Thursday, October 30, 2008

EDUCAUSE 2008 wrap-up

EDUCAUSE is a fun conference, even it it is polished up with kind of branded, corporate veneer and in a grotesque place like Orlando's Convention Center. There is an overflowing exhibitor hall and scads of corporate sponsored dinners and cocktail hours. I was lucky enough to partake in a few of these this time around.

I actually met a lot of counterparts from small college libraries, and this was enjoyable and perhaps a surprise at a national conference for higher ed IT. We didn’t necessarily talk about anything too serious but it was nice to make connections and compare notes on a few things. I did learn that Macalester, in addition to leading the way on Google Apps is also an early adopter of WorldCat Local.

It was unnerving to hear that in light of the financial crisis many liberal arts colleges are making serious budget cuts and putting budget freezes in place, something we haven’t heard much about at my institution.

What did I learn from the formal program?

  • I hit a presentation about data curation projects at some big universities: Indiana University, UC San Diego, Purdue. They involved collaborations between the library and technical computing centers. One of the major challenges was getting someone at the table as research projects that involve data were being proposed, funded and implemented.
  • One of my favorite presentations explored mashup type video projects in undergraduate education at Dartmouth and Penn and made a strong case that these develop a new important kind of literacy. Assignments like this are making their way across the curriculum in poli-sci, composition, language classes.
  • In a discussion session on IT/library collaboration, I learned that our library is behind the curve in experimenting with various merged service desk configurations. Most liberal arts colleges in attendence had done some fruitful experiments with merging IT and library support functions and mixing professional and non-professional staff at support desks.
  • A panel on space planning offered some interesting suggestions on user-centered planning, including impromptu interviews with students working in various spots on campus. It also showcased an ultra-flexible space at Georgia Tech. The guy from Georgia Tech recommended the Convia system for flexible wiring, data cabling, and lighting.
  • Chad Kainz of the University of Chicago gave an update on project Bamboo a rather amorphous humanities cyberinfrastructure planning effort sponsored by Mellon. I won’t try to explain what it is, but it sounds pretty cool.
  • The next day, Kainz also moderated a discussion session on "Faculty: Scholars or Software Developers": the question was how to support faculty that could now go out in the cloud and get or build what they need. The discussion descended into some mundane support issues, but I was able to pipe up about our use of Flickr in accessCeramics as an example of going beyond traditional enterprise-supported systems for a faculty sponsored project. Some people seemed to think it sounded a little risky to use Flickr in such a way.
  • I caught a lunchtime discussion by campus web professionals. Almost everyone is using Google Analytics. Many people put in a plug for Sharepoint, Microsoft's enterprise Wiki/collaboration/content management system. There was some discussion about centralized vs. decentralized control of web design and branding. Most institution-wide designers like some kind of control of the campus brand and there was talk of ways of enforcing this. I'm sympathetic to both the centralized and decentralized schools of thought.
I saw a few other sessions that were kind of lukewarm, so I won't post on them. Overall, though, it was a worthwhile conference.

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