Comment on cri de cœur by Cathy Finn-Derecki

Boy, I’ve had opinions about this for years, having spent done hard time in the bowels of these systems, trying to get them to play nice with the open web. In my opinion, these central student/faculty systems needs simply be comprised of:

1) An api that provides API access to faculty and student names, contact info, and course lists.
2) An authentication/security infrastructure that protects student data to satisfy FERPA and authorizes app connections with keys, just like in the grown-up world.
3) A set of business objectives and security standards for each tool that is to be developed on the API.

In-house or professional developers can design best-of-breed flexible open source tools for each of the business functions that require that data as a scaffold. If they want to monetize, monetize. If they want to share openly, share openly. But the applications have to address the person’s interaction with the information NOT the lumbering servers and Rube-Goldberg-like backend systems stitched together from the relics of the mainframe era. The cream would rise to the top, and sink when it no longer works, when someone designs something better. The innovation would be forward-facing. Every university should have an open source team that works to build business apps with an eye towards usability rather than generating ERP customizations of the “rearranging-chairs-on-the-Titanic” variety.

Then again, I don’t run the world, and the world, unfortunately, loves the solidity and associated informational constipation known as “ERP systems.” I understand that the world also likes Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Gardner, thanks for reminding me of why I left higher ed :) Love you.

Comment on cri de cœur by Gardo

Mike Caulfield writes: “Reducing structure makes it marginally harder to run reports, and sum totals, but it results in more information being captured and displayed, and allows for end-user experimentation when dealing with novel situations. So part of the question has to be whether we see our systems as something to inform and build community or something to run reports with.”

For me, the question you ask is rhetorical. Informing and building community must engage with complexity, innovation from the edges, folksonomies, emergence, etc. Higher ed appears to have invested enormous resources in networked affordances that do none of these things. And what is this “end-user experimentation” you speak of? Where are these “novel situations”? When it comes to many essential parts of our teaching-learning mission, that is, the core, these things are absent.

I suggest they are absent by design, meaning that a number of upstream decisions about what matters and what doesn’t, what is meaningful and thus must be controlled and specified lest other meanings are made, have established a whole set of assumptions that simply rule out other ways of thinking downstream. That’s a long-winded way of saying what Martha stated in her comment.

The only thing I’d add is that I believe we have the technologies we have because we wanted to expect and accept so little. It’s made our comforts and privileges more regular, predictable, pervasive. It’s like the Challenger accident, which happened in no small part because of design decisions based on the need to make good on NASA’s wildly erroneous prediction that they could launch 60 shuttle missions a year. Allan Macdonald is quite precise in describing this problem. When the engineers concluded early on that there was absolutely no way NASA could achieve that launch rate, the program managers overruled the engineers and–this is the important part–defined risk in ways that completely defied reason. Richard Feynman’s minority report makes this clear.

It’s a simple game. To get what you want, redefine reality to suit your purposes. You will get the results you desire, until the catastrophe happens.

Comment on cri de cœur by Martha

What I find amazing about all of this is that I think if you asked most faculty and students why the course catalog isn’t as usable, informative, and well-designed as Netflix they would stare at you blankly. The technology has trained us to expect and accept so little.

Comment on cri de cœur by Mike Caulfield

Look at Jon here, crazy with the upsell.

But he might be right, assuming you can point students to the appropriate URL, maybe overlays are the way to go? The big problem is discovery of those overlays — students when looking for a course are in corporate software mode, and unlikely to experiment unless directly prompted.

But if the problem is not a nail to Jon’s hammer, perhaps it is at least a screw.

Comment on cri de cœur by Jon Udell

My first thought was: Acquire the data, by hook (export) or crook (scraping), then reformulate in a useful way. But that’s so Web 2.0 :-)

Second thought: Annotate it in situ! Clearly I am carrying a hammer that makes many things appear to be nails, but let’s think about it. Teachers annotate the course catalog to enrich it with texts and links and rich media. Students annotate it to signal, to their peers, what they’re signing up for and why.

The annotation layer, in a private group that it’s cool to discover and join, goes viral on campus.

Crazy I know.

But…conceivable?

Comment on cri de cœur by Jon Udell

My first thought was: Acquire the data, by hook (export) or crook (scraping), then reformulate in a useful way. But that’s so Web 2.0 :-)

Second thought: Annotate it in situ! Clearly I am carrying a hammer that makes many things appear to be nails, but let’s think about it. Teachers annotate the course catalog to enrich it with texts and links and rich media. Students annotate it to signal, to their peers, what they’re signing up for and why.

The annotation layer, in a private group that it’s cool to discover and join, goes viral on campus.

Crazy I know.

But…conceivable?