Bar Association Web Redesign

IT Conversations: Edward Adams

This is an interesting discussion of the process of redesigning the American Bar Association Journal. Previous versions of the site featured one story a day with no persistent links. The new versions features a number of updated features to move from a fairly traditional professional magazine to site that is clearly user-focused

  • Dozens of new stories written by professional journalists each day.
  • Analysis from more than 1,000 legal blogs, written by lawyers who are experts in their fields.
  • Full text search of the 1000 blogs in the directory.
  • Mobile Edition for the smart phone.

This isn’t a podcast I normally tune into, but I decided to give it a listen anyway because of the web development project we’re working on as part of the class. Turned out to be a good summary of the the thought process involved with rethinking a major professional site, with lots of lessons for us to consider in our research site. Definitely worth firing up when doing some serious time on the Arc Trainer or the commute to/from Richmond.

They’re Back

Anne Truitt Zelenka » Get That Back to School Feeling

Our first year students arrived yesterday, and Anne Truitt Zelenka, editor at large for Web Worker Daily, captured many of the feelings I have every year about this time.

…I love the motion after summer’s pause. I love the thrill of new projects and the renewed energy for old ones. I love the return to making work seriously fun instead of taking vacations that are seriously fun.

Her end-of-summer ritual includes buying a new notebook (of course) and setting out her class schedule that includes some heavy duty corporate consulting and finalizing a book manuscript balanced with some “non-niche” blogging about cooking and eating. She also covers some of the items on her not-to-list like not speaking without pay at conferences, not “building her personal brand” and

I’m not worrying about whether I’m building my career in the way I “should” because building it in the way I enjoy seems to be working just fine. My desultory blogging of the last three years, my connecting with people just because I like them, my non-niche blogging and my sometimes irresponsible approach to my supposed responsibilities has inspired me, motivated me, and connected me in ways I never experienced or imagined before the web.

I’m hoping to capture some of that inspiration, motivation and connection through my on-line writing. My class schedule is pretty full this fall:

  • My class in Educational Technology Planning
    will be meeting this fall trying to live out the model of authentic learning that Marilyn Lombardi has written about some so articulately.

  • After a year of planning and discussing, we’re launching the reorganization of our Academic Technology staff to shift the balance between desktop work and more substantive academic work. This is pretty stressful, since our faculty satisfaction ratings have been very high,and we’re essentially trying to fix things that most folks don’t think is broken.
  • Project Management: We’re trying to become more transparent in the way we select, manage and complete our projects in the TIP program. The list keeps growing…

My not-to-do list not to spend so thinking about writing or regretting not have written. (I would be great if some of that time could be focused on actually writing.) I’m going to start with two assumptions:

  • I’m going to worry less about typos. In 25 years, I’ve seldom written a paragraph that didn’t have a word missing or an unfinished thought. Mark Twain said that it is a very uncreative person who can only think of one way to spell a word; I consider myself a somewhat creative person.
  • I’m going to write even though I don’t think I have anything to write about.

I’m going to start by hitting publish.

Moving to a Evidence-Based Culture

Social Innovation Conversations: Jeffrey Pfeffer

Arc TrainerNow that Open Source Radio has closed, I’m having the opportunity to catch up with some other other podcasts in my five hours a week on the Arc Trainer. Yesterday was the first time I’ve listened to an offering from the Social Innovations Conversations, with a presentation by Stanford Business School Professor Jeffery Pfeffer, author of the classic Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.

I’ve been working full time in higher education for nearly 25 years now, and one of the things that continues to puzzle me is why our institutions can be so committed to evidence, research and theory development in the academic enterprise and yet operate as an “evidence free zone” when it comes to administrative decision-making. At times it’s seemed almost unethical that organizations that grant advanced degrees in organizational sociology and psychology, business–even higher education–so often ignore and totally discount the very research and theory that students are paying us to study in those disciplines.

For example, 50 years of interdisciplinary research on performance appraisal has shown that most of these “incentive systems” do nothing to improve productivity and often demoralize employees and sow dissatisfaction:

Performance appraisals impede genuine feedback, and there’s no solid evidence that it motivates people or lead to meaningful improvement. In fact it usually produces distorted and unreliable data about the contribution of employees. Consequently, the resulting documentation isn’t useful for staffing decisions and often doesn’t hold up in court. Too often, appraisal destroys human spirit and, in the span of a 30-minute meeting, can transform a vibrant, highly committed employee into a demoralized, indifferent wallflower who reads want ads on the weekend. Source

Yet, virtually every college or university that I know of wastes hundreds of hours each year in a process that almost everyone agrees does no good. Puzzling.

Pfeffer’s talk is a good reminder some ways we might approach our organizations in a evidence-based way without giving up the soul of the university. He calls for increased reflection, integration, experimentation: many of the characteristics of the type of learning we’ve referred to as Real School. In many ways, he’s calling on us to actually return our administrative practices closer to our souls.

You Are Who the Search Engines Say You Are

I’ve been looking for an reason to get back to blogging, and spending some time with Jon Udell at the Educause Seminars for Academic Computing helped provide the motivation to stop looking and start posting. In a presentation on disruptive technologies, Jon made the point that, for all practical purposes, you are who Google says you are. Current job candidates can expect that potential employers will Google them, review their Facebook and MySpace sites and use that information in the selection process. Our potential students tell me that they extensively searched faculty members as they chose their graduate school.

In the face of that reality, it makes sense to ask some questions: what is my current digital presence? Is it helping me or hurting me in accomplishing my goals? If it’s not helping me, what can I do to improve the chances that it will help in the future?

Jon’s session inspired me to revisit my own digital presence–and it’s not at all what I would like to be. My blog provided my primary way of actively creating my digital identity. When I was doing it well, it provided a persistent narrative of the things that are important to my personal agenda. Over time, a blog developed a kind of internal coherence where I reflected on a set of ideas and issues that I was interested in. It became the basis of a small community of colleagues who were interested in some of the same things I was interested in. For multiple reasons I let it die last semester while I focused on some non-computer activities.

When I Google “Gene Roche”, which is not something that I do often, my blog still comes up first. (It took a long time for me to displace character actor Eugene Roche). But the blog itself certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence in my ongoing activity as a an active learner/teacher and citizen of the digital universe. I need to do something to change that.

There was a lot of rich discussion during the session about how we help prepare students to deal with the realities of their digital reputations. (That their digital reputations will be even more important to them seems indisputable.) For all their experience with technology tools, most students need lots of support and guidance from faculty to learn to collaborate and participate in the complex relationships that the technology makes possible. It seems to me that one of the most important goals of the 21st century university will be to help students choose the important conversations and collaborations in which want to be participants. Clearly we can’t be much help to students if we don’t invest to make the time to do it ourselves.