Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A wise friend used to tell me . . .

... never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. (I've recently seen that quote attributed to Bill Clinton, though that isn't who advised me.)

In keeping with my wise friend's advice, let me be perfectly clear (to quote another president):

I am in no way looking for any kind of fight with the folks over at the State Press. I love newspapers, I love web zines, and I'm appreciative of the interest they have shown in Downtown 1:1.

I'm just writing to expand on the information in the articles a little for those that are interested in more detail.

For those of you who may have missed it, Tara Brite wrote a story yesterday about Downtown 1:1, Downtown students may need laptops, and in the same issue there was also an OpEd piece, Editorial: Laptop requirement a no-no.

Now, after you read the articles, I suppose you might imagine that, given that I'm pushing this whole 1:1 idea, I might be a little crestfallen. I mean, neither article was exactly a ringing endorsement. And given that the editorial piece actually sort of came out against it -- right in the title -- you might figure I would be in regrouping mode today...


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Core vs. Context

Ok, so let me explain...no, there is too much. Let me sum up;

ASU is at the beginning of a 10-year plan to expand the size and scope of Arizona State University while simultaneously raising its academic quality. Costs must be contained while quality is increased, and all of this must be achieved in the face of mounting global and domestic competition, and a growing set of economic and technologic pressures. No other American university has become both bigger and better at this scale, at this pace. No other American university has even tried.

Clearly information technology will have to be part of the solution, but ASU's Near Follower strategy is not going to be enough. Leaving aside how hard it is to follow when technology is exploding so quickly, if no one is going where you are, its pretty hard to follow them there.

In his profile of Michael Crow in the November 18, 2005 edition of the Chroncile of Higher Ed, John Pulley quoted the president as saying he intended to blow up the status quo and reassemble the pieces into a model for 21st century higher education.

Not just for the sake of doing it, or for personal fame, or for profit, or for any other reason save the need to expand the range and effectiveness of higher education to meet the very real challenges of the 21st century.

I'm not bashful about saying that MMC's New Gold Standard message is one that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up -- like a James Taylor guitar lick, its a thing that rings so true I can feel it in my bones.
We are going to break with the ivory-tower pack and define ourselves by who we include, not who we exclude and we will simultaneously raise our academic achievment to proudly define ourselves not by the quality of our input but the extraordinary quality of our output...

If you ask me -- whether you think it can be done or not -- if the challenge of it doesn't stir you like the distant sound of Roland's horn , well maybe you're in the wrong game.

Clearly his is a bold agenda, one that will require significant and ongoing improvement of the academic enterprise, and dramatic growth in the research enterprise. Neither goal will be achieved without the help of technology.

According to Pulley, in order to accommodate the state’s fast-growing population of college-age men and women ASU enrollment will grow from 61,000 to 95,000 by 2020. Add to that an even greater increase in the number of online or distance education students and you're talking about a tall order no matter how you slice it.

Any ideas?


The Song of Roland...

I like horns. The trumpet's quite an instrument, that's for sure, and there's many the player that has distinguished himself -- Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry James, Wynton Marsalis. When it plays Taps, or the Last Post, there's never a dry eye. But for me, the best horn is the French Horn, and the best of the French Horns is the mighty Roland.

As the legend goes (the real battle was far less heroic, I guess), Roland is leading the rear-guard of Charlemagne's army as it moves through the Pyrenees, returning to France from Spain. Betrayed by a fellow Frank named Ganelon, Roland is beset by an enemy force. Despite being outnumbered, despite knowing of the treachery of Ganelon, Roland refuses to blow the horn that would summon Charlemagne's help. Only after they have spent all their strength does Roland listen to reason. But when Roland decides to blow that horn, he does it all the way.

When, in the far mountains, you hear the distant, piercing wail of his trumpet, some hundred miles away, calling you to action, you can't help but feel something...

Excerpted from John O'Hagan's translation.

Archbishop Turpin their strife hath heard,
His steed with the spurs of gold he spurred,
And thus rebuked them, riding near:

Sir Roland, and thou, Sir Olivier,
Contend not, in God's great name, I crave.
Not now availeth the horn to save;
And yet behoves you to wind its call,
Karl will come to avenge our fall,
Nor hence the foemen in joyance wend.

The Franks will all from their steeds descend;
When they find us slain and martyred here,
They will raise our bodies on mule and bier,
And, while in pity aloud they weep,
Lay us in hallowed earth to sleep;
Nor wolf nor boar on our limbs shall feed."
Said Roland, "Yea, 'tis a goodly rede."

Then to his lips the horn he drew,
And full and lustily he blew.
The mountain peaks soared high around;
Thirty leagues was borne the sound.
Karl hath heard it, and all his band.
"Our men have battle," he said, "on hand."

With deadly travail, in stress and pain,
Count Roland sounded the mighty strain.
Forth from his mouth the bright blood sprang,
And his temples burst for the very pang.
On and onward was borne the blast,
Till Karl hath heard as the gorge he passed,
And Naimes and all his men of war.
"It is Roland's horn," said the Emperor,
"And, save in battle, he had not blown."

On Roland's mouth is the bloody stain,
Burst asunder his temple's vein;
His horn he soundeth in anguish drear;
King Karl and the Franks around him hear.
Said Karl, "That horn is long of breath."
Said Naimes, "'Tis Roland who travaileth.
There is battle yonder by mine avow.
He who betrayed him deceives you now.
Arm, sire; ring forth your rallying cry,
And stand your noble household by;
For you hear your Roland in jeopardy."

The king commands to sound the alarm.
To the trumpet the Franks alight and arm;
With casque and corselet and gilded brand,
Buckler and stalwart lance in hand,
Pennons of crimson and white and blue,
The barons leap on their steeds anew,
And onward spur the passes through;
Nor is there one but to other saith,
"Could we reach but Roland before his death,
Blows would we strike for him grim and great."
Ah! what availeth! - 'tis all too late.


Excerpts from 'Raising Arizona' ....

Chroncile of Higher Ed November 18, 2005

Raising Arizona
Is Michael Crow's remaking of a state university a model, or a mirage?

Tempe, Ariz.

...Upon his arrival from Columbia University, in 2002, Mr. Crow stirred up the dust by announcing plans to transform Arizona State into the country's premier urban research institution. Repudiating the university's reputation as a party school of modest ambition, he vowed to "blow up the status quo" and reassemble the pieces into a model for higher education in the 21st century — what he calls "a new American university."

Three years into his 10-year plan, he is laboring to achieve the twin goals of expanding the size and scope of Arizona State and raising its quality. Eager to abandon the ivory-tower model of higher education that has shaped many American colleges, he wants to transform Arizona State into a university embedded in its community, one that will serve as a powerful force for social, cultural, economic, and environmental progress throughout the state.

He says Arizona State will measure its success not by the proportion of students it rejects but by the educational attainment of the students it accepts. To accommodate the state's fast-growing population of college-age men and women — many of whom are minority-group members from low-income backgrounds — he plans to increase enrollment, already the nation's fourth-largest, from 61,000 to 95,000 by 2020, a 15-year growth of 56 percent.

...Arizona State will be "the new gold standard" for American research universities, Mr. Crow says.

Fool's gold, detractors say. It's not that excellence and bigness are mutually exclusive, they argue. Ohio State University at Columbus, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and the University of Texas at Austin are excellent institutions, of considerable size. No American university, though, has become both bigger and better on the scale and the timeline envisioned by Arizona State's 16th president. No American university has tried.

...The typical university evolves slowly, Mr. Crow says, but "if we evolve slowly, we're dead."

Even without an improvement in Arizona's dismal high-school-graduation rate, the state's public system of higher education will require an estimated 180,000 seats in all by 2017 to accommodate demand. The state's three major public institutions — Arizona State, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona — now have combined enrollments of about 120,000 students.

"We're struggling to deal with diversification of a region on a large scale," says Mr. Crow. "The changes affecting all of America are happening here extremely rapidly."

Whether or not Mr. Crow's vision will succeed is not yet clear. That he is off to a fast start is without dispute.

He has rejuvenated Arizona State's efforts to increase support from private donors and legislators. He brought in the largest gifts ever to Arizona State, a pair of $50-million donations, and he scored a legislative coup early in his tenure, successfully lobbying state lawmakers to appropriate $440-million to bolster research at state institutions, of which $188-million went to Arizona State. He told lawmakers that if they provided the money now, the university would become more self-sufficient and need less state money later.

Mr. Longanecker, of the interstate higher-education commission, who describes himself as "quite a fan of Michael Crow's," says "the big challenge is getting the employees to buy into the vision and getting the stakeholders to buy into the vision."
Supporters of Mr. Crow say that they are not put off by resistance, that reaching an oasis can require a long slog in the sand. "You can never be bold and visionary," says the State Senate's Mr. Bennett, "without stirring up some resistance."


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Enough with the Amazon already!

Universities aren't online bookstores, so enough with the amazondotcomifcation slamajamarama.

Believe it or not, I hear this alot ...

... especially when I compare ASU's online experience to Amazon's in an unfavorable light, or when I hold Amazon (or Google or eBay or any other Web 2.0 titan) up as an example of what ASU's online experience ought to be.

The two counter-arguments most often advanced are:

  1. A University is a much more complex enterprise than an online retailer.

  2. You should more properly compare ASU to other higher education enterprises than commercial ones. And compared to other schools, we're doing very well online.

While I recognize that both these counters have considerable merit, I continue to hold that the leaders in online are who our aspirational peers have to be.

I will certainly grant that the education enterprise is very different from a retail enterprise. That said, each of them has their own complexities, and in the end I'm not at all sure that the intricacies of Amazon's online enterprise are considerably simpler than ours.

But whether our operation is more complex or not, in the end the best of the online world is what our students and our faculty will compare us to.

For most of our students, ASU is the only university they will ever attend. At most, our students have one other higher ed institution to measure us against. So it isn't the online experience at Dartmouth, or Yale, or New Haven State that we'll be compared to; it's the one at Amazon, at MySpace, at Itunes. Like it or not those are the people setting the bar, and if we can't keep pace with those leaders we will be found wanting.

Not to mention the competitive advantages that figuring out how to track the online innovation curve will bring to our academic and research enterprise.

So I stand by amazondotcomification as a goal for the information system here at ASU, despite its awkward spelling and infrequent usage :).


Keeping it close...

One of my favorite movie scenes is about strategy.

It's a scene from The Princess Bride. Wesley, the Man in Black, has only just been saved from being "mostly dead" and now lies paralyzed on the palace wall. Inigo and Fezzik have saved him so he can develop a strategy to break into a heavily guarded castle and allow Inigo to avenge the death of his father. It's a great movie moment.

It's also a great reminder that castle storming strategies -- like all strategies -- depend on your goals, your assets, your liabilities, and your operating climate. Change the goals, identify a new asset, eliminate a liability and the set of viable strategies changes. What works for one time and place will likely be less than optimal as conditions change.


Why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?

As Wesley comes to, Inigo outlines the situation for him...

Wesley: Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall?
Where's Buttercup?
Inigo: Let me explain...no, there is too much. Let me sum up;
Buttercup is marrying Humperdinck in little less than half
an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding,
steal the princess, and make our escape - after I kill Count Rugen.
Wesley: That doesn't leave much for dilly-dallying.
Fezzik: You just wiggled your finger! That's wonderful!

Ignoring his slowly returning strength, Wesley dives into developing a strategy, but quickly sees the impossibility of their situation.

Wesley: I've always been a quick healer. What are our liabilities?
Inigo: There is but one working castle gate, and it is guarded by...
[he looks]...sixty men.
Wesley: And our assets?
Inigo: Your brains, Fezzik's strength, my steel.
Wesley: That's it? Impossible. If I had a month to plan maybe
I could come up with something. But this...[shakes his head no]
Fezzik: You just shook your head! That doesn't make you happy?

Further reflection however, produces a way out of the box, or into the castle as the case may be...

Wesley: My brains, his steel and your strength against sixty men and
you think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy? Hmm??
I mean if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something.
Inigo: Where did we put that wheelbarrow the Albino had?
Fezzik: Over the Albino, I think?
What I wouldn't give for a holocaust cloak...
Inigo: There we cannot help you.
Fezzik: [pulls a black cloak from under his shirt] Would this do?
Inigo: Where did you get that?
Fezzik: At Miracle Max's. It fit so nice, he said I could keep it.
Wesley: Alright, alright, come help me up. [They help him up] Now
I'll need a sword eventually.
Inigo: Why? You can't even lift one.
Wesley: True, but that's hardly common knowledge, is it?


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year's Resolutions . . .

Welcome to 2006. May the New Year bring you happiness and may you sucessfully keep all your resolutions. As for me, I've dumped my usual fitness related resolutions in favor of a blog related one. Keep your posts shorter and post more regularly is what they tell me, so that's for me in ought-six. You hold me to it.

I have to admit I'm not a big New Year's fan. Too many failed resolutions, too many pounds left unlost for me to believe in dramatic new beginnings. The New Year's resolution is a version of punctuated equilibrium, an attempt to jolt free of the status quo with a dramatic, profound change.

But inertia is hard to overcome and old habits die hard. Discontinuous change is disruptive and painful, and more often than not it just doesn't take.

Which is why I'm so excited about the idea of Perpetual Beta as an approach to change management. In an article in late September, Tim O'Rielly set out his definition of Web 2.0. In it he outlines 7 principles and 8 design patterns that characterize the next generation of web applications.

One of those design patterns is perpetual beta:

When devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they are ongoing services. Therefore: Don't package up new features into monolithic releases, but instead add them on a regular basis as part of the normal user experience. Engage your users as real-time testers, and instrument the service so that you know how people use the new features.

This has great significance for ASU and other higher education institutions who currently manage information change via punctuated equilibrium. We think in terms of web site redesigns and long development cycles to release new product capabilities. A better alternative is the near continuous deployment of a stream of technology through the web. If we conceive of asu.edu as a technology service, like an amazon or a google, its easy to see how we could begin to use that site as a change agent, delivering a reliable service that is at once familiar and steadily changing.

Evolution not revolution. But continuous change instead of discontinuous change. Shorter posts, but more often. Isn't it great when a plan comes together?