Why are you here and not somewhere else?

A really thoughtful reflection by one of my ITS colleagues. I have always believed that when multiple members of the organization write, it raises the collective intelligence of the whole group. We are a team made up of people who have such a diversity of thoughts, experiences, and insights. When we share our work as a group it amplifies the messages we are trying to communicate to the campus.

Maybe many of us just feel like a cog in the wheel, feeling siloed, and disconnected from any larger purpose – well, yeah, that is kind of depressing. And it begs the question, why are you here and not somewhere else?

Source: Why are you here and not somewhere else? | A Collection of Notes and Thoughts

3 Things you can do with UChicago Voices today

What I really like about a blogging system is that it is truly a platform for digital expression. What I mean by “platform” in this context is that it allows you an easy to use environment to publish digital content. UChicago Voices is built on WordPress, a blogging system, but I like to think of it as a publishing engine. With that in mind, what are a few things you can use it for today? If I were a student getting set to wrap up the academic year, here are three things I would consider launching with Voices before it is time to head home for the Summer.

Start a Blog

This sounds like a no brainier, but giving yourself a place to write during the Summer months is a long term gift. Not only can you cultivate a habit of ongoing reflective writing, you will be building a living and searchable repository of your Summer experiences. A space that you can share in the moment that belongs to you, not trapped in FaceBook, Tumblr, Snapchat, or somebody else’s space is a really powerful thing. A blog space is personal to you and you control what you write, share, comment on, and everything in between. A blog is a great place to capture the things you are doing outside of the traditional academic experience. If you are reading a great book, have seen a great film, or taken a road trip try and put into pictures and words how that experience impacted you. The evidence you build of your experiences will provide an interesting backdrop to the months spent away from UChicago.

Build a Photo Journal

Many of the pictures we take end up in other places online — Flickr and Facebook for example — and never end up in a place that we ultimately control. Voices is a great place to take, share, and manage your collection of Summer experiences. Again, the gift of doing this in a platform like Voices is that these photos are in your space, not in the hands of a corporation. The other benefits are much like the notions inherent in starting a blog. You will be actively challenged to not only take great photos, but to share the ones that matter to you and the audience that you will ultimately create. Taking the time to care about which photos get shared is a different experience than simply shooting selfies and sharing into Snapchat.

Create a Digital Notebook

I’ve used blogging platforms for years as a “personal content management system,” especially to create and organize notes. To make it easy to use for keeping your course notes together, create a private blog and set up categories for each class you are taking. Each note gets a category related to the course you are taking. There are some really positive affordances in using a blog as a digital notebook — search is a breeze, all your notes are stored (and managed) in the cloud, you can easily mix media by adding photos and video to your otherwise text notes, and by using categories for your classes, you can quickly and easily filter course specific notes. I have seen this done across an entire academic career and having access to 4 years of notes in one digital place is quite impressive.

So there are three quick thoughts on things you can do with Voices this Summer. I hope some of that is helpful.

Growing Voices

Just a quick post to note that Voices has crossed over the 50 sites and 300 users threshold. While that is still small, it is interesting to note that this has happened without really any publicity at all. There was a Chicago Maroon article, but that didn’t share the URL for the service. I am hopeful that we will see an uptick in use for the Fall Quarter. I think once we start to work more closely with faculty partners we will see enhanced growth. From experience, that is when things start rolling. I want to challenge the IT Services team to look at novel ways they can use the service for a couple of reasons … first, I believe a tool like this can lead to intergroup discovery in ways that are sometimes difficult. Additionally, I think if we discover interesting ways to use the service it makes promoting it that much easier.

For now we will use word of mouth as we continue to see how people are using the service.

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UChicago Field Notes

As we quietly roll out the UChicago Voices platform I have been thinking of novel ways to share examples of the platform can be utilized. It is WordPress, so it is obvious to think of it as a blogging platform, but I learned years ago that a blogging platform is best positioned as something more than a blog. It is important to see it through the lens of a “platform for digital expression.” I have been talking about that for years and sometimes you can see people’s eyes light up and sometimes they just shrug their shoulders.

I’ve also learned that it is important to show examples of what I mean when I talk about this concept. With that in mind I decided to put together a simple photo sharing site that allows multiple photographers to share what they are seeing. I decided to call it UChicago Field Notes and invited a couple of people to kick the tires with me — to experiment in a homegrown UChicago photo platform.

There are only three of us, but I would love to add more so if you are interested just let me know in the comments and I will invite you. It is really straight forward — take a picture, log into the Field Notes site, and make a new post. I have to admit, I made it a little easier for myself and cooked up an IFTTT script that takes any of my Instagram photos tagged #fieldnote and auto publishes it to the Field Notes site. I love being surprised by other people’s photos and this is an interesting way to see what a few people find interesting.

UChicago Field Notes

Back to this idea of a blog is more than a blog. I spent time yesterday with colleagues in a our career services group here on campus and shared this one example and it resonated to the point where they are going to try out Voices as a way to expose more of the career opportunities that we provide to students. Students will have access to a multi author site and will record their trips to various companies in various cities. We talked about being able to quickly shoot and share photos, videos, and reflect on the things they are learning on site … all in real time. In that one example we can see a blogging tool as something that is much more than what one might think of as a blog — it becomes a place to share, save, and express yourself digitally. That is a critical skill in the world we live in now. I’ll share more examples of how Voices can be used and as I do I will continue to invite you to do the same.

Back on my MBPro

So tonight I used my MacBook Pro for the first time in 14 days since getting the iPad Pro. I needed to work on a PPT presentation for someone else and I have not yet purchased an Office 365 account, so I had to retreat to my old timey laptop to make it happen. I would have much preferred to use PPT on my iPad, but I was under a deadline so I just jumped to my laptop … Here are a couple of really quick thoughts on using a “real computer” again after a bunch of days using a tablet.

iPad Pro

When the first iPad came out I gave my MacBook to my assistant to lock away for 30 days. It forced me to figure things out with a very early version of iOS that didn’t allow for the things we take for granted now — no google docs, limited native apps, no multitasking, very few social tools, etc. It was a limiting device at that point, but I still used it to do at least 10 staff reviews, publish a bunch of blog posts, and keep on top of work for a month. I learned how to type on a pane of glass. So now that things have advanced to the iPad Pro, how have things changed?

iPad with Keyboard Dock

The first thing to note when I was back on my MBP is that I tried to touch the screen a bunch of times. I actually reached out to hit some sort of button to post a comment on Slack multiple times — only after tapping the screen did I realize that the screen does not allow for that. The desire to scroll the screen with my finger is real and it is odd because I didn’t really ever do that on my Macs after using older iPads. Live and learn.

The other thing I am noticing as I type this post on my laptop is how small the screen feels. My laptop is a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display and it feels small. I think some of it is the overhead of Mac OS X — toolbars, menus, and all the extra stuff that goes on in a windowed environment. After using the iPad Pro for a dedicated amount of time you realize how the notion of the “app” changes the experience. When you launch an app it becomes the iPad … not so on a laptop. At the end of the day, holding a 13″ Retina display in your hands is a powerful experience.

The laptop is heavy … and I can’t even describe how silly that sounds. I got through grad school on a Mac Portable, so I know what a heavy machine feels like. The difference with the iPad Pro is that while it is big, it is light for the size. I know that sounds strange, but it is how it is — the size makes your mind think it is going to feel heavier, but that just isn’t the case. It isn’t light, but it is deceivingly so. The form changes the weight in a strange way and it makes carting it around campus all day much easier … plus, with no need to carry a power plug or anything else you can save additional ounces.

So, at the end of the day I feel like I am complaining about some silly things … I’m not, I am just trying to make sense of the ongoing observations and differences I am seeing with this potentially disruptive device. After two weeks I prefer the iPad Pro to my laptop, in fact the laptop feels out of date now that I have a pane of glass that does it all. 

Invitation to Model

Tomorrow after another Coffee with Cole I am meeting to discuss the rollout of the UChicago Voices space. I am not calling it a service quite yet, because I want us to think about it a little differently. Could we challenge ourselves to rethink how we support it? Perhaps we look at it like just another social space on the Internet and see how people use it and where they might fall down?

I’ve launched these things before, both at Penn State and Stony Brook. Support is a necessary piece of the puzzle, but in my experience it tends to be the kind of support that an FAQ, a google search, and some Lynda.com videos can handle. The heavy lifting is in how we promote, encourage, and model its usage.

It is in that last notion, modeling, that I want to invite you in.

wedding invitation. Envelopes

We aren’t yet ready to open the gates to just anyone yet, but I would be interested in having some local colleagues to write and publish with here on the UChicago Voices platform. If you’d like a space to explore and use, please let me know. I’d love to have someone to follow, link to, and comment on. If you are a member of the UChicago community and you want a space just leave a comment and I’ll figure out how to get you in.