Annual Backpacking Trip 2014

Cascade Head

Cascade Head Oregon

I leave tomorrow for my annual backpacking trip. This will be five days in the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area in Washington. Going totally offline is a good thing to do. Last time I did this I remember having over 1000 emails to deal with, but life goes on without us. The backpack is ready weighing in at about 37 lbs and I am in fairly good shape having been able to do a few short mountain day climbs this last week. The Cascade Head hike offers spectacular coastal views with a very steep vertical climb. Hart’s Cove ends out on the coast in a secluded cove but it is all down hill (1000 ft vertical) to get there. When I return I will post a trip report to the Portland Hikers Website. Here is a trip report from my first backpacking trip to the Three Sisters Wilderness Area near Bend, OR.

Harts Cove Oregon

Harts Cove Oregon

Well Rounded Education

In my many years as an IT leader in Higher Education there has always been a relationship with corporate partners who are looking to gain a recruiting advantage for our graduates. When I was at the Christian George Fox University the recruiters would come through me looking for any tech savvy grads I was aware of because they desired their solid work ethics and integrity. Here at Missouri S&T the recruiters are looking for an advantage in connecting with our best students. Problem here is that we do not produce enough graduates so the recruiters are looking for any opportunity possible to lure the student to consider their company.

We know that employers of our tech graduates in the US desire that our grads possess stronger communication and collaboration skills. And I think it is understood that more technology awareness is desired for all graduates. But it has been interesting to confirm feedback from recruiters of our S&T grads that defines how highly they prize our none STEM graduates. Yes, we do produce some graduates with degrees in the humanities, and they are sought after because they are forced to have a strong technology based foundation. This is partly because of the general curriculum requirement of at least 10 natural science or mathematic credits. But the employers say it is also because of the technology culture of the campus which forces those grads to become extremely comfortable working with their fellow STEM students. Due to the many cross discipline group projects our humanities students learn valuable skills in how to work with these sometimes socially challenged STEM students.

Not sure if this justifies anything but it sure can’t hurt to consider greater exposure to STEM curriculum and culture for all college graduates. We do need these humanities grads to help those scientists and engineers have more productive careers.

This recent Bloomberg article “Silicon Valley’s Talent Grab Spawns High School Interns” should be a wake up call for Higher Ed’s inability to produce enough product. Reality is, why wouldn’t tech firms get their recruits on the front end. Of course that is what we should be doing more of.

Why Invest in SAP HANA for Academic Pursuit?

“Big Data” has definitely become an overused term eclipsing even the barrage of vendor connections to sell new solutions. It seems like any group that is dealing with data is now referring to it as “Big Data” and in some situations like large research data sets the term is technically correct. The actual definition “data sets that are too large and complex to manipulate or interrogate with standard methods or tools” does create a broad category. I think of “Big Data” from the manipulate or interrogate standpoint that requires techniques to manage (hadoop) and process the data (MapReduce) using computers with large amounts of RAM. And it gets very confusing as we apply our traditional relational DB and BI concepts. But I’m not the one worrying about how it works, I’m trying to figure out the most effective way to make it work, and that relates to skills, budgets and data centers.

A major stimulus for “Big Data” visibility at Missouri S&T is our commitment to offer new Graduate Certificate Programs through Distance and Continuing Education. This has created a flurry of activity in the Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Business Information Technology programs with respect to the creation of new courses and the associated support of “Big Data” teaching resources. We also have significant growth in the need for high performance and throughput computing so I ask why can’t all of the computing hardware be more effectively utilized across these disciplines. Maybe it can, but today we approach the challenge with our traditional operational methodology and the solutions don’t play well together. I was recently encouraged to find out that others in higher ed are exploring this terrain of HPC and hadoop operations. One of our collaborators, Kansas State Beocat, is running into resource scheduling challenges, but they hold out hope that there must be solutions.

So what can we do with a meager budget and limited infrastructure to become a player in “Big Data”. We start with enhancing our skill sets by adapting our traditional DBA talent to hadoop concepts and we steer our analytics specialists to experiment with these new BI tools. Luckily it is affordable to venture into hadoop based data management and there are plenty of open sources BI add ons to get your feet wet. This is building a strong foundation that may produce valuable breakthroughs for more effective teaching and research. But we are going to take this one step further. 

Working with hadoop may establish some “Big Data” concepts that relate to the commercial space, similar to how working with mysql may simulate Oracle DB principles. But is that enough? Does higher education need to be offering teaching and research for what our employers use. I recognized a disconnect a few years back when I took over teaching an “Information Services” class for our business school. They had been teaching basic concepts of spreadsheet, programming and database to students that were being groomed as bean counters. I instead taught them basic concepts of ERP, CRM, BI, DW and had them actively participate in the web by way of blogging and understand SEO. The motivated students thrived and the others survived. I did get some validation from this approach when one of those students now pursuing her MBA commented how far ahead she was because of her understanding these real world solutions.

I mention this correlation between what we teach and research vs what the commercial world relies upon to explain why I am purchasing an SAP HANA platform to support teaching and research at S&T. Today I would equate HANA as the leader for the utilization of “Big Data” in the commercial sector. Sure it is based on hadoop but it is a fine tuned appliance specifically designed to produce results for the “Big Data” market place. I am finally ready to make the purchase but it has not been an easy process. I first got the idea when corporate partners who are always trying hire our SAP ERP trained business students mentioned their need for HANA experience. I then equated that to “Big Data” research partnerships especially with our engineering projects producing large amounts of diverse data. We uncovered some of this with our visualization efforts. But I could not find anyone at SAP that knew how to sell me a HANA solution that was not based on a commercial vertical market. Thankfully Hewlett-Packard who has a strong relationship to the HANA hardware appliance saw the opportunity. They had customers all around us who were cautious about committing to HANA because of the lack of qualified talent to drive it. HP saw the potential of S&T graduating students with actual HANA experience so they helped connect us to the right people in SAP to make this happen. 

Is this investment in HANA strategic? That is my hope, but at a minimum I do believe that there will be tremendous value from the exploration. Any exposure for the students will be a win at least as long as HANA remains a commercial leader. And I believe having our own HANA system will open doors for corporate research collaboration by helping us to overcome licensing and intellectual property challenges. The side benefits may be the help for us in understanding how to position “Big Data” processing into our HPC mentality. Or applying this experience to challenges we have in managing our own cyber security, learning analytics, retention and recruiting. Maybe the greatest value is to help our academic culture explore a different path.

Update – 6/27/14 – Support for the HANA purchase is strong so we have moved forward with the purchase.

Cell Phone Authenticating our Identity

I was chatting with one of our professors and our conversation ventured into the importance of mobile devices. The topic related to why it was so important for Microsoft to gain a foothold in the mobile phone market and I explained to him the intricate connection between the consumer’s phone and their computing platform of choice. But I also told him that the mobile phone would someday be the most important component for authenticating identity which is critical for financial transactions. I’m not sure I knew exactly how that was going to play out but it is always fun to stimulate non-techies into imagining what the future might hold. I did tell him about how important cell phones were in Africa for providing a means of transferring money. So it was a natural assumption to connect the cell phone to the online or digital economy as a means of providing more secure form of authentication. And when you talk more secure you typically relate that to a dual form of authentication based on something you have and what something is better than cell phones. Anyways, this conversation led to being asked to give a talk on this topic for the local Rotary.

I relate this conversation as a lead in for the story today about how Apple might offer a means for how we pay for stuff. Apple is hinting that it may explore this territory of payment services and that the fingerprint authentication on the new iPhones was implemented with this in mind. But the real impetus may be that Apple has amassed the most impressive number of personal accounts, about 800 million, that are connected to a credit card. This number is huge especially when compared to the next closest, Amazon’s 237 million. And what was the trick to getting this many purchase ready accounts? Music Downloads through iTunes. Yes, the convenience of impulse buying for a song that I hear justified my synchronizing my credit card with my iTunes account. And I have been very pleased with the results; quick, efficient, receipt email, and trust. Yes trust, there has not been a significant security breach of Apple’s accounts.

So is Apple going to expand their payment services to include any online or even checkout counter transactions? Lot’s of issues that have to be worked out before that financial model is justified, but I would bet on it. I was originally thinking the mobile phone could provide an identity solution for verifying who you are using the 2 step authentication model. Apple has successfully expanded that to include biometrics which I think will inevitably be required in our insecure identity compromised world. Makes a whole lot more sense then offering a credit card and signing a receipt. Needless to say, control of the mobile phone market continues to grow in importance. The next authentication phase will probably involve scanning that chip they want to insert into our body, but I think for now we work from something that everyone wants to have on their body.

Disruptive IT for Higher Ed

The blog post by Ian Cox about his new book “Disrupt IT” motivated me to offer some reflection on the type of IT Disruption that I have needed to employ for my slice of Higher Education. I have not read his book but I can tell that I would agree with his premise that IT has become the change agent. It is easy to connect technology to why change has accelerated in recent years. But change is not accelerating in Higher Education. Be clear, we do not need to change because of technology, but it is technology that has highlighted the need for change. And that is where IT may be the perfect change agent for Higher Education.

Higher Education is still avoiding the real technology elephant in the room, the “Internet”. We deal with a whirlwind of questions about how students learn and why does college cost so much and why isn’t it about students getting jobs. Maybe we should use more technology in the classroom or software to manage our student success. But it does just come back to the fact that Higher Education no longer controls the data which is converted into information which can become knowledge for anyone motivated enough to absorb it.

OK, back to disruption. I came to Missouri S&T because I wanted to make a difference in Higher Education for the STEM segment that I feel is critical for our future. I do believe IT needs to be the change agent and doing so at such a technology dominant university is the perfect challenge. Yes, I inherited an IT service model that was catering to our traditional decades old higher education culture. And Missouri S&T is facing the same challenges stressing many public research universities in the US. Challenges of serving increased enrollment with an aging infrastructure using an outdated business model. How can IT help?

First you have to change the culture of your IT staff while also laying the groundwork to change the university’s relationship to IT. This is all done by building trust. IT staff that are working in the traditional control service model may be reluctant to breakout of that comfort zone. IT staff love to be needed and that old model offered that, but what about innovation? IT staff should be the innovation leaders or at least they should want to be. I believe that path to a successful IT culture change has to build from IT being innovative and gaining pride from how that innovation can impact the university. And the key to unlocking that innovative spirit in your IT staff is to show them that you mean it. Invest in their ideas or at least let them own your ideas. And above all, assure them that it is OK to fail.

Gaining trust from your university is more tricky since some of your customers are very content with the old IT support model which may still support their outdated business model. However, the important customers are the faculty. The reality for them is that their job has only gotten more difficult to perform. Teaching loads have not decreased and research funding is more and more scarce. IT offering support for teaching load tends to point toward the utilization of technology and exploring online delivery. But IT does not need to push any of that, IT just needs to offer assistance in utilizing it. IT does not need to push online learning to secure their value in EdTech support. They just need to offer support, faculty need the help, leave the politics of course delivery to the Provost. And IT support for research needs to come again as the assistance model. A researcher used to get a grant that outfitted their lab with technology that was managed by a grad student and had enough fluff to allow some breathing room. Today it seems like more time is spent submitting grant proposals then actually fulfilling the research of the successful grants. IT has to find a way to be a trusted partner so that researchers can sell that support to win their grants. This is a budget dance, but IT has to find a way to free up researchers to actually do research.

When IT appears to be achieving positive repositioning, some strategic disruption can put it all together. IT departmental reorganization will inevitably be needed, but turn it into an opportunity. Gain some visibility for IT on campus by offering support to a much needed service. That might be a service to students it might be supporting another service provider like the library. Don’t lead with a software service disruption, that will come later and will probably be IT’s greatest contribution, but total trust is needed for that.

Competing in HPC, “Big Data” and Visualization

One of my challenges in coming to Missouri S&T has been to leverage the most effective use of our meager High Performance Computing, HPC, capabilities to stimulate learning and non-funded research. This has been an ideal opportunity for myself to evaluate this rapidly evolving area of HPC with no predetermined assumptions. Some early observations were that we did not have adequate super computing resources, but it was also apparent that those with enough resources did not necessarily produce proportional results. What we did have was an understanding of what we would do if we had more resources. If I just focused on HPC I would find myself in a resource battle trying to gain recognition in the research community based on cores and compute capability. But we were also interested in visualization and then along came interest in “Big Data”. What I saw was an opportunity.

The one thing I did have was the foundation of an effective research support team which included skill in adapting HPC technique to fit differences in data and workflow requirements. I also had talented student employees who totally thought outside the box and exposed many new options for us. So we started to see that we could compete in processing by adapting our HPC resources to the jobs being requested. And it became increasingly apparent that we were dealing with data that benefited from some sort of visualization to help identify what we should be looking for. For example: we have gotten good at presenting large data sets graphically over time with flexible data attribute selection where we are just looking for anomalies. Now that we are also exploring “Big Data” I could not help but ask why the concept of large in-memory processing for hadoop based data could not be married with traditional HPC and supported by our flexible visualization.

It now appears that my first year of exploration is starting to take shape. I have strengthened my human resources and have discovered that the human element is the most scarce, or at least a flexible human resource team such as we have. So now I have some financial resources to invest and this understanding of the interrelationships of these research tools is helping to stretch what I hope to accomplish. Most of our HPC cluster is devoted to students so we need a base HPC investment devoted to non funded research. For us that goal is probably a 1000 cores. But our success is not going to come from those 1000 cores, but instead from the collaborations we have developed with neighboring university computing centers who realize that we have more to share then just HPC. We can help them optimize their 1000’s of cores specific to the computation desired. Good example here is in computational chemistry.

I mentioned exploring “Big Data”, which has become the darling of big iron computer sales. In simplest terms, “Big Data” is about managing large diverse data sets and processing it with large amounts of memory. The real driver of “Big Data” is the need to analyze the massive amounts of real-time data flowing in about customer buying habits. But of course we have been led to believe that all of our analytical investigations should be using “Big Data”. Not true for analyzing student data but can be true for analyzing some forms of scientific data. And guess what “Big Data” really means it is too big to visualize with traditional spreadsheet type tools. So I am thinking why can’t we blend HPC and “Big Data” with my new nimble visualization techniques? We have all the ingredients and the most important turns out to be the human factor. So now I am throwing some DBA’s into the equation along with scientific software engineers with plans to expand the visualization resources. We should be able to provide most of our processing needs locally or via sharing with regional partners. Add in efficient on-ramps to XSEDE and Open Science Grid and we can compete with anyone.

ELI, 3D Printing and IT Innovation

I’m getting ready to attend the Educause Learning Initiative, ELI, Conference next week in New Orleans. Some of our EdTech team will be presenting TED type Talk on the motivation, implementation and justification for providing 3D Printing to all students at Missouri S&T. The basic project of providing affordable 3D Printing to our tech savvy students was a guaranteed success.

We have plenty of students who have benefitted greatly from their academic uses for the 3D Printing. And we in IT Academic Services are pleased by this success. However, an unexpected benefit surfaced when one of our Chemistry Professors saw the potential.

S&T’s Professor, Richard Dawes, heard about our making 3D Printing available and asked about printing some of his Matlab 3D energy models. He was looking for a better way to explain Potential Energy Surfaces:

Richard Dawes, Phalgun Lolur, Anyang Li, Bin Jiang and Hua Guo, “An accurate global potential energy surface for the ground state of ozone”, J. Chem. Phys. 139, 201103 (2013).

So we helped to open the door to 3D Printing for some of his research models and he was off and running with this new way of presenting and teaching Chemistry. And beyond that Richard has presented his research and this use of 3D Printing at recent conferences where he is fielding questions by other chemists about how they may be able to utilize 3D printing.

All of this helps validate my belief that IT needs to be exploring the cutting edge of technology as a component of the normal tech support that they provide. Sure we have a number of research centers at S&T that were working with 3D Printing but they weren’t concerned about chemical energy surfaces and they are not concerned about promoting their standard toolsets. So IT has to carry the torch of exposing everyone within the university to all of the possibilities for how technology might be utilized. Plus that is what makes the job so enjoyable.

Ready for next Affordable “Big Data” Visualization Strategy

I’m looking forward to what will be presented at CES 2014 in the coming week.

CES 2014

Consumer Electronics Show 2014

The larger higher density TVs with curved options may answer some questions for what is the most effective investment in visualization technology. We are going to invest but I do not want to buy/build a video demo facility as has been the eventual outcome for most university CAVE type investments. We have the tools and know how to package, render and present huge data sets but the justification comes from the visual interpretation of the data. The ability for a human to interpret and identify trends or anomalies in their data is the goal. That justifies our research, not huge walls of TVs displaying pie and bar charts.

Unfortunately technology is moving so fast that investments may become obsolete before they actually pay dividends, justification for caution but not for procrastination. Maybe the real goal of our research will be to define the greatest ROI for visualization. I sense that a combination of some affordable large curved Quad HD screens could be just as impressive as the million dollar CAVE designs floating around now. We will focus on Visualization at our Research Technology Day next September and hopefully we will be ready to show our next version of V4DiR, Visualization in 4 Dimensions in Rolla. We are combining this investigation into visualization with our investments in “Big Data” which is already paying dividends to our Computational Science activity in Chemistry. This is the fun part for a CIO.

Google Glass Review

I guess I am a curious geek, I had to checkout Google Glass the same way I had to have an Apple II in 1979 and an iPhone when they came out. Of course I justified the $1500 Glass price tag because many at the university were itching to get their hands on them as well. I have been exploring Glass for 4 days now and I have concluded that this wearable technology is going to be Big. Not Big because of efficiency or usefulness. Big because they are just really cool.

First to catch everyone up on what Google Glass is – checkout this ABC Technology Video by Joanna Stern.

Unlike the Cyborg like appearance Google Glass generated for her wearing them in the city, I have yet to be asked about them after numerous encounters with strangers in Rolla, MO. However, it has been 6 months since Joanna first shocked people with them. The other side of that coin is that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they feel fairly normal and do not interfere with your normal vision. You can easily forget you have them on until you want to take photo or ask Google for information.

Google Glass is definitely in Beta testing mode. If you are expecting lot’s of administrative instructions forget it. Your greatest source for answers is the heavily trafficked user forums or as Google refers to them as Explorers Community. A real downside right now is the lack of an IOS app to allow you to connect with your iPhone or iPad but that battle will be waged later when Glass goes public. Since I can’t tether my Glass to an Android Phone I walk around with my AT&T MiFi to provide Internet access, what a geek.

My first intentional public display of Glass came last night for our IT Christmas party, which by the way was great. Santa couldn’t make it but Mrs Claus and an Elf showed up to pass out gifts to the children. So I had a captured audience of IT folks and their families. First observation was that my older staff were more reluctant to checkout the Glass then the younger ones. The kids were the most interesting. It seemed like the teenagers were interested but it did not click for them as quickly as it did for the preteens.

Kids First Exposure to Google Glass

Kids First Exposure to Google Glass

Kids from say 6-12 immediately got it and you could see their minds race with imagination. Notice photo of brother waiting on his sister for a try. He quickly figured out how to ask Google about “Hunger Games”. I was told that the boy never stopped talking about the Glass the rest of the evening and he couldn’t wait to tell his teacher the next day.

I will continue to play with Glass through the Holiday’s but will then start loaning them out to the growing list of Geek volunteers. The bottom line is that there will be new battles over control of wearable technology but market share of mobile devices will be important. Get ready for an Apple Google clash over Glasses.

MOOCs Find Their Niche

There are many reactions to Rebecca Schuman’s article about Sebastian Thrun and Udacity’s “pivot” toward corporate training. Everything from ”I told you so” to “shame on Udacity”. And this is not just about the failed pilot with San Jose State to utilize Udacity to provide greater opportunity to the underserved students in their community. Although Sebastian was a bit too candid in his appraisal. I attribute that more to early confusion about what MOOCs were really about. I do believe that MOOCs have finally come of age and can be utilized for what you wish. But we can’t make a MOOC what it isn’t. MOOCs are a product of our time leveraging the incredible capability of media distribution thanks to the amazing Internet. Let’s face it, anything that can be placed on the Internet generally does and the number of hits or users is the validation of success.

MOOCs were validated by Internet success statistics and the world clamored to define them. How quickly the innocence of experimentation with massive online delivery of a few college courses turned into a disruptive movement within higher education. But disruption is all MOOCs needed to be. Udacity is a company commercializing the delivery of interesting college type courses to to world. If the courses maintained the strict requirements of their traditional university origins then we found that not that many students could really succeed. So to many academics that was a validation of the ineffectiveness of online learning. But I think we had already proven the value of online learning. All that was happening with the various MOOC providers was experimentation with a valid business model.

The business model for a Udacity appears to be steering toward the corporate or continuing education market. Profit needs to be realized and that is not a problem when you have engaged users. The key is the engagement. EdX which more closely emulates higher education standards is up front about their value proposition of research in effective online delivery of courses. And Coursera probably falls in between. MOOCs are now carving out their various business niches just like the many other social networking industries have done. And I think higher education can relax a bit from the fearful prediction that MOOCs would change their world. MOOCs have been disruptive as documented in Jeffrey Young’s new book “Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption”. I think we also realize that disruption can be healthy and MOOCs are truly stimulating a lot of efforts to improve teaching and learning in our educational institutions.

November 24, 2013 by Jeff Selingo – MOOCs Move Beyond the Perfect Media Narrative

Producing “Big Data” Scientists

I wish that I would have attended the Big Data in Higher Education Conference at SUNY last week. Harper Reed @harper, former Obama campaign CTO, was the keynote speaker and according to the Chronicle review, he told it the way it is. ‘Big Data’ is Bunk. His message highlighted how the Obama campaign utilized analytics from “Big Data” to help win the election. And it sounds like he presented how higher education could take advantage of this technology but that the vendors for “Big Data” solutions were using the term “Big” to mostly sell big computers. I agree that we don’t need huge computer resources to utilize “Big Data” analysis concepts. However, we are going to build a Big Data system that probably leans toward an In Memory model. I also realize that higher education rarely utilizes “Big Data” effectively for business or academic advantages but that is a discussion of its own.

Harper also offered some advice in another session, “Data Scientist: the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” which hit home for me here at Missouri S&T. We are currently building a new cross discipline program around the buzz term “Big Data”. We have our Business and Information Technology, department contributing to the client end including the tie in to ERP. We have Computer Science and Computer Engineering focusing on the infrastructure, data models, analytic algorithms, programming and visualization needed to produce the kind of data scientists that Harper said he wants to hire. This is why I came to S&T, to help a world class STEM institution create products that can help change the world.

Comments from Disney Educause Week

The best place to hold an Educause conference is in the happiest place on the earth, Disneyland, especially during a week of sun and 70’s. This is the time of year when all collegiate techies compare notes, renew friendships and chart the future of higher education. Educause keynote speakers try to shock us, console us and then inspire us. But there rarely are any roadmaps provided for us to follow. We know we must continue to increase our WiFi density, move stuff to the cloud and relax our outdated control policies. But mostly we network with our peers.

Trends discussed at Educause that I have interest and insight had to do with the future of ERPs and LMSs. Lot’s of my colleagues are looking for answers to their ERP dilemmas. And it seems like many Blackboard customers are planning their exit strategy to a Canvas or Moodle. And in the background are all of the solutions that will insure that teaching and learning takes place more effectively. This all threatens our old school technology empires but can generate great excitement for the new school.

Yes we do need to get our act together with respect to running the business of higher education. We drank the kool-aid served us by corporate ERP solutions that we were told could be adapted to higher education. And they have been adapted at a ridiculous price. However, did we ever receive serious advice to simplify our business processes? I was recognized at the Oracle booth as the poster child champion for the most successful PeopleSoft implementation they have seen. But not for the most profitable. When I implemented PeopleSoft 3-4 years ago I forced business process change to adapt to the base system because of budget and talent constraints. But that was just a consolidation of best practices for higher education. We did not have an opportunity to redesign our business. So my advice to all of us looking for solutions to our ERP predicaments; maybe we should investigate a more effective way to administer the business of higher education first. We might be shocked at how easy it could be to adapt an ERP to a business process that made sense.

And what about Learning Management Systems? My only comment is to again step back and realize how simple LMSs are. I guess we took the opposite approach with them. We have a fairly good business process that we have over complicated by computerization. Maybe it was because we created them but were taught by our corporate ERP vendors how to commercialize them. Bottom line is that an LMS is nice to have but is not critical for teaching and learning. There are plenty of tools that can help a professor to be more efficient but no university should be held hostage to a single tool. Hmmm, that is sort of the academic way, we do all the work and another business entity charges us for it.

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

So enough of the trials and tribulations of the season. What about some bright spots like my being ranked the 38th most Social CIO or how cool our rollout of 3-D Printing for all of the students at S&T has been.

TV segment by KY3 in Springfield, MO, on the rollout of 3-D printers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Library.

Higher Education will be OK

The change that is taking place in higher education right now is fascinating to watch. There aren’t many century old institutions that you get to watch go through dramatic transitions. The newspaper industry is well into a transition and it could offer great insight for us in higher education.  The recent commentary in the Chronicle by Byron P. White, “Take it from an Ex-Journalist: Adapt or Die ”, put it into better perspective for me.  Today many in higher education do admit that change is coming, however, the time line is seen as distant and the actual change is minimized. Is higher education an industry that fits W. Edwards Deming’s advice given to the auto industry as competition was on the horizon, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The world is embracing new digitally driven options that challenge our existing higher education process. This change is not dependent upon higher education’s permission nor it’s demise.

So do we deal with this impending change by dabbling around the edges of the debate? The few institutions that are rolling the dice of transition to a new model are generally motivated by desperation. Most of us are just talking about what this change might look like. And that talk focuses heavily on the high visibility topics such as course delivery, student success or the rising costs. Look at the conversation generated around the MOOC phenomenon which is just the evolution of the online course delivery debate. Most have missed the point, MOOCs are not a threat to higher education but MOOCs are creating the disruption that in turn is exposing our weaknesses. We need to deal with our weaknesses but by no means is there an inevitable doom. I would rather assume that we could come through this time of change stronger then ever.

What are our weaknesses? This is where we get into trouble. Higher Education governs themselves by non authoritative committees. Decisions are made to insure the good for the most, least amount of change and with minimum risk for those deemed responsible.  What I am saying here is that even if we know what our weaknesses are it would be rare to announce them with detail that could lead to a solution. We tend to just try harder but there are exceptions. At every university it is easy to identify those who are capable of making a difference. They happen to be the most respected faculty or staff at the institution. But wait, most respected who possibly have solutions should be in leadership. No, it doesn’t always work that way.  Remember, avoiding change carries the ultimate trump card. So those who could lead have generally tried only to retreat out of frustration. This cycle has continued over time validated by the guiding principle of Academic Freedom.

Again, what are our weaknesses? I think the major weakness is our lack of understanding or acceptance that the  higher education business model has changed. The model we know and love has provided a valuable product desired and required for success. There was no competition because we controlled the primary ingredient, “information”. But the Internet has changed that, thus providing an alternative path to success. This does not mean that our path is diminished, it just means we have competition. I think this relates more to the competition the auto industry faced rather then the newspaper industry. The US adapted and built competitive automobiles by taking advantage of technology. Unfortunately the newspaper industry is competing against technology. But the critical step is to acknowledge the threat.

I do believe higher education will be stronger then ever. Yes competition will probably eliminate the weak, but that will mostly be the result of poor business practices. Those of us moving on will have new opportunities to improve our rankings. Higher education must continue to offer the foundation that fits the community it serves. We focus on the development of the mind, body and soul but we also fine tune our academic product to meet customer and market demand. And we neutralize the threat from technology by embracing it. The threat to higher education is the avoidance of change.

Research Technology Day

Research Technology Day

A benefit that I thoroughly enjoy from being the CIO at Missouri University of Science and Technology is the opportunity to promote, support and participate in research activities. The capstone event that represents IT’s involvement with research is our “Research Technology Day”, RTD, that takes place next week, September 9-10. Pulling off a significant conference such as this is a tremendous amount of work but we must persevere because what good is research if we don’t share it with others.

This year’s RTD takes on additional value for me because it is my first opportunity to place my mark on our research support goals. But it also allows me and my research support team to gauge where our state university system wants us to be and where our neighbors and peers are at. My impressions and observations so far:

It is easy to generate interest in a research conference with your peer IT support colleagues. It is difficult to generate interest within in your own research community. However, that is just a communications problem, once you breakthrough there is plenty of interest. Then it becomes a race to keep up with the demand and pull it off.  This year’s RTD will be great; awesome speakers, interesting research topics, good food and real “Fireworks”. But it will also be important for aligning the future of our institution’s research strategy with the changing landscape of today’s higher education research environment.  The overall motivator – this along with teaching is the major reason why we exist.

Update: Opening night of the Conference was great. I don’t think I have ever seen a better fireworks display. Way cool being showered overhead with such a show in the middle of campus. The S&T Pyro team offers us a unique skill set. Here is a video of the Display

3D Printing for our Students

We have just pulled the trigger to offer 3D Printing to all of our students here at Missouri S&T. It was not difficult to confirm that 3D Printing is about to explode in use and availability so what better venue to make it available then at a university full of engineering and science students.  Plus I have faculty who are renown for their work with 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing as they call it. They have provided me with the advice I needed to select the appropriate 3D printers for student access.

Stratasys 3D Printers

Stratasys 3D Printers

I will write another post when we open our new 3D printing service in a few weeks but for now I will give you the basics of our plan. We bought 2 Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printers, the same models that UPS just ordered for their leap of faith into this business venture for their select stores. We will place these printers in our library print media area where we can manage them with IT tech support students. We have a lot to learn about the business process but it appears we can let our students pay for the objects printed with their PaperCut account. All the students need to do is submit their 3D drawing file and the uPrint CatalystEX software will help us to choose the most effective positioning and calculate the materials cost. We have a regular and an ultrasonic washer with a good sink area for cleaning off the lattice support, so here we go. The goal is to make this printing available to everyone at the most affordable price. We know that the increased access to the printers will be beneficial to our engineering design classes and I am hearing that it will be invaluable for supporting our graduate student researchers so I am hopeful that this will turn out to be a wise decision.

Will 3D Printing Change the World?

Video story by Springfield, MO, KY3 TV’s Lindsey Henry