Educause 2009 – Well Done Denver

The scale of venues needed for Educause is huge and the Denver Convention centre met that need – a vast complex, clearly pretty new, high quality surroundings.

The registration process was smooth and efficient, sign in on one of 14 laptop stations, and your credit card sized personal card is generated automatically. No tote bag handed out, but there to have if you want one, fill it yourself from a limited range of items – all good newspicture-030.jpg.

The session rooms were all excellent, spacious and adequately comfortable, the main Wells Fargo theatre is awesome and something to behold, soaking up the 4000+ delegates. I guess the only drawback to a venue this size is not surprisingly, there is an awful lot of walking between rooms, exhibition, lunch etc etc

The upstairs exhibition was predictably big and corporate, shiny stands, laden with enthusiastic sales people – a bit like the Ideal Home exhibition but for HE. I’m not sure how the exhibitors felt but I didn’t see flocks of people on the stands, maybe a sign of the straightened times?

The catering was again lunchboxes and soda, made available in the middle of acres of tables and chairs. No one seemed to have a problem with lunchboxes, and they have all paid!

picture-032.jpgOrganisers had done well with the provision of facilities, there was faultless working wifi everywhere except, because of its construction, the Wells Fargo theatre. There was a useful power stop area to top up batteries, loads of laptops for email checks etc (still surprised these days that this is needed), and an Educause Central for people to gather at and hang out

picture-035.jpgThe programme is immense and must be a nightmare to organise – a great range and variety. Although there is some personal selection of sessions in advance,  there are  no formal registration  – consequently some sessions over-full and closed and others a little sparse – but I didn’t hear any grumbles

A general #educasue09 twitter tag was used, and copiously used by delegates. Although one session had its own hashtags most didn’t. This meant that the volume of tweets crashed through and it was sometimes hard to know quite what they were referring to. But that said I personally found, maybe for the first time, that the Twitter element enriched the event for me. When it was used in one session it was very popular indeed – a shame that back channels weren’t available for other sessions

Cyberinfrastructure in a Carbon-Constrained World

Educause 2009

Larry Smarr – Harry E. Gruber Prof, Dept of Computer Science & Engineering , University of California, San Diego

Bill St. Arnaud – Chief Research Officer , CANARIE, Inc.

A surprisingly sparsely attended session, all of which can be seen here, even taking account of  the vast room , this must be very off putting for speakers. Smarr started with a n expose of how fast the climate change is and the extreme addition of CO2 to the atmosphere in the last 50 years, highlighted the fact that the heating process is currently masked because of the time delay in the effect taking place – foretelling big problems in the next few years.

Much of the thrust of this argument is also covered in the latest Educause magazine article. The argument goes that what is happening now is terra-forming and the results will be with us for a thousand years. But what can HE do? Well one idea is that campus sites could be test beds for Green IT given that IT in HE equals 2% total emissions, about as much as aerospace, but IT usage is increasing making change here all the more important.

Oh dear maybe its the time of day, maybe the sparse audience, maybe its the presentation style, but this session didn’t engage me despite the obviously very important messages. I feel a bit let down that I didn’t manage to get more from this, my fault I think, but on the whole there was too much about facts and figures early on, making me disengage from the stuff that came later

Cloud Computing: Services, Economics and Impacts

Educause 2009

James Dolgonas – President / CEO , CENIC

David J. Ernst – Associate Vice President & CIO , University of California Office of the President

Theresa Rowe – Chief Information Officer , Oakland University

John J. Suess – Vice President of Information Technology/CIO , University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Lots of talk about  the fact that the Issue is about what will the IT service will be in 5 years and that IT needs to get over itself – users don’t much care where the service comes from as long as it works. There was also a discussion about the Cloud not needing to be outside the University or be a commercial thing – it could for instance be for shared campus datacentres.

One speaker pondered that maybe the Cloud is an answer to the perfect storm of budget cuts and increasing demands. There too was the familiar debate about the risk of adopting cloud services as core services – what happens if they go bust?

Maybe I was mistaken but it seemed that it is perhaps a US centred problem about the difficulties of dealing with Google and Amazon – is this the same in the UK?

In summary the panel felt that the Cloud will deliver some key new services, will let staff build new skills, and be part of how the IT function will change over the coming years .For future on speaker pithily said, we need to think about the things we must stop doing so that we are able to do the things we must do.

The point, from this and other sessions,  now seems to be not ‘if’ or ‘when’ the Cloud will be used, because it clearly already is, but ‘how’ and ‘when’ policies will be introduced to manage its use. As Bas Cordewener said to me, “For once it’s not a technology issue, it’s a policy one

The whole session can be seen here, and there is also another interesting little piece , the Parable of the Cloud. This session was possibly the best Q&A one so far, lots of good questions and a panel able to address them.

Developing a Next-Generation Campus Web Portal

Educause 2009

Benjamin Costello – Manager of Web & eMedia Development, Information Technology Services , Ithaca College

David Weil – Director, Enterprise Application Services , Ithaca College

A bit of an ‘old school’ presentation – lets show them what we have done – mind you what they have done seemed pretty good.

Ithaca College decided to build a portal to complement their existing undergrad one, but this time one that acted as a ‘home’ for personal web activities ( i.e. not the colleges web activities). They wanted a  single entry point, with a light weight implementation, an Ithaca-like experience , and one that improved communications and increase satisfaction by making the experience  more intuitive.

They considered vended portal options but ended up doing it themselves, starting in the Spring 07, an alpha version in Spring 08, a beta one a bit later and a launch in March 09.They did it themselves because they wanted the web 2.0 experience, wanted to avoid a heavy enterprise implementation, and wanted to make use of evolving web standards.

So MyHome at Ithaca created a web 2.0 portal (drag and drop layout), Ithaca college experience (webmail, calendar, single sign on etc), and an aggregated web experience (3rd party email, RSS, Facebook etc). The major components are customisable tabs, service tabs (email, calendar), community (social network discussion forums), and mobile aspects

The project really pulled together largely existing elements and the had a web developer working full time for the first year, half time in the second and now takes a quarter of an FTE to maintain

The format is largely customisable but with one or two mandated chunks. Each portlet has a rage of preferences (colour etc) and they encourage submitted portlets and tabs. They now have  >80% of the student population logging in at least once per day and future plans include extending  the community service, offering access to institutional data, an entry point for all web based services, and enhancing the social networking and discussion tools.

The portal can be looked at here and also has some explanatory areas

It Is About Time: Getting Our Values Around Copyright Right

Educause 2009

Lawrence Lessig – Director, Edward J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, and Professor of Law , Harvard University

A suitably entertaining and informed presentation about the inadequacies of current copyright law in relation to education and science in front of a sizeable audience in the huge Wells Fargo theatre. Lessig highlighted the need for a better model of copyright in and the responsibility that sits with the community to question and demand change. It was perhaps not surprisingly a strong call for open access and peer review to  deal with the problems of ever increasingly expensive and prohibitive copyright around publications and scholarly communications and of course the promotion of the Creative Commons models.

It was an extraordinary presentation; emotional, logical and forward looking  with exemplary use of Keynote contrasting with the welter of nasty Powerpoint presentations this show. A presentation that was met with a standing ovation.

The presentation can be seen here, but I suggest you fast forward to about 26 minutes to avoid the awards part (despite Nicole Harris being on stage as one of the Catalyst Award winners – well done her!)

Green IT: Conscience or Wallet?

Educause 2009

Mark Askren – Chief Information Officer , University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Donald Z. Spicer – ECAR Senior Fellow & Assoc Vice Chancellor for Information Technology , University System of Maryland

Well let me admit now, this session lost me quite early on. Surely this should be more exciting than this – I am not sure if it was the style of presentation or the content… Two people barely disagreeing and looking/talking like characters from the Muppets an engaging session does not make. Is it me –  I really want to get into this sort of debate but most times it bores me rigid – but , whoa its important. Bill St Arnaud was the only one who got and kept my attention at the Terena Conference this year – can’t more speakers on this important topic be a little bit more like him.

I am not going to try to resume the main points, the whole dull affair will eventually be available for view.. sigh. I am sorry chaps it just didn’t happen for me, although a few of the more techie attendees seemed to get into something – its probably just be then.

Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai

Educause 2009

Melody Childs – Deputy CIO and Executive Director of User Support and Student IT Enablement , Louisiana State University

Michael Korcuska  – Executive Director , Sakai Foundation

David G. Swartz – Assistant VP and CIO , American University

Boy you need to get to sessions early – this one was full and overflowing well before start. This  was a session that was careful not to ‘dis’ Blackboard but seemed riven through with an avid dislike of it and other vended solutions

The session can be seen in all its glory here.

It bounced through the questions and issues like:

·         Its free – what like free beer or free puppies?

·         Ooh we spend the money we save on people to support it

·         Who do you call if open fouls up? Well the community of course – 30 million Moodle users must know the answer (and they probably do)

·         Mmm Blackboard have a sophisticated support service (unspoken sneers)

·         But isn’t it all very risky? Ah well, there is risk everywhere even (especially?) in vended solutions ( a phrase used it seems instead of saying the B word)

·         But who decides what gets taken into new open releases and when? Of course, its up to you!

I don’t want to seem unsupportive of what is transparently a good thing but really, two people agreeing about how simply brilliant open is doesn’t make a Point:Counterpoint session, more like a Point:NoPoint one. Shouldn’t they have been braver and had a ‘vended solutions’ person fighting their corner? Now that would have been more fun…

Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative? The Mile-High Twitter Debate

Educause 2009

W. Gardner Campbell – Director, Academy for Teaching and Learning, Baylor University

Bruce Maas – Chief Information Officer , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


An entertaining presentation,  all now playable here, a kind of semi-stand up between an alleged Twitter fiend and a CIO. It felt a bit like a wrestling bout  – all a little pre-arranged but sure I know its a role play… They were making the perhaps now inevitable case for the value of Twitter as part of stretching HE activity (and used #edtwitter tag to encourage live comment), encouraging involvement and interaction and so on and so forth. Although a mercifully different session it felt a little light on content with a message that seemed to be  – allow people to be creative and ‘messy’ in service of the mission of the institution by using this sort of technology.

It was commented that the median age of Twitter user is 31 and so not perhaps  the age of standard student. Apparently this is younger than the median age of a Facebook user – many thanks to @jamesclay for the link to the original article. Still doesn’t square with my personal, albeit very limited experience of 18 year olds who think Twitter is for oldies in the same way that email is – why use Twitter when you can instant message? (yes I know it misses all the lovely inclusive, community stuff but that’s  what’s said to me!)

I spent too much time watching and responding to the Twitterfall and not listening to the presenters. Am I just too old to be able to focus on twitter, a conversation, Powerpoint  and video clips all at the same time – sometimes just because you can show all that stuff simultaneously doesn’t  mean you should. Thankfully someone else made a comment about Twitters potential to be distracting as well as engaging…. at least there’s two of us who think that.

Anyhow probably the best , most interesting and engaging session of the day… maybe all sessions should have back channel facilities?

Cloud Computing: Hype of Hope

Educause 2009

Michael Dieckmann  – Senior Associate Vice President & CIO , University of West Florida

Melissa Woo – Director of Cyberinfrastructure/Director, Network & Operations Services , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

They started off by stating that they would focus on the ‘public ‘ cloud (commercial) and the two layers within that – the one  driven by the institution and the other by the users themselves. All definitions ,  they claim, including  Gartner and NIST, include similar shared terms:  the Cloud is a network delivered service, incorporates massive sharing, is  elastic and scalable and metered by use/you pay as you go. It maybe this focus on the public cloud, and not the private cloud within and between institutions, that is the reason ultimately for my dissatisfaction with the overall session, explained later

See the session here  (ultimately)and help me avoid repeating the session badly from my notes!

The session ping-ponged back and forth between the two protagonists with an occasional question thrown in by the convenor.

·         It’s inevitable and economic issues will drive it; no, its not about ‘when ‘ but ‘why’ –what happens if we can’t guarantee access to data?

·         When a service can be provided reliably outside of the institution why should resource be invested to run service in- house? … oh its all about costs for you, we need to be careful about costs loaded elsewhere – legal, IP etc

·         What happens if a cloud provider reneges on a service?  But already having to deal with similar issues – eg how many are now tied into a provider like Blackboard

·         If everyone is using cloud services how do universities differentiate themselves? This is a fallacy – differentiation is not the tool but what people are doing with the tool

But as was said look at number of universities whose students already forward their emails to another provider, the same is true for admin and faculties functions as well. However  the discussion centred only on those utility type services and as such  it seemed to me that centering on the public cloud meant that the argument was a no brainer – the switch has happened. Perhaps the real and more important question around the cloud sits with areas like research data – about ownership and IPR and the issues of security, integrity and safety. Will universities be prepared to put all this at the mercy of a public cloud – almost certainly not. It was a shame that the issue of the private cloud didn’t get surfaced, as it was , the Hype speaker was trounced by the fact that the pubic cloud and the shift utility services has already happened.

Oops – the forgotten blog

Lawd luvaduck and lawks a-mercy I seem to have ignored the once cherished Ponderblog. Surely a gap of four months must constitute abandonment? Hey ho what is one to do? Well I foretell a few postings over the coming days as I wind myself up for Educause 2009 in Denver.

My first time in Denver and what to make of it? Well it sits smack bang in the middle of disturbingly  flat countryside, flat that is until it hits the mountains that rise, rather majestically it must be said, skyward, breaking the monotony of the landscape. ‘Mile High’ is the slightly dubious tag of the city and as yet I haven’t spied many couples feverishly trying to join ‘that’ club, at least not in public. I wonder if, as they say, Denver is a mile above sea level does that make anyone who partakes of the pleasures of the flesh here instantly a member of the ‘Mile High Club’? But then again, frankly who cares? (is ‘caring’ the same as ‘minding’…?)

convention-bear.jpgWell as it was my free day I decided to go walkabout downtown and lower downtown (although I couldn’t tell the difference). Down the 16th avenue Mall, saw the Millennium bridge, the outside of the Contemporary Art Museum (closed Mondays if you are interested), risked life and limb to cross the street to see the Pepsi Centre (home of ice hockey and basketball and venue for a double treat of Elton John and  Billy Joel… mmmm… on November 22nd). Through the Performing Arts centre where the only things on offer this week are the musical (sic) Wicked and the Three Divas belting out presumably hideous ‘popular’ items…no thanks. Also strolled past the rather impressive Convention Centre (home for Educause this week) and the huge blue bear a-peering in of the window (nope, no idea why but it does look quite cool)

Stage two of the city walkabout took in the Capitol building (odd blue-grey colour and gold dome) past the Colorado History Museum or somesuch and then to the Daniel Liebskind designed Denver Art Museum. This is a spectacular building from outside (maybe if there’s time I will venture inside) its angles slicing through the sky making art-museum.jpgit an energising building after the standard glass steel efforts of downtown and the otherwise unremarkable architecture. Next the 83L bus to the charmingly (if erroneously) named Cherry Creek shopping hell. Early Christmas shopping for the lad and lassie thanks to Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and (shiver) Victoria’s Secret. The bus trip is another reminder of the us and them of American society – ‘nice’ middle class people take the car and the rest ride the bus making it a slightly dispiriting experience.