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Walking the Tightrope

In November of 2001 my then new work colleague Roger Salomon and I made a conference presentation on being a distributed technology leader.  This is currently located on a server that could go away someday so I decided to move it to someplace a bit more permanent.

This was a fairly new idea, having high level distributed technology leaders located, and under the leadership of, the academic school or college.  There have always been individual faculty who played leadership roles, in their department, or even at the larger level (school, college).  This was, however, an idea thats time had come.   A year later EDUCAUSE started the Distributed Technology Support Constituent Group and it became one of the fastest growing and most active of the groups.  There was a real desire, and need, for these two side (us/them, central/distributed) to talk with each other and see that many of the issues and challenges were not unique to just their school.

Walking the Tightrope: Middle Management – The Distributed Leader

By AJ Kelton and Roger Salomon

Depending on the structure and scope of the university or school, a distributed leadership model of management for information technology integration provides many benefits to both faculty and the technology structure alike. In this article we will define the distributed leader as it fits into our campus environment. We will also provide a description of the technology structure of both of our academic units, how they fit into the campus paradigm, and discuss what the benefits and potential stumbling blocks might be for other institutions.

Initiated by the Academic Deans, Montclair State University (MSU) has, over the last three years, aggressively moved from a structure where all services and support were provided by a single, central unit (IT), to a distributed structure, funded and located within the academic units directly.

The “distributed leader” (DL), or Tech Liaison as we are referred to at MSU, is the technology person designated to support a specific, defined organization such as a school or college made up of associated departments. Ultimately, all financial issues are central to the university itself, but the line of responsibility changes when the Tech Liaison answers to the Dean and faculty directly as opposed to the IT structure, which is administrative in nature.

Distributed leadership should be constructed so that the TL can see the issues of technology that are important and explain to the academic side, in a language clearly understandable, why things are the way they are. Additionally, having the TL within the academic unit has many of its own benefits. The technologist can act as a champion for the needs of the faculty and staff with a good knowledge of why these needs are important and how to best move forward to help implement them.

Although each unit, and the IT relationship to that unit, is unique, there are some similarities that transcend all units. IT provides basic services such as email, ISP, network access, telephone, networked printing services, as well as first and second level help desk support when needed. The basic concept is that IT “brings service to the door”, and with the exception of telephone and network wiring services, the “local provider” is then responsible for all other services.

The distributed leader is in a unique position when answering only to the specific unit/college. As opposed to the centralized structure, whose responsibility is to the university campus as a whole, each DL concentrates his/her attention on the specific faculty and staff members in that particular unit. This allows him/her to gain a greater understanding of specific faculty and staff needs by being on the “front line”. The TL is not only able to understand immediate concerns, but also plan for future needs as well.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) is the largest academic unit at MSU, representing 40% of the total semester hours taught. The CHSS is comprised of 6 Humanities departments and 7 departments of the Social Sciences as well as many Programs, Institutes, and Centers, with a combined faculty of approximately 170. In addition to full time faculty, the CHSS is supported by nearly 20 administration and staff members as well as roughly 200 adjuncts each semester.

The formal title for the “tech liaison” in the CHSS is the Coordinator of Administrative and Education Technology (CAET). As head of the Administrative and Education Technology (A&E Tech) unit, the CAET reports directly to the Dean of the CHSS. In addition, there is also a Technology Services Specialist (TSS) who concentrates on database and web services, in addition to assisting with the in-house technical student staff. A&E Tech deals with all issues that relate to education and administrative technology which include: computers, printers, scanners, faxes, copiers, software, and locally operated teaching labs. The CAET manages the CHSS Tech Team, which (as of the Fall 2001 semester) employees 5 student technicians and 3 student assistants.

The School of Business (SBUS) consists of five major departments and employs 68 full-time faculty members, 17 part-time adjunct professors, 8 administrative assistants and an Information Technology/Services (IT/S) Coordinator. Also known as the tech coordinator, the IT/S coordinator reports directly to the Dean and assists the entire school in the implementation and use of technology in their work. The tech coordinator normally has two student technicians reporting to him, whose responsibilities are to trouble-shoot hardware and software, make repairs, and give onsite training to faculty and staff of SBUS. Along with these responsibilities, at least one of the technicians is proficient in web authoring.

The technological needs of each department diffuse to individual faculty members. The scope of faculty knowledge ranges from the most advanced or power users to those who don’t even check their own email. That is where the importance of the TL comes in. The ranges of knowledge are not endemic to just the School of Business and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ faculty, but throughout the academic schools and administrative departments.

Although we feel the benefits to this paradigm far outweigh the negative aspects, there are some issues that become relevant when dealing with local support. Having a technology administrator and technical staff located in the same building as the constituents using their services can be a real challenge to productive work scheduling. It is difficult under any circumstances to explain to someone standing directly in front of you why the numerous prior calls need to be handled first.

In addition to being in the middle of “the action”, it can, at times, be a challenge for the TL to be physically removed from the central IT structure. It is essential to the success of a DL model that there be a good working relationship between the satellite (distributed) information technology structure and the central technology unit. The impact of the physical distance between IT and the TL will depend on this relationship.

Finally, without a finely tuned network of technicians or in the absence of an excellent relationship with the central technology structure, getting away to conferences such as this one becomes a difficult challenge.

Negatives notwithstanding, it is our opinion that the positive aspects of this paradigm outweigh the negative. Having an office within the building of those being served allows for quick response to issues and problems. Whether large or small, the faculty knows they can go a short distance to get help. In a centralized structure, response is often not immediate. If a call came in from the SBUS to the central Help Desk, located on the other side of campus, a return phone call, let alone a physical response, takes longer than with a TL in each academic unit.

Along with the close proximity of each TL, knowledge of each faculty members’ personality, knowledge level of technology, and technology needs provides a great advantage. As situations arise, the TL has a better understanding of particular problems and an easier time in solving them. In addition to the TL’s understanding of the faculty, the faculty members also become familiar with their TL, providing a continuity of service and support. This continuity is furthered by the direct report relationship between the TL and the Dean. Regular and direct access to the Dean allows for a smooth and balanced integration of technology while keeping an eye on, and in relationship to, the larger issues faced by the specific unit.

The goal is to establish a ‘one-stop shopping’ feel, where faculty can bring any technology issue and have their questions answered or at least have a dedicated starting point. It can be very frustrating for a faculty member to not know which IT department or representative to call to have a simple question answered. The distributed leadership model provides that starting point.

Training that concentrates on unit-specific needs is also a very positive result of the DL model. Such training may involve formal classroom training, IT organizational meetings and even attending trade conferences. At trade conferences like Syllabus, TLs can obtain an abundance of tips and suggestions from others in their field. Tech Liaisons should attend specific sessions that focus on faculty development and support issues, emerging educational technologies, and other sessions that may focus on a particular school or department.

And the knowledge is not only gained at formal sessions. As with all conferences of this type, networking with other support people, between sessions, at lunch, in the vendor halls, etc., is an excellent way to exchange knowledge.

It has been our experience that the distributed leadership model of information technology services is superior in providing the greatest benefit to both faculty and staff. By being able to provide fast and specialized support, as well as being able to focus on the academic side of technology, the Tech Liaison structure has worked well at Montclair State. Given the construction of the university or school, this model should certainly be considered as an integral part of total information services provision.

UNC TLT Conference Plenary

The University of North Carolina Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference will be held entirely in Second Life and is free to all those who register.  I will be the plenary presenter at the opening of the conference on Tuesday, April 13th, at 9:00pm Eastern Time (6:00am Second Life Time).  The conference lasts for three days and has over 50 scheduled sessions in a well-rounded and well-informed schedule.

You can find general information about the conference here:

The conference sessions are listed here:

And registration is here:

Here is the description of my session:

Big wheels generally move slowly and formal education can be a fairly big wheel. For many years, how we taught did not change. More recently there has been a shift from the “sage on the stage” methodology to a “guide on the side” approach. This constructivist approach has been at the heart of Montclair State University’s (MSU) nearly 3-year adventure in Second Life. AJ Kelton (SL: AJ Brooks), Director of Emerging Instructional Technology for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at MSU, will take session attendees through the three phases of adoption MSU has gone through since opening their first of three islands in April of 2007. Included will be detailed highlights of some of the most popular and pedagogically sound locations on MSU’s Second Life presence. The discussion will conclude with a brief look at what could be next for education and virtual environments. Following this presentation Mr. Kelton will take question from the audience.

Is Slideshare trolling?

A few days after the Keynote I did for the Center for Innovative Education at Kean (for which I posted my slidedeck up to Slideshare).  I got the following by email – seemingly from Slideshare:

?The Shifting Landscape: Virtual Worlds in Education” is being tweeted more than any other document on SlideShare right now. So we’ve put it on the homepage of (in the “Hot on Twitter” section).

Well done, you!

- SlideShare Team

?After hovering over the link to make sure it was a legit Slideshare link I ended up on their home page.  I clicked the “hot on twitter” link, but alas – my contribution was not there, as indicated.  I poked around for a while and could not find any sign of it.  In fact, it is not even one of my most viewed slidedecks.

I moved on and forgot about it, until yesterday – when I got that SAME email again.  Now, the number of views has not gone up – at all perhaps, but certainly not appreciably.

So, this begs the question…is slide share trolling out these emails to folks to push them to their site?  I hope that is NOT the case, since I’ve always thought of them as a reputable site that treated its subscribers well.  Has anyone else seen a similar email or had any experience similar to this?

National Educational Technology Plan meeting

As mentioned in my previous post, I was one of the speakers at the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Second Life meeting with members of the President’s panel for the National Educational Technology Plan.  Below is the content of my speech.

Hello, and welcome. I’m excited and honored to have been asked to speak today at what promises to be an interesting and informative event. My name is AJ Kelton and I’m the Director of Emerging Instructional Technology for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University, located in Northern New Jersey.

I am joining you from the premier technology in higher education event, the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, taking place this week in Denver Colorado. What an appropriate place to be when considering this topic, as EDUCAUSE is heavily invested in talking about, and acting on, improving the use of technology in the learning and teaching process. I’d like to thank all the folks at EDUCAUSE, especially Victoria Fanning, Lida Larson, and Justin James for assisting me today.

At this event you are going to hear about assessment, tools, pedagogy, and, I’m sure, a wide variety of other aspects of the importance of technology in education. As a doctoral student in the Educational Communication and Technology program at New York University’s Steinhardt School, this topic is of great importance to me. The work being done in the Educational Communication and Technology program, and other programs like it, is invaluable to our industry.

Funding and support for education needs to be consistent with the incredible importance we place on education. If funding continues to take a back seat in our priorities, we will fall further behind regarding a well-educated public and, more importantly, we risk losing the support of the most important constituency in this process, our students.

It has been said that technology is anything that was not around when you were born. At the rate we are seeing technological advances, everything we know as technology today will be passé to most students entering our grade schools in a few years. Things are changing that quickly and our students are adapting to the change. If we do not adapt with them, we run the risk of becoming the dinosaurs of the educational process.

This is not to say I believe we have to use technology because the students want it; or that we should use it just for the sake of using technology. No, we need to invest both time and resources to an ongoing conversation about pedagogically sound uses of both current and emerging technology.

We can spend a great deal of time talking about different tools that will engage our students as we move further into an increasingly digital age. Virtual worlds, like Second Life, are an excellent vehicle to engage our students in ways that are simply not possible in the actual world. I have watched students, those I’ve taught, and those in grade school, become completely immersed in the learning activities in virtual worlds.

Although not for formal educational purposes, many children are already immersed in virtual environments. There will soon, very soon, come a time when these students will expect the same type of engagement when learning in school. Want proof of this? Watch any small child while they play away in Webkinz, Club Barbie, Club Penguin, or one of the many other virtual worlds exclusively for children. These students are engaged.

These students are prosumers, those who are both producers AND consumers of content. Think YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. These students will soon be in our grade schools, our high schools, and then our institutions of higher education, making their way into our work force. If we don’t do what is necessary now, we run the risk of creating probably one of the greatest social injustices in our lifetimes.

But it’s about more than just Second Life, or virtual worlds, or any of the tools that are just cresting over the horizon. What good are virtual worlds, augmented reality, web-based games, etc…, if our system does not have the three things it needs to be successful making use of them.

First, everyone needs inexpensive access to the Internet. I have watched my home Internet access bill go nowhere but up. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford the $60 for high speed access. Many people, however, all across this county, like in cities such as Newark, NJ, where I was born and still live near, cannot. Let’s do whatever is necessary to make Internet access a utility, like water, electric, and gas, instead of a commodity more concerned with profit margins. Want to see a kid learn, hook him or her up to the Internet and guide their learning process. This is not just about hardwired connection, either – it is very much about wireless.

Second, the tools we use to connect to the Internet need to be easy to use, well designed, and inexpensive. This is not just about laptops and desktops. In fact, it is about much more than that. It is about mobile technology and what the students can hold in their hands, walk around with, be connected wirelessly, and explore. The One Laptop Per Child program is a great start, but we need to take it further. We need to see handheld devices for educational use at a price point most can afford. We need to see the access to those devices come at a reasonable price, so people won’t have to look at the bill each month to decide if they can afford to continue to learn using them.

Bottom line, we need to make it easier for students to get the technology and access they must have in order to be great learners and the future of our world.

Lastly, we need to see many more people studying and talking about pedagogically sound uses of the technology. Our schools need to employ people who have taken the time to learn, and continue to learn, about theories and practices that will help the teachers plan the educational uses of existing, and new, technology. One instructional designer for 100 teachers is just not enough.

How can the government help with this, meaning, why did I couch such large issues into a meeting like this? These issues, although large, are also foundational. Unless we do something about them, the other issues on top of which these three are build, will continue to flounder. There need to be incentives created for the private sector to develop and maintain partnerships with school and students at all levels.

We need to be more concerned about what students learn, and not just what they remember. Well thought out and pedagogically sound use of technology is a gigantic step in that direction.

Thank you for your time.

Speaking at an event for the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP)

On Thursday, November 5th, 2009, starting at 6pm Pacific Time, ISTE, Metanomics, New Media Consortium, Virtual Ability and the University of Michigan will be hosting an event on the ISTE amphitheater in the 3D virtual world Second Life (c).

This event will center around the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP).   Prior to an open discussion on technology in education, several speakers will present on a variety of topics.  The premise is “If you had five minutes to talk with President Obama about educational technology, what would you say?”  I have been asked to be one of those speakers and am scheduled at the very beginning of the event (6:10pm pst).  My topic will be about how there needs to be support for technology in education, meaning we need to make it easier for teachers and students to use technology beyond word processing and simple, filtered Internet searches.  We need to create the environment where instruction can include cool, collaborative, constructivist applications LIKE Second Life and other virtual worlds, augmented reality, and online games and environments as educational tools.

Below I have pasted information I found at the Facebook page for this event.

My question to you is, if you have 5 minutes to talk to President Obama about the use of technology in education, what would YOU say?  Please use the COMMENT section below to chime in.

The federal government of the United States of America has assembled an 18 person team to update and revise the National Education Technology Plan. Their report deadline is November 11, 2009. There will be a community meeting in Second Life for educational technology stakeholders to provide input into the planning process. Currently, we expect that a representative of the national team will be present as an observer at the SL event.

The event coordinator is Perplexity Peccable (RL: Patricia F. Anderson, Perplexity is the University of Michigan Emerging Technologies Librarian for the Health Sciences, and the community manager for Wolverine Island in SL. Contact Perplexity for more information or to volunteer support or services for this event.

Information on prior versions of the plan is available here.
National Educational Technology Plan: <>

Information on the current planning process is available here,
National Educational Technology Plan: <>

The team is seeking input from the public. You can join the conversation on their website here.
Opportunities for Input: <>

Updated information about the event will be available at the Facebook event page and the Second Life at the University of Michigan wiki.

The key topic discussion points are these.

* Learning: Providing unprecedented access to high-quality learning experiences.
* Assessment: Measuring what really matters and providing the information that enables continuous improvement at all levels of the education system.
* Teaching: New ways to support those who support learning.
* Productivity: Redesigning systems and processes to free up education system resources to support learning.”

“And Justice for All”

I am attending the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) 2009 Annual Conference and had the privilege to present with Dr. Leslie Wilson and Dr. Laura Nicosia, both from Montclair State University.

Our presentation was titled “And Justice for All: Using Artificial Environments to Create Community and Teach Diversity”. We had a large, and active group, who stuck around after we were done to continue talking to each other (and to us) about the content of the presentation. We actually had to move the conversations out into the hallway so the next presentation could get rolling. That was fine, since the coffee and fruit tarts were out there. :-)

Here is the link to the presentation. I’ve posted it here in my blog, instead of directly to my networks, to provide a place for those who are interested to be able to post comments and, perhaps, continue the dialog.

Machinima for my presentation.

The following are machinima clips I’ll be using in my upcoming presentation for ELI on Learning Spaces.

Rezzing a Clever Zebra Build (using the building assistant), rezzing something from inventory, and using a sky platform.
Rezzing a Clever Zebra Build

A clip from a YouTube Video from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Hotel and Tourism Management, demonstrating how quickly and easily a ballroom can be set up/changed.
Hong Kong Polytechnic

Biome, an underwater learning area

The Tsunami exhibit on Meteroa, NOAA’s first sim

Virtual Hallucination (warning, some foul language is used in this exhibit – not work or child safe)
Virtual Hallucination

[UPDATE: once again, unlike Blogger, WordPress (.com, at least, not sure about .org) does not like something in the code that Screencasts provided that allows clips to show up right in the blog. So, you need to click the link above and it will open a separate window.]