Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CI Keys: Defending the pilot, questioning the adoption curve

It was just over a year ago that Chris Mattia and I heard Jim Groom at the 2014 ET4Online conference speak about the Domain of One's Own project at University of Mary Washington. His effective evocation of the early days of the "tilde space" struck a chord with me, and suggested that making it easy for faculty and students to have an online space that was fully under their control might be a solution to the frustration that some faculty on my campus have had using the LMS and similar tools. By the time we were halfway out of the room we said "hey, we should do this, we can do this!" and then found Gerry Hanley from the Cal State Chancellor's Office who promised to support us with seed money.

Just a few months later we had created and launched CIKeys as a "laboratory" for CSU Channel Islands. It was truly a "Field of Dreams" project - build it, and believe that someone will come. And it was definitely a pilot - we tried to make it clear to everyone who is involved that this was an experiment, a laboratory to try something out, with no long term commitment that it would continue. Sometimes you do the research and the planning and build a service with the confidence that the campus wants and needs it and will use it - and sometimes you just have a hunch that it will work for someone, so you try it out. (The first project I did like that was connecting my campus to the Internet in 1990...)

Well, come they did. A dozen faculty and hundreds of students have created 400 sites. (This is on a campus with just over 100 full-time faculty and 5000 students, so these numbers are significant.) A dozen more faculty spent 2 days in our faculty space learning about CI Keys so they could incorporate it into their Fall courses. And now, we're committed to supporting it and taking it as far as we can. You can learn a lot about what people are actually doing with CI Keys, and how it impacts faculty and students, from Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Jill Leafstedt, and Jamie Hoffman. We agreed we'd each publish a blog post about CI Keys simultaneously and see what we come up with.

Here's a few things I've learned (or relearned):

  1. Follow your heart. Sometimes it's worth trying something just because it seems like a good idea, even if you don't know how it will work.
  2. Pilots can be a good idea. If you don't really know whether or how something will be used, trying it out a low cost and low scale CAN be useful, despite some doubts. Some pilots fail because they are bad ideas - nice to find that out quickly and cheaply rather than launching a complete campus-wide service and then finding out. Worse, if your expensive campus-wide service is a failure, there's a strong temptation to claim it's a success and try to force it down people's throats. After all, you made that investment, it's too big to fail! Yes, scaling up can be hard, but there's still a place for pilots and organic evolution of services. (And see 4 & 5 below- scaling up can be a whole lot easier than it used to be!)
  3. Question the curve. I am coming to question the usefulness of the innovation diffusion curve in Ed Tech. First of all there's an implicit value judgment that early adopters are better than late adopters - not to mention the infamous laggards. Not all technology adoption is useful, to say the least, and some is downright harmful. Second, why is success measured as universal adoption? If 20% of the faculty at my campus find CI Keys to be a useful and even transformational tool for encouraging student learning, does that necessarily mean that the other 80% are missing something by not using it? Perhaps, but I'm not so sure. It's nice to think that we can provide a single tool for everyone to use but we can see where that's gotten us. Instead, some will use institutional tools, some will use open source, some will use commercial tools, and faculty and students will use different tools (really, media) to accomplish different things. Is that hard from an ed tech support position? No doubt! But I think that's the world we live in, not one where we always think in terms of scale-up and universal adoption - that ship has sailed.
  4. Use the cloud. Cloud computing can make innovation a lot cheaper and faster! It was very easy for us to work with Reclaim Hosting to launch this environment - thanks Jim & Timmy! There was almost no "IT" work involved, except for...
  5. Single-Sign On always wins. By tying CI Keys to our Shibboleth environment, there's no need to create new ID's or provision service on CI Keys - a new user just uses their campus login and they can launch or access their CI Keys space. Instant scale-up! So that was the main IT investment - and it was just a few hours to set it up and test it. 
That's my perspective from the second floor. Be sure to read what Michelle, Jill, and Jaimie have to say about the impact on teaching and learning - that's what really matters. (I promised I would post my reflections before reading theirs - I can't wait to see what they have to say!) I'm just glad that a hunch and a little support from the CSU Chancellor's Office has paid off big-time. Thanks to the entire team, including my partner-in-crime Chris Mattia who has moved on to other ventures but was instrumental in creating CI Keys, and who came up with the name.

Photo Credit: OldOnliner@Flickr (cc by-nc-nd 2.0)