Students Out PR Professionals

As a Valdosta State University student, we nicknamed the student paper the Speculator. Incorrectly reading between the lines were their specialty. Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes were part of their standard. But it was amusing to see them go after the administration. Not so much to be reported on when I made big mistakes.

As university staff, I made the Spectator in information technology articles on viruses, online elections, WebCT upgrade, and the portal. At first they made me nervous because I worried about them finding out about the skeletons. After a couple interviews, it became obvious they had no idea about the skeletons and would only cursory look at the topic without digging very deep. So it would good publicity and exposure.

The Red & Black as a daily published much more that the Speculator. Last year the paper moved to a weekly print but daily web. This week several students (Editor-in-Chief, other editors, photographers, etc) all quit in reaction to a memo placing editorial control in the hands of non-students and hiring professionals to take over more decisions in the creative process. Immediately the students setup a web site, Red and Dead, a Twitter account @redanddead815, a Facebook page. Their Twitter account was suspended for gaining followers too quickly.

At present, the whole story is extremely one-sided. A couple statements from the R&B board against the draft memo, dozens of statements, bloggers, and newspaper articles like the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times, and Washington Post critical of the board. It is like the board is not even trying? Or unaware or unable to use the public relations avenues available to them. None of this means they are in the wrong or think they are in the wrong. It just helps the rush to judgment against them.

Maybe these students are in the wrong field? Public relations seems to be their strength.

One of Many

The Learning Management System (LMS) has been a despised technology by some ever since I started working with one, WebCT, in 1999. At the time it was deemed crappy technology that had to improve or die. So today in 2012, about 13 years later, I have to roll my eyes at the pundits writing about how the current technology has not significantly changed in a decade (really more than a decade) because it still offers the same tools and will die unless it adapts.

My first few years, 2006-2010, of working at GeorgiaVIEW, our active user counts doubled every 1.5 years. We plateaued at around 290,000 and grow a few thousand a year. Numbers of actions in the system still doubles every 1.5 year. That is insane growth. Growth unlikely fueled by people despising use of the tool. Right now, we are getting pressure to migrate Summer 2012 content for the Fall 2012 start in Desire2Learn1 because instructors roll over the classes from term-to-term. That speaks of long term consistent loyal use not occasional only as little as have to use. For something on the verge of death, it is hard enough keeping the users happy.

I am a database administrator not a faculty member (or dean or vice president for academic affairs or provost). It seems to me though no one would say, “When you teach a class, the white board in the room is the only tool you can use.” Instead, the push would be to add to the available tools in a neverending pursuit of finding better ones. So we see pressures to integrate the LMS with a variety of similar specialized services. Many are textbook replacements or supplementary services designed specifically for student needs. Others are social media. More and more the LMS is just a portal: a place to organize where students really go to learn.

Also, as an IT guy, I think it is important to have a plan B. Things sometimes fail. As a student I was always annoyed when the instructor had to leave the room for 20% of the class to go track down a piece of chalk because the remaining ones were too small to write. I applauded once in my junior year because the instructor happened to have a piece of chalk in her purse just for that contingency. Similarly, faculty members and even students should think about what to do when the LMS is not there. Heck, what should they do if everything the university IT runs like the web sites, email, portal, and network all disappear. It can happen.

When the university bureaucracy selects and administrates a tool, they will adhere to university policy which adheres to higher education laws. When a faculty member selects and administrates a tool, they should do the same. Unfortunately, that means the faculty member becoming familiar with policy and law. Another challenge is running into different interpretations. An example: a user following @VSUENGL1101 on Twitter could be reasonably expected to be a student at Valdosta State University enrolled in the subject English class 1101. Some say that violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Some disagree, so it is being debated. The law is old and did not likely anticipate social media, so naturally there is movement towards an update.

I doubt the LMS will simply die because there is something better. Instead it will remain one of many tools for years to come. Like the land line, television, JavaScript, still camera, WiFi, non-smartphone, and (God forbid) pagers.

Note 1: Desire2Learn objects to their product being called an LMS. They prefer Learning Environment on the grounds it integrates with so many other tools.

P.S. This totally is from a sustaining technology perspective. Guess I should write this from a disruptive technology perspective.

ITS Spotlight Article

A Georgia native, Ezra graduated from Valdosta State University (VSU) with a BS in Psychology. While an undergraduate student, he worked at VSU’s Odum library until his last term when the Information Technology department hired him as a Cooperative Education student for the Campus Webmaster. Writing code and solving problems banished his thoughts of a career sitting at a reference desk and finding sources for other students’ papers. To retain Ezra as an employee, VSU’s IT department created a new position and eventually made him the Campus Webmaster. The role expanded from just managing servers and pages for the WWW web site and a few custom web applications to including the online class system, portal, 75 department web sites, and oversight of three students.

In March 2006, Ezra joined ITS to become the newest of three database and middleware administrators for GeorgiaVIEW. This program provides a platform for online classes to most USG institutions. In just under five years, GeorgiaVIEW has grown from 5,523 (spring 2006) to 34,581 (fall 2010) active sections, from two production clusters/databases to 10, and from about 40 web servers to 140. The technical support Ezra, Amy Edwards, and George Hernandez provide prevents cascading meltdowns. Sometimes students and their faculty never experience the problems. Ezra believes that this makes all the 4:00 a.m. false alarms worth it. Amy adds that “Ezra is committed to working for the common ITS goal of providing a quality online learning environment for our USG campuses” and quotes Dwight D. Eisenhower to sum up how she feels about working with Ezra: “It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you.”

When not working, Ezra pursues several interests. In February 2010, he traveled to Haifa, Israel for pilgrimage to the holy places of the Bahá’í Faith. Just after joining ITS, Ezra bought a dSLR camera and is currently involved with social photography clubs. His favorite subject so far is the Eastern Box Turtle at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Also, Ezra has been writing a blog for more than a decade, “Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric.”

Connotations of a Pronoun

Ezra Freelove, Information Technology

“When she saw that the web address was wrong on letterhead, she helped us correct the problem. Thank you, Ezra!
Valdosta State University I Caught You Caring

I do recall an occasion while at VSU in which I noticed a memo telling people to go to an address using “www.” when the host didn’t support that as an alias of the host. So I contacted the DNS folks and got new aliases so it would work.

Why she? It suggests whomever wrote this knows very little about me.

A Blogosphere Ecology

This is an article a former coworker, Bernie Gunder, helped me write for Focus On, a guest topic section of Portico, a Valdosta State University paper.

A Blogosphere Ecology

My name is Ezra Freelove, ‘99, and I’m a 29-year-old self-professed computer geek and technology professional who spends more hours in front of a computer than I care to admit. So what could possibly compel me to still sit in front of a computer when I go home? No, it is not only to do more work when I get home. I am also a blogger. Blogging took the world by storm a few years ago, me included. You may even know a blogger or two.

About five years ago a friend at UGA, Lacey Gerard, ’01, started me on this time consuming hobby. She showed me a web page she started at Pitas.com. I started a site there as well out of sheer curiosity. It was a good way to keep up with a friend 4 hours away in another city. Soon I found myself spending 10-20 hours a week blogging—reading friends’ blogs, posting on my own site and consuming all the blogosphere had to offer. My pastime has developed in to a mini obsession; at last count my blog subscriptions totaled more than 300. I relish reading blogs about the technology industry, science and geekdom in general. For instance, Mike McBride at http://mikemcbrideonline.com/ writes about his daily trials in “Life of a one-man IT department”. Just as in everyday life, my online interests vary. My armchair coaching of Manchester United is encouraged by http://fcmanu.blogspot.com/. Some wonder why I am not an attorney in copyright law based on how excited I get from reading Ernie the Attorney at http://www.ernietheattorney.net/ or http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/. I watch for the wonderful photos posted at http://fiftymillimeter.com/ and http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/. At one point I even frequented a blog about conversations someone overheard while riding the bus every day. The one constant in my blogging experience has been maintaining and developing friendships.

My friends and I have found blogging to be a great way to keep in touch. Over the years we have consistently read and commented about each others’ entries. We have shared the changing events of our lives and provided eclectic insights on various topics. We both post tons of photos, share funny stories and post random thoughts. Leading up to their wedding, Lacey at http://lay-c.com/log/ http://gerards.tumblr.com/ and Myk (no longer active) both wrote extensively regarding all the work involved and excitement they felt. Another friend, George at http://lay-c.com/george/ http://www.toastforbrekkie.com/, works for NASA and provides great food for thought. Two recent alumna of VSU, Michelle and Sarah, both ’05, wrote about their struggles to find a good job after graduation and entering the real world. The majority of my friends who have blogs post about the every day things: going to class or work, redecorating their houses, taking a great trip somewhere, or attending a fun party the previous night. We are not alone. Every day millions of people make entries about the events going on in their lives.

Millions of people saying exactly what they want can some times create trouble. The Internet provides a false sense of anonymity or freedom that often we lack offline. In everyday life, we typically censor ourselves. This is not always the case online; sometimes people say things that get them into trouble. Mark Jen, author of http://99zeros.blogspot.com/, made national headlines for his getting fired from Google for the content of his blog. Some of my blogging friends and I have discussed the concepts of Freedom of Speech and how it applies to blogging. In the end, I believe the trick is really to not write anything you would not be happy for your mother or boss or child to read. Google saves a cache of web pages. So even should you delete a web page, others could possibly still read it. While everyone should be responsible about the personal and professional information they place on blogs, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Many non-bloggers think of blogs as only public diaries with entries about personal events but they often transition from online diaries into communication tools for the masses. Individuals in the center of major events often report on their experiences. I have read personal accounts of the towers falling on 9/11, bombs falling near homes in Baghdad, and flood waters rising in New Orleans. These accounts of important events provide a perspective otherwise difficult for traditional news media to provide. Blogs have made it possible for the average person to help shape society’s understanding of worldwide events.

Extremely popular blogs have evolved into online editorials on news events. These are run by professional bloggers who started off as regular bloggers but found they could make money by placing ads on their sites. They draw millions of readers by being an information resource. Popular sources of political commentary are http://wonkette.com/, http://dailykos.com/, and http://instapundit.com/. Blog style postings and polls of supporters have even become political or commercial marketing tools such as the Howard Dean campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States popularized in early 2003. Even VSU uses blog technologies such as the news RSS feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/ValdostaStateUniversity to inform others about events on campus.

Many blogs are much more specialized. As an information technology and higher education professional, I read a number of k-logs or knowledge logs. Other professionals describe their experiences creating, implementing, or using programs (whether software or educational). Important figures of the IT world, like Robert Scoble at http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/, post regarding where they see the industry headed. We not so important figures of the IT world often hang upon these gleanings as important revelations regarding where the industry is headed. As blogs penetrate every industry, they are becoming more and more valuable resources. They are quietly replacing magazines and journals for professionals to keep up in their industry.

The great theme of the Internet is bringing the world together through easier communication. Friends living at great distances often stay in touch by email. Blogs fit perfectly into this theme. Writers now have simple tools to publish their thoughts, syndication allows readers to keep track of favorite sites, and readers provide back comments. As with other Internet technologies, at first it was just the techies like me which embraced them. Next, the commercial companies embraced the use. This dispersed use of blogs widely and encouraged standardization so now the tools are widely available to anyone. So now is the best time to join the blogosphere. I hope to see you out there either as a reader or a writer.

About the Author

Ezra Freelove works for Valdosta State University in Enterprise Infrastructure Systems as a System Support Specialist. For the past 6 years he has managed various VSU web systems and applications such as the main web site, WebCT, and BlazeNet. On occasion he has even created web applications such as the election system used by Student Life for Homecoming.

In addition to work, he maintains a list of his various blogs at his personal web site located at http://ezrasf.com/. Please email < > with questions regarding this story.

About Focus On

Focus On is a forum in which guest writers examine various topics in their profession and/or field of study. The ideas conveyed in this essay do not necessarily express the views of Valdosta State University. Those interested in contributing an article or essay should e-mail with the subject line Focus On.

Sidebars/pullouts

  1. What’s a blog? A blog (weB LOG) is basically a journal that is available on the web. The activity of updating a blog is “blogging” and someone who keeps a blog is a “blogger.” Blogs are typically updated daily using software that allows people with little or no technical background to update and maintain the blog. The Blogosphere is the current state of all information available on blogs and/or the sub-culture of those who create and use blogs. http://www.matisse.net/files/glossary.html#B
  2. Supporting stats from Pew Internet
    By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture. Two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November established new contours for the blogosphere: 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of internet users; 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online; and 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs. Still, 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is. http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp
  3. Blogging 101
    You could start a blog of your own in less time than it took to finish reading this article. Simply use the Blogger.com service at http://blogger.com/ and follow the instruction on the main page. If more control is your style but do not want to go through the trouble of installing and maintaining the blog software, then consider the free LiveJournal at http://www.livejournal.com/ or inexpensive TypePad at http://www.typepad.com/. If you lean towards true geekiness and want to install your own software, then turn to WordPress at http://www.wordpress.org/ and Movable Type at http://www.sixapart.com/movabletype/.
  4. Blogger Profile [Ezra]:
    My blog: http://www.livejournal.com/users/sneezypb/
    Years spent blogging: 5
    Top five favorite blogs
    http://lay-c.com/log/ http://gerards.tumblr.com/
    http://lay-c.com/george/ http://www.toastforbrekkie.com/
    http://fiftymillimeter.com/
    http://mikemcbrideonline.com/blogger.html
    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms