Getting Students to think Innovatively about the Cloud

We have been slowly but surely integrating cloud computing into our curriculum and as we go through this process, I have noticed a few things.  First of all, students are having a hard time thinking “outside of the box” when it comes to the cloud.  Sure, we can show them the business scenarios where cloud makes sense, but those are decidedly “in the box.”  While this is OK, I believe that the true potential of cloud computing lies in its undiscovered uses and not in the appropriate business scenarios.

We have been using the Microsoft Imagine Cup as a way to get students to make the switch from “appropriate” thinking as it relates to cloud computing to “innovative” thinking about the cloud.  The Imagine Cup challenges students to come up with innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems and our students are increasingly including cloud computing as part of their solutions.

The Imagine Cup projects that we have seen are encouraging evidence that our efforts to get students to think innovatively about the cloud.  However,  I have noticed that they generally focus on using the cloud for storage and not for processing.

This makes me wonder if we are adequately informing students about the processing side of cloud computing.  Another possible explanation is that students are having a difficult time breaking out of the mental model of processing that is done in a client/server architecture.  This could possibly explain their reluctance to consider cloud computing for processing rather than just storage.

This is an interesting topic  that I plan on investigating further in the coming weeks.  In my opinion, it also has great value as producing students that can think innovatively about any technology will be much more valuable in the workplace than those that follow the same old paradigms.  I will keep you int he loop.  Additionally, if anyone has any insights on this topic, please leave a comment!

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BI, the Cloud, and Mobility in Academia

From time to time academic programs go through what is called a “program review.” If you were to put this in business terms, it is roughly equivalent to a business examining its strategy to ensure that it still relevant.  However, in the academic sense, it is much more about making sure that we are teaching our students skills that will make them valuable to businesses when they graduate.

A big part of this process is sitting down with our industry partners that make up our advisory board and having a discussion on that very subject.  During this discussion we don’t ask about
what skills they need now, but rather the skills that they will need 2-5 years from now.  Given the diversity of our advisory board, we expected to get a wide range of responses to that question.  However, when we asked them, we pretty much received a uniform response.  Our business advisors said that they wanted, “business intelligence , on the cloud, that was secure, and accessible from mobile devices.”

This wasn’t necessarily a departure from what we had heard in the past, but more of an extension of it.  Our partners had always coveted those students that could develop web applications.  They also wanted graduates that had business intelligence (BI) expertise.  The addition of mobility was fairly new, but expected given that mobile business apps will be leading
type of software being developed by 2015
.

We have begun to act on this advice by including mobile development topics in our object oriented courses, examining business intelligence partnerships, and leading student projects in cloud computing using the Microsoft Azure platform.  However, I believe that our projections
for a 2-5 year window will be arriving sooner than we expected.  This was made even more  apparent when I read a recent blog post by David Linthicum on Infoworld.com.

In this post, Linthicum (whose blog was listed as one to watch in 2011 by Focus) discusses how cloud based BI is a game changer because it opens up BI to smaller businesses that would not normally be able to take advantage of it due to the high price tag.   While I might disagree a bit that the cloud won’t add any new capabilities (all that processing power has to open up the ability to process data in ways that was previously thought to be too processor intensive for traditional BI, right?), I was really delighted to see that he mentioned that the cloud will open up the accessibility to BI reports for mobile devices.

I think that it might even go farther than simply accessing reports from mobile devices.  In fact, I believe that mobile devices may even be used in place of a PC to create ad hoc reports and access other BI capabilities.  It actually even lends a little support to my post about mobile and Azure being the next client-server architecture.

If you are interested in examining these topics for your programs, please contact me and I will try to answer any questions that you may have.   I can tell you that we have relied heavily on technologies from Microsoft in order to integrate these topics into our curriculum.  I am not sure about the other providers, but I know that Microsoft is making all sorts of free resources available for business intelligence (MS Enterprise Consortium), mobile (MSDN Academic Alliance, Dreamspark), and cloud (free access to Azure).  We have found that these technologies are not a departure from what we are currently using and have made it easy to integrate these items into our curriculum.  Plus the students like the price tag!

Social Entrepreneurship, Student Recruitment, and the Imagine Cup

What do these three concepts have to do with each other? Well it might be obvious that the Imagine Cup may be used as a tool for student recruitment in MIS, computer science, and IT programs. However, what does social entrepreneurship have to do with all this? Heck, for that matter what is social entrepreneurship? Well, just indulge me a bit and I will do my best to tie the three together.

First of all, let’s talk social entrepreneurship. The concept of social entrepreneurship is basically the same as the entrepreneurship that you are familiar with, with one notable difference. Social entreperneurs use all of the same tools as regular entrepreneurs, but they use those tools to create social change instead of for gaining profit.

The businesses that these social entrepreneurs create are called social enterprises. Social enterprises deal with many challenges. Two of the most pressing of these problems are that social enterprises generally have to carry out their missions with inconsistent funding (often under funding) and often with an all-volunteer work force. This means that social enterprises have to constantly engage in innovation in order remain effective.

Technology is one tool that social enterprises use to assist with this innovation. However, many social entrepreneurs are not technologists. In fact, they generally come from areas such as the sciences, sociology, political science, and other non-technological areas. This isn’t surprising because if a person has a passion for, let’s say enviormental issues, they might not go running to an information systems or computer science program as a major.

However, if you look at many of the entries in the Imagine Cup, they all deal with the same issues as social entrepreneurs. They also deal with these issues using technology. So if you think about it, since the Imagine Cup is focused on finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems, it is essentially a competition in social entrepreneurship. Furthermore, since knowledge of technology is becoming more and more necessary for social enterprises to survive, why not use the Imagine Cup as a tool to increase student enrollment in computer science, MIS and IT programs?

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Students in the non-technical fields will get the technical knowledge that they will need to make their social enterprises more effective and efficient, the technical programs will get increased enrollment (which is a concern for those programs), and the Imagine Cup gets a shot of multi-disciplinary participation that will only make the entries better (see my post on successful Imagine Cup entries).

It also makes for a pretty compelling case to sell Imagine Cup to the administration of a program or college. Since student enrollment is, in one sense the measure of the viability of a program, any way that it can be increased is something that an administrator might listen to. Anyway, I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject if you have any!

Imagine Cup as a Vehichle for Social Entrepreneurship

I was speaking with a colleague of mine the other day about a paper we are sending off to a conference.  The colleague that I am speaking of is really into this notion of social entrepreneurship.  What is social entrepreneurship (we’re going to call it SE from here on out, OK?) , you ask?  Well it is when a person leverages their entrepreneurial tools to create a venture that is focused on solving some problem facing society.   Now the goal of most entrepreneurs is to generate a profit, good old dollars and cents.  The social entrepreneur is much different.  The goal of a SE venture is to generate social capital and effectuate social change.

My colleague has been very involved with the concept of SE for a while now and I am aware of some schools of business and of public service that have been working to get it into their curriculum.  That is when I had the idea.  Why not use the Imagine Cup as a way to integrate SE into the curriculum?

What does the Imagine Cup have to do with SE?  Well solving social problems is what the Imagine Cup is all about!  According to the Imagine Cup’s U.S. site, “It’s all about solving today’s toughest issues on a global level and in your own backyard.”  Now of course, there’s a catch.  You have to do it using Microsoft technologies (well, at least for the Software Design competition).  However, when you think about it, aren’t many of us using those technologies anyway?  Coming from a college of business MIS department, I know that is the case for me as a faculty member.  It was also the case when I was a student.

So you can leverage technologies that you are already working with in the framework of what is essentially a SE competition!  The contest is structured so that it fits well with the typical semester structure of most schools and it has discrete project deliverables that can be integrated into the coursework of many different types of courses from digital media to systems analysis.  Check out the different competitions and rules at www.imaginecup.us if you are in the United States or www.imaginecup.com for other places in this ever shrinking world.

Now this idea is still in its infancy, and it needs to be given some thought.  However, I thought that I would toss it out here to see if anyone that reads my blog has any thoughts on the subject.  If you do, please share!

 

Microsoft Game Day

We held our annual Microsoft Game Day event today on Campus and it was a great success!  We hold the event every year to expose students to all of the great careers that are related to IT.  In fact, 87% of all new jobs will be IT related.  This doesn’t mean that they are IT jobs, but rather that they require the use of IT.

Because of this, we open the event up to everyone on campus, regardless of major.  We lure them in with the games, and then we get to tell them about how taking some MIS courses in addition to their major courses could open up many more job opportunities to them than it they had not taken any technology courses.

It also served as the finale Imagine Cup mixers.   The winners of the  local Imagine Cup competition that we were holding on campus were announced and we were even able to gain more interest in the competition.

Read more about the event here and take a look at some of the photos and videos below!

What is MIS anyway??

So what is MIS anyway?

Well, when my wife describes it, she simply says “he does computer stuff.”  While that is partly true, it doesn’t really capture what MIS is and it certainly does not differentiate it from computer science (CS) and information technology (IT).  So this is my attempt to describe to my readers what MIS is and how it differs from CS and IT.

Let’s imagine for a second that computers don’t exist (I wonder if you can).  Yeah, yeah…that will be my last John Lennon song reference for the post, I promise.  So, back on track with the analogy.  Imagine that computers don’t exist.  Then, someone creates the processors, components, algorithms, and other things that make computers possible.  This person is a computer scientist, and they are the creators of computing.

Now we have computers….yeah!  So, what now?  Are they useful?  If so, how?  Furthermore, if they are useful, how are they best used?  This is where MIS comes in.   They are problem solvers….part diagnostician, part explorer.  In other words, the MIS professionals take the  computing resources that are created by CS and look for new and novel ways to apply them to solve problems or to create new opportunities.  MIS professionals can best be described as the people that apply computing.

So, now we have a computing resource that we have applied in some way to solve a problem.  However, we aren’t quite there yet.  Someone has to configure and maintain that computing resource that has been applied so that it will run smoothly.  This is where IT comes in.  IT professionals are best described as those that implement and maintain computing resources.

Now I can go on and on with what each discipline does in order to carry out their functions, but I think that you get the point.  CS professionals create, MIS professionals apply, and IT professionals implement and maintain.

While I recognize that there are CS people that may apply computing resources and MIS professionals that may maintain them, I think that these categories best capture the general essence of what each discipline is concerned with.  I am eager to hear what you think!


Great Windows Phone 7 Resource

A colleague passed this along to me today and I thought it worth sharing…

For all of you that are looking at getting into mobile development.  Charles Petzold has written an excellent text on developing for Windows Phone 7 and it is free to download from Microsoft Press.  You can download the text and code samples here.  This is a really cool eBook because you can highlight and add sticky notes in the PDF!

This resource is really good for those academics that are looking to add mobile application programming to your curricula or for Imagine Cup teams that want to leverage mobile devices as a part of their solution.  I thought that I would pass the information along!

Oh, and for those that weren’t aware, the Fall deadline for the Imagine Cup US competition is in 5 days!!  Stay tuned to see our project.  I am pretty stoked to share it with you all!!

Windows Phone 7 for MIS Programs – A Chance to Build Inter-departmental Synergies

Over the past week or so, I have been very interested in leveraging the new Windows Phone 7 platform in MIS courses.  In prior posts, I have made my case as to why it is an incredible opportunity for IS programs and shared my initial vision for a phone curriculum.  I would like to focus in on one of the courses in the initial curriculum that I envision and share with you some thoughts on how it (as well as other courses in the curriculum) can build synergistic relationships between MIS programs and other departments on campus.

Much of my argument for why my curriculum made sense was that it was very open in who can take the courses because the technologies that are taught in the curriculum are utilized by different platforms.  Take the XNA Framework, for example.  This framework is leveraged in the mobile platform, for game development on the XBox 360, and also for DirectX games.  This means that with a single course, you can attract students from MIS programs,  CS/IT programs, and even possibly from some digital media programs!  The students will benefit by interacting with students from other programs and sharing each program’s unique perspective on technology.

This brings me to the course that I want to discuss today: Technology Commercialization.  In my prior post, I think I called it “digital entrepreneurship” or something to that effect.  The name change was a result of a  discussion with a colleague of mine  in the Management department at my university.  I pitched the idea of the Windows Phone 7 curriculum and why it made sense for us to consider adding it to our program.   I also told him about my idea for the digital entrepreneurship course,this is when he suggested that naming the course technology commercialization would be more appropriate because by the time the students reached this course, they would already have a product in hand.

He also commented on the types of material that could be covered in such a course.  Yes, there was the standard information on how to market the product that you would expect from a course like this, but he also suggested covering such items as licensing and patents.

This really got my attention!  These are items that not generally covered in most MIS program curricula, and if they are the coverage is cursory at best.  I would also go out on a limb to think that the coverage on these topics is even less present in IT and CS programs.  Yet all students will need to deal with issues such as licensing when they get out into the workplace.  When I took my first position as an IT manager for the state government, I knew that we had to have a license for software.  What I didn’t know was how many types of licenses there were or the benefits/restrictions of each type.

This is what I mean by synergistic relationships.  By reaching out to another discipline (in this case Management and Entrepreneurship), we can fill a gap in our student’s knowledge on the software development process from beginning to end. If we teach our students how to build a software application, we are only getting the job part way done.  Our students need to have some idea what happens after the final build of the software has happened.  It really gets back to the old silo vs. process perspective.  If we exist in a silo and only know our job, then we will do our job well, but we may be dragging down the performance of the entire process because we don’t take into consideration what happens to the product after our part of the job is complete.  By reaching out to others in your university, you can create synergistic relationships that will ultimately benefit your students.

However, this is sometimes difficult.  Sometimes we get so blinded by technology that we forget that there are a lot of other things that students need to know in order to be successful.  Just take a look at all of the dot com startups that failed.  They had tremendous technical knowledge, but possessed little competency in the other areas that were needed to make them successful as a team such as business and customer service skills.  This is why I chose to be an IS professor rather than a CS or IT professor.  I love technology, sure, but I am equally entranced by the other elements that interact with the technology to make it work.

There are also political issues that may inhibit the creation of these synergies that may need to be worked through.  Remember that enrollments equal revenue to academic programs, and some people don’t want to share revenues even if it means that they will have the opportunity to gain even higher enrollments in the future.  For these issues, I have no easy way to handle them.  Political issues are difficult by nature because of the varied nature of the issues and the players involved.

Regardless of the barriers that may be in place, I would encourage those of you that read this to seek these opportunities to create synergistic relationships with other disciplines.  You students will only benefit from it.

How I Envision a Windows Phone 7 Curriculum

Yesterday, I made the case for including Windows Phone 7 as a part of an IS curriculum.  Today, I would like to expand on that thought a little more and offer up a course sequence that I believe most universities can sell as a “Mobile Development Specialization” or something to that effect that will serve as a value add to their base curriculum while opening opportunities for other value add specialization opportunities.

Why do I Even Care?

I guess the first question you are asking yourself is why you would want to even look at adding something like this to your curriculum?  This is probably especially the case for my colleagues at the larger, more research oriented schools, that put a premium on research productivity rather than pedagogical innovation.  My answer to this question is a simple one.  Look at an IS program from the perspective of a business.  Much like the business needs revenues in order to function, an IS program needs student enrollment.

As we all know, enrollments in IS programs have fallen over the past 5 years (although they seem to be making a slight comeback), and this has resulted in some IS departments being merged into other departments, faculty being released, or the total elimination of the IS program all together.  If you don’t think it could happen, just ask my friends at my alma mater, Central Florida (UCF).  At the time of it’s demise, I believe that UCF was #5 in the world in research productivity.  They had the most prolific publishing researcher in MIS on their faculty, as well as the editor-in-chief of the #1 ranked journal in the discipline, MIS Quarterly.  However all of this was not enough to save the program when it came time for the budgetary axe to fall because enrollments did not justify keeping it around.

So, without digressing too far from the topic of this post, which is what a curriculum could look like, I wanted to stress that even if you don’t add Windows Phone 7 (or any other mobility platform) to your curriculum, you need to look at how you can make yourselves more attractive to students.  Remember that students equal revenues, and revenues allow you to stay in business whether that business is research focused, teaching focused, or a blend of the two.

The Method to this Madness (or the Logic Behind the Design)

Just as you would not want to design a system to be monolithic and non-flexible, you don’t want your curriculum to be that way either.  That is another reason why I love the Microsoft set of technologies in the Windows Phone 7 toolkit for developers, they all can be leveraged elsewhere.  For example, one of my reasons that Windows Phone 7 made sense for IS programs was that it was a natural extension to what is taught in many object-oriented programming (OOP) courses.  The same can be said for other elements of the Windows Phone 7 toolkit.  While differences exist in the Silverlight associated with Windows Phone Apps and traditional Silverlight, a course in the technology can be leveraged in value added specializations that deal with mobile development, game development, and Web development.  The same can be said for the XNA framework that supports Windows Phone, XBox360, and the Windows OS.  Again, you can see that one course can be taught and leveraged in several different areas.

However, it is not just about one course being used in multiple areas, it is about student enrollment.  Having a course on a technology that can be leveraged in different specialization areas means that students from different areas can all take the same course.  This is critical to justifying the existence of the program.  Let me provide an example.  Let’s say you have 5 students interested in game development and 15 interested in mobile development.  If you teach one class that focuses in on the XNA framework for gaming and another focusing on the XNA for mobile development, the gaming course is likely to be cancelled because of low enrollments.  This will leave these students pretty ticked off and more than likely you will lose them from your planned specialization area, if not your major all together!  Luckily,  if you use the Microsoft technologies,  you can teach one course that serves both interests and avoid losing students from your program.

A Sample Curriculum

The core course in my curriculum is the OOP course.  This is a core course in the major and can be used to recruit students into whatever specializations that you choose to implement.  A few of the other courses that I would like to offer are:

Silverlight with Microsoft Expressions – this will be a course that covers both Silverlight and Silverlight for Windows Phone 7.  It could also be a course in any gaming or Web development type specializations that you might choose to add to your program.  You may even find that you can pull some students from IT, CS, and even graphic and web design programs that may be interested in learning the technology.

XNA Framework – This is included for many of the same reasons that we just listed with Silverlight.  It is applicable to many different specialization areas.

Securing Mobile Devices – Security is an important concern for all business organizations, and it is a difficult enough goal to achieve within the organization’s walls without the added elements that mobile devices bring.  This course will focus on those added issues and instruct students on how to mitigate security issues specific to mobile devices.  It may be a good place to leverage the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL).  However, I am a firm believer that the SDL should be leveraged in all IS coursework, but that is a topic for another post.

Digital Entrepreneurship – This course was born as a result of some discussions with my colleagues at UALR.  It would be, in essence, a capstone course for the specialization and would involve the students taking the knowledge that they learned in the other courses and leveraging it to market and sell a mobile app (or even a game) on the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.  Remember that IS is all about the blend of business and technical knowledge.  This course would be an excellent opportunity for students to do that, and maybe even make some money as they could keep the profits from their work!

Here is how I envision the courses fitting together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, these are just my initial thoughts on the subject.  You could alternatively skip the courses on Silverlight and XNA and cover those items in mobile development if you do not have the flexibility to add those items as extra courses. I plan on talking a lot to fellow faculty members, students, and people in the business community to see if they see the value in this type of program.  However, I can tell you that I am excited about looking at this and I feel that it (if done in a thoughtful manner) will be a valuable addition to any IS curriculum.  If you have any ideas on the subject, I would love to hear them!

Why Windows Phone 7 Makes Sense for MIS Programs

Windows Phone 7  was released yesterday to the world to some rave reviews.  So what?  Mobile platforms have been around for the past few years and Apple and Google have a pretty strong foothold in the market.  Why should MIS programs care about the release of the Microsoft mobile platform?  Well because, in my opinion,  it is best thing to happen to the discipline in a very long time.  Let me give you three important reasons for adding Windows Phone 7 to your IS curriculum makes good sense.

  1. It is the future – According to an article in USA Today, mobile business application development will surpass all other types of application development by 2015.  This is enormous for a discipline that has been searching to find its competitive advantage in the academic marketplace.  As MIS programs compete with the more techno-centric IT and CS programs for students, business applications require the skillset that is unique to the MIS discipline.  The increased demand for business applications will also translate into more jobs that require the skillset that MIS students possess.  Training your students in mobile development now will prepare them for these jobs and make your program’s job placement rates look pretty good in the process.
  2. It’s a natural extension of current curriculum – Many MIS programs teach VB.NET or C# as the programming language in their object oriented development course.  Guess what platform Windows Phone 7 uses?  Yep, you got it, C#.

    If you are currently teaching C#, then you just have to add an elective or special topics course on mobile development to your curriculum.  This adds an exciting new dimension to your program with little to no effort and it reinforces the OOP skills that you teach your students while making them more valuable in the market.  Try doing that with the Apple or Android platforms.  Mobility could also be integrated into other courses in the program (especially systems analysis and design). It’s truly a win-win-win for students, faculty, and industry.  Do you feel that?  That feeling is relevance.  It happens when industry is beating down your door to get to your students…and it feels good.

    If you are teaching VB.NET, then the translation to C# is a very easy one for students and faculty to make as the languages are very similar.  Additionally, if you are looking to migrate your OOP course to C#, well then this is the time to do it as you gain a more robust programming language for the Web and you gain the ability to teach mobility as well.

  3. No additional expense – In a time where budgets are stretched to the max, teaching mobility on the Windows Phone 7 platform doesn’t require any additional investment on the part of the department or the students.  Many students have access to the Visual Studio platform through MSDNAA or through Dreamspark.  The same is true for the development tools for Windows Phone 7.

So, there it is.  An opportunity to increase the relevance of your program by teaching cutting edge skills that are valued in the marketplace, that requires little prep on the part of the faculty, and comes to you with little to no dollar signs attached to it.  I am sure that there are other relevant reasons that I missed.  Mobile development  is literally the opportunity of a lifetime.  So what are you waiting for???