Leadership in an open and networked world requires all of us

In Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, the assertion made by the author is that the world is flattening as access to data and information are available to more people in the world than ever before.  In order to keep up with the demands of a global society and economy, Friedman contends that every individual must be driven, curious, and innovative.  Friedman stresses that our attitudes as global citizens must change and that we must be ready to adapt to the changing world around us.  So, if all must take a more active role in an open and networked world, what does that mean for the role of the leader?  I believe the answer is significant to all those who want to truly lead and succeed in this changing world.

Significant in what I have read on the topic is the fading belief that a leader is the sole keeper and distributor of knowledge and expertise.  Michele Martin wrote of leadership and leaders in the 21st as a facilitator of ideas and action.  Martin wrote that the new leader must engage colleagues and employees to participate in generating ideas and question assumptions.  Leaders themselves must be willing to acknowledge that ideas and solutions to problems can come from any member of the organization or society, and that it would be to our collective detriment to ignore such contributions.  They must invite and actively seek out participation, as Wenger said, in order to move past the idea of leader and follower, building collective contributions.

These opinions and beliefs are similar to those of Nancy Dixon in her description of knowledge management of today.  We must move past the days of the leader as the keeper of explicit knowledge and embrace the contributions of the whole or the collective.  Dixon believed that relying on the experiential knowledge, knowledge which is constantly evolving and dynamic, is more influential than relying on the knowledge of few.  She stated that we as leaders must integrate ideas from diverse perspectives in order to include out-of-the-box thinking and maximize the talent in our organizations.  We must be willing to allow for the challenging of ideas and not allow the perspectives of those in positions of power to be considered absolute.

In general, I agree with the perspectives shared above.  So, how can we meet the goals of the above authors?  First, I think it is important to acknowledge that explicit knowledge is no longer sufficient in today’s connected and open world.  Prashant Ranade wrote of the need for leaders to develop or improve their digital quotient.  An important component of that, as Ranade described, is the ability to manage the unknowable, recognizing that there are limits to all individual expertise and that as leaders we must rely on others in order to build a network of experts.  In order to do that, we can look to the principles of wirearchy.  Wirearchy requires the leader to only listen and be accountable, but also to understand how and why people are connecting and sharing information.  It is not enough to just gather more information, we must understand its context and synthesize it for use in solving problems and generating new ideas.

I think the best way to describe how my own leadership will change based upon what I learned in the ILD 831 course is by sharing an article on leadership in the digital age posted by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  The article explains that leadership that facilitates collaboration is not sufficient.  While collaboration allows for innovation through participation and empowerment, it does not result in rapid scalability.  Instead, the leader should approach leadership in the digital age with an eye on being a co-creator.  This type of leader allows employees and other stakeholders to pursue their own individual goals while also achieving organizational goals.  In doing so, innovation and creation are more rapidly scalable due to the high level of engagement and participation that it inspires.  As we must accept that we alone as leaders cannot possibly keep up with all available knowledge and information, it is in our best interests to inspire others to contribute their own knowledge and expertise to achieve collective goals.  Allowing them to pursue their personal goals and growth concurrently seems an ideal way to achieve that end.

The Ayes Have It

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Implications of Emerging and Changing Technology in Higher Education

Higher education is in a state of constant change.  From large public research institutions to for-profit online education that can be completed in the comfort of one’s own home, there are an increasing number of ways that content can be delivered to a changing demographic of college students.  Long ago seem the days of a college education being delivered solely to attentive students sitting at their desks watching the professor scrawling notes on a blackboard.  The world has changed and is changing around us every day; allowing students to expand their bases of knowledge and networks far outside the traditional classroom and methods of learning.

David Weinberger asked whether or not networking of knowledge is making us all smarter or stupider in Too Big to Know.  My perspective on that question is that it all depends on how we respond and adapt to the changing world around us.  As leaders, we must do our best to stay current on changing and emerging technology.  How do we do that though when the change is constant and often beyond the scope of our daily interaction and data collection?  Most importantly, I believe it is critical that we remove the mindset that the leader or executive must be the knower and keeper of all knowledge.  Nancy Dixon believes that knowledge management, in part, requires that we rely on the people who both have the knowledge we need to accommodate and adapt to changes and can communicate it to the larger group.  The pace of change of technology is too rapid for one person to know it all.  Personally I believe the graphic below from the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report provides an excellent outline to discuss some of the changes occurring within the higher education sector.

nmc_hz2016

The short term trends stand out to me as wholly representative of what schools across the country are dealing with today.  There is indeed a growing emphasis on measuring learning in higher education.  The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act highlighted accountability in higher education and facilitated the creation of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.  This body has forced independent accrediting agencies to place a greater emphasis than ever before on student learning outcomes and assessment.  Colleges and universities have had to respond to that in a number of ways.

An internal emphasis on assessment is not enough, and institutions are using the help of vendor applications to help them track student outcomes.  The use of products like Tk20 are now frequently used on college campuses to help report on student outcomes.  The use of learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas allow instructors to capture assessment results and export them for use in reports to accreditors.  Products like Spark by Cisco now make it easier for instructors to generate assessment reports in real time.

The increasing use of blended learning designs is another trend which has widespread implications in higher education.  Mobile collaboration and e-learning appear on the Wikipedia list of emerging technologies in the IT and communications field.  The students of today want choice and flexibility with a desire for “on-demand” education.  Mary Meeker shared with the Internet Trends conference that millennial students today are extremely tech savvy and are used to live connectivity.  Kevin Kelly said that we are in the middle of a new industrial evolution and that we are making everything “smart” to add to our physical technology.  An EDUCAUSE survey highlighted that students are using mobile devices for both formal and informal learning, and that support and targeted training are needed for instructors and students to keep up with the technology in these ways.  Those institutions that do not offer blended or mobile learning and instead rely on more traditional learning methods only will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Another trend which has tremendous implications on higher education is the use of third party applications and platforms.  Beyond delivering education through learning management systems, the use of applications to support college and university operations is expanding rapidly.  In his book The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses Becoming, which describes how we are now using subscriptions to services instead of physical products, and Accessing which describes the shift from owning things to accessing them through the cloud.  These applications and platforms allow institutions to track and store student data for a variety of reasons from recruitment to student health information.  They allow students to access educational materials from anywhere in the world and pay their bills online.

This trend has some serious risks, however.  Chief among them is the privacy and security of data.  The Center for Digital Education listed information security as the top technology issue for higher education in 2016.  They argued that it is crucial for IT leaders in higher education to be acutely aware of how and where data is stored and how it can be protected because breaches will most certainly occur.  In fact, Meeker noted that approximately 4 billion records had been breached globally between 2013 and 2015.  As data continues to be stored in cloud-based services and with third party providers, IT leaders will be forced to be proactive in protecting information from those with malicious intent.

There are things being done to assist colleges and universities in the protection of data.  Institutions and their leaders would be smart to work with independent auditors to help protect student records.  Working with vendors that can demonstrate SOC and/or SSAE compliance can help to ensure that financial records such as credit card or bank account information stored in cloud based services are secure.  Emerging technologies like Blockchain, which Gartner named one of its new technologies to the 2016 Hype Cycle, can help protect not only financial transactions, but also identity management and student health records.

The amazing thing about all of this is that the trends of today might be forgotten tomorrow.  The pace of change in both higher education and technology means that the expanding markets and growing threats of next year are next to impossible to predict.  It requires that the leader be humble about what is unknown, but also be diligent in constantly seeking out challenges to the institution, but also the solutions to stay ahead of an ever-growing number of threats.

-The Ayes Have It

The Ethics of Open Source

The idea behind open-source access to what would otherwise potentially be considered proprietary information is one that has risen in importance with the expansion of the use of the web.  While the term is commonly used to refer to open-source software code, it can refer to the open access to any product’s design.  It allows for a collaborative effort to ensue, with those accessing the open-source information able to modify the information or code and publish it back to the community at large.

Proponents of open-source point to the ways in which it can generate and promote innovation in research and technology.  Jeff DeGraff argued that unrestricted access to designs, products, and ideas allows those with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to be creative.  Those innovators can take an idea in its existing form and make it better, ultimately sharing it with the world.  In an article for ZDNet, Harish Pillay championed open-source access as a way to harness the power of the collective and ultimately make the world a better place, creating new and better products at a pace never before seen.

Companies around the globe have embraced the open source model as a means to improve their products and contribute to their fields.  ZDNet shared the results of the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey showing that sixty-six percent of all respondents said their companies create software for customers built on open source.  Ninety-three percent of respondents stated that company use of open source had either increased or remained the same in the last twelve months.  Companies such as Apple and Microsoft have made their programming language and core technologies available to the public in recent years, giving more credibility to the use of open-source in industry.  Interestingly, the survey results point to security as a large reason why companies are choosing open-source over proprietary solutions.

opensourcesoftware2015

There are, of course, ethical considerations when deciding whether or not to use open-source information or to share software or digital works with others.  The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University outlined several of these considerations, the most significant of which may be intellectual property protection.  Sharing information in this way removes any financial incentive to the developer and may therefore actually discourage innovation.  Now, the Future of Open Source Survey results seem to convey that businesses do not feel this way, but it is possible that it could influence the individual developer.  Berry (2004) noted that increases copyright protections implemented by private companies for digital works removes a level of flexibility for researchers that could be avoided if academic research, like software code, was shared in an open-source manner.

Intellectual property concerns are particularly important for individual developers and smaller companies, who must place some trust in larger business or others to avoid violating easy to follow requirements associated with free software licenses.  Those companies that use open-source software code, but do not provide it are being held accountable in some cases by groups like gpl-violations.org, the number of reports of such violations only continues to rise.  Further complicating the issue is the presence of software piracy, which Santillanes and Felder (2015) found further reduces incentive for developers to share their work at all.

On the other side of the coin, some consider free software to be a matter of liberty and free speech.  The idea is sharing open-source code or products contributes to the common good by allowing a community to improve and update nearly anything for the benefit of all.  Richard Stallman is quoted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics on the virtue of the free software movement saying, “this spirit of goodwill – the spirit of helping your neighbor, voluntarily – is society’s most important resource.”  Berry and Giles (2006) noted that the open-source community contributes to the democratizing of e-government, extending transparency and accountability.

Perhaps there is not one good answer to the question of ethics surrounding open-source sharing of software and other information.  One encouraging development is that many companies are developing their own codes of conduct surrounding open source including Python, Ubuntu, and the Django Project.  As information shared on the web continues to move away from proprietary in nature and more towards open source, individuals and companies will need to weigh all sides of the ethical arguments surrounding this topic and be aware of how they will inevitably evolve over time.

-The Ayes Have It

References

Berry, D. M., & Giles, M. (2006). Free and open-source software: Opening and democratizing e-government’s black box. Information Polity, 11(1), 21-34.

Santillanes, G., & Felder, R. M. (2015). Software piracy in research: A moral analysis. Science & Engineering Ethics, 21(4), 967-977. doi:10.1007/s11948-014-9573-5

It’s a networked world… and we’re just living in it

In their 2016 edition of the video, “Too Big to Know”, Fisch and McLeod present a picture of a highly connected and networked world population.  Three billion of the world’s population are connecting to the internet.  Students are being prepared in school for jobs that do not yet exist and according to the US Department of Labor, they will leave that job for another over ten times by the age of thirty-eight.  For many of us, this world seems a bit foreign when compared to the one in which we grew up.  In an interview this morning on Morning Joe, US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska stated that the United States is “going through one of the largest economic disruptions in human history.”  He adeptly described this time of uncertainty by noting that we call this age the “post-industrial era” because we don’t know what to call it.

So, how do we deal with a changing and more networked society?  One particular challenge that we face in the age when information is at all of our fingertips is not allowing some in society to be left behind.  The Pew Research Center conducted survey research on the use of the internet among adults in job seeking activities.  They found that while more people are applying for jobs and using online resources to search for employment, more than one in ten do not have the skills to do things considered standard practice in most industries today such as filling out an online job application or communicating with potential employers via email.   Results of the research of Nahsa, DaCosta, Kinsell, and Seok (2010) suggests that one’s digital propensity is dependent on factors such as age and socioeconomic status, placing some at a disadvantage in an ever-changing world.  Yet, with all that said, there are still opportunities for positive outcomes.

Smith and Anderson reported on 2014 research by the Pew Research Center on the future of jobs and the internet.  Respondents to the Pew research spoke of the potential inequality that is created by a more networked and technological world.  Additionally, it was acknowledged that the US educational system is not adequately preparing students for this changing landscape.  Opportunities still persist, however.  Respondents to their survey noted that by relying on human ingenuity has proven successful in the past and that by investing in education, technology, and infrastructure in a more connected world, society can thrive.

This networked and connected world will create new challenges for leaders, who will need to seek out a different workforce in the future.  Leaders will need to change and adapt to the more connected world and workforce.  Jane McConnell wrote in The Organization in the Digital Age that as people and work evolve with technology, there are far reaching implications.  Naisbitt’s megatrend of “high touch” comes to mind as we must remember that technology does not remove the necessity of responsibility and discipline in leadership.  Weinberger stated though that great benefit can be achieved by working outside of the traditional hierarchical lines.  The leader must seek to understand the networked worker who may be very different from a traditional employee, but who can prove valuable to a progressive organization.

Embracing the networked and connected workforce may prove extremely beneficial to an organization.  The linked infographic describes skills such as new media literacy and cognitive load management which are representative of the networked individual and can provide value to an organization.  In a world where vast amounts of information and data must now be filtered, those with the familiarity to do so in an effective and efficient manner will be of great value.

In the same infographic linked above, there is also a reference to a transdisciplinary skill.  As Rainie noted in a presentation given to the KMWorld Conference, our workplaces are now multidisciplinary and rely on individuals outside of the traditional structure of the organization in many cases.  We need team members with a broad range of experience and perspective in order to compete in a frequently changing landscape.  Those who can work with diverse partners both within and outside of the organization will be highly sought after and provide value to an organization far beyond what might be found in a traditional job description.

So, it is true that the world may not look the way many of us remember it and Senator Sasse was absolutely correct in that this new world is largely a disruption to the status quo.  Yet, there is an opportunity to thrive in the networked world if we are willing to rely on the ingenuity and expertise of networked individuals to help show us a new way.

-The Ayes Have It

Reference

Nasah, A., DaCosta, B., Kinsell, C., & Seok, S. (2010). The digital literacy debate: An

investigation of digital propensity and information and communication technology.

Educational Technology Research & Development, 58(5), 531-555. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-

9151-8

Our changing work is constantly changing

This week my doctoral class is discussing the changing nature of work due to the web and hyperlinked thinking.  I was encouraged to hear the comments of our professor Britt Watwood as he recognized that for some and in many industries, the nature of work has already changed significantly.  I tend to agree as the implication is that great change has already occurred and has embedded itself in what we do in our daily and work lives.  In most cases, we have had to accept significant changes in our workplace and professions, recognizing that there will be more change to come.  While acceptance of change has taken place, Jon Husband wrote that we as professionals will spend the next several decades learning how to function in an interconnected world.

The way our world has changed is treated very differently than we might have imagined just a few short years ago.  Weinberger’s talk on the power of the internet about hackathons stood out to me.  With extremely active Cybersecurity and Computer Science programs at my institution, we not only have clubs of students that participate in such activities, but we teach students how to protect against hacks (by potentially exposing our own security), and host such events on campus!  It’s become something we are proud of, not something we shy away from.  Certainly a shift in thinking from some time ago.

The waters do get muddied with this changing nature of work, however.  It puts a greater onus on the individual to interpret information presented in a number of forums.  In Too Big to Know, Weinberger described the way in which information was shared in the traditional written word, with arguments being directly laid out.  Today, we are using the web to present all information available; allowing the audience to play a role in its interpretation and requiring them to filter.  As Weinberger said, “when in doubt, include it all.”  Doing so creates a direct interaction between information sharer and audience, representative of Wirearchy relationships that operate in an ongoing and constant feedback loop.  Husband’s ideas surrounding Wirearchy were applied to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) by Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) to achieve performance improvement.  It identifies the need to utilize the Web 2.0 and social software technologies in order to achieve the core elements of the 3P learning model including personalization, participation, and knowledge-pull (the learner navigates toward knowledge).

Gartner described some other significant ways in which work has and will change moving forward.  I frequently see this in my IT department in the form of work swarms and working with the collective.  Each represents a leveraging of collective knowledge, which Dixon described as a way for diverse and knowledgeable individuals to add perspective and value.  I see this in the form of work swarms in the formal department meetings that I attend.  Colleagues are working together to share tips for improvement, or sharing their failures and looking for feedback from colleagues.  They also work together more informally, both within and outside of the organization.  I find that these like-minded individuals can accomplish a great deal, even if the ideas are being shared around the desk of the administrative assistant as opposed to a meeting room.

One topic within the changing nature of work on which I am a bit conflicted is that of the digial business.  Gartner describes the digital business as incorporating technology into the entire business and industry enterprise.  A 2014 article in Forbes by Jorge Lopez describes the digital business as the interaction and negotiations between business, people, and things. His description outlines that the convergence of people, business, and things results in a disruption in the familiar way in which our businesses function.  These new business designs are applicable in higher education.  In my field of institutional research, we are using student attribute data as predictors of success, relying in some cases on demographic information to help students with course selection to tutoring services.  At the MIT Center for Digital Business, professors interact with external businesses and agencies on research projects that provide benefits to the business in the form of economic growth and to the academic enterprise in the form of research.

However, the concepts of the digital business framework can create challenges in IT departments, institutions of higher education, and businesses in general.  Information Age explored what it means for a business to truly be digital and what implications that may have for IT departments.  Difficulties can occur when other departments drive decision-making for technology related purposes.  There are cost and implementation implications that are not always considered and can prove problematic, forcing the IT department into a reactive position.

In a more general sense, I believe there may be hesitation and resistance in the move towards the digital business model within higher education.  A field steeped in tradition, higher education professionals can often be resistant to change.  While most institutions employ both traditional and non-traditional methods for delivering education to students, higher education may find it difficult to keep pace with a changing and digital world.  It will be the imperative of leaders to embrace the changing world and help facilitate the interactions and technology that allow their employees to thrive with that change.

-The Ayes Have It

Reference

Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). The 3P learning model. Journal of Educational

Technology and Society, 13(4), 74-85. Retrieved from

http://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.13.4.74

Has the web changed knowledge… or is knowledge dead?

Thomas Davenport, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of knowledge management, wrote that the field is not dead, but that it may be on life support.  He stated that with the growing use of Google, the field of knowledge management may become obsolete because people are no longer interested in seeking out internal knowledge.  David Weinberger (2011) seemingly agreed with Davenport by stating that the internet does not have the necessary components to create a body of knowledge.  Yet, Google and other social media networks have become in many ways the outlet for which ideas and knowledge are collected.

I tend to disagree with Davenport’s view that the field of knowledge management is fading away and instead believe that his scope was and is too narrow.   Weinberger (2011) seems to imply that a body of knowledge can only exist when pure or with some level of gate keeping that requires only the absolute and correct be included.  While I acknowledge that those parameters would certainly make the information that can be found on the web more reliable and easier to wade through, I do not think it makes the good and useful information that can be found there any less valid.  We can find diverse perspectives and leverage collective knowledge, yet it requires additional effort and scrutiny.  Weinberger even seems to contradict his earlier statements when describing the wisdom of John Davis.  While Davis was a knowledge expert in the traditional sense, he only helped solve the problems of the Exxon Valdez because the network utilized, the internet itself, to seek out an expert was wide and diverse in scope.

What Davenport seems to be focused on in his interpretation of knowledge management can be described by Dixon’s first category of the field, which is that of leveraging explicit knowledge.  Jarche referenced the work of Jay Cross, who compared the past importance of identifying subject matter experts to spread knowledge within an organization to what happens more today, where it is more important to contribute to and learn from the subject matter than to learn from someone else.  The idea that organizations require the explicit knowledge of those in the room considered the experts or leaders no longer seems applicable.

As I read about Dixon’s second and third categories of knowledge management, I could not help but think of its applicability to my current leadership role.  I have always despised large group meetings where the managers in the room are the only individuals who speak, providing updates on the happenings of the organization and listing successes for a collective pat on the back.  However, I do believe there is value in bringing together a group of like-minded and talented individuals who may not otherwise regularly interact.  Leading an IT organization, I have been searching for ways to encourage participation, innovation, and collaboration that is not centered directly around a task.  I plan to put Dixon’s description of leveraging experiential knowledge into action at my divisional staff meeting next week.

I have asked employees to submit topics of interest that might be worthy of discussion and engagement for our entire group.  One employee asked if we could speak about the need to document processes so that work can be performed consistently and knowledge can be transferred among the group.  I plan to present Dixon’s first and second categories of knowledge management and ask the group to discuss their merits.  I expect some will believe that leveraging explicit knowledge is crucial to ensure quality.  I expect others though will argue that recording processes in the ways that might have been done in the past no longer makes sense.  They may argue like Dixon does about leveraging experiential knowledge, that knowledge is dynamic and may change before anyone seeks it out or that the knowledge is not applicable but to specific situations.  A good example of this is the work performed by Wolbers and Boersma, whose study of information management identified both individual interpretations of information by professionals, but a collective sensemaking of that information through discussion and negotiation.

Even more exciting to me about this upcoming staff meeting and the topics submitted by staff members to discuss is that I can remove myself from the position of authority.  I am an outsider to IT.  The staff, however, are not.  They are talented network engineers, programmer analysts, desktop support specialists… and the list goes on.  They have the kind of diverse perspectives that Dixon spoke about that can come together and leverage collective knowledge to address the organization’s most challenging problems.  A study by Fursin et al. (2014) demonstrated the benefits of leveraging all of explicit, experiential, and collective knowledge together.  It is my hope that by bringing together those talented individuals in a forum that allows them to use their experiences and collective knowledge to attack problems that are important to them, that we may identify innovative and creative solutions.

Reference

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts,

experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY.

Basic Books.

The Power of the Web 2.0 and online collaborative tools in Higher Education: A review of Cisco WebEx

In “The Web is Us/ing Us”, Mike Wesch described to viewers through visual content how the internet has grown from primitive uses of the web to the capability today of the Web 2.0.  His video demonstrated the way the web is now used to share content and ideas, allowing for contributions from the masses as opposed to simple listings of information.  The web, as the video aptly describes, is more accessible to all; allowing me to create and share this content with relative ease.

Britt Watwood said that “the web has become a platform of participation.”  This seems to align well with Wesch’s demonstration of the use of the Web 2.0 and the way in which many people now utilize the resources of the web.  We all participate in our own way.  That could meaning sharing the stories of our lives through social mediums such as Twitter or Instagram, or finding a way around the barriers that used to make content sharing arduous and complicated.  This is not limited to social content, however.  Academic and other scholarly contributions are now coming from all the world over.  Weinberger (2011) shared that in response to a general belief that not enough information is available to the masses, the way in which information is shared has drastically changed.  Some academic journals are now allowing open submissions, not limited by word counts and uninhibited by the restraints and time of the peer-review process.  It is now up to the user to “bring the filter forward” (Weinberger, 2011) and identify what content is important and find the data and facts to back it up.

As accessibility to information continues to grow, the desire to collaborate and participate in the process of information sharing grows along with it.  Shirky described the expanding nature of the collaborative range.  He noted that the guts have been removed from the scarcity model of information and that content can be found everywhere.  However, with abundant resources, businesses must find a way to compete in a saturated environment and to stand apart from organizations that may have more resources or a similar product.  The use of web tools to make information more accessible and collaboration more feasible is now a way to stand out in that crowded environment.

In the field of higher education, there is an incredible amount of saturation.  Colleges and university education is now more accessible than ever before.  Public and private colleges, not-for-profit and for-profit education, governmental commitment to the expansion of the education workforce, and online and other delivery modes have made the prospect of pursuing a degree more realistic than ever before.  It also requires though, that institutions have a way to stand out and be able to recruit a changing student population, interested in collaboration and active learning.  It is with that in mind that I provide information on WebEx, a collaborative web and video conferencing tool.

Cisco WebEx was founded under the name Active Touch in 1996 and is a company that provides online collaboration and video conferencing tools for businesses, institutions of higher education, and for personal use.  The products are similar to other videoconferencing and online collaboration tools such as GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts, but offer some very distinctive features that make it a leader in the field.  WebEx products such as Event Center and Meeting Center allow participants to join meetings either over the phone using audio, or through any computer operating system (Windows, Apple OS, Linux, Unix) using VOIP, which sends digital signals over the internet.  Accessibility is a key feature of WebEx products, as they are also accessible from mobile phone apps, an in-demand feature of today’s marketplace regardless of product.

In the field of higher education, WebEx collaboration tools address the changing population of college students described above.  As students pursue online education at increasing rates, college and university leaders must look for opportunities to stand out in an overcrowded field and provide education that engages students in their educational experience.  The use of the WebEx collaboration tools may provide such an opportunity for some schools.  The functionality of the WebEx Training Center goes beyond traditional online education delivery methods (it feels weird using traditional there) and provides an experience that allows students to engage in active learning, which a number of institutions have identified as beneficial for the achievement of student learning goals.  Decision-makers at colleges and universities making an investment in online education may find the WebEx tools useful to help address the type of active and collaborative learning techniques that may be thought of as more applicable to the in-person classroom experience.

The WebEx Training Center not only allows instructors to provide content to students like in an online course shell, but it promotes active learning.  Presenting can be shared in a WebEx session.  So, unlike many other web meeting products, participants can become the presenter by taking control of the class session and sharing content from their own computers or mobile devices.  Another feature of WebEx that provides for collaborative learning opportunities is the use of breakout sessions.  Students can use these breakout sessions to work on projects and assignments collaboratively, sharing content outside of the typical class session.  There are also testing and poll features that allow instructors to gather real-time feedback and assessment data about the content of their classes.

Feedback about the WebEx products has been generally positive.  Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros of CIO named WebEx one of their “8 awesome and (sometimes free) conference call services” calling it both reliable and interactive.  Top Ten Reviews noted unique features of WebEx that make it beneficial software for both meeting presenters and attendees.  Cnet praised the customization services and noted that it could help reduce business travel budgets.

The biggest potential downside and cause for concern for institutions and businesses choosing whether or not to utilize WebEx products seems to be data security.  Cisco WebEx provides an extensive set of information on ways in which they protect the security of their clients and clients’ data.  Although a cloud-based system, Cisco uses switch architecture so that data is not persistently stored in the WebEx Cloud.  The product’s administrator module allows authorized administrators to control security settings and host privileges for the product.  Additionally, WebEx provides a number of encryption mechanisms and firewall compatibility to help protect customer data.

However, with all of these measures in place, WebEx has still been vulnerable.  Cisco disclosed a vulnerability to the WebEx Meetings Server in the summer of 2016 which resulted in a denial of service error to users, particularly those using WebEx on mobile devices.  Although the vulnerability was patched, Cisco reported that their incident response team was only “unaware” of any data exploitation.  Leaders who choose to take advantage of web-based collaboration tools must weigh the benefits of the functionality of such products against the very real security concerns that exist today.

Overall, the unique collaborative features of the WebEx products make it a useful consideration for those institutions of higher education looking to set themselves apart from more standard online educational delivery platforms and provide students with an active and engaging learning experience.

-The Ayes Have It

Reference

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts,

experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY.

Basic Books.

The Changing Nature of the Web and Technology

I consider myself to be somewhat of an oddity in my field.  As the head of an IT organization at a small, private, four-year college, I do not have the typical resume that you might expect to find for such an individual.  My undergraduate education was in Biology and I have been working throughout higher education in fields such as undergraduate admissions, advancement, and institutional research for over a decade.  Yet, prior to nine months ago, had never worked in an IT department.  To say it has been a learning experience for both me and my staff would be an understatement.  While I believe I embrace technology, I also feel very strongly regarding the need to prioritize in-person conversation and require my employees to focus their efforts not only on innovation and efficiency, but also on customer service and education.  While the world is changing rapidly with the use of technology it is my strong belief that technology should not simply replace and remove the other ways in which we communicate, solve problems, and be innovative contributors to our fields and to society.

Friedman (2005) provided a compelling argument for how technology has increased the pace in which globalization is occurring.  He wrote of the process of information exchange that now occurs over the web in a manner that frankly dictates the daily lives of many across the world.  While his book and the forces that he described as being relevant to the world’s flattening are still relevant today in my view, I believe that in the twelve years since the book was published, some of the forces have exploded and now carry greater weight than others.

Friedman (2005) referred to personal digital devices as “steroids” that allow people to access information.  Interestingly, his examples are now twelve years old and do not refer to smart phones, tablets, and other technology that is now visible in many US homes and offices.  Technology consultant Gartner projects that the number of internet connected devices will soar to over twenty billion by 2020.  Estimates from Statista show that that figure could be greatly exceeded.  This includes devices Friedman may not even dreamed of just twelve short years ago.  The weight of the steroids and the In-forming, as Friedman called it, carry great weight and the ability to influence the world economy, business practices, and politics.  From peer-reviewed journals to social media to this blog itself, information is available and ready to be consumed whether or not it is accurate and will positively contribute to change.  Friedman is accurate though when describing the world as flat in that traditional borders are no longer the same as they once were.

Borders, however, do still exist.  They are no longer the traditional lines we see on a map, but instead the way in which the global community grows, excels, and benefits from advances in technology and accessibility to information and innovation. Florida (2005) argued that the world is spiky rather than flat when you consider the concentrated nature of innovation and growth in cities and urban areas compared to rural communities.  He argued that while information is more accessible to the world’s population, the innovation centers still necessitate that those who innovate from around the world will need to do so in the economic growth centers.

I believe Florida (2005) scope was too narrow when describing innovation as he used patent applications as his data point.  Innovation and efficiency exist throughout the world in ways that do not require a patent or the need to manufacture a product.  I do agree with his assertion regarding the world and use of technology as spiky, however, particularly with his comparison to the global economy.  While both technology and personal wealth are greater than they were 100, 50, or even 25 years ago, the disparity between those at the top of the global economy and those at the bottom is similar to the gap we see in technology and innovation.  While Friedman (2005) was correct when he described greater access to information than the world has ever seen, Florida (2005) is equally correct in describing growing inequality.

So, what does this all mean for business, humanity, and leadership?  Bostrom (2015) provided listeners at his TED talk with a comparison of the speed and power in which computers can function in modern-day technology in comparison to the human brain and said that the limits of computers and potential for super intelligence is limited only by matter itself.  As leaders, I believe we must embrace the power and potential of technology and what it can help us achieve, but also recognize the economic and social disparities that technology can create in a spiky world Florida (2005)Bostrom (2015) shared an important point that leaders would be wise to adhere to when he stated that if you are going to try and optimize technology to meet your objective, you must ensure that your definition of the objective incorporates all that is important to you as a leader.  As a leader, that is worth a significant amount of reflection each time we sacrifice the human contribution as a means to achieving our objectives.

Welcome to The Ayes Have It

This blog was created to meet a requirement of the ILD 831 course in the online doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Leadership at Creighton University.  The blog will start out as a way to communicate with peers in the program regarding technology and leadership for weekly assignments, but I hope that it will also serve as an outlet for me to discuss my journey as a fairly new IT leader in the world of higher education.

While the writing you will see in the coming posts is solely my own, my dog Jake will be here along the way.  He’s a bit tired right now, but perhaps he will perk up the next time I post.win_20170110_21_41_14_pro

All the best and I look forward to seeing you soon.

-The Ayes Have It