Archive for February 2012

What George Washington Could Teach Higher Ed

I’m currently attempting to read a biography of each of the U.S. presidents in order; it’s a personal project that appeals to both my love of history and my linear, completist nature. And I figured perhaps these leaders of the free world might have some lessons to teach us about higher education, technology, or both. Plus, if car dealerships can celebrate Presidents’ Day for the entire month of February, so can I.

book cover of Washington: A LifeFour Things George Washington Could Teach Higher Ed

from Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life

1. Leaders listen. Washington’s entire management style was founded on a slow, deliberate decision-making process with input from as many experts and constituencies as possible. Unlike the British generals, who chose their staffs and fellow officers based on family standing, Washington chose self-made men like Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, and Alexander Hamilton as his advisers. These men were empowered to speak their minds to the Great Man, and he was open to persuasion, changing his mind when the weight of opinion was against him. In higher ed, we often stick with our own peeps — in Admissions, in Student Affairs, in Communications, in IT — because it’s certainly easier. But without listening for the big picture, as messy and uncomfortable as it can be, how can we make decisions that serve our students and faculty?

2. Leaders lead. After receiving as many opinions as possible — after taking his time and weighing all the arguments — Washington would make a decision and confidently stick to it, inspiring and focusing those around him to the task at hand. From the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse to Alexander Hamilton’s first bank bill, Washington supported his subordinates against swirling controversy and the buck stopped with him. And though he failed to take a lead in ending slavery, he did make the decision to free his slaves in his will — something that none of the other slave-owning founding fathers did. In higher education, the focus on consensus and process can make it seem as if no one is in charge, that no one is accountable. At the end of the day, someone’s gotta make a decision.

3. The non-traditional student is usually the smartest person in the room. Alone among the founding fathers, Washington had not attended college. He felt his lack of education keenly. In early writings, he adopted a highfalutin style that he thought sounded more “educated.” In gatherings, he tended to just stay quiet while orators like John Adams or Richard Henry Lee took the floor. Later in his career, Washington found the fact that people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison underestimated him useful. Washington was a life-long learner. One of the great advantages to working in higher ed is that you are surrounded by an organizational culture that values learning. Why not take advantage of that every day?

4. Leading is hard. Finally, over and over again, Washington lifted the weight of the country on his shoulders, at huge personal sacrifice: commander in chief of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, president of the United States — twice. He didn’t want any of these positions, but he also knew that if he did not take up the challenge, the things he wanted to see happen for his country would not happen. It’s not easy, but if you aren’t going to push and push and champion your own goals or vision, who will?


Adventures in Livestreaming: Chapter 1

An occasional series in which I fumble my way the world of live-event coverage. I screw up so you don’t have to. 

My golden nugget of fried gold from HighEdWeb 2011 was this, courtesy of rockstar niceguy and caffeine connoiseur Seth O’Dell: If you are not livestreaming your events, you do not care about your community. All it takes is one person, one laptop, and one camera.

With those words ringing like a Buddhist sutra in my ears, I’ve set about trying to bring real-time event coverage to our campus this year. My immodest goal: make livestreaming of guest speakers, panels, and performances an expectation and not an exception. When someone hears that an event is *not* going to be livestreamed, I want them to be disappointed.

So far this year, I’ve livestreamed two events and have three more coming up. Each time I’m learning something new, something I think I’ll do differently the next time around. Let’s start at the beginning:

Livestreaming Rule #1:
The Cake Is A Lie (well, at least a fib)

Seth is an inspiration and a giant amongst mortals, but his “One person, one laptop, one camera” philosophy is akin to the coach in Bull Durham saying, “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” He ain’t lying, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The very first event I livestreamed did in fact involve one person (me), one laptop (and old MacBook Pro I use as a Safari test machine) and one camera (an even older Sony Handycam of the kind your dad took on vacation to Washington’s Crossing in 2002).

And it did in fact work. The event was a hastily convened ceremony for our YellowJackets a cappella ensemble who were being presented with a key to the city. It was in a huge room with bad acoustics and there was no podium mic or sound system. I just used the built-in mic on the camera to pick up the sound in the room. We ended up with 48 viewers for a webcast that was only promoted about a half an hour before it began with a homepage, Facebook, and Twitter posting.

So as a proof of concept, I’d call this one a success. With lots of research and several test runs, even a clueless neophyte like me was able to pull off a live webcast that did not crash and burn midway through. One-person-one-laptop-one-camera does work. However, both the person, the laptop, and the camera in this scenario left something to be desired. As a result, the final product did leave lots of room for improvement on both the technical quality side (especially audio), the skills side (especially me) and on the promotional side.

Things can only get better from here — stay tuned for our next exciting episode!


PS — for those interested, here are some of the specifics on the equipment used on this event.

EVENT: YellowJackets Key To the City

  • Platform: Livestream; used their Livestream Studio Web-based interface
  • Camera: Sony Handycam DCR-HC90 (don’t think they make ‘em anymore)
  • Mic: Camera built-in
  • Laptop: Macbook Pro (late 2006 model; this caused a last minute scramble to find a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 adapter for the laptop’s older Firewire input)
  • Tripod