Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On building services vs. creating laboratories

This morning at Educause ELI 2015, I heard about experiments at Emory University, University of Oklahoma, and my campus - CSU Channel Islands - with offering faculty & students their own online spaces. This strategy, called "A Domain of One's Own," started with work by Jim Groom & others at University of Mary Washington and is an example of what Gardner Campbell has called "personal infrastructure."

Our version, called CI Keys, was created very quickly, with support from the CSU Chancellor's Office and hosting from Jim & Tim Owens' Reclaim Hosting. Within a few months of the original concept, creative faculty like Jaimie Hoffman were using CI Keys with their students. We now have several hundred users and quite a bit of traffic on the site.

At the ELI session, several people asked valid questions about support and compliance issues. As the campus CIO and most senior administrator on my campus who really understands what's going on with CI Keys, I would be foolish to say that I don't care about these issues. I want to try to explain how I'm thinking about what we're doing.

As CIO I live in the world of providing IT services to campus. IT services should be well-documented, reliable, sustainable, cost-effective, easy-to-use, well-supported, and scalable for a growing campus. While we may not always achieve all those objectives, we certainly try.

CI Keys is something different. I like to think of it as a laboratory for innovation and a place where faculty and students can work together to experiment and learn. As such, it may not have the same characteristics as a "service" (although it's not that expensive & so far has been highly reliable). There should be a sign over the virtual door - "Come on in, explore, play, and be ready for surprises."

So the questions that came up are absolutely valid - and I don't have the answers to many of them. If we had waited until we did, we would never have embarked upon this journey. We are aware that we have a responsibility to students, and that's why we have faculty members actively involved collecting data on how this experiment impacts them. We really don't know what to expect.

Here's how I see it - if universities don't support experimentation and steps into the unknown, we will lose our leadership and miss opportunities. Creating a virtual laboratory like CI Keys is one way to do it. Are there risks? Yes, and they can be mitigated but not eliminated. Sometimes I get a little nervous about this, but I don't have a better alternative.


  1. darn the blog ate my comment!!! It was a pretty long and I forgot to do copy/paste before hitting publish. My bad.
    I was saying (briefer now):
    a. I love your blogging. It's much more than I'd expect of a senior administrator from an IT background - and much more deeply engages the issues that matter for people on the teaching/learning side
    b. this post gets at your philosophy behind CI Keys but I'm still confused as to how you're responding to the questions in the ELI session - would watching the recording help?
    c. (tongue-in-cheek) - how come this blog isn't self-hosted? :)) I felt compelled to get my own domain after that experiment with Jim Groom last year at #et4online where I remotely tested his workshop out before the workshop took place... so glad I did it, even though I had been skeptical beforehand... not sure I can get my institution onto the same thing, though...wonder what it is that compels institutions to try it? Is that in the panel discussion?

  2. Thank you Maha - I appreciate your comments very much. As far as the questions I was answering - at least one was asked verbally during the session and a couple via Twitter - don't really remember, it all blends together in my mind! But to summarize, the question was "Aren't you concerned about support/FERPA/appropriate use/scalability/disabled accessiblity/anything else bad that might happen because you are doing this?" My goal was not to dismiss these valid concerns but to try to explain how we put them in perspective on our campus.

    As far as self-hosting - it's on my list! I'm sure you have a list like that. I did set one up but there were a couple of things that I couldn't immediately see how to do in Wordpress so I've stuck with blogger which I've been using for so many years. I know that Wordpress would do everything I want and more, just haven't had to time or energy to figure it out.

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