Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas and the College Student 2011

Yes, it is that time of year. Our campus is about to take the Thanksgiving mini-break before the home stretch to finals and then the Christmas break. I have a had tougher time each year thinking of great tech Christmas gifts for the college student. This fall we saw that students having multiple wifi gadgets. This causes real challenges for network administrators, but the trend is unstoppable. So what more could the college student need in the world of tech? Here is my list from what I have seen this year:

The tablet, not just the iPad, but other models as well are still not seen in large numbers on campus. I think cost is driving this to a large degree (about $500 for the base model, with no 3G). There are still few Apps out there that will make a difference acedmically, but the convenience of carrying a 2 pound wireless internet device cannot be understimated. Some students are already using tablets to buy and access e-texts. Still, $500 is a lot of money.

The flash drive, is still a great and inexpensive gift. A 32GB drive can be bought for under $35 this year. This is pretty amazing. Students can carry every paper they have ever written, thousands of photos and even a few movies in their pockets.

Cloud storage is new this year. Carbonite and Mozy offer subscription auto backups from the students laptop over the internet. The cost is about $55 a year and the backup worries go away. A damaged, stolen or lost laptop is bad enough. Losing the stuff on your hard drive could really be a heart breaker.

The bluetooth hands free cell phone device is now a legal necessessity in most states. students are always on the phone and being able to do this safely and legally is imprerative now. Most students drive cars which do not have bluetooth already installed. Jabra, among others, offer agood hands free solutions. Models vary, but you can buy an ear attached device for about $50.

22" to 32" monitor with speakers . This will enable the student to plug in the laptop and use Hulu or Netflix to watch TV from their laptop on demand. These large monitors can be had for $149 to $199. Who needs cable TV anymore.

How about a speaker system to turn the PC into a top of the line stereo? I like the Bose Companion for less that $100. There is a three piece sytem for a view dollars more.

College students have so many credit courses to complete to meet degree requirements, no matter what the major. I have noticed that few programs give students hands on experience with web page development, blogging, or media (film and audio) creation. I am not saying that a student needs to be expert in these areas, but the web and media are the new platform communication and will be, regardless of professional area persued. Having some basic skills in these areas might help them get that first job or help them market themselves. I would suggest that they take a non-credit course at the local community college in the summer or winter term. These are generally 4-5 week short courses (one evening a week) and they can provide basic skills than can be added to the resume.

Last, don't forget about the stocking stuffer. I know I always like getting an iTunes card or Amazon gift certificate for music. You can spend as little as $15 and go up from there. The goal is too stay legal and away from the music police, while enjoying their favorite music.

Addition: I just thought of this one. Almost all students have a laptop (over 98% at my campus), but how many have a mouse that can easily attach? I know I hate using the odd mouse like features of laptops. The mini mouse, wired or not wired, is a great stocking stuffer. I like Logitech equipment for price and durability, but you can find these every where and rarely are they more that $20. Think mini-mouse.

Please feel feel to send in a comment with your own ideas and I will share them. Happy holidays.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The insatiable need for more bandwidth

As we started the fall 2011 semester we new that we would have to add additional bandwidth. We added a new 600 bed residence hall. This added over 1,000 network drops to and dozens of wireless access point to the campus data infrastructure. At the same time we opened a new Business School, again with over 1,000 drops and dozens of new wireless access points (APs). With all of the other renovation projects going on on campus we have increased wireless APs from 300 to almost 700. We used a packetshaper to carve out 200MB for students and about 60MB for faculty and staff.

I naively that that bumping residence capacity by 10% would be enough. Wrong. The first report I got one week into the semester was that we needed more on the student side. We bumped the capacity another 80MB to 300MB. This barely got our heads above the flat lined usage graphs. Days later it was faculty/staff. Their usage was also pegged. I added another 10MB and it was pegged again -- immediately. I feel like I am in a Titanic stateroom struggling to find air in a one inch of air space near the ceiling. The water is rising.

What's happening? Well, I am still trying to get an exact answer to that question. We believe the following is taking place on the student side:

Students own multiple devices. Laptops, desktops, Smart phones, eReaders, tablets and gaming devices are the norm. The content has moved dramatically to streaming audio, video and animation. Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube everywhere and 27x7. All bandwidth hogs.

Students never turn off their devices. All of the devices noted above are on all of the time. They are either actively pulling down content or at least pinging wireless APs continuously.

On the faulty/staff side, digital media is streaming into offices and classrooms at a much greater rate. Pandora, and other music services, is almost ubiquitous. When was the last time you saw someone with a small radio in thier office? Also in the mix are browsers which stream animated or video content continuously. An of course video links which are emailed on every imaginable topic. Oh, we are also using Skype to the classroom to provide some great impromptu guest speakers in classes. We also have faculty posting lectures and other rich media to their website. (See my earlier post on Lecture Capture systems.)

This is all great stuff, but I expect our Internet costs to jump about 25% this year. I am guessing that our use will continue to go up at 10-15% annually. As more Smart phones come to campus and more cloud apps become available for teaching, the bandwidth use will continue to rise. From my perspective as an IT professional, this is all a blessing and a curse. A recent article in the eCampus news illustrates that this rapid increase in bandwidth consumption happening on all campuses. Another short article which cites the research done by Educause can be seen at eSchool News.

Colleges have a real challenge. We have students with the equipment and expectation for unlimited bandwidth. The killer audio and video apps are driving usage, and our own web based learning management systems are pumping out needed academic content at an increasing rate. Bandwidth management is a key challenge for IT leaders. We need to share ideas and hopefully technical solutions will surface.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So what do you think of E-textbooks?

I am still scratching my head at the idea of E-books, particularly E-textbooks. Even our campus "brick and mortar" bookstore is now selling E-textbooks. There are a growing number of companies who are eating the lunch of college bookstores that are not in the E-textbook business. Well, maybe not the whole lunch. According to a recent article in Wired Magazine the E-Books market is only of about 10% of college text book sales. This is a pretty good percentage for a new technology, but college students are amazing when it comes to finding a bargain. So why such a low number?

A few reasons could be that e-Books in general are often sold by publishers who also sell a E-reader device like the Kindle (Amazon)for the or the Nook (Barnes and Noble) and buyers need to be sure the book they are buying can be read on the device they have. This can get confusing since the iPad and other tablets also offer reader software that can work with certain formats. Therefore the buyer needs to beware. Want a mind blowing look at the market for E-readers? Check out Wikipedia.

Another reason could be that more often publishers are shipping the paper books to the campus with premium stuff that cannot be found in the online version. Lab manuals or DVDs with extra support materials are common. This adds to the confusion at the point of purchase. Another reason could be that even the tech savvy college students of today have not grown up on E-books. In all of their years of school paper was the rule. This E-book thing is still very new and frankly may not provide the financial incentive needed. Most E-texts also have an "end of life date". This means you don't get to keep them forever or sell them to your friends the way you can a paper book. You really need to check prices between paper and the virtual text. Very often the prices are pretty similar. In some cases there are deals to be had, if you can deal with the "difference factor". Publishers often say that there is no real money in a textbook because the cost is in the intellectual property that it takes to write the book. How many copies a Geographic Information Systems or Multiple Regression for the Behavioral Sciences are you going to sell. Good argument.

I think we have a few things going on in this space right now. The E-reader and tablet thing is very new, maybe 2-3 years. Many students are just now seeing these devices for the first time. Second, they are competing with the new book rental business. This model allows you to rent the real paper book and mail it back after the semester. You way than than cover price and you get to use the real book. Third, often the E-books re used on a separate device. A Kindle, Nook, or tablet. How many devices can you afford to own. Almost every student already owns a laptop and a rapidly growing number already own Smartphones. Again students are very cost conscious and they are not jumping to buy these new devices, at least as early adopters.

So what will make the e-book sell? To an extent the growth will happen naturally, but the real driver is price and features. If a single standard can me sold regardless of the publisher that allows the student to use any device -- even their laptop that will will help. If you want to see the E-books really take off, the price needs to be about half of the paper text offering and they need have no expiration. This will be possible with some titles and not so easy with other highly specialized texts.

I am going to watch closer of the next year or so and see how this develops. The game is still young. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last minute tech stuff for the fall 2011 ...

In August 2009 I wrote a blog about "last minute tech gadgets to bring to campus". I was just looking at this entry again. Although all of things that I mentioned are still good things to bring along, there are a few more considerations.

In 2009 I suggested that students bing:

1. A laptop bag or backpack
2. Laptop lock for your room
3. Portable storage
4. USB hub
5. Headphones for use in the labs or library
6. Subscribe to a music service like Pandora

I think most of these still hold true, but I would add a few notes.

1. The laptop bag is still a good idea, but most students seem to be going with a backpack or courier bag. There are now backpacks with extra padding to protect a laptop. I you plan on carrying your laptop all over campus, I would go with a 14" model. You save a pound or so and still get a nice workable image.

2. Laptop lock - still a must. Things can walk from a residence hall bedroom when you are visiting friends down the hall.

3. Portable storage - still a good thing, but prices have really dropped. You can buy a 32GB (huge) for less than $40. Note that we now use Microsoft Live@Edu for our email system, but it also provides about 25GB of storage in the "cloud". No worries about backups or losing your data. Remember backup your data from your laptop or flash drive. BTW, the email and storage are yours even after graduation!

4. USB Hub - I am not as hot on this anymore. Most laptops are coming with 4-5 USB ports in them now. You may need a hub, but this is doubtful. Spend the money on a good power strip a circuit breaker to protect your gadgets from power surges and lightening.

5. Headphones - Still a good idea, but you can reuse the earbuds from your iPod or other music device. You will need this in the library and labs for sure.

6. Music service - you can still use Pandora for 40 hours a month for free, but it only costs $36 for the entire year. You might also look at AOL radio or Yahoo radio. You cannot customize you playlist the way you can with Pandora, but free is good.

7. Personal Printer- I know everyone hates printing on their own printer when you can get free printing in campus labs and the library, but when you need that paper for an 8AM class a little desktop ink jet printer is a cheap investment and comes in handy.

8. Tablet or eReader - Still not seeing large numbers of these on campus. In most cases you read eBooks on your laptop or even your phone. Personally, I would not jump on this bandwagon just yet. Prices will come down and they are just another device to worry about. If you have plenty of cash or someone buys one for you as a gift, enjoy, but they are not work tools just yet.

9. Personal wireless access router - forget about it. You don't need it on campus and the network will detect it and shut you down. Save the $50. If you live off campus, go for it.

10. Personal video camera - about 30% of SU students report that they own one, but it's unclear whether the device is their phone or something like a Flip camera. If you like making videos you can get a great quality HD video camera for $100-$150. Flip is not made anymore, but Kodak, Sony and others make them.

I think that's it for this year. If you have some ideas of your own, feel free to send me a comment. Let the year begin.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What if technology is just too expensive...

I spend a great deal of time describing what college students are bringing to campus. My surveys over the past few years have show dramatic growth in amount of technology being brought to campuses these days. First it was the desktop computer, then the laptop, most recently Smart Phones, and we are just seeing tablets make their arrival. This is all kind of exciting when you deal with tech all day, like I do. While we have seen students bringing tech to campus, the campuses have been adding lots of free tech in all sorts of places. Convenience is king.

You may have noticed in my last post that while freshmen are bringing lots of tech to campus, they still want more computer labs, free printing, more library computers, and even walk up computers in campus coffee shops or dining spaces. Some even ask for rental computers and tablets. It never seems to be enough.

Although most students are jumping on board and investing in lots of personal technology (at least at my campus), what if this is all just too much. What if you can barely afford to pay tuition and by or rent textbooks. Yes, students are now renting text books and saving. Check out or Google rent textbooks. Back to the story.

What if you are barely getting by and are trying to keep up. What do you absolutely need to survive on a college campus? Well not every campus offers free printing and printing is still hugely important. So I suggest saving a few cents for printing, but avoid commercial print shops. Most campus labs will allow you to print for 5 cents or less per page. So where else can you save?

My campus provides three open computers labs. These are labs with not scheduled classes. You can walk in and use most of the programs you need for free. When classes are not scheduled, say during late afternoon or early morning, many campus labs are open and available for walk-in use. The campus library is open an average of 16 hours per day and they have dozens of desktop computers for walk-up use. Check with the front desk, but most campuses have these and all you need is a valid network account which comes with your tuition. You should also see if you can check out a laptop or tablet at the circulation desktop. We have been loaning these for about 10 years. You can generally borrow a computer with all of the software for 2-3 hours, for free.

Does your campus have coffee shops? Our main coffee shop has about 10 desktop PCs for walk in use. Spend your money on a coffee. You can't print in the coffee shop, but you can do some work and save it to your network drive, cloud storage, or a thumb drive.

So what do you have to buy to stay competitive with technology? Well keep in mind that going cheap requires you to plan ahead and to be flexible, but it can be done. I suggest buying one thing. A thumb drive (or two for backup). You can buy these almost anywhere, but I just checked and you can buy a 16 gigabyte thumb drive for less than $17 at Amazon. This will hold every paper and assignment that you do over your four years of college, excluding video and audio recordings. Buy two and back-up often. These are easy to lose. Always have a backup tucked away at home.

This will allow you to go anywhere to work and to search for the cheapest printing. You can also save videos and music and you can play these back on the free computers with some inexpensive ear buds.

Now you know the frugal side of tech. College is expensive, but campuses make an awful lot of tech available for the price of tuition. Enjoy and save.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What do freshmen want from IT

I have been looking back at the comments of our spring technology survey. We ask students questions about what technologies they use personally and for academic purposes. We also ask them, in an open ended question, to tell us what they want most in terms of campus technology. This year's survey included 660 students overall, including 130 freshmen. This represents about 11% of the fall 2010 freshmen class. Not a huge number, but enough to get a sense of what students are thinking. eighty students gave written responses.

First some quick info on these freshmen:

- Slightly over 81% of the group lived on campus in 2010-11
- 95% consider themselves to be mainstream adopters of technology, early adopters or innovators.
- 100% own laptops and 18% of these also own a desktop computer
- Only 6.4% own an iPad, 55% own the iPod Touch and 38% own digital video cameras.
- 100% own cell phones, with 43% of these owning Smart phones.
- Over 40% spend 16 or more hours per week on the Internet
- 96% own an iPod or other digital music player
- 27% use Facebook and 37% us YouTube for CLASS work

This looks like a pretty connected group and we are definitely seeing students coming to campus with multiple digital devices. When asked what more can we do, the most often mentioned suggestions were:

- Make more computers available for walk up use on campus in the library, residence halls, or for loan at various locations around campus.
- Make iPads available on campus
- SPEED. They want faster wireless and wired connectivity.
- Make it easier to connect mobile devices to the wireless to the wireless network (we require authentication)
- Update GullNet, our web based student services systems. Some feel it is dated and difficult to use. GullNet is PeopleSoft and was upgraded to version 9.0 in 2009.

There were more suggestions, but these wee most often seen. Some students actually think things are nice the way they are. In all, we see mobile as the most rapidly growing trend, but students want access to the Internet even when they don't have their own device handy.

The bar for technical continues to rise annually and will keep IT departments chasing the curve. So it goes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lecture Capture: Great aid to learning or a good reason to cut class

Lecture capture products have been around for a few years, but they really seem to be getting legs of late. There a few clear leaders in the field and several more with capture capability. Lecture capture tools are systems which allow the instructor to record video, audio and usually a related power point. This recorded content can be posted to the web in a very short time period. The result can be a complete archive of lectures for an entire course. This can be a great thing if a student misses a classes or if he/she needs to go back and review a particular topic before an exam. Most systems now provide the ability to search all of the lectures in a class to find just what you are looking for. For example if in week three the instructor lectured on "measures of central tendency" in statistics, you can find it in seconds by search for "mean, median or mode". The systems provide search capabilbity by using metadata to target specific subjects or topics within a series of lectures. This metadata can be captured in a few ways. One would be for the system to "read" the related words in the power point. The major players are now enhancing their systems to include more media sources (more cameras, document cameras connections, other video sources).

Some of the players that I have looked at pretty closely are Tegrity, Panopto and Mediasite. All do a good job and offer slightly different features. Mediasite usually requires the use of external hardware, but provides a superior recording. You can learn more about some of these and other products from an issue of Campus Technology Magazine (no affiliation with this blog.

When you mention lecture capture software to anyone they always say "won't students stop coming to class?" Good question, but the early research suggests that this is not pervasive. The recording of lectures does allow students to view a missed lecture, but the review component seems to be attractive to a great many. Inside Higher Education provides some interesting data and perspective on the issue. Although the discussion of whether recording lectures is a good thing or not is up for debate, I am thinking that the discussion moot. Campuses are going this way and an increasing number of faculty will want to go with the new technology. Like many learning technologies developed over the past 10 years, students are quickly adopting and expecting the service to be there. I can hear parents or freshmen asking whether your campus has lecture capture while they tour campus in the next 1-2 years. Like learning management systems and clickers, lecture capture will be mainstream in the near future.

Lecture capture can offer great advantages to students for a modest cost to a campus. You can buy a campus license for as little as $25,000 per year, but of course you can spends big money also. One of the best features of most of these tools is that all you need in the classroom is a USB camera/microphone and the software on the PC. They are generally designed for faculty to operate without a technician. Storing the videos can be done on a campus server or in the cloud. Cloud storage options are growing. If you have not looked at these technologies, you soon will be.

If you want to take a peek at Panopto, one of the popular products, click here here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SU Tech survey for Spring 2011

We completed our spring student IT survey a few weeks ago. Some interesting results can been seen. The technology bar keeps rising for SU and other universities. I will elaborate on these results, but want to get some of the latest data our there. SU had about 8,400 students this spring and 655 completed the survey. This number of responses was collected from one email request.

- Most students rate themselves as Mainstream Adopter(53%), Early Adopter(28%) or Innovators (5%)

- Only 19.1% of students own desktop PCs

- 97% own laptops

- 6.8% own tablets

- 9.3% own eReaders

- Almost 48% of students own Smart Phones. Up from 5% in 2009.

- 78.6% of students prefer to be contacted by SU email

- 90% of students check their campus email daily and another 20% check it every 2- 3 days

- 92.2% own a digital media player

- 87% use campus computer labs 1-3 times a week

- 85% consider SU technology to equal to or better than other campuses

As expected we are seeing very rapid growth in Smart phone ownership. We are also noting that student own multiple devices now while a few years ago they just owned a desktop or laptop. Computer labs are still very important places for students and they want more university provided computers, rather than less. Lastly, email is still the preferred method of communicating with students and they check it almost daily, despite what most faculty and administrators think.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When your President is thinking of buying an iPad

Just yesterday the President of our campus sent me an email with some very good questions from someone who is considering buying an iPad2. I guess some of the questions would apply to any tablet. Although I am no expert on the iPad, I think my answers address of few of the basic questions that most potential tablet buyers are, or should be, thinking about.

"I'm about to buy an iPad."

1. Do I buy the iPad with WiFi and 3G? Or just WiFi? And will I be able to integrate my cell phone service with the iPad?

Your email can be sync’ed with the iPad and iPhone. The WiFi version is less expensive, but limits you to being near a hot spot. With the 3G model, you can be anywhere there is a cell signal. Although there are many hot spots around, with 3G, you can use it in the car or anywhere. You will have to have a special data plan for 3G, where you don’t with WiFi, so this will require paying a monthly charge. For me, I would buy the WiFi version, but only because my usage would be at home 90% of the time. The 3G version has value for the traveler in airports and other spaces where WiFi may not be readily available.

2. Do you advise that I get the 16 GB? 32? or 64 GB?

I would pick the middle ground and go with 32GB. The iPad is an Internet device and not a device on which you will save much content. Even pictures and video would likely be stored in the cloud on some service.

3. What are the primary apps that I should buy?

Everything on the iPad requires an app. It comes with a YouTube app, browser, and a few others. I think the new version also comes with a teleconferencing app (FaceTime), since it now has two cameras. You can also do video Skype. I would not buy any with the device. They can all be purchased on the iTunes store as you need them. Most are $9.99 or less. Here is a cool web site with some suggestions for popular business apps, but Apple has 65,000 thousands of apps.

Here are some popular business apps.

Here is some nice overview video info from Apple on the iPad.

4. Any other considerations?

Just a caution, the iPads capabilities are just being realized. It is potentially very powerful, but everything runs from the app, so almost anything you will require a modest extra charge, although there are some free apps. Like the iPod, the cost of the device is just getting started. We then buy lots of music, at least I do. Not complaining. BTW, you can download podcasts and video podcasts for free from iTunes. I hope this helps a little.

Epilogue: The iPad was delivered, but it was not quite what I had suggested. We ended up buying an iPad with 64GB of memory and it was the 3G/WiFi model. The cost for the high end model turned out to be $899. The iPad has been very well received. Since that time I have seen several articles addressing the question: iPad or Laptop? Campus Technology, the magazine, just had an interesting article talking about how much laptop you can buy for the price of an iPad. The choice is your's. I have a netbook.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Technology Adoption by College Students

There are a multitude of surveys and even more uneducated guesses about America's youth and technology use. Most of us over 50 make huge assumptions that students, particularly college students, are whizzes with technology. Of course we often attribute this to what we see on TV and maybe by the teen in our house who spends hours glued to the cell phone. By the way, many adults also assume that we know far less about technology because our generation did not get the tech gene.

While it may be that many of the youth of today are technology fearless, most do not race to be first in line for the latest technologies. ECAR, the Educause Center for Applied Research, does a student technology every year. ECAR does a pretty thorough job of surveying students. The 2010 survey obtained responses from 36,950 from over 125 American and Canadian college campuses. They also completed focus groups to make sure that they did not miss anything. Now I must say that results found in the ECAR study are very consistent with the 800 student survey that I do each spring. So there. If you feel the need to download their 118 page study, feel at at this site.

Here are just a few interesting results from their study:

- 49% of students surveyed describe themselves as "mainstream adopters" who wait and do not jump on the next new technology. Over 17% characterize themselves as late adopters or even "laggards" when it comes to adopting new technologies.

- Male students (44%) surveyed consider themselves to be "early adopters" or "innovators", suggesting that many males are indeed jumping on the next new thing. Female students tend to be more conservative when considering new technologies with only 26% considering themselves to be "early adopters" or innovators".

- "Almost two-thirds of the respondents own an Internet-capable handheld device."

- On average students surveyed spend an average of 21.2 hours per week on the Internet for school, work, or recreation.

From these few bullets we can see that college students are engaged with technology. From my informal discussions with faculty and other IT professionals I can see that although students are very interested in using technology for a variety of purposes, there are holes in their understanding of how most technologies work. Many do not know the intricacies of spreadsheet, how a web page is created, or what a database is. I think there is more work to be done in the area of technology fluency before students go out into the real world. Perhaps this needs to be a piece of their general education.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Going north to visit Avid

I am headed for Massachusetts tomorrow to spend a couple of days with the leaders of Avid. Avid is probably the largest provider of professional level video and audio recording and editing software. Our campus has used Media Composer their high end video editing product and Pro Tools, the audio recording and editing product for some time. They make a variety of creative tools, but these are the main tools that our students use.

I serve on their Education Customer Advisory Board. I feel a bit out of my league with people from the Berkeley School of Music, Yale, the USC School of Cinematography, Chapman University, and the LA Film School in attendance. I am the lone Chief Information Officer on the group. I guess this makes me sort of the token techy, but that's Ok. I contribute where I can on issues like data storage, security, licensing and other less creative stuff.

I do it because I believe that my University has the golden opportunity to be one of the leaders in the production of digital content on the east coast. I know, this is a bold statement. Salisbury University built a fantastic digital media center in 2008. We have two video studios (HD and SD) and an HD audio recording studio. Of course we also have over a dozen video editing suites and seven audio suites. Oh, we also have computer labs for digital photo and new media. Despite the nice facilities, we have a great deal to learn and almost all of the schools on this board have already reached the top of their fields.

Although, I still feel a bit out of my element it's always an exciting trip. This spring we are headed to Burlington, Mass. The new Avid HQ. The Avid leadership always comes out in force and the other board members are unassuming and extremely bright.

If you have a minute check out these short videos to see what is all about:

Media Composer 5
Pro Tools 9

It is really exciting to see the touring freshmen light up when they see the studios and watch students working. Genuine excitement cannot be hidden and it's very cool to watch.You can learn much more about both products by thumbing through the many YouTube videos.

BTW, don't forget that more and more digital media is being distributed through the web. A foundation in web design cannot hurt.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is higher education ready for the cloud?

First of all, what am I talking about. Well the cloud, in contemporary IT circles, refers to cloud computing. Now that sounds sort of ethereal. Don't look up a computer could fall on you.

Cloud computing can refer to many things, but for our purposes let's say that it involves operating software and/or storing data off campus in an unknown location. No data center required. Let's also say that the software is important, like your student records, registration, financial management or bursars function. There are many services that can reside in the cloud (email, admissions, word processing, or just general personal storage) but let's think about the "must have" applications.

Today most campuses have web based systems which do all of things noted above. This is all good and provides great 24x7 services that are expected by prospective students and parents. All this web activity is linked to servers on the campus. What would it mean if the REALLY important stuff (also noted above) was run from the cloud? Well, this could be a good thing in that it might save electricity, reduce the need for daily data backups, reduce staff, reduce the number of servers required to do things, and get campuses out from under auditors who worry about disaster recovery. Best of all IT can point to the cloud when things are not working quite right. Well that's not totally true. We still "get the call".

Cloud computing has many pluses, but it is still very new. At my campus we use it for smaller applications that are not on the "must have" list. So far so good. We used to call cloud computing hosted services. They were very expensive. For some reason the cloud often seems cheaper than hosted services were, but both bring us to the big problem. When using the cloud to run services you don't have control of your data in the sense that you can go over to the data center and touch the server. You may not even have a backup copy of your data. The cloud is deeply rooted in faith and service level agreements. These are often the same thing. Faith is great, but scary in the IT world. We don't deal in faith. Our users really don't deal in faith. All this said, the good thing about faith is that it can grow. This is why schools like mine are dipping our toe into the cloud (perhaps up into the cloud). We hope that all will be well and if it proves to be as faith worthy as we hope, we may go further. Remember, there are many pluses.

So, if you are selling cloud services today you may have some success if you are selling services that are not on the "must have" list. I think that we are 5 years away from feeling pretty good about the cloud and more willing to think about moving critical systems to it. In 10 years, however, I think we will all be floating in the cloud, even with the big stuff. In the meantime, baby steps will prevail. You can learn more about the good and the not so good about from a smart person's article from Educause.

BTW, this blog is in the cloud. Cool.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mobile Strategy on Campus

A recent article in the Chonicle of Higher Education caught my eye a week or two ago. The article,entitiled As the Web Goes Mobile, Colleges Fail to Keep Up talked about how most colleges have not developed strategy for the rapid growth in Smart phones on their campuses. I know on my campus we survey students annually and although 99% of students own cell phones only about 5% were Smart phones in 2009. By 2010 this number had jumped to 25%. Our survey for this year starts next month I expect the number to rise yet again. This reminds me of the rapid growth in laptop ownership starting in 2005.

Most campuses do not have a mobile strategy. We all have web sites and have added tens of thousands of web pages about programs and activities on our campuses. All of this is based on the idea that students will read it on a laptop or desktop computer. If you have not done so, try and bring up your campus web site on any Smart phone (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry). You cannot even read it. These sites are not formatted for the web and as a result they are largely inneffective. Here is an example of the iPhone app for Duke University:

This Duke application can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store.

You can see that this does not look like a typical web page, but allows easy access to selected important information. Clicking on any topic yields additonal information. A campuses logo and other branding can be added. I contend that if a campus does not have a mobile strategy up and running within the next 18-24 months they will be missing a connection with prospective students, current students, and alumni.

Many targeted products like Blackboard's Learn 9.0 learning management system already allow students to view course materials on their phones in a simplified format. In short order students will expect to easily see class materials, campus news and sports scores, selected video clips, check their grades, get the bus schedule, and find out everything from the library hours to what's for dinner.

Colleges may think this is just the latest fad, but they have to realize that every year the student body changes and every year the bar for technology and information rises. Imagine if a campus didn't have a web site today. In two years students will be saying "is there an app for that"? If your campus is not mobile you won't exist.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The 21st Century Campus

About a year ago some colleagues and I did a short video for CDWG on teaching technologies. It focused on institutional strategy, infrastructure, and faculty support. All of these are key to providing digital content relating to instruction. I choose these words carefully because we are seeing that the content may be an entire class or supportive content to a traditional class. It may be live video, recorded audio/video, web content or some other digital media. We most often see faculty looking to enrich their class during face to face instruction or using the learning management system outside of class.

Our campus philosophy has been to support faculty and students with instructional design assistance and a well maintained and supported classroom infrastructure. SU does not push this adoption from the top. The decision to use technology, or which technologies to use, rests with the faculty. We are seeing that faculty are embracing technology and more freely coming to IT or the Office of Instructional Design and Delivery for assistance. As technologies evolve the breadth of tools and related support grows, but we believe classes are richer for the effort.

Check out the short video for more information:

The 21st Century Campus

Monday, January 10, 2011

Motorola Xoom best gadget at 2011 CES

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is always a fascination for me. It has long been a professional fantasy for me to go and see the latest technology gadgets. If you don't follow this show, its the big one of the year where everyone (but Apple) comes to show off the news products.

I could have guessed that this year tablets computers and new smart phones would be headliners, and they were. I think 3D TVs still have a way to go, at least in my family room. On college campuses we have not seen too many tablet computers just yet. When we do here about them, it is always the Apple iPad. The field has gotten much more competitive now. Lots of cool options.

I was surprised to see that the Motorola Xoom got best gadget in show at CES this year. This is a pretty big deal. I have to say that the Xoom looks a great deal like the iPad. Its market right now seems to be purely mobile with a focus on 3G and later 4G models, rather than WiFi. This is likely add costs for most early adopters because you may need to add this to your mobile telephone charges. Unless you have an unlimited data plan. Check with your provider for details. Once it comes out as a WiFi model, you will be able to use it at any hotspot.

The Xoom runs on the Android Honeycomb operating system like many of the new entries into the tablet market. It is the first Android OS to be designed for the tablet. It offers a 10.1 inch screen with an HD display. It also allows for multi-tab browsing and can utilize Adobe Flash 10.1, which the iPad cannot do, yet. You have to love the way it integrates Google Maps and other Google products. You can see a short video about it at this link.

Although pricing has not come out yet, it is likely to be in the same price range as the iPad ($500 to $700). It will be available in the first quarter of 2011. I have to wonder if we will see tablets all over campus in the next several months. Its a little pricey to have a second computer, but these are light, have incredible displays, and might be the right tool for note taking and Internet activity in the classroom. Student's have already told us that they don't like to carry full sized laptops around campus. Laptops are said to be too heavy and might be damaged or stolen. I think students will be going with a device like this or a smart phone, or both. The tablet and the smart phone are better mobile devices than the laptop. Although for serious work (writing, graphics, creating presentations, editing video or audio) I prefer a laptop or even a desktop computer. There are certainly many exciting options coming out.