.g., get a job they love) and free (e.g., be empowered, well rounded, and engaged community members). And please let us jettison the arrogance that pushes too many to think that all students need to go to Harvard, or that life as a construction foreman is unfulfilling. Hard truth: there are extremely happy, thoughtful, and educated people and dangerously unfulfilled, angry, and ignorant people in every career field, in every income bracket. Some of the saddest characters I know have the most money, the highest degrees, and the loftiest titles. It’s not about money or prestige in learning; it’s about great fit, good choices, and people having an authentic sense of purpose. And nothing will help us live well and free like all of us embracing learning across the K-20 spectrum that is engaging, practical, rigorous, and on purpose.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A “Need to Know” Situation in Education

In the power to know we’re making a difference in education we talked about the emerging education imperative—the metaphorical “learn or die” scenario. There is little doubt that this imperative is driving expanded explorations into how we educate. Which is why when you look worldwide, there is a dizzying array of regulatory frameworks emerging at all levels of education, ranging from the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Act to the Higher Learning Commission’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) to the Bologna Process in Europe to test regimes in Qatar.

In addition external sources are bringing publicly available data to parents, community leaders, and legislators to start conversations. The Education Trust is one of the leading drivers of these dialogues. Their goal is to highlight success and start difficult explorations of weaknesses in educational systems. Check out their College Results site to do some of your own examinations of college effectiveness. It is a completely different way of looking at college quality than US News and World Report rankings. In addition, the Gates Foundation posts a US report card of state-by-state school system performance as part of their work in igniting change in education through rigor, relevance, and relationships.

Other initiatives are also bringing insight to education from more direct sources—student surveys. The National Survey of Student Engagement, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, and the newly created High School Survey of Student Engagement, all use the technique of leveraging the reams of research reports about what works in teaching and learning and then reaching out directly to students. The leaders of these efforts have created surveys that capture data from students about whether they are engaged in teaching and learning activities that research shows will lead them toward success in education. Moreover, they encourage the hundreds of institutions that participate to benchmark themselves against like institutions to compare their effectiveness and drive conversations about what level of engagement is “good enough.”

In the United States, broader benchmarking activities are being driven by associations and grant initiatives. For example, The Western States Benchmarking Consortium members are searching for “more meaningful accountability.” Leading school districts in this group are driving student performance analysis, financial intelligence, strategic performance management, and human capital intelligence projects. The Achieving the Dream (ATD) project, funded by the Lumina Foundation, is challenging community colleges to use systematic data collection to learn more about access and success in two-year institutions. Moreover, ATD and other programs, like the College and Career Transitions Initiative are driving institutions to look at data sets that explore the flow of students between levels of education. And the Educause Center for Applied Research is striving to use research and analysis to help higher education leaders make better decisions.

While they may not have achieved the sophistication of the predictive analytics used by or the interactivity of gaming systems, it’s clear that education insight initiatives on the local, state, national, and international level are on the rise. I just hope they fulfill the promise of helping us learn what’s working, what’s not, and what holds the potential to drive transformational change in the way we teach and reach students. Because given our modern education imperative, this is truly a “need to know” situation.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Coffee Talk with Dad: A Homecoming

The end of this month will mark the one-year anniversary of our father’s passing. John Michael Milliron was a gentle, kind, and caring man whose joy in life came from watching the comings and goings of his nine children and 11 grandchildren.

He was diagnosed with terminal small-cell lung cancer in February of 2004 and given 3-6 months to live. We were devastated. He was devastated. For the first time since he was 13, he had to quit work and stay home. Driving him to pick up his things from work was crushing. He was 'going to work' for the last time; and for a man who came of age in the fifties—an organization man—this was tough stuff. You could see it in his eyes.

But serendipity soon came. He used this time to dive deep into our worlds, to spend hours and hours talking with us over morning coffee, finally reminiscing about his past, and encouraging us about our roads ahead. The older children took turns going to the house to spend time with him in the mornings before work. It was like he was running his own little Starbucks. I have the sneaking suspicion that he was having so much fun connecting with his kids and grandkids, he fought harder through the chemo, weight loss, and nausea to stay in our lives. He was with us almost three-times longer than we expected. In fact, he was placed on Hospice in October of 2004, and the doctors told us we were probably six weeks away, at most. After more than six months, they realized this might be a longer haul. Although it was a painful time, it was a special time. A time we wouldn’t trade for the world.

I had taken a new job in North Carolina in the fall of 2004. Julia, my wife, was completely supportive of me flying back to Arizona on a regular basis to stay with family, help with Dad, and get my morning conversations in. I could write forever about these experiences, but today, as we approach the one-year anniversary of his passing, I’ll share a lesson that came my way. I was reviewing my journal from that time and found a piece I had written called The Homecoming. I witnessed this scene after having to cut one of my Dad trips short and rush to the airport to get back to NC for work meetings.

A Homecoming

I’m sitting at the airport, which is no surprise, eating a quick lunch before I pass through security and get on to the gates to board my plane. As I’m people watching to pass the time, I notice that a plane with soldiers must have landed—kids returning home from Iraq, from what I can tell. They’re streaming by with bags in tow, all shapes and sizes, all in a hurry. The first thing that strikes me is how
young these guys are. They barely look old enough to drive, much less lead a charge in Iraq.

The next thing that catches my eye is a family patiently waiting just beyond security. There’s a nervous and excited mother, wringing her hands, nervously checking her husband’s watch, and trying to keep the two kids close by. There is what looks like a 10-year-old little girl and maybe 4-year-old brown-haired boy. The latter is bouncing off the walls; the former has yet to move a muscle. She’s just staring into the group of soldiers emerging from the terminal. The father is an average-sized man, with a tension about him; but clearly he’s the rock. His worn jeans, what looks like a work shirt of some kind, and tattered black shoes tell you he’s not used to airports, which is also clear by the glances he shoots at business travelers buzzing by as they talk on their cell phones. The family is standing together about 100 feet back from security, eyeing each soldier, as if wondering if they can still recognize their child. Finally, their son emerges from beyond the check point.

First the four-year-old charges the child soldier and tackles him waste high. The short-haired, short-standing boy guards himself against the charge and picks up his little brother. The sister and mother are next, shrieking as they rush to his side, kiss him, hug him, and maul him with joy. The father hasn’t moved. He’s just standing and watching as if in disbelief. After a little of the excitement settles, they all turn to the father. There is a long pause, and then the son puts down his duffle, guides his little brother to the ground, and slowly walks to his Dad. He boldly puts out his hand, but in what is clearly not a natural motion, the father opens his arms. The boy, taken aback, falls into his father’s hug. The father guides his son’s head down into his shoulder with his left hand, and holds on with all his might with his right.

The mother, daughter, and brother are standing just staring at this scene—as are we. No one at close range can look away. Overwhelmed, crying, the father is holding on to someone he thought he had lost forever. And he won’t let go. The rest of the family gently moves closer and just put their hands on the two. And then they melt into the hug as well. He is home.


I took this all in and just melted in emotion for a bit. I wasn’t going to fight it. When I’m 70, I would never remember the meeting to which I was rushing. I would remember, however, my coffee talks with Dad. I went to the US Air counter, canceled my ticket, and got a cab. When I came into the house with bags in tow, my Dad looked puzzled . . . but pleased. “Flight was canceled,” I said. “Got any more coffee?” He just grinned and poured the Folgers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bubble Wrap

By now you may have already seen the online bubble wrap sheet. After popping a few bubbles myself, I starting thinking about the uses of bubble wrap. Most important of those uses is the wrapping of valuable articles so they don’t get broken during times of transition—particularly big moves.

Then I started thinking about the major education overhaul that we’re undertaking. It’s clear that the fundamental transition from our industrial factory model of education to one better suited for our knowledge, or creative, economy is underway. And much like big house moves, this is a time of massive transition. And during transitions, there is great stress. During transitions—if we get sloppy—valuable items break. During transitions, it’s good to use bubble wrap liberally.

What about our students? I really hope we’re not throwing them into the educational transition moving van without adequate protection. Are we holding them to new standards without the teaching, reaching, and leadership resources in our schools to help them make the grade? Are we tossing them about in a turbulent ride, the destination not quite in site, all the while focusing protection on past infrastructures, contracts, and models of education? What should we be doing to ensure that during this unique time of transition, our current students don’t just suffer the ride, but learn to thrive? How can we be certain these attempts to smooth the transition won’t become enabling crutches?

There may not be perfect answers here. However, we definitely should be asking the questions. Unfortunately, there is a false assumption floating around that students are already there. They are “NetGen” kids, already one step ahead. I’m not so sure. Yes, they are comfortable with new technology. But are they prepared for the new knowledge economy? Are they ready to learn for a lifetime? Organizations like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills are asking these kinds of questions and engaging local, state, and national conversations on the topic. Take a hard look at their good work to get an idea of the transitional challenges we’re about to undergo.

Of course we don’t need to cloister the kids. However, we should be particularly patient with a generation of learners that will live through this massive move. A little bit of bubble wrap with these valuables is probably a good idea.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Healthy Independence Day

Interdependence can be a good thing. It wraps partners into relationships that encourage them to at least look for compromise and win/win scenarios. But when it gets one sided, it can be a trap. Just think about our dependence on foreign oil. Our brothers, sisters, children, and parents fight and die in far away places that we would hardly consider intervening in were it not for oil or the resulting dysfunctions of the surrounding region. Because of our dependence, questionable governments and leaders are blessed with largess, and often live out Gandhi’s admonition that wealth without work is a blunder that can destroy the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In a deeply connected world, we must engage. We must be good partners. However, in every good partnership, marriage, or friendship, the players operate best from a place of strength. When one holds a substantial advantage over the other, or the pain of exit is greater than the ecstasy of entry into another more positive relationship, dangerous dynamics ensue. In personal relations, verbal abuse, physical battering, and exploitation can result. In global foreign relations, radical rhetoric, erratic economies, and military maelstroms are our reward.

As most of us clearly recognize, we are best served by having a healthy, educated, independent, personal base from which to operate in our worlds of work, home, and beyond. When we center ourselves and get on purpose, take care of our bodies, and expand our education, we are better parents, partners, friends, and neighbors. It’s no different with our country. When we take care of each other, educate our citizenry, and foster healthy, independent infrastructures, we can be better, more responsible players on the world stage.

It’s not about protectionism, isolationism, or xenophobia. It’s about being a good partner in an increasingly flat, connected, and interdependent world. Maybe it would help if once a year we champion a healthy independence day. July 4th sounds good!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

21st Century Catalytic Conversations

I had the great pleasure of participating in one of Florida State Senator Ken Pruitt’s 21st Century Summits last week. Senator Pruitt is the incoming president of the state senate in Florida and is a major champion of education. He holds these summits on different topics to bring diverse leaders together in what we would call "catalytic conversations" about key topics in the state. Much like our earlier entry about Erskine Bowles’ inaugural address, the conversation here was about K-20, lifelong learning, and the increasing ties to economic development. Learning and earning indeed. All sectors from across Florida were represented and did an outstanding job of outlining the challenges and opportunities of the road ahead. Just take a look at the agenda to get an idea of the dialogues they put together.

We were hosted by Indian River Community College (IRCC) and their president Dr. Ed Massey. IRCC is one of those special community colleges that fully embraces its role as an educational catalyst. In addition to the standard comprehensive community college programs, they run a magnet high school, a dynamic adult learning center, and are home to the newly minted Kight Center for Emerging Technologies. I joked that the Kight Center was the kind of education facility God would build if he had the money! It is home to cutting-edge biotechnology, engineering, e-learning programs and more.

The stunning Kight Center was a perfect venue for these catalytic conversations. Senator Pruitt and team did an outstanding job of pulling in diverse constituencies to really hit some hard topics head on. Instead of pitting sectors against each other—particularly surrounding a topic like career and technical education that can lead to uncomfortable elitism—he sent the powerful message that it’s all about how we work together to position the state to play a successful part on the global stage. With conversations like this going on, coupled with the solid educational leadership in the state, Florida is more likely than most to be ready for the road ahead.

Friday, June 30, 2006

ACE's National Competitiveness Strategy

If you’ve followed this Blog, you know that we’ve been talking about the rising education imperative all along. There is a rising tide of discontent about our place in a highly connected world increasingly driven by an economy directly tied to education.

The American Council on Education (ACE) is on a campaign to increase awareness about this education imperative and has launched a incredibly useful site called A recent article from that site’s newsletter is a must read. It’s called: Towards A National Competitiveness Strategy: Congress Turns To Higher Education.

Here’s a quick excerpt from the beginning:

The nation’s capital is abuzz with talk about the state of American competitiveness. From the groundbreaking National Academies of Sciences report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” to journalist Tom Friedman’s best-seller “The World Is Flat,” a chorus of corporate chieftains, world-class scientists and public intellectuals is sounding the alarm that America’s future prosperity is at risk and that American preeminence in the 21st century cannot be taken for granted.

Check out the article. But more importantly, check out the site. The resources are outstanding, the policy briefs are useful, and the links to take action are compelling. ACE is doing great job of trying to mount a National Campaign for Higher Education. We need to support them!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Connecting with the Connected . . . Not So Easy

Today’s students are quickly becoming hyper-connected, media inundated, network informed, cynics. As a result, they just don’t trust our standard press releases, brochures, catalogues, commercials, or standard website rhetoric. The folks at ClueTrain have been saying this for some time. Just look at MySpace, FaceBook, Massive Multi-Player Online Games, Wikipedia, or to see the how students are leveraging vast global social networks to share, compare, and search for the real story.

Reaching these students in this postmodern world with outreach and recruiting messages is more difficult than ever. That’s why it’s not surprising to see colleges turn to more creative viral marketing strategies. Just check out SchoolDaze from Kettering University. This first foray into an alternative outreach strategy has been forwarded around student communities like wildfire. It’s been so popular, Kettering created episode II to respond to “fan mail” flooding in. It’s not quite the standard campus tour, is it?

This just gets you thinking: how are we connecting with connected students? More importantly, is what we’re doing working? How do we know? What do they know about us that we don’t? You’d be surprised.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sometimes You Have to Slow Down

Things are moving fast. Life, work, and all the rest. E-mails are pouring in, cell phone buzzing non stop, and meetings, meetings, and more meetings. At times like this, I think of Sandy Shugart’s Brick Work poem. It makes you pause.

But something closer to home woke me up to slowing down this time. I was riding our Honda ATV through the Western North Carolina Mountains near our little farm. Joining me on the ride this morning is my 8-year-old daughter Alex. We’re buzzing through the Blue Ridge when suddenly she starts waving her hand up and down. I slow down and ask her “what’s up?”

She tells me, “Daddy, sometimes you have to slow down to see the butterflies.” My little Buddha. I slow the ATV down and sure enough, as we creep along the path, black, gold, yellow, and white butterflies come fluttering from the flowers and bushes all around. It’s like they came out of hiding. She waves her hand again, so I put my ear closer in and she tells me, “If you stop you can hear the birds sing.”

We come to a stop and I cut the engine off. Here we sit, on this crisp morning in the Blue Ridge, butterflies all around, being serenaded by bird song. She’s right. Sometimes you just have to slow down.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Rookie Courage

If you read some of the current literature on brain research and learning, a major maxim jumps out: be a rookie every year. From Ian Robertson’s Mind Sculpture to James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain to Eric Jensen’s Brain-Based Learning to Daniel Amen’s Making a Good Brain Great, we find that the brain has somewhat of a use it or lose it protocol. And you are best served by not only deepening your current learning, but by stimulating fresh neural-synaptic pathways through explorations of the new and novel. Learning a new language, new technology, knitting, or horseback riding, it really doesn’t matter. Just learn something new.

We’ve known the value of learning renewal for some time. Remember Merlin’s admonition to the Once and Future King:

“The best thing for being sad . . . is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

Still, it takes a lot of courage to admit you don’t know what you’re doing. The best of teachers understand the raw courage of this moment for their students. In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer argues that this realization is essential in breaking the cycle of fear—the fear of both the teacher and student that the other will find out that they don’t really know everything.

Rookie courage is sometimes quite difficult for veterans in particular. Their expertise weighs on their minds; their pride in past accomplishments restrains them from embracing a learning experience which might make them look like a duck out of water. However, the best of veterans know that living out loud with this experience—right in front of your students—may be the most important gift. It teaches students about the importance of rookie courage, and the fact that they need to develop it as a skill for lifelong learning.

The great news is that our modern technology changes so rapidly we continuously have opportunities to be a rookie. From trying out online learning to experimenting with Podcasting, there is an endless array of moments for us to keep our own brains fresh with new learning and to engage our students as well. Yes, we may look foolish at times, as we fumble with new hardware, software, and systems. But we’ll not only survive, we’ll thrive because of it.

We all just have to have a little Rookie Courage.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Don’t Stop Believing

For all the talk and awe surrounding our creative, fast-moving, constantly connected, ever-innovative world, there are some dangerous challenges. The most pernicious problem may be the belittling and marginalization of belief. The postmodern world trains rising students not to believe that an organization will provide a career. “You will change jobs 7-15 times!” we tell them. We train consumers not to trust press releases, advertisements, and the basic claims of our businesses—just check out the well known Cluetrain Manifesto for some of the most profound and startling claims surrounding this perspective. From parishioners to the body politic, we are disillusioning the masses en masse.

The academic in me says there is real value in belief bashing. The Eric Hoffer’s of the world have shown the terror of True Believers. The extremes of belief are dangerous to be sure—particularly in promoting the loss of self. Still, there is something divisive and destructive happening as we are today pushed to the other extreme; because, at our core, we are desperate to believe. Just look at how the US population turned to faith after 9/11, how family reconnect during the terminal illness of a parent, or how quickly we rush to the banner of a new politician that holds even the sliver of a promise of being real. While we need to be personally fulfilled, we remain a believing bunch.

If you want to make a difference in a student’s life, drive a movement, transform your business, or change the world in this turbulent time, here’s a thought: don’t stop believing. As leaders in our schools, colleges, corporations, or counties, we can thoughtfully embrace belief without cynicism and achieve amazing results. We really are Better Together. And we owe it to ourselves, and those who join us in working toward a collective mission, to at least try.

Here are four pillars to consider for harnessing the power of belief:

1. Be worthy of it. Don’t even think about going after what’s possible with belief if you’re not willing to be authentic and real. Remember the classic line from King Arthur, “you are the land, and the land is you.” When you’re in a healthy, authentic place, there is transference to your organization. Don’t think this is trivial. In my experience, it is the root challenge in most organizations.

2. Encourage it. You may find that there are so many caustic, cynical people in most modern organizations that it feels more hip to be flip, to deride those who dare to care about making a difference. Have the courage to fight this feeling. As long as you authentically believe, encourage others to as well. The result will be more than worthwhile for you and for the people in your organization starving for something worthy of their extra effort.

3. Create a safe place for it. The minute you and others begin believing, the attacks will start. Be careful. Often, the people who come at you are folks who’ve been burned by belief in the past; and they will play out their psycho-drama on you and others with vitriol you cannot imagine. Verbal aggression, cultural bullying, and much, much more may come your way. Confront it; stand up for those who are going the extra mile without fail. In particular, protect the absent in meetings and side conversations—this is where much of the cultural belief bashing takes place.

4. Be real with it. Don’t skimp on this one. If you’re not a tough-minded realist about what’s working and what’s not, belief will backfire. The cynics will have a field day. Unfortunately, some people think that just because they care, because they believe, because they try hard, what they are doing is valuable. Nope. If you really believe in making a difference, check—and check often—if your strategies are working. Whether your desired outcome is learning, profit, or efficiency, make sure you are tireless is testing your assumptions. In addition, do not hesitate to take action, confront negative behavior, separate poor performers and cultural-poison spreaders from the love of the institution, and follow through on your promises, or else. Your credibility is everything.

These are just a few thoughts for fellow architects—leaders—who dare to care enough. Let me know if you have other “pillars” I need to add to this building.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Phoenix Flight

I’m sitting in 16C, unsettled, flying to Phoenix after attending the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) in Austin, TX. WCIT brought together government, technology, healthcare, and education leaders in a discussion around innovations and issues in information and communications technology worldwide. The event was an interesting exploration of challenges on the road ahead and the unique swath of global programs and practices being engaged to make a difference and make money. Moreover, the WCIT collective agenda of digital access, 21st century medicine, and privacy framed some compelling international dialogues. In the end, one cannot attend this kind of event without being taken aback by how far our world has come in the use of information technology in such a short time. It’s stunning.

But it’s not the bits and bytes blazing by that are bothering me on this plane ride. It’s hearing about how Korea has made high-bandwidth computing available to ALL citizens; how China is committing to wiring its rural communities; how the Indian government is strategically investing in its education system to turn out elite engineers equipped for this new world. And these are just a few of the examples from the keynote stage in Austin. I’ve heard these before; but hearing them altogether once again got me thinking. Where are the American examples of coordinated national responses to our changing world?

It hit me like a punch in the chest—the embarrassment that is. Particularly after Brazil just announced its energy independence, while we can only offer political pandering in the face of our national energy crisis. It seems that we are paralyzed in our industrial revolution paradigm; we seem stuck in a painful “aren’t we wonderful” mindset. Meanwhile, countries around the world are happily using our current self-congratulatory largess to outfit themselves to pass us by.

Don’t get me wrong; there are amazing technology and education programs taking shape across the US. But, where is our national coordinated educational response to the needs of our connected world? Who is in charge of visioning a national response to creating a technology infrastructure that allows citizens to connect, companies to compete, and our country to once again stand out as a world leader, not just a world dominator? No, we just let the companies fight it out for market share, while rural and inner-city school children suffer in collapsing schools. Test them more, that’s our answer to our utterly embarrassing educational outcomes. Let the market sort it out, that’s our national technology plan.

While other countries are designing compelling national strategies to take on the opportunities of our globally connected knowledge economy, our response is to focus more on old bureaucracies like the US Departments of Labor, Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture. Agriculture! You can’t help but notice, the players at our national table gained their seats as responses to the agricultural and industrial revolutions; and they are not likely equipped to—or interested in—outfitting us for the information revolution. Its no wonder the Department of Homeland Security is replete with behind-the-times technology.

Maybe I’m just a little overtired from all this travel. But I can’t help but think, we’ve got to catalyze this conversation soon if we plan to rise in concert with the Phoenix-like countries all around us. Otherwise, we’ll just be focused on our landing.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


I’m just returning from Paris after attending the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) annual International Conference. It was a good event that once again reinforced just how seriously leaders from around the world are taking education these days. Political, corporate, and educational leaders sang a similar song—colleges, communities, and countries must educate well or die on the vine.

On a different—but related—note, whenever I travel to Paris, I’m struck by the size of the portions. They’re tiny. Every coffee cup and wine glass seems like it comes from my 7-year-old’s Barbie set. Of course, the problem is mine. America’s portions are ridiculously big—not to mention incredibly wasteful. It’s hard to deny that, on the whole, we are a country of food excess (see Super-Size Me). And, more often than not, we take it for granted.

Our K-Ph.D. education system is another good example. While other countries scramble to give access to education at least a portion of their population and parents in other parts of the world only dream of giving their children the ability to read and write, some in our country blithely neglect our treasure. In relation to the rest of the world, our education portions are huge. Moreover, we just assume it was always that way. We forget that universal high schools, community colleges, and Pell Grants only came about in the last 100 years. In addition, we have to admit, we’re a little wasteful. We throw curricula, interventions and technology at students without always doing the hard work of assessing impact. We can tell great inspirational stories about the outcomes, but rarely do we develop the culture of evidence necessary to really know if we’re making a difference.

Still, just like the food situation, I’m not unhappy with the US education excess. It’s better to be battling problems of excess, rather than crises of shortage. My Grandparents stories about the Great Depression make that very clear. However, wrestle with our comparative education excess we must. Because anyone with excess has a moral imperative to ask harder questions about what you do with what is provided. We also need to discuss the fact that, just like with food, the unevenness of our education excess is galling. From K-12 school district funding to higher-education endowment distribution, one doesn’t have to look very far to see that those who need it the least, get it the most—money to support their learning.

Hard truth: excess can lead to unevenness, lack of focus, and the devaluing of the goodness at hand. Do we have a portion problem in US education?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Pavlovian Problems

Ding. I turn to the computer screen and look as today’s 113th little announcement box for e-mail emerges. Ring. While I’m still on the other line, I scan my Blackberry screen to see whose calling. Ping. A pre-selected sonar sound announces an incoming instant message. Fling. I hurl myself from the open balcony.

OK, the last one’s a joke. But after a day full of these Pavlovian prompts pushing persistent partial attention, anyone can get pretty close to making the leap. There are some simple things, however, we can do to take on these Pavlovian problems. I’ll offer just three of them here that can help make a dent in our Crazy Busy lifestyles. They take a little time, and sometimes even some tech support. But they are worthwhile to ensure that we are using technology, not being used by it.

First, turn off the automatic download function in your e-mail program. Whether it’s Outlook or Netscape, you can stop the preconfigured “check the server for e-mail every two minutes” function. By doing this, e-mail only comes in when you hit send/receive. You take the control back. Why do this? Imagine if 15 years ago the mail clerk jetted by your office or cube every two minutes with new memos, letters, and junk mail and yelled “Mail!” as he threw them in your inbox. Even without the ubiquitous Viagra ads, it still might be a little distracting, no? The constant ding of your e-mail is the modern virtual equivalent. Some have related to me that the e-mail chime problem is so bad that they feel their workday is nothing more than responding to e-mails—no time for reflection, planning, execution, or interaction. Talk about being reactive instead of proactive! Worse yet, I’ve seen more than one person’s e-mail announcements go off during major presentations in front of hundreds of folks. It’s just that pernicious, persistent, and deeply problematic. Take the controls back.

Second, all-in-one devices are wonderful. Blackberry’s, Treos, and web phones make mobility and ease of connection a reality. I’m all for them. With my Blackberry, I can knock out little office emergencies quickly, clean out the inbox before I ever sit down back at my desk, access my full contact list whenever and wherever, and hop online for quick Google lookups as necessary. At their best, there are a thousand reasons whey these devices are useful and just plain lifesaving. At their worst, however, they can become painful Pavlovian pals. How many of us see our colleagues ding, ring, and ping their way through their meetings, lunches, and conversations. It’s almost an epidemic.

This is where profile management comes in. It takes some work, but dive into the profiles on your device and ensure that you choose the least distracting notifications (if any at all)—don’t take the defaults. For example, the Blackberry’s default has you buzzing and ringing and beeping with every task, e-mail, and phone call. It’s impossible to go 3 minutes without some sound or blinker going off. Stop it. Change the settings to fit your tastes, and remember, the person or people in front of you deserve your attention. The task at hand is best done without a divided mind. We need to get off the "Crackberry pipe." Remember, off buttons can be amazing things. Not taking a call may say more to the person you’re with than you may ever know.

Third, wireless technology is freeing, but it’s becoming a meeting and class killer. Trying to teach a class or hold a meeting with keyboards clamoring is stunningly distracting. I’ve been in meetings where the leader is checking their laptop while running the discussion! If that doesn’t say something about the value of the meeting, I don’t know what does. Worse yet, if the folks at the table haven’t muted their sound, you get this wonderful concert of dings and pings all throughout the dialogue. And every once and awhile someone turns their machine on, off, or reboots and you get that marvelous Microsoft minute that brings the meeting to a halt as the Windows theme song serenades you all.

Think long and hard about bringing your laptop to a meeting. If you must, mute it well before the meeting begins. And don’t kid yourself; if you try to steal a minute for a quick check of the e-mail or to scan a website, someone notices. It sends a loud cultural message about your commitment to the group. If the meeting is that bad, then you may want to lead a larger conversation about why are you having the meeting in the first place.

Well, these are just a few observations and ideas drawn from colleagues around the country as they have taken on these challenges. Make no mistake about it, we’re all figuring this out as we go along. So sharing some best practices is probably a good thing (e.g., visit the TLTGroup’s Overloadatorium). It can be our own little massive multiplayer online support group. And it may just help us solve some of these Pavlovian problems before they take too big a bite out of our lives.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

If We Build It, They Will Come—Maybe

Dr. Steven Johnson, one of the most innovative college leaders in the country, co-presents a workshop with me called On the Horizon and In Your Face 2.0: Key Issues in Information Technology for Education Leaders. In this 2.0 version of the workshop, we again look at major trends “in our face” and “on the horizon” and explore ways in which educators can adapt, leverage, and engage these happenings.

One of the trends in this version of the workshop we call the “Technology Building.” This idea sprung from a conversation about how to help more seasoned board, faculty, and staff members understand how vital technology is, how much a part of the infrastructure it must be for education institutions to be credible in the today’s world. An early problem was that the early rhetoric around technology tended to be full of hyperbolic fury about how fundamentally different IT is, how transformative it will be, and how we need to think differently to really understand its impact. At some level, this is nonsense. In many ways, technology infrastructure is very similar to something legislators, board members, faculty, and staff are used to: buildings.

When we build buildings, we usually operate off of a campus master plan. We have a facilities committee that meets regularly to update the plan. We benchmark other facilities, develop capital budgets, build in operational funding strategies, and plan for deferred maintenance. We know how to do these things because for hundreds of years, we’ve had to. It’s the cost of doing business. It’s expected to have “curb appeal.”

In today education world, we also need “tech appeal,” however. And the building metaphor is exactly the strategy we suggest that leaders begin adopting when advocating for technology infrastructure—from computers to new simulation labs for healthcare. Instead of doing what Casey Green from the Campus Computing Survey calls the traditional “dust bowl financing”—buying software, computers, servers, network hardware with year-end money that has to spent or lost—we should be more strategic. Casey’s survey shows that at the higher education level colleges are getting better and better and preparing and leading from a technology plan. If we review these plans, they are much like our facilities plan; capital, operational, maintenance strategies all linked to institutional mission—if they’re good that is. Steve Gilbert from the Teaching Learning and Technology Group advocates driving this plan based on conversations first about quality teaching and learning, and then asking “Oh by the way, what technology will we need to do this?” Technology should not drive the learning agenda anymore than finance should.

Learning-centered technology planning makes all the sense in the world. But there is still a challenge; many institutions across K-Ph.D. are still running parallel planning tracks. Facilities master planning happens, technology master planning happens, and maybe in a final strategic planning document prepared for accreditation or budget allocations they actually share the same stage. But what would happen if we build these plans together.

Most modern businesses are a complex set of infrastructures—at the most simple, Web, phone, and face-to-face. In the modern world of customer relationship management, they are taking hard looks at the blends of these worlds. Our students—not to mention our legislators, board members, faculty and staff—are swimming in this world. They shop for airline tickets online, but still call the travel agent to book the tickets. They shop for cars online, but still go to the dealership to test drive and make the deal. We drive doctors crazy; we go to WebMD and self diagnose and then come to our appointments with the printouts. Put simply, while sometimes it’s or—web, phone, or face to face—more often it’s and. Because of this, companies are leveraging extensive data mining and predictive analytics to do activity-based costing and customer analytics to determine the best version of and.

Shouldn’t we begin to think about more deeply and strategically blending our infrastructure planning? What if instead of doing two planning cycles, technology becomes a fixed component of the standing facilities master planning process? Or what if—wait for it—facilities became a fixed component of the technology planning? What if we committed to never do these in isolation again—it’s not only an artificial division of our modern infrastructure in education, its just inefficient. As a result, many college leaders end up in episodic interventions because the work of either the CIO or CFO so impacts the other area that the two end up having to get at the same table to hash things out. Let’s just end run this whole scenario; let’s hash it out up front! Let’s just do infrastructure master planning.

There are real issues to be worked out in this strategy. Facility and technology planning horizons tend to be different, skills sets of those involved more specialized, and budget allocations may come from different sources. Still, at some point we need to blend these efforts, or just resign ourselves to the constant push and pull of competing vital infrastructures.

If we build it, they will come—maybe. Today’s modern education infrastructure needs to be a thoughtful blend of online, over the phone, and face to face infrastructures. If we neglect this blend and just hope it works out, students may make another choice. Worse yet, we’ll be less capable of teaching and reaching with the best tool set available. However, with the right planning, we can be well positioned to meet the needs of those students in our face, and on the horizon. It’s a master plan worth working toward.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

We're in This Together

Earlier this month, Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Clinton and newly appointed University of North Carolina System President, delivered his inaugural address. I encourage you to read the speech and notice something breathtaking. The speech is not just about how great the university system is in North Carolina—and I happen to think it’s outstanding—and where it’s going. The speech is much more about a simpler and harder hitting truth.

Unlike many system leaders who see it as their place in life to challenge, deride, or excoriate other education sectors in the fight for their piece of the legislative appropriation pie, Bowles reaches out to the K-12 schools in the state and says, “How can we help.” He pays tribute to the NC community college system—representing some 58 institutions—and talks about the importance of supporting and connecting to their work. And it’s not just lip service. He makes the larger case to the public that to successfully compete in the modern global economy, a state must bring its full complement of educational resources to bear; all sectors have to work in concert, support each other, and play to their unique strengths. It’s not about which system is better, more important, or more deserving; it’s about what is possible if they work together.

Watch for great things from the partnership of Erskine Bowles, Martin Lancaster, the North Carolina Community College System president, and June Atkinson, the North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction. They are three leaders that are ready and willing to work together. Better yet, they clearly understand that as the world becomes flatter and more driven by creativity and innovation, folks across the K-20 spectrum are served well by remembering the simple truth: we’re in this together!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

E-Mail Serenity Prayer

grant me the Serenity
to accept the e-mails
I cannot get to,
the Time to answer
the ones I should,
and the Wisdom
to know the difference

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Arming our Students for Success with Games

OK, I’ll admit it: I love to play video games. There is little doubt that one wonderful part of my being a parent is drawing at the kitchen table with my daughter and playing catch in the yard with my youngest son. But I also love battling it out on Shrek2 with my other son. Actually, all four of us regularly jump on the X-box and work collaboratively to get from one level of a game to the next. Now mind you, we also hike in the woods, play with the goats on our little farm, and do creative story telling—so we’re not techno freaks or anything. But the video games are just plain fun for us. Not to mention, it gives me a great venue to teach them about working together, winning gracefully, leveraging strategy, and the power of persistence.

They’re also useful for learning other things. For example, before Richard scrambled around the field in his first soccer game, we bought an FIFA-World Cup Soccer video game. He learned all the rules, strategy, and scoring weeks before he ever touched the field. In the end, it didn’t lessen his love of kicking and scoring on the field at all, it just put some learning of what he called “the boring stuff” (i.e., the rules) into another context. Not to mention, he saw some pretty impressive models of quality soccer playing on the screen. We’ve since used the same strategy with baseball and tennis. In addition, all of my kids use video games to learn language and math skills on sites like DisneyBlast and It’s just an everyday part of their routine; to them, it’s as novel as a toaster.

This experience really came to the fore recently when my brother joined the National Guard. And after seeing America’s Army, and learning about the success of this huge online gaming site in preparing new recruits for boot camp, this learning strategy hit home. New recruits that play America’s Army enter basic training already understanding chain of command, battlefield strategy, and base protocols. It doesn’t help them shoot straight or calm the pounding heart in conflict situations, but a good deal of learning can be displaced long before they hit their barracks. Take the time to check it out to see the impressive breadth and depth of this online resource.

Gaming is here to stay. And when you compare the learning our kids will do in school vs. in games remember the often stated maxim: the worst thing you can say about homework is that it’s too hard; the worst thing you can say about a game is that it’s too easy. It’s great that the Army uses these tools to train soldiers, but shouldn’t we be looking to develop something similar to arm our kids for schools and universities. Couldn’t we work together to develop interactive games and online communities for school readiness, college orientations, and even virtual co-opts? The answer is a resounding YES. I just hope it’s a regular part of our children’s learning soon, because playing video games is fun. And when learning is play, it’s the best of all worlds.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Questions about a Quality City Life

According to the most recent Quality of Life survey by Mercer Human Resource, our major cities are falling behind—yet again. Pollution, traffic, crime, population density, and access to quality education are all dragging our ratings down. Honolulu and San Francisco are our highest rated cities, and they don’t even crack the top 25. Bagdad, not surprisingly, is the lowest rated city for the second survey in a row.

Mercer conducts and distributes this survey as part of an effort to inform international companies as they make choices about where to locate headquarter and design compensation packages for expatriates. Again, as the world become “Flat”—as Thomas Friedman argues—or as the international creative competition ensues—as Richard Florida argues—we had better start paying attention to the data. Others certainly are.

We can argue about the structure of the survey or the weighting Mercer gives to different elements; however, the fact remains that international conversations are not swaying positively in our favor. We look more insular, anti-education, regressive, and protectionist than ever. Yes, our large cities may not be the most accurate reflection of how “most” in the US live. However, they are our largest brand to an increasingly connected and competitive world. While they may be a convenient target for dogmatic diatribes, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot as we demonize these urban centers.

So, the question remains: How do we create a quality city life? What should be doing to improve our approach to education, environment, and safety? I read with interest what NY is investing in their massive reforms of their city schools. Is this the right kind of model? How will this relate to and improve rural and suburban funding, connections, and community building as well? For other ideas, check out the One Cleveland Initiative, which was introduced to me by the always impressive Lev Gonick—CIO of Case Western Reserve University. This may be another powerful option, a creative way leverage technology, community building, and collaboration to improve our cities. Their work to address poverty and improve quality of life has been impressive. Are there other areas where we can use the information already at our fingertips in our cities to make a difference?

I’m not sure of the answers here; but as champions of quality learning, leadership, creativity, and health, I know we better start asking the questions.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Let's Get it On!

Let's end online segregation. Let's continue to bring online tools—from e-mail to websites to mobile phones to ipods—fully into the mainstream and stop thinking of them as “new” or “innovative.” It’s time we simply welcome them into the family of options for teaching and reaching students in the modern era.

Yes, online education used to be considered innovative. Along with e-mail, the idea of getting online to retrieve resources was a first step to a teaching-with-technology craze in the 1990s. It was followed by the idea of taking an entire course online. This was a traumatic step for some, and the quality police came raging. While they rarely held in-class courses to the same standards that they expected online courses to match, they were quick to pronounce online-course taking DOA because of the lack of academic rigor.

Once online educators jumped the course hurdle, they looked to online degrees. Places like University of Phoenix (which, contrary to most people’s preconceptions, is still a predominantly on-ground university), Rio Salado College, and Western Governors University stepped into the breach and proved it could happen—with quality and accreditation. Creative projects like the Florida Virtual School pushed the envelope and helped bring online education into High Schools. You should really take the time to attend the Virtual School Symposium put on by the North American Council of Online Learning if you want to see just how much online action is emerging in public schools.

Still, most of this work remained segregated. In many educators’ minds, there was the online world and then there was the “real” education world. The online courses had to be specially marked in the catalog, if they were allowed in at all. Often, the online program resided in the continuing education department. Tenure-track faculty that dared to support this work had their promotions held up (see the early material from Randy Bass and the Crossroads Project) and administrators searched to find a “lower friction” location for this innovative learning model.

Then came the rise of hybrids, or blended learning. Truthfully, it wasn’t really we educators that pushed this envelope, it was the students. First, studies began to show that “distance” education—which many folks positioned online education as—actually was predominantly serving students within 30 miles of the campus. Online education, it seems, was much more about students being able to take a course at more convenient times, places, and paces. Second, students began doing both traditional and online education at the same time. It became commonplace to find that most students taking online courses were taking two or more traditional courses. At one point, the largest cohort of students in Michigan Virtual University was made up of students living in the University of Michigan dorms!

The next natural step has now been taken. University of Phoenix launched its FlexNet service last year, which quickly became its fastest growing segment. FlexNet is basically a blend of online and in-class instruction. Community Colleges and Universities are launching their hybrid programs, or at least putting their toe in the water. The Florida Virtual School is showing that hybrid resources for High School Students are powerful tools to keep engagement with a new generation of students that fully expect online tools to be comfortably woven into their learning experiences. You see, the rising student block doesn’t get all the fuss.

We’re finally here. We’re at a place were we can begin fully integrating online tools into how we teach and reach students—mainstream them, if you will. And as you know, I will never say that online education and outreach tools are “better” than face-to-face methods. In my college days, I sat through too many lectures where I wanted to stab my eyes out with my pencil, and since have seen class PowerPoint presentations that had neither power nor a point, and online course mazes that lead to nowhere (particularly learning). I don’t have any illusions about one method being better than another. It’s all about how the tools are used—and usually it’s the teacher and reacher that have greatest impact in the direction the tools take and the difference they make.

To really make move online into the mainstream, however, we have to continue pushing through the sticking points and keep a dialog going. We have to have thoughtful conversations about when online tools are appropriate, when face to face interaction is essential, and when moderated and mobile tools might help. The list of topics is long. But the conversation is vital if integration is to reach it potential.

This is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of NACOL (mentioned earlier) for the K-12 level, and the Sloan-C consortium at the higher education level. Sloan-C was founded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to help drive what their Program Director Frank Mayadas calls “Asynchronous Learning.” Frank and Burkes Oakley (you have to check out his work at University of Illinois) are two of the leading idea champions behind Sloan-C, and have been at the forefront of this movement to the mainstream from the beginning. Sloan-C has a great catalog of online degrees and resources, a rowdy listserv, and great conferences. Both NACOL and Sloan-C both help create communities of practice and share solid resources for interested educators. Check them out if you want to end the online segregation at your institution. Check them out if you want to get the conversation off the on-line vs. on-ground debate. When it comes to the kinds of conversations we should be focusing on, I say, "let's get it on!" On whatever works to improve and expand learning.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Poverty Perspective

Jeffery Sachs is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and a special advisor to the UN. He’s also the author of the powerful book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, and the economist guru behind much of the singer Bono’s work in the developing world. In fact, Bono wrote the forward for The End of Poverty. I’ve been diving into the book as I prepare for some meetings in Europe in the coming month and am taken with its breadth and boldness.

Many of the points that Sachs make come from data you may have seen in other places. The way he makes the case, however, is unique. While the data may be bleak, he is not a defeatist. With over a billion of the 6 billion people on this planet living in extreme poverty—literally a cultural or conditional hiccup away from disaster—it is not surprising that more than 20,000 people a day die of completely preventable diseases (e.g., malaria, aids, dysentery). Most of this poverty is found in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America—however, there are pockets elsewhere around the world as well. He does a good job of pointing out that the growing divide between have and have not is immoral, unnecessary, and really unique to the last 220 years. Before then, most people on this planet lived at or around the same standard of living. The industrial revolution, geography, and a host of other factors began the poverty split in earnest. Extreme poverty, you see, is not explained away by the convenient “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” rhetoric—you need boots for that. The challenges have more to do with infrastructure (political, physical, and cultural), health systems, and education. This “holy trinity” of development is a starting point for understanding the plight of those trapped in extreme poverty.

The good news is that the knowledge revolution we are living through today holds the promise of helping address many of these issues and turn the situation around. However, we have to do the hard work of educating people about a situation that many would rather forget or ignore. We also have to resist the temptation to explain it away because we don’t want to back the hard work necessary to bring world economic bodies and developed nations together in a strategic way. Yes, we have to care enough to work together with other nations to make a dent in this problem. And yes, there is “tough love” for the countries in distress. However, we have to be careful in the latter approach. As I like to say, throwing a drowning man a self-help book means he soon won’t have a self to help. Most of men, women, and children in extreme poverty are drowning in it.

Sachs outlines the exciting truth that we have the tools at our disposal to end extreme poverty in our generation. Not surprisingly, education will be essential on many fronts. We need to educate our students and communities and leaders about the real challenges of poverty to help generate the support necessary to make a difference. We need to educate a new breed of economists and development specialists with true “clinical development” skills to address the key issues that drive extreme poverty. Finally, we need to help stand up educational systems for these areas to create a new community of learners supporting their countries joining a community of nations as happy and healthy partners.

Take the time to pick up the book and learn more about the topic. The read definitely helps put poverty in perspective.