In 2004, Winona State University transitioned its laptop lease program from a standard PC to a convertible tablet, resulting in one of the largest mandated tablet deployments in higher education at the time. Armed with a good price from our vendor, we were able to make the transition without increasing the lease price for students or altering program features and services. Because the model was a convertible tablet that could be used in either standard laptop or tablet mode, the tablet features were simply promoted as value added. The attitude at the time among laptop program decision-makers was, “If we can maintain our edge by offering new tablet features without changing the program, why not do it?”

Early indications were that the tablet features were popular with instructors, especially in STEM fields that relied heavily on board work and overhead transparencies in class. WSU invested in DyKnow to assist these instructors and expand the collaborative capabilities of tablets in the classroom. Faculty also began using digital ink to develop online course materials and evaluate student assignments. Students began using MS OneNote to take notes in and out of class. Overall, our transition to tablets was smooth and did seem to add value.

Today, we are considering a move back to a standard laptop model and discontinuing our support of the tablet.  Why change? Here is my take on why this is under consideration, with reasons listed in decreasing order of importance:

  1. The Cost Gap. The gap in cost between a convertible tablet and a similarly configured standard laptop has increased over the years. For the price of our current tablet (Toshiba Portege M700), we could probably be providing students with a standard laptop with performance and features that exceed the tablet model in some key areas (e.g., graphics processing). Taking another approach, we could be providing students with a less expensive standard laptop that meets minimum specifications, perhaps allowing us to either lower the lease price or add value in other areas of the program (e.g., software, support). As we enter the worst budget crisis in state history, this option may be quite appealing to stakeholders.
  2. The Mobility Trade-off. Tablet functionality has become more closely aligned with mobility over the years. In our laptop RFP last spring, only one vendor presented a convertible tablet with a screen larger than 12″ and that company is now out of business. There is much to be gained from emphasizing mobility in our laptop program. Many instructors use their laptops in class, in their offices, at home, and when traveling. Our students are not only mobile themselves, but are preparing to enter an increasingly mobile workplace. However, concessions must be made to achieve greater mobility. The laptop screen and keyboard are smaller and more difficult to use, particularly for older faculty. Tablet graphics processing is insufficient for various productivity and entertainment applications. These are the primary workstations for students and faculty who must be comfortable using their laptops for long periods of time and for a wide variety of tasks. Surveys of students and instructors indicate a clear split in preference for a heavier, larger desktop-replacement versus a more portable laptop. Employees appear divided down the middle, whereas the majority of students want greater mobility and this preference becomes more pronounced over time. For last year’s RFP, we decided that we could not support two PC models cost effectively. Many employees have addressed usability issues using external monitors and keyboards, but are unhappy about covering this unexpected cost. If we must select a single model again this year, there is a good chance that mobility will lose out to usability and performance.
  3. The Mixed Laptop Environment. WSU has always offered both a PC and Mac laptop model. Thus, there is no guarantee that all students in a particular course will have tablets. This is an obstacle for faculty who want to use tools like DyKnow, the power of which are optimized when all students have their own tablet. Although we address this by asking Mac students to install Boot Camp, it has been enough of a hurdle to put off many faculty and slow adoption. Our decision to maintain the tablet will be based mainly on end user applications versus the more compelling collaborative applications that could really transform learning. This leads to what might be the final deciding factor.
  4. Preference for the Mouse and Keyboard. Setting innovative tools like DyKnow aside and looking at end-user applications, taking notes in MS OneNote and inking in MS Office tools emerged at WSU as the most common uses of the pen as an input device. Instructors and students who use their tablets to take notes and grade papers regularly swear by them and those who don’t, don’t. A good conservative estimate based on a survey administered last spring is that 25-35% of our tablet owners use digital ink regularly. There is a third group of users who don’t use digital ink daily, but absolutely love to use it on ocassion. The pen is great when you need it, but many people don’t seem to need it that often. Perhaps they don’t know that they need it and this is a training problem. Perhaps they would like to use it more frequently, but are bothered by human factors issues. Maybe they have tried it, decided that they really don’t need it that often, and are more effective using the mouse and keyboard instead. I will dig into this in another post, but this will not change the current perception that, since adoption in 2004, the number of regular tablet users has remained relatively low and perhaps WSU could do without digital ink.

As we move forward some of these factors might change and new information might come to light. I am looking forward to the conversation and will keep you posted. I am guessing that we are not the only laptop university engaged in this sort of discussion.



It has been over three weeks since EDUCAUSE 2008 and I just finished converting my session notes to blog posts. “Not very Web 2.0 of you Ken,” you say, “Shouldn’t you post your blog entries during the session?” I suppose. For me, it’s less about reporting and more about reflection and that takes time. Looking back, did I accomplish my conference goals?

  • Learning space design. On the upside, the U of M session on learning spaces was excellent and I am planning a trip up to the Cities with my team to get a closer look and exchange ideas. Their process is a great model from end to end. I saw some interesting tools, both in the informal learning spaces area and in the vendor showcase that fit into my vision for the classroom of the future. I think DyKnow (Vision), Tidebreak (TeamSpot), TechSmith (Relay), and TurningTechnologies (ResponseWare Web) are spot on in terms of supporting the critical transformation of the classroom from a crowded theater where student drones transcribe lecture notes to a primarily collaborative, flexible environment. On the downside, the plethora of commercial “lecture capture” solutions just depressed me. Why on earth would we spend such crazy amounts of money to capture instructors doing something that most do only because they are forced into crowded lecture halls for 50 minutes? Let’s use technology to relieve faculty and student suffering in the classroom, not perpetuate it.
  • Mobile teaching and learning. I left the conference with some excellent ideas, practical examples, and real people to contact. Mobile computing is alive and well in higher education and it will change everything, ready or not. The presentation by ACU on their iPhone/iTouch project was disruptive in a very good way.
  • Instructional multimedia content management. The Duke session was excellent and their service model is one to emulate. I was also impressed by Mississippi State’s poster presentation on their custom solution for managing multimedia assets and I am very interested in learning more about OpenCast.
  • Strategic planning, organization, and leadership. This was a bit of a disappointment for me this year, probably because I was drawn to sessions that did not have this as the primary focus. I am still amazed by the number of people I meet at this conference who are frustrated by faculty support and development challenges, specifically the lack of commitment to faculty and staff professional development at the executive level. At my table of 12 people in the Learning Spaces Constituency Group discussion, many were amazed that WSU was going to create a center with experimental spaces where faculty could practice using the latest technologies and methods. I realize that such things cost money, but certainly we can all see the value in real dollars of improving the technological knowledge, skills, and abilities of our employees. Do we really still need to make the general case for this?
  • Supporting collaboration across the enterprise. I really enjoyed the CMU presentation on their Project Management Office, a great example of collaborative project management that transformed the campus culture. There were several poster sessions that focused on the use of SharePoint, but I was not overwhelmed by great examples of administrative groupware use. It also seems that our portal passion has waned a bit.

My post-conference action items for December are:

  • Deliver an “EDUCAUSE at WSU” session to report back to campus some of what I learned at the conference.
  • Take a trip up to the University of Minnesota to check out their collaborative classrooms and other interesting spaces. Connect with Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt) to learn more about what they are doing to support experimental use of classroom technologies. Apply what we learn to our own learning space design process, including existing classrooms and the new Maxwell faculty-staff development center.
  • Take on as a research project the possible replacement of our standard eInstruction classroom response system with either a custom/open smartphone alternative or a commercial product like ResponseWare.
  • Explore the adoption of a service model in our Integrated Media Services Department similar to Duke’s. Work with ITS to take a good look at OpenCast as a possible open source capture and asset management solution.
  • Discuss with our CIO and VP for Academic Affairs the possible adoption of some features of the CMU PMO approach, especially the executive retreat. Contact CMU to get more information about how this retreat is structured.

Looking back on the EDUCAUSE 2008 conference, it probably had the most impact of any I have attended. I will close my blog book on it by referring back to what I thought was the koan of the conference, Casey Green’s question, “After all these years, why don’t more faculty use technology?” Compare this to Dr. Ramachandran’s question, “Why can’t everyone recognize faces?” A likely answer to the latter question was revealed only after the application of a good theory. Where are our good theories of faculty development, institutional effectiveness, strategic IT investment, and the impact of technology on learning? Sure these things are complex, but are they more complex than the human brain? Regardless, it’s the act of theorizing that’s important. Without a map, we might get there by accident, but we are more likely to wander around in circles.


These are my notes from the EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “Development of a Project Management Office,” by Kelley Anderson, Project Manager, Carnegie Mellon University.

This was the last session I attended just before the big party at Universal and I was so glad I stuck it out. In their Project Management Office, CMU has managed to transform the culture of IT project management. I would encourage our MnSCU system office to take a good look at how the CMU PMO is structured. I think we could and should pull this off at the system level.

I did get some ideas for practices that could be implemented at WSU. My absolute favorite was the executive retreat. Each year, executives meet to review the initial “mini-charters” developed by project initiators. If approved, full project charters and plans are requested. This executive-level filter is important for several reasons:

  • It increases the likelihood that supported projects will align with the institution’s mission, vision, and goals.
  • It increases the level of executive awareness of IT activity, how these activities affect all institutional operations, and how individual IT initiatives are interconnected.
  • It increases and distributes executive accountability. The CIO can no longer be blamed for taking a wrong turn or for the hard lessons learned when resource allocations don’t pan out as expected. Everybody has some skin in the game.

The other thing I really appreciate about the CMU approach is its friendliness. As Kelley described it, steps are taken to reduce defensiveness and misunderstanding and there is a genuine positive regard for the situations faced by colleagues. The process is truly collaborative and life affirming. There didn’t appear to be an increase in bureaucracy and paperwork. There weren’t any strong personalities who dominated the process. If I was a part of such a process, I would look forward to participating. It would actually facilitate, not inhibit, my project. That would be wonderful…a community approach to resource investment and project management.


These are my notes from the EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The Launch of Google Apps for Education at USC: Determinants, Decisions, and Deterrents,” presented by Brendan Bellina, Identity Services Architect, University of Southern California.

Brendan presented a very balanced review of USC’s deployment of Google Apps campus-wide. I was struck not only by the enormity of this project but just the sheer guts it took to do it. We all hear from students and faculty that we should just do stuff like this and I am so used to hearing the typical, “we couldn’t possibly do that in our current environment,” response. USC IT said, “Sure, sounds good!” and they did it in eight months. This presentation gave me hope for the future.

That’s not to say it was easy or that they would go back and do it all again. As Brandan described, there was a substantial cost involved in bringing these “free” services to campus. Other IT projects were affected and over 4000 person-hours were consumed. The resulting service was also not all it was cracked up to be. USC did not provide user credentials to Google and ended up creating a separate Google account for each user in addition to their USC network account. Google accounts could not be renamed and information could not be migrated across accounts. This was problematic for users who changed names. Deleted accounts could not be restored and it took five days to create an account with the same name as a deleted account. Google implemented new services and features without advanced notice. Although it’s possible to block services, new features in adopted services are made available at Google’s discretion.

As I was leaving the session, I heard just as many people saying, “Well, there’s no way we are going to do that any time soon,” as were saying, “Hmmm…that’s interesting.” It sounds like Google Apps for the enterprise is not quite ready for prime time, but I am dreaming of the day when we can offer our students who lease laptops for $1000 a year the option of a reduced lease price if they decide to go sans Microsoft. When sitting in sessions like this one, it seems so close you can almost taste it. I hope Google recognizes that it’s through efforts like USC’s that this will happen and when it happens on college campuses with the next generation of employees, it will happen off campus as well. Google would be well served to resolve the problems encountered by USC to pave the way for similar efforts on other campuses.


These are my notes from the Thursday, October 30th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “REPLAY: An Integrated and Open Solution to Produce, Handle, and Distribute Audiovisual Lecture Recordings,” presented by Olaf A. Schulte, Multimedia Services, ETH Zurich

Olaf and his team developed REPLAY to streamline the capture and upload of lecture recordings. Their application is very impressive, including a scheduling feature and the beginnings of a very interesting indexing system for searching captured content. There is a connection to iTunes U, serious automation for reducing instructor workload and errors, easy admin resources for technical support staff, and the resulting content is not “melted” into one movie file. All assets can be accessed separately by students.

REPLAY uses PLAYMOBIL, a linux-based machine with a NCast capture card for VGA and audio, and Nio security cameras for classroom video capture. One of the funnier challenges they faced involved having to “tranquilize” the cameras because they were tracking instructor hand movements.

REPLAY will be ready for action in February, 2009. However, they plan to join the Opencast community, so you may not see it as an independent entity for very long. On the plus side, cool REPLAY features and functions will hopefully make their way into the Opencast system and I can only assume that the effort will benefit greatly by the inclusion of the ETH team.

As I was sitting in this session, my mind wandered to our motives for supporting live lecture capture and the impact this will have on higher education. I have really struggled with this over the years, resisting the pitches of companies like Tegrity to spend tens of thousands of dollars on their, “capture everything that moves,” solutions. Instead, I have been drawn to tools like DyKnow, that also capture classroom activity, but facilitate the transformation of classroom interaction from traditional lecture to more collaborative and active practices. That being said, I would never obstruct students who can learn just as effectively by watching a recorded lecture as they can by attending that same lecture in a classroom. More power to them. I would also never dream of depriving students of reviewing information presented to them as many times as they desired or of consigning them to the arduous and counterproductive task of transcribing what comes out of an instructor’s mouth. For these reasons alone, lecture capture solutions may be worthwhile. I think supporting traditional lecture capture across the enterprise makes me uncomfortable for other reasons.

Traditional lecture can be very engaging and there are certainly some lecture performances that are best experienced live. However, when migrating most traditional lectures to an online format, you inevitably realize that learners would be much better served and technology would be much better leveraged if the typical 50-minute lecture was produced, packaged, and delivered differently. Technology offers opportunities to do just that. We seem so impressed by lecture capture solutions that only require instructors to press “Record,” but the truth is that this level of usability can be found in a variety of today’s tools and faculty can generally create much more effective and engaging online content from the comfort of their own offices than from the stage of an overcrowded lecture hall.

As the purpose of class meetings transitions from information delivery to discussion and collaboration, I look for traditional lecture capture tools to fade into obsolescence and for tools that support communication and teamwork to become more valuable. We are not there yet, so live lecture capture still seems like a good idea. But is it? Are we doing this simply because we can? How does investing in tools like Tegrity impact classroom design? Are we more likely to design “Tegrity-ready” lecture halls? If there’s no pedagogical reason to capture most live lectures and most instructors would rather teach differently anyway, why invest in tools that perpetuate this method of instruction? Do we want to simply capture what’s going on in our classrooms or do we want to facilitate change? Let’s give this a little nudge by making it easier to collaborate in class and assisting instructors to develop online content and activities that really engage students.


These are my notes from the Thursday, October 30th EDUCUASE 2008 keynote session, “The Facts of Life in the High-Tech Age,” presented by Moira Gunn, Host of Tech Nation and BioTech Nation, National Public Radio.

Unfortunately, this presentation wasn’t so hot. I am guessing that Moria was just off her game this morning. She spent most of her time plodding through a very loose history of the Internet, personal computing, technology in higher education, the Net Generation, and a host of topics for which most members of the audience probably had a much greater level of knowledge and understanding. The facts of life were hard to discern and fell a little flat. As near as I could tell, they included:

  • The people who create technology cannot predict how the technology will be used
  • You can’t control the use of technology or information

She did remind us all at the end of the talk that the best way to avoid getting seasick is to focus your gaze on a fixed point and let the boat move around you. That’s nice. I would add that you also want to make sure you can swim and you know the location of the life raft.

During the talk, I generated my Top 10 Facts of Life at EDUCAUSE 2008:

    1. The person sitting next to you has better gadgets.
    2. Your laptop battery is at 2%.
    3. Your next session is at the other end of the conference center.
    4. You just got an email message inquiring when you will arrive at a meeting you forgot to cancel.
    5. You haven’t eaten a vegetable in three days.
    6. You are so going to be in the doghouse when your spouse sees the credit card statement.
    7. You are not going to win the Wii raffle.
    8. You will hear the word “cloud” at least 1000 times.
    9. Where is the flipping coffee? I didn’t have this problem in Seattle last year!
    10. They are never going to let you do that, so you might as well stop thinking about it.


      These are my notes from the Thursday, October 30th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “Evolution of iTunesU and Its Role in the Duke Experience,” presented by Stephen Toback, Sr Manager, Interactive Technology Services, Office Of Information Technology, Duke University.

      This presentation was my favorite of the conference and the session that will probably have the greatest impact on my work this year. Interestingly, the session presented last year by Duke’s Mark McCahill also earned that distinction. Lesson learned? Even as a UNC alum who has trouble typing the word “Duke,” I have to say that we all need to look at what they are doing as an organization. There are some fantastic practices in place there and they are so good at attracting incredible talent. It must be a fun place to work. If only their basketball team would just lose in terribly humiliating fashion more often.

      I loved their approach to service provision and the way they package their services in customer-centered ways in their Multimedia Services division of OIT. Stephen talked about DukeStream, DukeCapture, and their implementation of Lectopia (acquired by Echo 360). I also got a kick out of their Blackwell Interactive web development group. The idea of having a skunk works for academic application development has always appealed to me. This discussion helped me remember the importance of branding your services and delivering them in a coherent and appealing way. At WSU and within the MnSCU system, we tend to roll out new services very unceremoniously.

      As far as iTunes U is concerned, you couldn’t find a much more successful implementation. Duke is delivering 1500 audio and 1000 video files via iTunes U, including some of the more popular podcasts in the world. All of their nonacademic content is managed by the Office of Communication. Access to academic content is controlled using Grouper. About a third of their users subscribe and the rest download individual tracks. This is an interesting stat and I wonder if it is because users don’t understand syndication or whether the content is relatively static and there is no real need to subscribe.

      Stephen indicated that they are looking at Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended and the delivery of PDF content that includes multimedia via iTunes. This is an exciting development and opens up some very interesting possibilities in terms of academic content.


      These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The 2008 Campus Computing Survey,” presented by Casey Green, Founding Director, The Campus Computing Project.

      Although I know I can just purchase and read the report, I go to this session every year because I respect the Campus Computing Project and I love hearing things from the horse’s mouth. Casey opened the session by admonishing those in the audience who had not responded to the survey this year, telling them that they were, “skating on other people’s data.” Apparently, the N was down a bit. You can review the executive summary online.

      At the end of the session, Casey listed some defining issues and one really stuck with me. He asked why, after all these years and given that new faculty are not the digital Luddites of yesteryear, do they not do more with technology? Why is it still such a struggle? I love this question. It should be on the survey! If you ask IT professionals, you might get responses such as,”Faculty are afraid, slow, lazy…[insert nasty personality characteristic here].” If you ask faculty, they will tell you, “We don’t have the time, support, tools, classrooms…[insert nasty environmental characteristic here].” This tendency to over attribute the behavior of others to their disposition and our own behavior to our situation is called the actor-observer bias and it’s a common mistake. So what’s the unbiased truth? I don’t know for certain, but the answer is certainly knowable. Here are some random ideas:

      • Each year, ECAR conducts a survey of students and their experiences with IT. I think it would be great if a similar faculty survey could be conducted annually. Given that the actor-observer bias will skew faculty self-report toward situational explanations, we can’t rely on survey data alone. Multiple methods will need to be used, including unobtrusive and indirect measures.
      • If you look at the 2008 ECAR student survey data, 44% of student respondents indicated that “Most” or “Almost All” of their instructors used IT effectively in their classes. Unfortunately, the same question was not asked last year. However, when asked to rate their agreement with a similar statement in 2007, “Overall, instructors use IT well in my courses,” 58% of students agreed or strongly agreed. What’s going on here? Are faculty becoming less proficient? Are students expecting more? These sorts of questions provide valuable insight into instructional practices. I think the ECAR student survey should ask more focused questions about the effectiveness of faculty use of specific academic tools (e.g., within a course management system).
      • Casey lamented in his presentation that we know how many schools are using course management systems, but we don’t know what they are doing with them. Are faculty simply posting their syllabi or is breadth and depth of use increasing? Is anyone measuring this well (e.g., either directly or by mining CMS data)? If so or if you are interested in developing something together, please contact me (!


      These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The Global Classroom: Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice,” presented by Rob Garfield, Educational Technologist, Columbia University.

      Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning helped develop a 14-week, Masters-level, online course called, “Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice.” Rob took us through the extensive instructional design and infrastructure development/selection process that allowed them to deliver the course in 13 countries. The course went through several iterations, each building on the one before it. It was interesting to see the evolution of the course as designers, instructors, and students coped with the challenges of global delivery. They used Adobe Connect with great success. They also developed a shared content repository and a local group project with shared outcomes. The degree to which the final model emphasized collaboration was impressive.

      Unlike many other program and course development efforts, there was never any doubt pedagogically why this program had to be online. It struck me that the main reason this was successful was because the need for a global program on sustainable development was so great that designers, teachers, and students were willing to fight through the technical progression from “shovel-ware” (i.e., online video lectures) to a unique, active, and collaborative learning experience. In this sense, the designers were employing a learner-centered process to essentially catch up technically with teachers and learners who were motivated to make something happen immediately.

      I think this is an ideal situation. All too often, we are the ones saying, “Look, we are providing you with this expensive technology and we need you to use it. Can you help us?” I much prefer a model where faculty and students come to us and ask, “Look, we have this great opportunity and we want to take a whack at it. Can you help us?” At WSU, the eLearning Department is involved in good examples of both. Our interinstitutional work with Biology on a Clinical Lab Science online program is a great example of the latter. The general pressure being applied to increase laptop use in class as a way of justifying our laptop program is an example of the former.

      I guess it will always be thus, but I do think success is much more likely when faculty and students are driving and we just clear the road, fix the car, and give directions.


      These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 lunch discussion, “Learning Space Design,” hosted by Richard Holeton, Associate Director, Academic Computing; Head of Student Computing, Stanford University and Phillip D. Long, Prof. of Innovation & Visiting Research Scientist, MIT.

      These lunch meetings of constituency groups were a great idea. As much as I like eating lunch with friends and taking a break from sessions, this was a great opportunity to meet new friends and continue processing in an informal setting. There were about 100 people in the room. Ironically, the room was way too small and there was no technology, but we made the most of it.

      Richard and Phil asked us to discuss topics that had been placed on our tables and then report out. I was seated at the Planning and Management table with some great folks from a range of institutions from around the world. Most of us were directors or administrators charged with facilitating learning space decision making and supporting faculty. Here are some things that stuck with me:

      • We all had tales of disconnects among executive visioning, facilities planning, and pedagogy. We agreed that this has led to the continued use of inferior teaching methods. In some cases, faculty, departments, and colleges are changing pedagogy and vacating existing facilities in favor of group-friendly spaces, informal settings, and virtual environments. One person described large lecture halls at her institution as now empty except for the occasional campus event. Both of these outcomes are undesirable and reflect the urgent need for a more enlightened approach to facilities planning.
      • I asked whether anyone knew of a school that had this planning-pedagogy connection right. Rio Salado College was offered as an example, which surprised me a bit given its strength as an online provider. Clearly, online and virtual spaces must be considered in this discussion right alongside brick-and-mortar spaces. Perhaps online institutions that are not as bogged down by the old politics of physical space can spend more time and energy focusing on the actual needs of teachers and learners.
      • There were mixed reports about classroom technology standardization. Most agreed that it was difficult to implement in their current organizations. Some were decentralized and others simply had difficulty getting consensus on what standards to use.
      • We talked a bit about creating experimental spaces for faculty where good tools and practices could be developed, refined, and rolled out to campus. WSU is building such a space in its new faculty-staff development center. I spoke with Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt who is also developing experimental spaces. I was a bit surprised that others at the table thought their institutions would not support such an idea. How can we know what to adopt if we don’t try it first? How can we expect faculty to change their approach if we don’t provide them with safe ways to explore? The best ideas for using learning spaces are not going to come from us; they will continue to come from students and faculty.