Earlier today The Pennsylvania State University announced a sophisticated series of attacks to the network within its College of Engineering. It is a disturbing occurrence on so many levels — primarily from the fact that this has become the new normal for us in Higher Education. Notice I didn’t just say Higher Education IT — this is an issue that belongs to all of us. Our networks and the access they provide is the critical life blood to accessing the knowledge and colleagues that empower us to teach, learn, make discoveries, and connect with the world. A good friend of mine once told me, “when we lose our connection to the Internet we cease being a research institution.”
If you want to know what keeps CIOs up at night the list starts with information security challenges. To that end, I want to make this as clear as possible … it is time we all make information security a priority in our work. While we are committed to a strong IS stance, we can do things that are low hanging fruit here at SBU — strong pass phrases instead of weak passwords, changing pass phrases on a regular basis, don’t leave your work station logged in when you walk away, update your operating system when prompted, question links in emails, keep virus protection software up to date, and in all the instances when you are unsure of the legitimacy or threat ask a colleague who might have an answer.
It constantly amazes me at how much doing just those things systematically can positively influence our overall security stance. I am asking for your help and your cooperation to take personal responsibility for assisting the campus and to make it a conversation about all of us and not one about information security against us.
From PSU President Barron in a message to the community …
“In the coming months, significant changes in IT security protocols will be rolled out across the University, and all of us as Penn Staters will need to change the way we operate in the face of these new and significant challenges. University leaders are developing a detailed plan that will include even more robust monitoring for malicious activity across Penn State. Over time, individual users also will see changes including the implementation two-factor authentication on major university systems, stronger password management practices, and enhancements to system and software administration.”
A few weeks ago, Stony Brook student Cam Boon stopped by my office to do this interview. I quite enjoyed his reporting on the current and future of learning spaces at Stony Brook. I could sit down and talk space design all day … it is one of my favorite topics.
I’ve just about had it with snow … no, check that — I have had it! Thursdays are the days that I get to teach and I really love it. I’ve been sick all week and when I woke up around 4 this morning I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get through the day, regardless of the snow. I rescheduled my morning meetings and planned on resting until class time. When we cancelled classes later in the morning I figured it was a lost week.
What is disappointing is that last week we had such an amazing class as the groups did their first round of synthesis presentations, focusing on the ideas of disruptive technologies seen through the lens of our first theme of community. Truly an exceptional experience and one that pulled the class together into the early stages of our own community of practice.
So when the snow and my health threatened to cancel class we took matters into our own hands and disrupted the snow day by using Google Hangout to do a check in and a preview of the next couple of weeks. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than not having any time together at all. We did have a few moments of meaningful discussion about Library space, McLuhan, and how technology like Hangouts can be a decent tool for connecting communities.
Yesterday was the first day of CDT450: Disruptive Technologies. I ended up with eight students in the class … not the 20 I was hoping for, but actually the number works out really well. It is a bit early to tell, but from the interaction the first evening this is a great group of students. There was real discussion right from the get go, so that is encouraging. I was uneasy walking in yesterday for lots of reasons, but I think the primary one is that I haven’t taught alone since 2005 — and that was a 100 level course that I had taught at least a half dozen times. This is a very different animal as I have only ever tried to tackle a course like this with a co-instructor. This course was the brain child of my friend and colleague, Dr. Scott McDonald and I. We always liked the pairing of an administrator and an academic. It created a real interesting dynamic for us and the students. Now it is just me and that is a bit daunting. The crazy thing is Scott is teaching the course this semester at Penn State with two of my other friends and colleagues so I get to follow along.
We ended up packing the three hours — we even went over by 10 minutes. You can take a look at what we did at the course blog, but what you can’t see is the engagement and interaction. I think the most interesting and complicated conversation came after listening to an episode of the podcast, Reply All from Gimlet Media. This episode dealt with the very real and very ugly racism that exploded at Colgate on Yik Yak. After listening to that podcast we had an incredible deep dive into looking at the story through the lens of our core themes — identity, community, and design.
Listening to the students recognize how identity is shaped and created through the use of technology was fascinating … as was their ability to grasp the nuances of the Colgate community reaction. I think the one aspect that pulled it together was the realization Yik Yak by nature is implicitly designed to be an anonymous social network — intentionally stripping identity from an individual. Additionally it is built to only let you really engage with members of a local community because of its location based approach. A truly terrible story, but one that allowed the class to really get an early handle on the interplay of our three themes.
The students all got iPads as a part of the experience. They will be doing an “Occupy Technology” project in which I am asking them to use and reflect on the iPad as a tool within the learning eco-system this semester. I hope to use what I learn to better inform decisions going forward with the use and adoption of mobile devices for our campus. as always a big piece of the course is happening in the open on our course site, so follow along there or on Twitter with the hashtag #CDT450 … all in all, it was a very good start.
In one week I will be teaching Disruptive Technologies for the first time at Stony Brook. My enrollment is lower than I had hoped and that has me a little concerned about how I will have to rethink my course design. I was reminded yesterday to embrace the lower than expected enrollment and to not wish for the alternative — too many students. I suppose that is true, but my design is predicated on teams and only having enough students to form two of them has made me question a few things. I think I have made the right kinds of changes so far to manage it. We’ll see.
Setting that aside I am extraordinarily excited to get back in the classroom for the first time since the Spring of 2012 when I co-taught Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning with my very good friend and colleague, Dr. Scott McDonald at Penn State. Back then it was a graduate seminar that was a popular offering in our College of Education. If I’m honest, teaching it alone without Scott to lean on also has me nervous. In a lot of ways making myself nervous is part of the thrill of teaching in the first place. So again, we’ll see.
I get a lot strange looks when I tell people on campus that I am choosing to teach at all … most people tell me I am crazy. That is probably true given my time constraints, but when I look at the fact that my boss, President Stanley, is teaching this semester I think I can make time to make it work. When people ask me why I do it, the answers have been the same for years — I love it and I learn so much by doing it.
I learn how the tools we provide for faculty really work. I learn how our classrooms really support instruction. I learn where our administrative tools are falling short and exceeding expectations. I learn about how our students see the services we provide. I learn from the readings we do. I learn as we form into a learning community. I learn about all the things that I have long forgotten about how hard it really is to be a college student. I just learn.
An interesting twist this semester is that a member of my senior leadership team is taking the class as a student. When he told me I looked at him like he was crazy — I mean the guy finished his undergrad and has an MBA, so he clearly doesn’t need the credits. What he told me made me smile — he wants to learn. He wants to learn from what we do in class, but in so many other ways he wants to learn about what it feels like to be a students at Stony Brook and have to interact with all the systems our students have to interact with to be a student. His team builds the administrative information systems that support things like bursar functions, HR functions, registrar functions, and all the systems that really make a Unviersity work. He wants to know how his audiences feel … I liked that answer.
He and I just want to learn. And that is what I love about this whole thing — teaching to learn.