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The Weekly Blab 7.1

The Weekly Blab

Volume 7, Issue 1—August 13, 2012


It Was a Short Summer…

There once was a time that things slowed down in the summer and you could take things a bit easier.  Those days are long gone, and this summer shot by in the wink of an eye.  Now the new term is upon us, and things look pretty good.  Enrollment looks like it will be up (unlike at most campuses in the USG), and while we’re faced with yet another budget cut (3-5%), we’re in good fiscal shape and it won’t affect our academic operations.  We’re working on some big stuff that will help set us up for the future, more about which will come in future issues.  For now, here are a few things that went on over the summer since the last BLAB, lo so many months ago.

The 4th annual Polytechnic Summit (the second held at SPSU) was held from June 6-8 and went very well.  Some relevant statistics were that more than 200 people attended, and there were more than 100 papers or posters presented.  The large number of papers wound up requiring us to have four concurrent sessions throughout most of the Summit.  The sessions I went to were well attended, the papers were quite good, and there was much lively discussion.

The keynote speakers were George Mehaffy (from AASCU) who spoke on “The Changing Context for Higher Education”, and Nick Gillian (from the Responsive Environments Group at the MIT Media Lab) who spoke about real-time gesture recognition software for musician-computer interaction as a metaphor for what is possible when the liberal arts and computer technology fuse together.  Both talks were very well received and conference attendees said that they were right on the money. 

The gala evening event on June 7 was at the Tellus Museum in Cartersville, and drew a very large turnout.  I had never been to the Tellus before, and was expecting a small-scale museum.  What a pleasant surprise!  The museum is fantastic—beautiful exhibit spaces, and wonderful exhibits of many kinds.  The one that drew my attention the most was a wall-sized periodic table of the elements with samples of all the elements (except the radioactive ones!) of course, but other first-rate exhibits were about Georgia geology (including a very cool exhibit of phosphorescent and luminescent minerals), a great set of dinosaur exhibits, and a really interesting gallery of classic cars and other forms of transportation.  The dinner was great too, and the evening culminated in the “Trip Through Space” planetarium show.

The closing keynote was given by David Caudill, Tom Ball, Russ Hunt, and me, and was about “The New Normal in Higher Education”—about challenges we are facing from higher expectations at the same time as reduced funding, and challenges we face from online course providers.  We talked about some potential solutions, including the offering of converged courses (courses that are offered in multiple modalities simultaneously, in which students can change modality as their personal circumstances dictate).  It also drew a strong response and much discussion.  A big thank you to everyone who worked so hard on the Summit, and to everyone who attended and participated.  Special big thanks to Dawn Ramsey, Bill Prigge, and Ann Lay, who handled the logistics for the Summit with their usual aplomb.

The 5th Polytechnic Summit will be on June 5-7 at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, so those of you planning to attend should begin getting your papers ready.  The third issue of the Journal of Polytechnic Studies will appear in the fall, and contain papers from the 4th Summit.

The Summit was quickly followed by the Adult Learning Consortium Conference, which was held in Savannah June 18-20.  Savannah is always a great place to visit, and the hotel we stayed at was across the river, right next door to the Civic Center where the conference was held.  There are little boats that go across the river from the Civic Center to the downtown river walk every 20 minutes or so, so wife Jill and son Mark had a fine ol’ time.  I gave two talks at the Conference, one on SPSU’s articulation with the TCSG (which was an invited talk—I had previously given it, also by invitation, at the Complete College Georgia Conference in March), and the other about the Converged Course Model we are developing and implementing in various departments.  Coauthors on the Converged talk included David Caudill, Russ Hunt, Tom Ball, Becky Rutherfoord, Andy Wang, Pam Frinzi, and Scott Larisch.  Lots of interesting topics came up at the Conference, including a discussion of the fiscal model for prior learning assessment (and online courses in general), a new initiative from the USG called eMajor, and an update on how PLA will interact with Complete College Georgia.  I got to meet the new Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (Houston Davis) for the first time, and he seems to be a gung-ho guy who will be pushing in a lot of productive directions.

After the ALC Conference, it was time to wrap up SPSU’s Complete College Georgia Report.  Every campus was required to submit a 10-page report telling what they were going to do to increase both their number of graduates and their graduation rates.  There were certain “required” strategy areas, including K-12 outreach, outreach to adult and military students, improving success rates in gateway courses, improving course delivery models, and improving remediation (if they did remediation—we don’t at SPSU).  It was expected that all initiatives should come with specific goals and be backed with data.  Dave Cline, Kelly Preston, Becky Rutherfoord, Bob Homer, and I worked for several weeks to develop the data sets that Complete College Georgia and Complete College America called for.  As is usual for this sort of thing, the definitions related to the desired data are never all that clear and you have to make all sorts of decisions about how to calculate them.  The strategies were based on the prospectus we had submitted a month earlier and all tie in to our current Strategic Plan.  The draft plan was circulated to the Senior Staff, Deans, and Chairs (who in turn shared it with as many of their staff and faculty as time allowed), before the due date of July 1 (which was actually a Sunday!). 

The various CCG plans were reviewed over the next month by review committees, made up of several USG VPAA’s and Board of Regents staff.  I was asked to chair one of them and it was pretty interesting to read (and critique) plans from other universities.  All campuses were sent their reviews on August 2, and ours came out very well.  Along with some suggestions, the summary judgment was that it was well-written and had a high likelihood for success.  We’ll have an open forum this Friday, and be submitting a final report (responding to the suggestions) a few days later.

I’ll stop there, and continue this thread next week.  Look forward to some discussion on the Regents Advisory Committee on Academic Affairs meeting, and what’s new with the BoR Shared Services Committee.  I know you can hardly wait!


Changes on Campus

As mentioned at the faculty meeting, there are a number of changes on campus, most of which are positive in my opinion.   We’re continuing to upgrade our space, with two big projects nearing completion.  One is in Building G, where the second floor now has a corridor running through it (you used to have to cut through classrooms or go outside), both floors are being modernized and brightened up, and there have been some lab improvements. 

The Building I project’s final phase is nearing completion.  The ultimate result will be a total renovation of Building I, with a new wing and elevator (completed about a year ago), new windows, a totally redone first floor, and a beautiful piazza between the two wings.  The result should show what is possible with some of our older buildings, which many thought only had a future of being torn down.

Another change is the completion of the new greenhouse, alongside the solar panels near the Engineering Technology Center.  This project is a good illustration of the principle that a project may appear to only cost a little, but wind up costing much more when all costs are figured in.  The greenhouse kit itself was relatively cheap, but preparing the site, running in electricity and water, and building the brick foundation and siding raised the final cost considerably—the total price was four times the price of the greenhouse kit itself. 

I’m mentioning this because we’re changing the way we do projects as we go into the future.  We’ll collectively be discussing projects and space reconfiguration requests at the Deans Council before I approve them, because sometimes by modifying a project a little (or by spending a little more), something that would have a narrow use for a single program can have a broader use for multiple areas.  Other times, a missing component in a project can be identified.  After the project is approved in Academic Affairs, our colleagues in Buildings and Grounds and in IT take a look, because there are implications and costs that aren’t always obvious up front.  For example, many of our buildings have reached the upper limit of their IT capacity and some of the IT infrastructure is obsolete.  We’re developing plans to determine how much additional IT capacity we have and also for upgrading the infrastructure.

I’ll mention one other major change—we’re changing learning management system (LMS) from Vista to Desire 2 Learn (D2L).  D2L will be the only system available for teaching this coming spring—no more Vista.  Pretty much everyone agrees that D2L is a big improvement, but there will be transition issues (there always are) and faculty will need to learn to use the new system (and unlearn some things they had to do in the past in the old LMS).  Since this change isn’t trivial, we’re offering two “boot camp” workshops, each of which is two hours long.  Part 1 will be offered in September, and Part 2 in October.  All faculty who teach in Vista need to sign up for and participate in these workshops.  As a small incentive, we’ll be providing everyone who completes both parts with an online toolkit, which will contain several nice quality useful tools.  I know I can count on everyone who uses Vista to participate—it’s a critical step forward for the University.  What’s happening for those of you who don’t use Vista?  Some plans will appear next issue, ‘cause we’re still working out the final details.


Last Time’s Trivia Contest

It was a long time ago, wasn’t it?  The questions all had to do with the word “get”.  First with the most right answers was Tom Rotnem (SIS), with a fabulous four correct.   The correct answers are below.

  1. Lincoln wrote it on the back of an envelope.  Gettysburg Address
  2. Jo Jo (of Tucson AZ) and Loretta Martin needed to do this. Get Back
  3. What a cowboy says to a motherless calf. Get Along, Little Dogie
  4. Matthew 16:23, also the Fifth album by the White Stripes.  Get Behind Me Satan
  5. Expression from the Dutch “to burst into a sudden rage”.  You can find a hint to the phrase in “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. Get Your Dander UpDonder is Dutch for  “thunder”, the same word origin as Santa’s two reindeer Donder and Blitzen (thunder and lightning).  So now you know.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

For no reason whatsoever, this week’s questions all have something to do with the number “3”.  Usual rules apply:  the first person with the most correct win the fabulous prize (a cd or whatever else I come up with from the vast Szafran repository). 

  1. One used straw, one used sticks, and one used bricks.
  2. Nursery rhyme starting with “Rub-a-dub Dub”.
  3. Do it and you’re out.
  4. Drunk.
  5. According to the great geologist Louis Agassiz: First, people say it conflicts with the Bible; second, they say it was discovered before; and third, they say that they always believed it.