Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Academic Senate Remarks...

Last week I had the opportunity to address the Academic Senate in Tempe to update them on the ongoing technology planning process underway here at ASU. Since I thought those comments might be of general interest, I include them here. If you know someone who is unfamiliar with what we are doing, but would be useful in moving the process forward, I think this post might provide them with the needed background.

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to the Senate today. The purpose of my conversation with you will be to give you an idea of the planning activity that we are going through, and what my role is in facilitating it. I am in a new position in the President's office as the University Technology Officer. The purpose of that position is to help develop a strategic plan for the use of technology at Arizona State University over the next five years. As many of you may know, our information technology systems have been reviewed externally, and those reviewers have found generally two things. The first is that things run pretty well around here. The second is that if we have a failing it is in not spending enough time and energy planning for the future, in terms of integrating new technology--in that we are bit behind. So, in order to try and rectify that situation, President Crow asked me to join in.

I come to ASU from Iowa State University. I held a chair in interdisciplinary engineering, taught computer graphics, and did research in the Virtual Reality Applications Center, doing 3-D visualization -- the kinds of things that are being done in the Decision Theatre here. My first contact with ASU came when President Crow asked me to visit to learn more from Jeremy Rowe, Anshuman Razdan, and others involved in developing the ASU Decision Theatre. From that contact I caught the passion for President Crow's New American University vision. Technology has a big role to play in that vision and when I read the document, I was so taken by it, that I had to become a part of it.

But how to write a meaningful strategic plan? Well, it might have been natural I suppose to either do it myself, or else convene a series of committees -- filled with vim and vigor to deliver on their promises -- to assist in the preparation of a document. But I was worried about the speed and credibility of those approaches.

I wanted instead a mechanism to generate input and commentary right from the outset. There are some 3,000 staff and about 1,000 people in the enterprise directly related to information technology. I knew I had to get the input of those people and make them aware of the changes we might be able to effect if we were able to develop an implementable plan.

So lacking a better idea, as a first step I started a Blog and put the URL for it in my outlook signature. With just that little bit of marketing, within a week or so, I suddenly had to start paying my IT provider double what I paid before just to handle the increase in readership. I think the attraction of that Blog, what makes it interesting, is the degree of openness and transparency it provides into an ASU administrative process.

Every day this guy is going to write about what he is doing. He is going to talk about this plan we are putting together, he is going to talk about these issues, he is going to expose what his thoughts are, and he is just going to say what the deal is. So, whatever mistakes are made, whatever missteps gets corrected, they'll be out there too, which injects a great deal of accountability into the process. There will be plenty of times where I have to say in the end, I have made a huge mistake--I don't know what I was thinking to do this! But in the process, there will be openness about where we are headed.

So if you're interested in the Blog, just type adrian.sannier.net into your browser and take a look. Read and comment to your heart’s content.

A lot of people have asked me why my Blog isn't hosted at asu.edu. To which I reply -- "You set your Blog up within the asu.edu domain and then you let me know when it is ready. As for me, it took one afternoon and about $25 to set it up outside the university. " So one of the messages that the Blog sends is that there is a fast-paced information technology landscape outside our walls that we need to keep pace with. Our students are certainly there, many of our faculty and staff are there. And we need to be there.

But however interesting the Blog might be, it still doesn't solve the problem of developing a strategic plan. So, adding one gimmick on top of the next, I decided that I would use another technology based gadget, a WIKI, as the mechanism to generate and propagate the plan.

How many of you here know what a WIKI is? Not so many. Well then, let me expand a little. There is a phenomenon on the Web right now called the Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), which was put together by a set of people that decided they wanted to write a web based encyclopedia. Imagine what odds you would have given them if they had come up to you and said, "Here is what we are going to do. We're going to make a Web site for this encyclopedia and anybody who comes to it will be able to edit it. So, if you come to an article that you don't agree with, you can just change it. Anything from a spelling error to a major omission. Just change it."

Seems crazy doesn't it, and yet that is how they made the encyclopedia? How did they keep the lunatics from taking over the asylum--how did they stop people from writing whatever they want -- ads and spam, pornography, lies, propaganda?

If you haven't done so, go and look at the Wikipedia for yourself. I think it is an amazing phenomenon, and it is only a little over four years old.

In terms of creating a WIKI here at ASU to help develop the strategic technology plan, what we have done is to select eight areas to develop:

  • Asu.edu

  • Administrative Technology @ ASU

  • Academic Technology @ ASU

  • Research Technology @ ASU

  • Capturing and Sharing Knowledge and Information Assets @ ASU

  • The Information Utility @ ASU

  • Organizational Opportunities @ ASU

  • Information Security @ ASU

For each of those areas we are developing four documents: a SWOT analysis, a Current Assessment, a Strategic Plan, and a Tactical Plan.

At this point there are some 250 named users and about 130 pages of content within the WIKI. It is still in its very early stages. Much of the contents still appear chaotic and disorganized, by no means comprehensive. But over time, as the moderation team brings more structure to the sections, you will see it settle out nicely I predict.

At the moment, most of the focus is on developing outlines for the current assessment and strategic vision documents for each section. As the outlines come together, volunteers and invited authors will begin to write the articles that fill the outline in and help highlight the ideas we hold in common as well as the decisions we have to make.

What do we mean when we talk about strategy and vision? To give you an example, let me take one up that is near and dear to my heart, Academic Technology? When we talk about Academic Technology what do we mean? I think we're talking about all of the expanded ways technology can be used to present material and interact with students. For example, the two projection screens we are using here at the Senate Meeting are an example of academic technology -- technology deployed in a classroom to make teaching more effective. You can think about Blackboard system and the way it can be used to deliver course material online as an example of academic technology.

So what is our strategy at this time for Academic Technology? If you stand outside of Coor Hall, you can see a central piece of that strategy. We put a lot of machines in common locations to deploy technological resources to students en masse. Those common computing sites, those labs, are clearly a big chunk of academic technology. Likewise those few specialized classrooms with computers deployed in the tables, those are examples of academic technology. To summarize that as an element of the current strategy, you would have to say that ASU’s technology strategy has been to deploy centralized, common computing resources to provide students with access to online materials and technology tools. In the classroom, the strategy has been to deploy technology in highly specialized ways in a relatively few locations.

One of the questions I've been asking is, "Is our ongoing strategy going to be to continue doing that?" And I would argue in the negative. One of the things that I have put forward as a straw man for an alternative vision is something I've called "ASU 1:1". ASU 1:1 would change our technology deployment away from providing common computing infrastructure and specialized computing classrooms toward providing support for a student body equipped with mobile, personal computing devices, accessing the Internet and the ASU scholastic network via ubiquitous wireless.

I submit that the one-to-one approach is going to happen whether we do anything about it or not. Its already happening. Every month thousands of students turn to us to help them use their mobile devices to assist them in their education and we have to turn them away because our support resources are aimed squarely at the common computing infrastructure instead.

The question is not if the University will go 1:1. It is already hurtling there. The question is at what point we will accept that it is happening, and learn how to explore that in the service of the academic enterprise. If we embrace 1:1, then a whole host of other strategic questions emerge that, as we provide answers to them, help us develop our strategic plan for going forward.

So ASU 1:1 is one example of a strategy that might come out of this planning process. I think you will see some momentum building around one-to-one computing in the next several months. For example, we are currently exploring the possibility of the downtown campus as the first one-to-one computing campus, in a program we call Downtown 1:1. I am currently working with the Provost Harrison, the Downtown Deans, the University Architect, and the Central IT group to explore what we need to do to go 1:1 Downtown.

You may also have noticed, if you take an interest in the administrative side of computing, that an overhaul of the student information system – which has been the subject of a lot of inquiry and frustration over the last several years --- is now underway. So a strategy is emerging in the administrative arena as a result of this activity.

Now despite this early progress, one of the things that I encounter, particularly among the university staff, in regard to the whole process is:
"Hey, this is a nice little game you are playing, and it's great that you're going to produce some kind of document at the end, but you must understand that we are busy people! While manifestos and whatnot hold some attraction, actual work holds far more attraction for us, so, please don't ask us to contribute too much to this manifesto."

And this is a position I have some sympathy with, because I am an action oriented person myself. Like you, I've seen too many plans that either say very little, or say a whole lot that no one has any intention of ever carrying out.

I want you to know that President Crow has turned his attention to the question of how technology should serve this enterprise -- administratively, academically, in the research enterprise, and in all the various other aspects of the university. And he has asked me to put a comprehensive, implementable plan together. I think he expects that one of two outcomes will happen. Either:

  1. I will fail to put this plan together, in which case he can feel free to fire me , or

  2. We will succeed in drawing together a plan that has sufficient support to be implemented.

Then the great thing about President Crow is -- he will implement the plan. I am looking forward to the second phase of the program and I want to invite your participation today.

For those of you who would like to contribute, but fear the technological barriers to working within the WIKI might be too high, we have a solution for you. I have added two email addresses to allow you to submit content to the WIKI without learning how to work it. Simply mail articles and ideas to UTOWIKI@asu.edu and you can put in any content that you want. You also can send things to ASKUTO@asu.edu, any comment, any query, any criticism that you would like. You can also reach me directly on my Blog site (adrian.sannier.net), which is a pretty straightforward thing to do. You just go to that Web page and click on a place where it says comment and type away.

These are some of the vehicles that we are using to try and draw together the thoughts of the university in terms of an open planning process. I invite you all to join in that process, or comment on that process, or ask me to come and talk in depth to any faculty body that you would like.

In closing, let me address the deadline for all of this activity. Well, it has already taken off much faster than I think anyone expected, so it is a little difficult to say what our target is. At the moment, I'd say our goal is to have a draft version of at least a high-level picture of this plan by the end of the calendar year, as a basis to use in soliciting serious commentary from the rest of the university about which things stand up and which things do not.

Thanks very much for your time.


Adrian,  November 2, 2005 at 8:40 AM  

Does this mean ‘staff’ are not considered people? J

There are some 3000 staff and about 1,000 people in the enterprise directly related to information technology.



No…there are 5,600 staff in total (I think) and of those 5,600, about 1000 are directly involved in the IT game…thanks for the heads up…