Another tough gig – I enter the lion’s den

Infrastructure is augmented

A few months back I got an intriguing invitation. An organizer for the IT4BC conference, a gathering of IT staff from the province’s educational instituions, wrote to tell me that I had been nominated as a keynote speaker. An anonymous person suggested I would be an ideal choice to represent those who make life hellish for on-campus IT professionals. Really, I have pissed off so many IT people at UBC and beyond it could have been anyone.

Glutton for abuse that I am, I couldn’t resist. I submitted the following abstract for my opening talk:

Confessions of a Royal Pain in the Butt

Our keynote speaker has been working closely with UBC’s IT professionals for years, and has consistently vexed them with his unorthodox demands and unwillingness to specify use cases. Brian will attempt to defend his shockingly lax approach to planning as a grounded philosophy intended to foster user autonomy and innovation. He will also review some approaches to web strategy that are emerging outside of campus environments, such as open access to content and open APIs, and attempt to make a case why we need to learn from these efforts and apply them within our educational institutions.

I see that the organizers deleted my concluding sentence, which was: “Attendees are responsible for bringing their own projectiles.” I guess that means suitable throwables will be provided in the conference loot bag.

I intend to have some fun with this talk, but I also see this as a rare opportunity for useful dialogue, given the audience. As of now, I intend to cover some of the following themes or topics — but they have yet to cohere for me, so please excuse the mess:

* The rise of personal learning environments, and the contrast with the “course management system” approach.

* Rich online course environments that don’t use campus IT systems. The benefits of free third-party tools.

* The perils of pushing students to third-party tools, including conflicts with British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), which appears to make it illegal to require students to use American-based services (because that PATRIOT Act is whack).

* Why it’s pointless to plan in a traditional sense.

* The changing infrastructural environment (ie what happens when you can do massive web innovation on 6.95 a month).

* The importance of open content, open licensing, open formats (no matter what the topic is, you can bet I’ll work this stuff in for any talk I do).

* Mash-ups and open APIs on campus.

I am scheduled to give the talk Thursday morning, and the next couple days already look rather packed. So while I’m not quite panicked enough to send out one of my periodic cries for help, input certainly is welcome. And as the image above illustrates, I am hoping to employ the Blackall/Levine method of reworking CC licensed images, at least in part. So if there are themes, or better yet images, resources or examples you’d recommend, please (please! PLEASE!) feel free to pass them on.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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14 Responses to Another tough gig – I enter the lion’s den

  1. Scott Leslie says:

    This is excellent news! So if you really wanted to start it off with a bang, you could pull the same trick as Walt Mossberg (, wish I had a subscription to read the full article) and tell them that “large technology departments are slowing down the progress of mankind.” Heh heh. That would go over well.

  2. Brian says:

    Scott, that suggestion might be a little TOO good. [cue maniacal laughter]

  3. Will there be a webcast? I wanna see!

  4. Jim says:

    Be careful up there, Brian. You are a sitting duck. One potential item that make be of use is the vintage DEVO “D’ont Shoot Vest” -

    Additionally, you may consider raising the issue of the relationship between the disappearance of the lab coat in regards to all things computer related and the steady decline of their sense of importance and authority. If IT departments re-donned the lab coat (moving away from this hippie trend of business casual) we may very well see IT departments everywhere returned to their former state of gloriously unquestioned power and authority.

    In short, nothing says success like a lab coat!

  5. Brian says:

    Patricia, not aware of a webcast, but who knows? If I remember to do it, I’ll record some audio. It won’t be as exciting as watching the inevitable lynch mob simulcast live on your screen, but at least some aspects of the carnage will be captured for posterity.

    Jim, not sure about the Devo vest, but am now giving serious thought to acquiring a lab coat. In any event, I’ll be sure to pass that nugget on.

  6. Maybe you’ll need some kind of simulacrum to push out, like a doll version or a printout, to absorb the initial attack. Call it the ablative emergent shield.

    Sounds like a great time. I’d love to hear what you say, and the audience pushback.

    PS: this reminds me of a panel I attended this year. After I gave a talk about Web 2.0, a CIO opened his remarks with “What I’m talking about is *real* – unlike this Web 2.0 stuff.”

  7. Gardner says:

    Man, I’d love to do a keynote like that. And for the record, I’m damn glad Mossberg said what he did.

    Pushback to Mossberg, imagined by me: “First thing you know, faculty will be clamoring to pick the books they teach from, when everyone knows it’d be cheaper to standardize on books that get used for a decade no matter what their value, or outdatedness.”

    Small pieces loosely joined, and roll your own. Standardize the ingredients, not the smoke. (That’s for you, Jim.)

    Note to Bryan: OMG.

    Note to Brian: You go.

  8. Brian says:

    I’m soaking up this network of courage — thanks all.

    I’m grateful for Mossberg, if only because he can be my “bad cop” and I think reviewing his remarks will make for a great opening gambit.

    Of course, I want to provoke without enraging… though if anybody says something like what Bryan reports I can’t make any promises of tact.

  9. Just a heads up to check the links on the wiki for the “massive web innovation on 6.95 a month”. If you’re planning on showing the site, the first link to The Smooth Elephant is a doozy that would probably leave a lasting impression for those I.T. folks.

  10. Brian says:

    Clint – What, you think bondage sites aren’t appropriate for higher education? How else to explain the copyright agreements scholars sign when they submit articles to academic journals?

    I do appreciate the heads-up — I am guessing that the good folks at UMW let that domain lapse, unless I was totally oblivious to the scene when I visited there a couple years back…

  11. Jim says:

    We did let that one lapse, Brian. Rest assured we are as Puritan as the South will allow us to be. I have removed the link so feel free to celebrate or abuse us liberally, we’d be greatly excited either way;)

  12. Hmmmm, bondage as a metaphor for working in higher education…that could work!

  13. Donna Hrynkiw says:

    I was there. (At the IT4BC conference. And I’m listening/watching a recording of the speech as I type.)

    Your speech inspired me. But I’m still working within the confines of a traditional, government-funded IT department — it’s going to be a slog.

    And I finally caught the FaceBook and Last.FM infections through other conversations at the conference. (I was already a member of LiveJournal.)

    The grace and the flexibility of those tools put our rigid and antiquated student portal to shame! How can we expect our students to us our click-and-refresh portal when FaceBook has drag-and-drop?


    I’m still working in a traditional, government-funded IT department, but I’m looking at the options with new eyes.

    (Aside: Brian, your talk lagged somewhat during the CAREO explanation, but picked up nicely after that and rawked to the end. The geeks in the audience totally got what you were trying to say, but I’m betting the Managers were rolling their eyes.)

  14. Brian says:

    Donna, I really appreciate the feedback. You’re right, my anecdotes about the old learning object repository days (ie CAREO) went on too long. For one, it usually takes me a while to warm up. But mainly I was thrown when only a couple people raised hands saying they knew what the whole LO thing was, since I had structured my talk as a comparison between that vision of sharing and the more emergent approach that came later. I panicked a bit (hopefully I’ll blog on my reaction soon).

    Again, many thanks. I was very ambivalent about that talk, and I feel much better knowing it was at least a bit useful to somebody. Hope to see you again!

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