June 2004 Archives

Blogging in Universities

Oliver Wrede noted that there are three major universities with weblog initiatives, as of May 2004:

From my own research, I can say that there are many more, even if we only consider U.S.-based University weblog sites (and not counting individual staff, student, or faculty blogs).

Wrede also quotes Peter Baumgartner's weblog from a post that asks why German universities haven't embraced the weblog phenomenon:

... one can observe a general reluctance to introducing weblogs in education and teaching. From my personal point of view a fundamentally wrong conception of education is the main reason for the absence of weblogs in education. Under the still common assumption knowledge should be transferred by teachers/professors to students. [...] If weblogs are used in education on a large scale, they won't be just an add-on but they will change radically our way of teaching. But the mentioned "if" is of major importance as the blogosphere will attack the interests of traditional teaching institutions - at least at university or postgraduate level.
Dave Winer has also posted on How you get weblogs started at a major university:
Here's how you get weblogs started at a university like Harvard or Dartmouth. First, know that universities thrive on having their experts visible outside the university. Not just publishing in academic journals, which most alumni don't read, but being called in as experts on radio talk shows, esp NPR. That's how you reach into their wallets, show them why they should be proud of their alma mater. Pride gets the money flowing.

Henry Farrell keeps a list of 93 scholar-bloggers all over the world, as reported about a year ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education (see Henry's response to the article.)

Report Released: Information Technology Alignment in Higher Education

On Wednesday, Educause released a research report titled Information Technology Alignment in Higher Education, from which these key findings (PDF) are freely available to non-subscribers. IT Governance and institutional alignment are hot topics today:
Institutions must look outward as well as inward in the alignment process. Strategic planning is greatly enhanced by a broad, deliberate, and formal look at external forces in the environment and how they might affect higher education. Today, this need to understand the external world is becoming even greater, driven by increasing globalization and connectivity, the ever accelerating pace of change, increasingly complexity of the regulatory environment, new types of educational competition, rising potential for disruption, and a more volatile economic environment.

Advice: How to Pull Off Business Process Improvement

Bob Lewis wrote today on how IT people can work toimprove inefficient business processes:
My best suggestion is to start, not by identifying the processes themselves, but by identifying likely champions and sponsors of process improvement.
So your first step is identifying middle managers or executives who stand to benefit personally from process improvement. Make them your best friends. Chat with them. Schmooze with them. Talk over how you think the use of IT can support their areas, ask whether they're interested, and ask their advice on how to get something started.
The crucial networking step involves asking advice from potential sponsors on how to proceed. An additional point here is also that you will be more likely to succeed not only because you are paying attention to the sales process -- but you are also eliciting information (and requirements) from these potential sponsors, which will put you in a better position to re-engineer the processes with a functional sponsor in a way that will truly work. Networking gives you a double-payoff.

The Importance of Brevity for University Administrators

Stanley Fish wrote an engaging piece in today's Chronicle of Higher Education on the lesson of minimalism.
If minimalism is advisable for politicians and actors, it is essential for college and university administrators who, in addition to the usual temptations of self-aggrandizement and self-justification, are beset with the temptation of philosophy, the temptation to regard the matter at hand as an occasion for producing wisdom.

Peer-to-Peer Crackdown: GAO Report

government agent hauling away confiscated disk drives The Government Accounting Office reported recently on peer-to-peer impact on universities, along with a synopsis of enforcement action by the government, as well as what campuses were doing about the problem. The median cost of peer-to-peer file sharing on universities was estimated at roughly $100,000K per year. The photo, left, is of an agent displaying disk drives confiscated in "Operation Buccaneer", carried out by agents in the U.S. (27 cities) and 5 other participating countries.

Universities continue to examine the issues around peer-to-peer networks, and papers are available from the recent workshop (June 4-5, 2004) on the Economics of Peer to Peer Systems at Harvard University. The first workshop was held at UC Berkeley in 2003.

Filling the Void in IT Professional Development at Northeastern

ECAR (the Educause Center For Applied Research) released this research bulletin last week that examined Northeastern's effort to educate their IT staff on the differences between industry-oriented IT best-practices and the way universities work:

There is a dichotomy between the way higher education works and traditionally accepted best practices for information technology. The organizational construct of higher education is based largely on a need for fluidity and non-standardization, resulting from shared governance, the contractual nature of tenure, and a mission to expand knowledge. Together, these elements make the higher education environment very different from that of a hierarchical corporation. On the other hand, the very nature of information technology begs for standards. It is more economical to support a uniform, predictable IT infrastructure than a diverse infrastructure. An IT environment with a broad mix of applications, hardware, systems, business practices, and policies escalates, geometrically, the overall cost and skill level require for support.
The result of this dichotomy might be friction between IT staff and the academic community they serve.

Northeastern's training program (titled "Higher Ed 101: One of These Things is Not Like the Others") seems like a good thing. Especially telling was their finding that:

Most of the participants cannot name the senior administrators, nor do they know the job function. Without an understaning of how the university actually runs, it is very difficult -- if not impossible -- to understand how a given technology (or change in that technology) actually works in context.
Northeastern's class could serve as a model for beginning to address the culture clash between industry IT best-practices and the "university way".

As universities look to address budget deficits and continue to provide world-class IT service, higher-ed IT will need to implement more centralized governance (as opposed to the current higher-ed "shared governance" model) in order to meet regulatory, security and administrative functions, while meeting tigher budget requirements. Accomodating the flexible and non-standardized needs of faculty and students while simultaneously finding ways to standardize IT processes and platforms where possible will be one of the bigger challenges ahead.

One suggestion I would add for schools implementing programs like Northeastern's is to create opportunities for dialogue between senior administrators and faculty and IT staff who have graduated from programs like "Higher Ed 101", so that both sides will recognize that they are really playing different positions on the same team.

regulation.gov feedback

According to this article from Federal Computer Week, a recent report (pdf) from the Kennedy School of Government suggests some major improvements that should be made to regulations.gov.

The major suggestions include these technical enhancements:

...information retrieval software to isolate relevant data, text categorization software to organize public comments, applications to create digital juries to link citizens and rule compliance wizards to guide the rule-writing process. Workshop participants also suggested the use of improved data mining capabilities to give rule writers more information and aid plain language translators in rule drafting.
An interesting tidbit from the report, which underscores the need for a well-done regulations.gov (and which may give libertarians heartburn): "...over one hundred federal regulatory agencies and subagencies issue more than 4,500 new regulations each year".

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