The Dangers of Envisioning the Future

Link to: 21st Century Computing

As we start working on a strategic plan and speculating on what the threats and opportunites for the future will be, it’s fun to look back and see what has come of past speculations. Here is what some of the great futurists of 1989 predicted for computers by 2001.

The ultimate input tool, voice recognition could bring computers to almost every level of society. Many observers see it as inevitable by the year 2001. “You’ll talk to your TV set, and it’ll customize itself and pull things off the air in the categories you told it,” says Perlmutter, “‘Give me everything on Madonna, everything on Dan Quayle.’ It’ll look for that and grab it from the 2000 channels it’s scanning.”

No mention of blogging, but there’s this about the future of your morning newspaper:

A typical morning in the year 2001: You wake up, scan the custom newspaper that’s spilling from your fax, walk into the living room. There you speak to a giant screen on the wall, part of which instantly becomes a high-quality TV monitor. When you leave for work, you carry a smart wallet, a computer the size of a credit card. When you come home, you slip on special eyeglasses and stroll through a completely artificial world.

Your morning newspaper spewing forth from the fax machine; glad they were wrong about that one. (Thanks for the heads up to Waffle at

Making the Read/Write Web Accessible to Students

Link to: at incorporated subversion

James Farmer has launched a site to help persuade school administrators of the importance of encouraging responsible use of blogs, instant messaging and other social software in schools. I hadn’t realized what a huge problem it is for teachers who want to try new technologies with their classes until members of my planning class explained the hoops they they had to go through merely to access their own professional blogs.

The problems these teachers face provides on reason why so many of our students come to college with plenty of experience in posting “facebook pictures of them half naked, drunk and swapping spit” and little experience sharing their more academic interests. Far too many schools make it far too difficult to integrate theses tools in meaningful ways, therefore leaving students to their own devices.

Continue reading “Making the Read/Write Web Accessible to Students”

Twelve Habits of Successful IT Professionals

Link to: EDUCAUSE REVIEW | January/February 2006, Volume 41, Number 1

Educause President Brian Hawkins has an article in the latest Review in which he outlines 12 skills that he sees as essential to becoming successful and effective IT professionals in higher education. In the introduction, he makes the key point that there are two processes at work here: having the skill and then building the habits of integrating the use of that skill into daily practice. Imagining the integration piece is the hard when you look at some of the habits he highlights.

They Avoid the Unconscious Conspiracy… of drowning in the tidal waves of minutia, mundane details, and dailiness associated with their jobs, which take all of their time and energy…

Many of his suggestions have more applicability to CIO’s than the mere mortals in the IT world:

  • They Are Cautious When Speaking Publicly
  • They Cultivate Their Advisory Committees

Others seem have more universal applicability:

  • They Don’t Whine
  • They Redefine Themselves

I’ve collected lots of lists like this over the years, and they make intesting reading and engaging conference presentations. They all suffer from one problem, however, that is central to “professional development” in IT and every other field. How does the average IT staff member actually put these prescriptions into practice? How do we create–dare I say it–learning environments where busy staff understand the importance of continuing to learn and their organizations routinely allow the space required to learn the new skills and the support to make it habitual to use them. That space is hard to come by in organizations beset with security problems, never-ending demands of administrative systems users and lack of a clear vision for the importance of technology to the core mission of our institution.

Enhancing the Value of Student Jobs.

Link to: Earn more, learn more |

One of the initiatives we’re exploring at William and Mary is a student fellowship program where students will work closely with faculty on technology related projects. Our goal is to create opportunities for students to work closely with faculty in ways that are directly tied to teaching or scholarship. We see this program as providing substantial learning experiences for students, as well as sources of income for them.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, other institutions are seeing the value in helping to change the culture of student jobs to more meaningful work. One of the most aggressive of these has been at Rhodes College.

At the same time, conversations with older alumni revealed that many remembered campus jobs as essential learning experiences. Current students, on the other hand, often felt their talents were being wasted on menial tasks.

Meaningful jobs that require substantial amount of flexibility and learning can be an important factor in making our campuses more engaging for students. It’s worth taking at look at other places where we might be able to stretch students’ horizons by involving them in authentic work of the university.

Reflections: Education as a “Wicked Problem”

I’m glad that I only teach one class a year.

When that one class is finished and the grades are turned in my mind is always churning with unanswered questions, suggestions for books and articles that have emerged from our reading and gaping holes in my knowledge that have been exposed by 15 weeks discussion and exploration. (This year is worse: I have all those unfulfilled goals plus a couple of weeks of blog-guilt–both reading and writing.) I’m not sure I could take this much intellectual turmoil on a regular basis.

This year’s class is no different. The students came from a wide range of technical backgrounds–five from K-12 teaching or administration and 2 from higher or continuing professional education backgrounds. They were uniformly hard-working, curious, enthusiastic and supportive of one another in our journey together.

Over the next few days, I’ll try to articulate some of my thoughts on the class in a number of different areas, but my first meta-reaction is that those of us who teach or “teach teachers” need to develop a whole new paradigm for understanding educational “planning.” (My course title was Educational Technology Planning.) Our K-12 teachers face incredible challenges in their attempts to balance the demands of incredibly diverse student bodies, misinformed or belligerent parents and a coarsening popular culture, all in the face of simplistic and unfunded government requirements.

I’m not sure that our current planning and vocabulary are adequate to dealing with that complexity.

Dave Pollard in a How to Save the World blog post back in October introduced me to the term wicked problem. Wicked problems don’t easily lend themselves to our conventional understandings of goals, objectives, decisions or solutions in that:

  1. Each attempt at creating a solution changes the understanding of the problem.
  2. Since you cannot define the problem, it is difficult to tell when it is resolved.
  3. There are no unambiguous criteria for deciding if the problem is resolved.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences, some of which are unforeseeable or adverse.
  6. Wicked problems do not have a well-described set of potential solutions (it’s a matter of individual judgement).
  7. Since every wicked problem is essentially unique, there are no ‘classes’ of solutions that can be applied.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem (there is no constant or ‘root’ problem underlying others in the set).
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be perceived in numerous, changing ways.
  10. There is an unreasonable expectation that the team working on the problem will find a satisfactory solution, preferably the first time.

Technology can help respond to some of those challenges, but only if we adopt much more sophisticated models for understanding the teaching and learning process. What does it mean to plan in such environments? Are those of us in higher education preparing a generation of students who can deal with 21st Century problems as complex as peak oil, terrorism, health care for an aging population, environmental degradation, and yes, education? I’m not sure that we are.