Where is my university? Where does it need to be?

Universities must avail of collaborative technologies to provide real global learning experiences for undergraduates

:Cricket ground at Trinity College Dublin
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I was lucky enough to spend four great years in Trinity College Dublin – way back when (1980-1984) – studying for an engineering degree.  A combination of study, growing up, socialising, forming many friendships which survive to now, playing lots of sport.

We did not have lap tops, we did not have mobile phones, we did not have social networks.

In truth much of what we were taught as undergraduates was as well, if not better covered, in various text books.  There were limited opportunities for practicals, tutorials, projects, opportunities to interact with lecturers and/or Phd dtudents.  These opportunities were actually the potential added value over and above the text books.

As I work and live in a web 2.0 and, increasingly, a web 3.0 world I wonder how my children will participate in 3rd level education – should they choose to do so.

The real opportunity I see for current and future undergraduates is collaboration.   It seems to me that undergraduates attending TCD should be involved in online collaboration with undergraduates and people in industry – based across the world.  The technology allows for this.  The challenge is for the universities to become more open and collaborative.

An interesting piece this week by Kevin Maney in Business Week: Next, An internet revolution in higher education. Kevin, with a slightly different perspective, seems to point to a lot of the same ideas and challenges for third level insitutions.

I think the opportunities in education and ‘global development’ for young people now are greater than ever.  I hope that universities can continue to provide a great experience to be shared by people (predominantly young – but with much more integration with ‘mature’ students) – while exploiting the news technologies to broaden the horizons for all.

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'Friends' in facebook

Been making more use of facebook in the last few weeks.  Hard not to – when 250m people are using it.

Was discussing it with a few different friends.  One said he uses it to keep track of/ stay in touch with people overseas, ie does not see a lot of benefit in using it with people located close by.

I’ve certainly found it useful in terms of renewing acquaintances with people based overseas (e.g. fellow College grads) – and then staying in touch with them.  Interestingly I had two such friends visit Ireland recently and in both cases we failed to catch up, physically.  So my question was: are you pretending you have more friends than you have?  Or has the technology made you so lazy that you don’t make the effort to track someone down physically when they are here on a short vacation?

The truth is that we all continue to live very busy lives.  On a short vacation to the old ‘homeland’ there is not a whole lot of time for all the ‘one on one’ catchups.  But then I was thinking about it – ‘presence’ would probably have made the difference.  We have the technology (google, brightkite, etc) to be aware of someone’s location e.g. if I’m based in the office in the city centre and the overseas visitor happens to be in town then this may be the easist way to catch up for a coffee or whatever – without any mahor diary planning, etc.

To some this will feel like another invasion of privacy – to others a way fo making the technology work to support physical relationships.  And the technology should be good enough for you to control who may be aware of your presence, in which time frame and even in which general location.  All just about possible now.

Would suggest that www.brightkite.com is worth a look.

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Making online collaboration work

In a conversation with the managing director (I will call him ‘Tom’) at a client a few weeks ago I felt I was in a time warp. I remember those conversations around: don’t want to give them PC’s because they’ll spend all day on their pc’s, don’t want them to have internet access because they’ll spend all day surfing. Tom was talking about why he didn’t want his staff accessing facebook etc. while in the office. And he was clear: it’s a distraction, keeps them from getting their job done.

A few days later we took time out to have a conversation.

Tom recruits a significant number of graduates each year. All of these people (with some small number of exceptions) are regular users of social networks such as Bebo & Facebook. They generally IM throughout the day. Many of them use twitter. Very few of them buy newspapers (they may read free papers on public transport). They use mobile devices for music, radio, telephone, IM. Many of them have their own blogs.

At senior managemenet level (generally 45-55) things are a little different. They all use mobile phones, most use blackberries to access email when out on the road. Very few use twitter. The majority read a daily newspaper and listen to radio. Very few use IM and almost none have personal blogs.

Social networking and the web is how this younger generation communicate and inform themselves. They have run and organised their lives using technology in a different way. Their attitude to news and information is different – they have an expectation that they can personalise it to themselves – not what is provided in a generic newspaper. They want it to be up to date and available when they want it. Likewise they expect to communicate with each other on an informal and unstructured way – via IM, using presence, etc. All of this works very well for them.

The senior management team is well aware of the technologies and the changes. In fact this group is using all of the technologies – even if moving a little slower. This is explained by (1) coming to it later and (2) being held back because not all their peers are comfortable with it. However through their kids, their work experiences, etc. they are more than familiar with what’s ‘going down’.

I asked Tom what were his criteria in recruitng a graduate. He mentioned: aptitude for the work, ability, ambition, education, likely fit for the organisation, ability to work in teams, social skills, willingness to learn. Not unusual.

My initial comment to Tom was to congratulate him on recruiting some very smart people. These people can helpTom to train and support his senior management team – if Tom encourages and supports this. Tom’s thinking was programmed the other way – the senior management team will train the new recruits. This ‘upladder training’ provides the opportunity to kick start a level of collaboration and team work not previously experienced in Tom’s company. From day 1 there should be a give and take – people sharing ideas and knowledge, learning from each other. But it needs a mindset change.

We then dicussed how Tom sees people learning and innovation in the company. Tom referenced the inhouse training program, the external courses to be attended, professional exams and, most importantly, ‘on the job’ training. I asked him how many of his senior guys participate in web based fora (to answer queries), publish papers on the web, etc. He had no idea and had no expectation that they would do so.

I suggested to Tom that he should survey his staff to determine how active they are on the web – in terms of active participation in relevant groups – including using twitter to follow and interact with other experts across the world. While his initial reaction was one of concern at the thought that his people may be giving out opinions on professional matters on the web he agreed to follow up.

The situation has moved on very quickly in the last two years or so. The idea that Tom would attempt to shut his people off from the rest of the web (or at best limit their access ie censor their activities) is dated and flawed thinking. Tom’s company will succeed or fail on the back of his team. He needs to find every which way possible to encourage and develop team activities and collaboration (hierarchical structures and thinking needs to be managed/ eliminated). And this collaboration cannot be restricted to his own enterprise. He needs his people networking and leveraging thier contacts to drive his enterprise’s capabilities and knowledge.

Tom had already seen the benefit of the web in terms of google search, online advertising, client communications. But that’s only one element of it. He needs to use it to enable and drive collaboration and knowledge management.

The case for collaboration – Irish universities

The recently announced collaborative efforts between Trinity College and University College Dublin were announced in the context of creating new, sustainable jobs.  Clearly caught the attention of the other universities – given their more recent announcement of collaboration.   These collaborative efforts seem to include attempts to find cost savings/ efficiencies through sharing of backoffice resources.

Collaboration both within the enterprise and across the globe must be key for Irish universities.  These types of initiative are making the news – but should be seen as ‘meat and drink’ to leading learning organisations.

Looking forward to the fruits of third level collaboration.

Moving on from traditional thinking

I guess it’s challenging for all of us who have worked for the last 25 years.  In my final year in Trinity College Dublin I was writing Assembler for the Motorola 68000 chip.  The Mac was about to burst on the scene.  Since then I have worked in a Professional Service Firm, my own IT consulting business and with a number of start up businesses.

Many of us have come to think of the business entity as the key business unit – be it a company, a group of companies, a sole trader, a partnership.  And businesses do business with other businesses – ordering, buying, selling, etc.  And each business operates to a set of standards – standards to meet their own expectations and those of their customers.  Many of the standards are driven, underpinned or enforced by external agencies e.g. State, Professional bodies, Insurerers, regulators.

The web has had all sorts of impacts on business – the emergence of online B2B abd B2C, major reengineering of processes and business themselves, globalisation on a par not expected.

And now the web is throwing new opportunities and challenges at all of us.  In fact one can only wonder if we had had this web 10 years ago what types of businesses would have been built over the last 10 years?  Which businesses would never have existed?

Even back in 1984 in TCD we were collaborating – as we worked in a group of three students to design our basic computer.  We also collaborated on the cricket field as we set traps for opposition batsmen.  And we collaborated in preparing for exams – through sharing of lecture notes, etc.

But what we are witnessing now is a series of developments – Social networking, Semantic web, the cloud – which when combined mean that those who do not collaborate risk being eliminated.  We have often discussed the importance of knowledge management within the organisation – even between partner organisations.  However the tools beginning to emerge now promise to facilitate collaboration and knowledge management on a scale previously unimagined – right across the globe, the web and time.  ultimately traditional business practices and structures must be transformed to enable society to benefit from what’s beginning to happen.

Patient doctor collaboration

Interesting post on project healthdesign: The Doctor’s Role in a Health 2.0 World.

Describing the patient as the ceo for his own body ie he takes responsibility, while the doctro is described as the consultant – advising the patient, seems like a good model, which reinforces the idea that the patient needs to manage his own lifesytyle, etc.

The other interesting obeservation relates to the general ‘information overload’ being experienced by all of us in all walks of life.  It is quite possible that a patient may know a great deal more about his specific condition than the doctor providing the advice.  However the doctor hopefully brings a broader picture and understanding.  Seems no reason why the patient and doctro should not collaborate in advaincing the situation.  Of course this does tend to turn the more traditional doctor/ patient model on its head.