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High Tech or High Touch?

I came across the phrase “high tech or high touch” in something I was reading recently, can’t remember what. The expression presumes that there’s a dichotomy between the two — that they are in essence, mutually exclusive. Why can’t we have both?

We tend to think about technology as isolating. We don’t really talk to each other any more. We text, or IM. And it’s not uncommon to see a whole group of people out to eat at a restaurant, and everyone is heads down in their cell phones. So perhaps it is — or can be.

But technology can also bring us closer to each other, and create a sense of community and connectedness.

I have family living in multiple parts of the country, as well as internationally — California, Florida, England — and I’m here in Wisconsin. My three siblings and I have nine children between us. With that many schedules to coordinate, along with the cost of travel, we are only really able get together in person once every 12 to 18 months or so. For most of our adult lives we would call or email each other from time-to-time, but it never felt satisfying.

And then Google Hangouts came along. We scheduled a weekly “family call” — it’s every week, at the same time (depending on time zone), and everyone who is around at that time logs onto the call. For a couple of years now we’ve been able to literally see how everyone is doing, and watch our nieces and nephews grow up. And because they see us weekly, we’re no longer strangers when we all do get together in person. Technology connects us.

It’s worked the same for me in my professional life, too. I travelled to the EDUCAUSE national conference last month, something I do every year. There are literally thousands of IT professionals who attend the conference, which, honestly, can be incredibly overwhelming for an introvert like me. It’s hard to make friends and meet people. It’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of 7,000. Except I’m active on Twitter at these types of conferences, and that has changed my conference experience. Suddenly, I’m part of a community, sharing thoughts and ideas about the experience with other like-minded people. Being “social”. And the social nature doesn’t end online — the community that is formed there helps to connect us to people offline, too. I recognized people who I had interacted with on Twitter, and they recognized me — starting conversations.

The connections don’t end with conversations or community-building, either. Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to have been introduced into a number of different communities, but also have moved around enough to not stay connected to them — and the people in them — regularly, at least not face-to-face. One of these groups are the folks behind EduSoCal. I now count these three musketeers as dear friends because of the relationships we’ve formed primarily through social media — Facebook and Twitter — supplemented with in-person get togethers at EDUCAUSE and other conferences.

Granted, there’s no substitution for a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, and “real life” interactions. But that’s not always possible. The power of technology to connect us — supplementing, supporting, and sometimes enabling those face-to-face connections — proves that we *can* have both “high tech” and “high touch,” at the same time.

The Only Constant

The only thing that’s constant is change.

Rising tuition costs. Shrinking population of 18-year old students. Increased attention from the federal government. An unsustainable business model. You don’t have to look very far to find a reason why higher education has got to change.

You would think that we would be primed for it. After all, we’re in the business of change. Education — especially in a small, liberal arts college — is about exploration, and transformation. Aka, change. It’s about learning how to learn, and how to apply universally-applicable skills like writing and critical thinking to whatever challenges (job and otherwise) we are presented with in the future. We teach our students to be lifelong learners. And, understanding that the world is constantly changing, prepare them for jobs that have not even been created yet.

And yet we, as institutions and as individuals who work in them, do not seem to want to change. We hang onto our traditions, our structures, our processes…dare I say *afraid* to let go? We are challenged to separate WHAT we do, and the value that it provides, from HOW we do it. We accept change as a given in our personal lives — maybe begrudgingly, but who among us still listens to 8-tracks, wears bell bottoms, or has a “brick” cell phone? So why do we expect (insist, even) that our work — from administrative processes to classroom technology — will remain completely unchanged?

How can we remain credible to our students if we cannot ourselves be lifelong learners? How can we remain relevant to our time if we cannot prepare ourselves for education models that have not yet been created? And why, oh why, are we so resistant to change?

What a Long Strange Year It’s Been…

Extra brownie points to anyone who knows the musical reference in the title. 🙂

It has been quite a year. It’s been over a year since my last post, but it’s not like I’ve been busy or anything. I just moved across country, started a new job, completed a massive reorganization, oversaw the hiring of about a half dozen new staff, renovated our office suite (which included facilitating the move from private offices to an open-concept, office-less workspace), drafted our strategic plan, and got promoted to vice president. Somewhere along the way, I was named as a “rising star” social CIO on Twitter, wrote a reference guide on classroom technology, and was appointed to the NITLE advisory board. So like I said…

Plenty of time to blog. Or not. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to have Some guy named Rae… included as a 2013 “must read” higher education IT blog. What an honor! And a great reason to do something I’ve been meaning and wanting to do anyway — start blogging again.

So I pledge, dear readers, to write at least once per month for the next year. Maybe more, but certainly no less. And with this post, August 2013 is done…right? 🙂

I Think I Broke the Internet (or, Why I Love Student Workers)

We received the following ticket at the Help Desk today, courtesy of a former IT student worker and all-around great guy (apparently, super creative too!):

Subject: I Think I Broke the Internet

Dear Menlo IT badasses,

Today I decided I would be a little reckless. I decided it was a good idea to Google Google. Yes thats right, I Googled Google and now the world is melting down around me. There should be some sort of warning on the page to prevent catastrophic events like this from happening.

Anyway, I was hoping that the amazing people at Menlo OIT could perhaps solve this problem as I am sure the world is very mad at me. There are literally TCP/IP packets just pouring out of my computer and out of the ethernet cables in my room. HELP!

I learned my lesson and I promise that I will never do it again if you guys can get me off the hook this time.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It was really too good not to share. 🙂


Blogging Loves Me, It Loves Me Not…Or Vice Versa

I have a love-hate relationship with blogging.

There are times I have a few extra minutes, I really, really want to blog something, and….nothing. I can’t think of a single thing to say.

And then there are times like today when dozens of thoughts race through my head. I try to make notes for later — must blog about this, and that, and the other. And then when it comes time to write about it? Um, yeah…I forget what I really wanted to say.

Blogging feels a little arrogant and egotistical, like…I have so many important thoughts, I write them in a blog. It also can feel contrived. Trying to come up with something pithy or interesting enough or new to say on a subject. And self-censoring to not offend the sensibilities of…whomever.

Despite all of that…I blog. And I love it. And somehow, through the self-censoring and everything else, it’s still me that comes through. Quirky, geeky, passionate about certain issues, some guy like…me.

So I won’t blog today about the thoughts that were racing through my head. No time for that. 🙂 But I will try harder to remember what it is that I *wanted* to say, and get back to saying.

And to keep me honest, I’ll share the basic thoughts with you: some thoughts from my recent talk about women in the workplace; more on VDI use cases; what’s been consuming my time recently and keeping me from blogging — budgets; the impostor syndrome/not a “real” CIO; immersion into the world of VDI; CIOs as Jean Luc Picard (“make it so”); guilt; vendor sales calls — of which I get a *lot*; and defining problems/disguising solutions as needs.

Which one(s) do you want to read about?

Lesson for the Day

One of my staff emailed the team today with the following lesson of the day:

“It is impossible to juggle if the left hand and the right hand do not communicate.”

Another team member responded with the following:

“Try reinstalling the driver for the left hand. We can virtualize the right hand, then add both hands into a ‘hand pool’. That way the ball can land in whichever hand is available when it starts to fall.”

Awesome. 🙂

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I’ve been at my new job six months, as of this week. Hardly able to call it new, anymore. Much like with any new relationship, there’s a “honeymoon” phase to jobs — where everything is fantastic, all challenges are opportunities, and experiences are enveloped by that happy, glowing, “new relationship” feeling.

Well, the honeymoon’s over, and I’m firmly entrenched in the reality of the situation. And you know what? It *is* fantastic, and the challenges *are* opportunities. I know it sounds very Pollyanna of me, but it happens to be true.

Of course, for the last couple of weeks anyone who knows me well (and even some who don’t), knows that I haven’t felt as optimistic. The things that make me good at what I do can also be my greatest weaknesses. I’m a type-A personality, classic overachiever, perfectionist. I want results, and I want them now. And a few weeks ago I got so bogged down in the details that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

There are a LOT of trees that need attending to in my forest, but I wouldn’t have it any other way (I mean, really, who wants to oversee a perfectly groomed forest? Boooooring.). But on the whole, my forest is *significantly* better maintained and healthier than it was just six months ago. Just today, the help desk ticket queue hit “0”, for the first time since my arrival. Projects are getting planned, and done. Our ERP implementation is on track, and under control. And all anecdotal evidence points to a happier customer base (we’ll know for sure when we do our satisfaction survey next month).

While I was writing this post I saw an ad for The Rachel Maddow Show, in which host Rachel said, “it’s a really great privilege to have a job like this…and I love it.” Plus one, Rachel — I know *exactly* how you feel.

@rclemmons on Twitter

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