Mid-Summer IS Update

As expected, this very busy summer at Lab is flying right by. Those of us responsible for executing tasks associated with the construction project are putting in some long days during this exciting time in Lab’s history. Today’s post is just a quick summary of where we are.

Summer School Support: The Summer School folks have done a really good job of recruiting! Classrooms are full and pretty much every shared laptop we have, and more than a few iPads, are being heavily used in summer school classrooms. The High Jump program is also on site again this summer, so in all, IS is supporting more than 1,000 students and their teachers every day.

Normal IS Summer Stuff: Purchase orders are being cut for more than $400K of new equipment, including a good chunk for Earl Shapiro Hall, another good chunk for maintaining computing replacement cycles, and another chunk for computing and audiovisual equipment approved through the capital request process. Help Desk staff is busy building the new software image for the fall so we can start migrating data to new machines as they roll off delivery trucks. We are also assisting all divisions in revising the way summer forms will be made available to parents; moving these forms from LabNet into PowerSchool should make things easier for all. Website updates are in progress, as is a change to the AUP that you will hear more about later. We’re also adding some tools to Google Drive, including Google Sites and Google Video, but you’ll be hearing more about that, too.

Lab Plus: All tech gear has been removed from the east side of Blaine, including gear bound for Earl Shapiro Hall and temporary classrooms and offices in the west side of Blaine. Promethean boards have been relocated as requested for fall quarter use. Belfield tech gear not being used for summer school has also been labeled and stored. Network changes for places like the relocated Lower School computer lab are also in progress, as are our ongoing discussions with UC IT services about enabling a different approach to networking in the new building to make it easier to get online and project from mobile devices. IT staff is learning more about the new SchoolPass system for easing dismissal woes and getting familiar with the Epson a/v software for the new interactive projectors in Earl Shapiro Hall. We’re also on schedule to add a number of document cameras in the High School and refresh projectors in the English classrooms and the High School computer Lab. The search for an additional Help Desk worker is still open, but we are looking to make that hire for an August 1 start. Final meetings with the new print services are taking place this week to prepare for the installation of 15 new MFDs and a large format printer at ESH.

Though it is an extraordinarily busy time, I have to say that it is also exciting to see the “can do” actions and attitudes so many folks are displaying. There is a lot of grunt work to be done in a huge change like the one we are making, but the level of teamwork and effort around school is pretty inspiring to see, and to be part of. The next couple of weeks will be particularly exciting as we enter the new building for good and get things squared away in time for teachers to return. Stay tuned….more to come!

A Few Thoughts on Lab and iPads

The most recent data I’ve seen reports 8 million iPads sold to educational institutions. The speed with which schools have adopted this device has been remarkable, more so than any product in recent years. Though I’ve taken a more deliberate approach in adopting them than tech directors at other schools, Lab now has 278 iPads currently in service. With capital requests for 97 more next year, it seems like a good time to review what Lab has done to date and take a look at what role these devices are likely to play in the next couple of years.

Current Status

Of the 278 iPads in service, 221 were acquired through the Computing/AV capital budget and assigned for use by students and teachers, primarily students and their homeroom teachers in grades N-4 for use in the course of daily instruction. Some of the remaining 57 were also funded through capital expenditures, though some were  acquired from other budgets or through donations.

The mix of models includes first, second, and third generation iPads, though the iPad 2 is by far the most common model. All have been equipped with cases, whatever adapters are appropriate, and, increasingly, headsets.

A cohort of teachers in grades K-4 have had the opportunity to engage in a year-long program of professional development paid for with funds from the IS operating budget, including on site days, webinars, and online courses provided by Ed Tech Teacher, a consulting group with expertise in iPad deployments. Library Technology Coordinator Louis Coronel has also assisted numerous teachers on a “just in time” basis in developing technology integration strategies for using the iPads, which some have used more than others. Rob Koontz has put in many hours figuring out how to configure, support and manage these consumer devices using the limited tools Apple has made available.

The Focus

There is no question that the iPads open up a whole new range of possibilities for instruction throughout the Schools. My focus has been on using available resources to  put iPads into the hands of our younger students because I believe they are most likely to recoup the largest instructional return on the Schools’ investment in these mobile devices. Here are some of the reasons I believe this is so:

1) The touch screen removes the keyboarding barrier for young children, who can interact with the screen in a tactile way that matches up well with their developmental level.The form factor also makes it easy for children to share the device easily when working on a lesson with a partner. Their mobility also fits well with the commonly used teaching strategy of having rotating “center” based activities that find children huddled on bean bag chairs, up in a loft, or spread out on the rug.

2)  Young children have been historically underserved by our existing strategies for providing computer access. The iCart laptops are rarely used by Lower and Primary teachers, and never by N-K. Laptops aren’t a great fit for doing what we do in those grades; when they are used, it is typically for doing PowerPoints or word processing, which tend to be in the third or fourth grades, and then only occasionally. The Lower School computer lab is often booked for classes and teacher sign-up use, but still has the same challenges in terms of keyboard use and sharing a screen. The iPad addresses many of these “fit” issues and gives this population of students and teachers an unprecedented opportunity to determine what level of technology infusion can enhance the instructional program.

3) As children are exposed to the world of mobile devices at younger ages than ever before, it makes sense that we would seize the opportunity to learn what role these devices should (and should not) play in the growth and development of the students we teach. There are a lot of conflicting opinions and data out there about what copious screen time means for kids as they grow. The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools should be contributing to this national dialogue based on concrete experiences we have had in the classroom with our students, not just our educated guesses, intuitions, or the last journal article we read. Parents need our wise counsel as they struggle to raise young children in this media-saturated culture. If we have not taken the time and effort to investigate these issues for ourselves, how can we properly address their concerns?

iPad Challenges

As always, challenges accompany the opportunities new technologies present. In the case of the iPad, these include:

Support: iPads were designed for the consumer market. iTunes works quite well for the individual iPad owner, but for enterprise operations like ours who need to manage them in large numbers, Apple’s tool kit is crude at best. We are fortunate to already have a suite of mobile device management tools in place (its name is Casper, sold by JAMF Software), and we are learning how to use it to manage the fleet of iPads we have, but even as good as Casper is, supporting them is not a trivial endeavor.

Connectivity: Some iPad apps assume a network connection, yet our younger students are not eligible to claim a CNet ID. Even if they were, you can imagine the situation comedy that could result from a group of Kindergarten kids trying to log on to the network (this spoken as a former K teacher myself).

Our workaround for this has been to set up what amounts to a parallel network of Apple Base Station routers that serve their own network addresses without a log in. These base stations are in or near every homeroom that has iPads. To secure them, the iPads’ MAC addresses, a unique identifying number assigned by the factory to each device, must be entered into the configuration files of each base station nearest the rooms in which that iPad is likely to be used. This workaround is far from ideal because, in addition to adding expense, support load, and a point of possible failure, it ties the mobile devices to a geographical location — precisely the opposite of what we’d like to see happen with a truly mobile device, especially when we think about using iPads assigned to homerooms in special area classes spread around the Schools (remember, the iPad is designed to be a mobile device). We have made initial contact with UC IT Services about finding a different approach for the Shapiro center, and they have not pointed and laughed at us, but I mention it so readers understand the challenge.

The Apple Rabbit Hole: Apple is legendary for retaining tight control over its closed, proprietary systems for managing what content can go on its mobile devices and what cannot. The iPad is no different. If you go all in and follow Apple down their rabbit hole, you are obliged to go in whatever direction they choose and don’t have any other option than walking away from the product if you don’t like it. This makes me anxious in the rapidly changing world of mobile devices.

Cost: iPads run a minimum $425 each (including case, adapters, and basic app purchases) with an anticipated useful life of three years, a half year shorter than laptops and a full year shorter than desktops. They are additions to the overall number of devices and replace nothing. Only once has a user replaced a laptop with an iPad.

Though the capital budget for computing has not remained completely flat, over the past 4 years increases have been modest, as has been the case for budgets across the University campus. A one-time payment to retire two years of iCart laptop lease payments made it possible for us to do what we have done with iPads so far. Sustaining growth over time will take some creative accounting and cutting costs in other areas.

Wrapping Up

In closing, let me say that in spite of the iPad’s clear applicability  to our instructional program across the Schools, it is simply not reasonable to expect that we have the resources to increase our hardware budget by 30% and ratchet up support demand  proportionately  to  adopt them on a school-wide basis for faculty or for students. The only viable strategy I see at this point (other than not adopting them at all, which seems very unLablike) is a targeted, tightly focused adoption strategy that puts what we can afford where it’s  most likely to make the greatest impact on student learning, which, in my view, is clearly in the hands of younger students.

I certainly welcome others’ opinions, concerns, or questions about what I’ve said. Feel free to comment or stop by to see me.

What Are Your Best People Working On?

I’ll be the first to admit that reading a lot of blogs, twitter feeds, etc. can be what we here in the Lower Level call a BFWOT (big fat waste of time). Pruning one’s RSS feeds and dumping links you don’t appreciate helps you narrow in on those resources that do, in fact, provide real value.

One such resource for me is  Seth Godin’s blog. This recent post strikes me as a “just right” formulation of how organizations, including schools, can align their resources to do more than  focus on status quo. Enjoy.

Thoughts on the “Flipped” Classroom

“Flipping” classrooms is all the rage these days. For those who have been hiding under a rock, you can find a description of how a flipped classroom works here. The gist of it is that teachers make lecture-style content available online for students to watch when they are not in class. When in class, the work focuses on applying what was learned from the video, much as if what used to be homework is now the stuff of daily classroom activity.

The speed with which flipping has taken off is nothing short of amazing. There are now tons of conferences, books, videos, and all manner of corporate, grass roots, and other kinds of support for flipping. The zeal with which flippers embrace and defend this allegedly new concept is remarkable, too, which makes it feel like there is a lot of bandwagon jumping going on.

At the same time, flipping has its detractors. Some see this as a dressed-up version of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with its familiar focus on “filling the empty vessel” model of teaching. Getting dull stuff out of the way at home so you can do engaging stuff in school makes one wonder why we haven’t thought about better ways to keep stuff we teach from being dull. Others wonder what happens when students in a flipped classroom don’t have regular access to a computer/ other network-enabled device or a network. Still others broach the issue of how much student time outside school would be spent sitting in front of a screen for even more time than they already do.

My own take on this starts with a certain amount of disappointment. As a dyed-in-the-wool progressive educator, I have always believed that classroom time, as much as possible, should be used for activities that can’t happen anywhere else, activities that capitalize on all the trouble we go to to assemble a particular group of people in the same space at the same time. Sure, it’s not practically possible to run a classroom that functions that way 100% of the time, but activities that don’t fit that model should be the exception, not the rule. It’s unsettling to think that so many teachers are just now realizing what progressive educators have always assumed as a pedagogical tenet.

I also am automatically skeptical of zealots. If one is going to have a career in technology that lasts longer than twelve minutes, one had better be, since technology’s penchant for causing much ado about nothing should be familiar to all. Remember when the Palm Pilot was going to revolutionize classroom instruction?  Or hard wiring schools with coax cabling and closed-circuit TV so kids could do televised morning announcements? Just as David Letterman used to run a segment called “Is This Anything?”, maybe we ought to find out in a systematic way if flipping is something or not before we jump on the bandwagon.

On the other hand, I am a pragmatist. It’s easy to imagine that a student who was struggling with some basic skills (preferably being applied in the context of solving a real-world problem directly relevant to his or her interests) would benefit from playing and replaying a well-done video that addresses the particular concepts and skills the student finds vexing. I should emphasize the “well-done” part of the video, since people who haven’t done them before always wildly underestimate how hard it is to make  a good one.

But my intuition and experience tells me that, like all instructional approaches, flipping should be done with a clear goal in mind and a cogent understanding of its strengths, weaknesses, and trade-offs. It is clearly not a panacea, or a solution to the problem of a purely content-driven, test-prep curriculum. We should all be working to create thriving, powerful learning communities that make the best possible use of learning in ways that recognize the power of our physical presence and personal interactions as we seek the sweet spot in the place where content, pedagogy, and technology converge.

Do you have thoughts on flipping classrooms? Are you a flipper? I’m curious to hear others’ experiences, pro and con.

Best Practices: Supporting Guest Presenters at Lab

It’s common for Lab folks to invite interesting people to school to do presentations. These events help make Lab the special place it is, so the IS team is eager to support them when they come. Yet we have all had that awful experience where a roomful of people are sitting and waiting for a technical glitch to be resolved.

The good news is that almost all  of these incidents are completely avoidable with a little preparation and foresight. To make sure presenters have a smooth experience, please ask yourself and your presenter a few simple questions well in advance of the event.

1) Are they bringing a laptop or other device, or do they need one of Lab’s?

If they need one supplied to them, contact the Help Desk at least a week ahead of time as availability may be limited. If there is any particular software needed, be sure to mention it.

2) Do they need a video adapter to connect their device to the projector, or is the correct one present in the presentation room?

As of this writing, most Windows computers don’t need an adapter. But that is changing. As more laptops include digital ports (HDMI or Display Port), your presenter may need one. All Apple devices need them, including iPads. We try to keep all rooms equipped with the current type of adapter for the Mac, but unfortunately they go missing at times.

If your presenter or the presentation room does not have the right adapter, contact the Help Desk for assistance. You will need to know what sort of device the presenter is bringing. There are enough adapters in the big wide world that we won’t have them all, but we do stock the most common ones. The more lead time you give us , the better the odds we can provide what you need.

3) Do they need to access the wireless network while at Lab?

Many presenters invited to Lab are affiliated with the University already and have a CNet ID for logging on to the wireless network. If they do not have a CNet ID, you can do one of two things: a) you can be a sponsor for wireless access to the Guest network on campus (this is a fairly new service and not well-known). Find directions on how to do this here.

Option B is to  contact IS to create a wireless access code for your guest. Currently, Rob Koontz and John Krug are authorized by UC to do this.

4) Is there time for a “test drive” of the presentation?

Lab has several generations  and types of audiovisual systems in place since the a/v industry changes so fast. While many systems are similar, few are identical. Once you know what room has been scheduled for the presentation, it helps to a) let IS know so we can confirm that the a/v system is running as it should, and b) familiarize yourself and the presenter with the room prior to the scheduled event (IS can help with this). Some things you’ll want to know include:

> Does the room need to be darkened to better view projected content?

> Is the remote control for the projector readily available, or is it locked away somewhere?

> Where is the cable to attach the computer to, and is the correct video adapter present?

> If audio is needed, do you know where and how to control the volume?

> If the system has a microphone, do you know where it is, and are the batteries fresh?

> Is it necessary to set the display preferences on the computer to get the best image resolution and/or arrange displays for mirroring or viewing slideshow notes on the computer?

> Will the presenter be able to complete the slideshow on the battery charge remaining, or does s/he need a power supply?

> Do the Energy Saver settings need to be adjusted so the computer does not go to sleep during the program?

> Is the font size on the presenter’s slide show large enough to be seen by the viewer furthest from the screen?

> Does the presenter have or want a remote presentation clicker for advancing slides without standing near the computer? See IS if he or she does.

If you take the time to do these things, you’ll greatly increase the odds of a successful presentation free of technical glitches. Remember IS can help with all of this.

Red Flag Redux

Remember a few posts ago when I described a red flag when dealing with a new vendor? Well, sure enough, things have not gone well now that it is install day. Two components were found to be damaged from careless shipping, the installers did not have all the tools they needed to do the work, and they started fishing cables through a wall only to find part way through that the cables weren’t long enough. There’s more, but I’m sure no one really wants to hear it.  Let’s just say it will take at least one more trip out for the vendor to complete the work. Maybe two.  And then the conversation about the “oops” discount for substandard performance.

I also missed an item on the Statement of Work that clearly says something I assumed was part of  any installation was “Out of Scope”, so I guess I have to own some of the chaos.

Anyway: lesson confirmed. Red flags early on almost always mean trouble down the road.  Hate to do a “one and done” with any vendor, but there’s no reason to bring these folks back.

Working Out Loud: Primary IS Goals for 2012-13 School Year

It’s been our custom in IS to publish a quarterly activity report, which details our quarterly goals, our rationale for choosing those goals over others, and a candid self-assessment of our progress over the prior quarter.

I have been remiss, however,  in not producing those reports the last two quarters. It takes a fair amount of work to create them even when IS staff members have documented their activities carefully. To be completely candid, I simply did not have the time to do them despite my strong belief that transparency is essential to building trust in any organization.

My failure to complete and share these reports has had three consequences:

1) I now know I need to retool the process for creating these reports to make it leaner and cleaner. I will be working on this in the fall quarter and promise to share a more accessible report over the winter break.

2) People are less likely to know what the IS group is up to and why, so I need to start telling them again. Now.

3) I now realize that quarterly reports are only a part of what should be a broader effort to ‘work out loud,” or, in other words, keep our school community informed about what we are working on more regularly than once per quarter, and also pointing them to observable examples of our work’s results.

And so it is that there is now a twitter feed (@clieneck)  that will help keep followers up to date on IS activities, ideas, questions, and things we find of interest (you might find the occasional White Sox post as well). DITBits will continue to hold its place as a spot for longer posts about leadership and school technology. The blog “On Purpose” will continue to detail Lab’s progress toward creating a 1:1 computing environment in the Middle and High Schools. The biweekly IS newsletter, Tech Talk, will continue as well,  and will include a broader range of content than it has in the past. You are invited to access each of these resources at your leisure, and if you feel like you are hitting the TMI threshold (Too Much Information), I trust you will let me know.

And, finally, to get the ball rolling once again, let me at least outline the four primary goals IS has committed to for the coming school year. There are many more secondary goals, but those are of lower priority and can be shared as the year progresses. So here we go:

1) Complete the 1:1 Readiness Assessment and work to launch a new strategy for students’ computer access for the fall of 2013. This work began last year and will continue at a brisk pace in the fall quarter. You can read more about it in the blog, “On Purpose,” created especially for communicating about this effort.

2) Complete all tasks associated with the imminent completion of the Shapiro Early Childhood Center. There is much work remaining in fine tuning computing, audiovisual, and infrastructure  plans as construction continues and decisions need to be literally set in stone. There is plenty of logistical work to consider as well, with a new hire coming on board prior to move-in, and lots of  equipment to move.

3) Provide leadership, guidance, and support for the Lower School, Primary School, and PreSchool use of iPads for instruction. The iPad offers many exciting opportunities for young children to interact directly with one another and with content area applications in the course of instruction. We have expanded this initiative this year to include 3rd and 4th grade homerooms and to a couple of Kindergarten rooms. Classrooms have 6 iPads in a room and can share their sets of 6 with other classrooms if needed. First and Second Grade had this setup last year. A full-year program of professional development including on-site training, webinars, remote coaching, and online courses was purchased from a well-respected consulting group to focus teachers on using these devices effectively in the subjects they teach.

4) Launch Lab’s own Google Apps for Education Domain. Lab has lacked good tools for shared calendaring and collaborative document sharing. Google Apps offers services that should fill these gaps nicely in a way that maintains appropriate levels of privacy and also anticipates a possible multi platform future for Lab. The first groups of beta users are already onboard with more to follow in the next two weeks. The launch will both add to and subtract from our support burden in ways that are not yet clear and won’t be until it is fully scaled up in late October, but we are convinced that the time is right for Lab to embrace many of the proven online tools and services available for teaching students and running the Schools.

Sound good? Not so much? Worried? Excited? Let me know.

The Power of Focus, Part Two

Last time, I talked about Cirque Du Soleil, their singular focus on artistic expression, and how that focus plays out in performing Ka, one of their signature shows.

Today, I’m just finishing up a vacation at the Inn on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N. C. This is the third time I’ve stayed here, and besides the beautiful scenery and the wonderful city of Asheville, the other reason I keep coming back is because I’m intrigued by the high level of customer service they provide in the many aspects of the Biltmore operation.

Someone here at the Estate knows exactly what they are trying to do and has figured out how to get everyone who works here on board with the message of excellence in customer service. Every employee we encountered, whether it was a tour guide at the Estate House, the shuttle drivers, our servers at breakfast, the valet parking attendants, our housekeepers — every single one asked if we were enjoying our stay and if there was anything we needed. They knew the history of the estate, greeted us warmly and courteously, and noticed and remembered our personal preferences during our stay. They took time to engage us in delightful conversations about the estate, Asheville, and our lives in Chicago. When we remarked  how gracious everyone was, to a person they said how much they enjoyed working there and how much they valued the opportunity to share the estate with us.

Now, I did not just fall off the turnip truck.  I know when I am being sold and when I am being hustled. This was not an act. They meant it, and they showed it every day, even at times when no one else was around and at times when it would have been really easy not to. It’s remarkable.  As a professional educator, I don’t get to stay at top-tier hotels all the time, but of the handful I have visited, I haven’t seen this consistent level of gracious hospitality.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about: Traci, the concierge, gladly helped me reinstate a gift card credit that had expired since our last stay three years ago;  Kristin, the server at breakfast, somehow knew that we had extended our stay by three days and said she was glad we were getting a longer vacation; the valet brought me two cold bottles of water when we said we were driving to an outdoor festival downtown on a hot day, saying “you’ll be needing these”; the housekeeper replaced our heavy blanket with a lighter one when she noticed we’d not been using the heavier one;  after we’d been there for a while, we received a handwritten note from the hotel manager, along with a stunning arrangement of flowers from the hotel garden, thanking us for choosing the Inn for our stay and asking if there was anything we needed.

The next time we come back, I want very much to learn more about how the leadership team at the Biltmore makes this happen. It is a large, complex organization with many kinds of services, businesses, and skills under its very large umbrella, so it cannot have been easy to achieve, and it must be even harder to maintain it over time. I applaud their success in creating a culture of service in which all employees seem to feel respected, valued, and part of something larger than themselves.

They must be careful recruiters. Weeding out the kind of people that will fit with their model takes talent and skill in interviewing. They must compensate their employees well and offer good benefits to help good people want to stay. I would expect they also have extremely effective training protocols in place and clear, regular performance assessments, and don’t hesitate much to let someone go if they are not performing up to standards.  To do all this well in an organization of that size is a mammoth undertaking.

Superior customer service is a worthy goal for any IT operation. Based on my experiences this summer with Cirque Du Soleil and the Biltmore estate, I will be looking for new, fresh ways to keep our IT team striving for this same level of focus on our core mission.

DITBits readers, have you encountered the power of focus like the kinds I’ve described? I’d love to hear about them and about how they made your tech team stronger and wiser.

The Power of Focus

I’ve had two experiences this summer that drove home just how important and urgent it is for organizations to be focused on a shared vision if they are to achieve peak performance.  I just have time today to write about the first one, but will follow up soon with the second.

At the InfoComm Conference in June, I was fortunate to be able to take a “behind the scenes” tour of the theater at the MGM Grand in which Cirque Du Soleil’s long-running show, “Ka,” is staged. There are few words to adequately describe the scale of this production. The LA Times has described it as “the most lavish production in the history of western theater.”

The “stage” is essentially a pit 70 feet deep and a couple of hundred feet across, with a segmented stage that is hydraulically lifted or slid into place in different pieces at different times from the back of the set or from the pit below the audience sight lines.  The centerpiece of the stage is a rectangular platform that can be made to lie flat, angle up, and rotate, all the way to a 90 degree angle straight vertical. An array of concealed rods can be made to protrude as hand and foot holds for the cast, though in the course of the show, many fall to their “deaths” as part of the action by dropping up to 70 feet onto the world’s largest netting/air bag combination at the bottom of the pit. A couple of dozen performers can be on ropes simultaneously.

A “beach scene” requires a couple of tons of shredded Portugese cork to be loaded on to and off of the rotating /tilting stage; the cork must be humidified to exactly the right moisture level after each show. If it’s too dry, it will stick to the stage. If it is too wet, it will mold. There are about 75 cast members and 200 technical and stage staff for each show; skills are triple redundant. Columns several stories high line the sides of the theater and performers use them during the show. There are self-arrest stations everywhere backstage with large “Falling Hazard” signs to alert you.

The amazing thing is that everyone we talked to — the production crew chief, the lighting director, the sound director, and a number of other key crew members — every last one of them said something like this: “We could do things in a way that was much easier for us, but the goal of the organization, and the goal for all our different teams, is to give the artist as much creative control as possible and still keep them safe (italics mine). People come here to watch the performers, not us, so we do everything we can to keep the focus on them.”

The clearest example I saw of this idea in action was their explanation of why they do not automate many of the critical lighting and music cues, as you would expect them to do in a production of this size. They follow the performance on a series of video displays, and so if a performer slips, or varies what he or she does, or there is an equipment malfunction, the lighting and sound can be altered in real time so the overall production remains intact and the performer does not end up out of sync with the show. In the case of the musical performers, this is especially challenging since they are in a room several floors below the action. Nevertheless, only a couple of minutes of music in the show is prerecorded.

They also really sweat the details. Here’s one of many examples: though some performers do not come anywhere near the audience given the scale of the show, the production manager was careful to explain that every one of the very detailed costumes was created as if it were going to be seen from very close up. The company believes that audience members would  somehow able to perceive the lack of detail if the show cut some corners, even if it is not physiologically likely they can. Amazing.

I suppose I should not have been surprised as I was by what I saw at the Ka theater. The 8 defining characteristics of Cirque Du Soleil are beautifully articulated on their web site. It’s well worth your time to check them out. As our school initiates a review of our mission statement, I’ll be sharing that link with a bunch of other folks, too.

There’s a lot of literature out there in bringing art to what we do every day. Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” is a great example and I recommend it. But there is nothing like seeing those principles applied on such a grand scale and from so many different perspectives from within a single organization. I came away determined to find ways to bring this focus on bringing art to our daily work back to my IT team and our school overall. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what a hotel looks like when everyone knows what they are trying to do and has the tools do do it.

If you have example of organizations with a similarly powerful vision and the ability to execute it in an artful way, by all means pass them on!

Vendor Red Flag

So I’m using a new vendor to install some projectors, and they did not take long to trigger a red flag (you might recall my earlier post about what makes a good vendor).

A/V installers need to get a lot of details right about buildings they work in, so I didn’t mind completing a very thorough 4-page form that was a sort of virtual site visit. It took me a good 90 minutes to visit the rooms in question, take the requested measurements, snap some photos for them, and talk with the Facilities head here to make sure behind-the-walls and above-the-hung-ceiling details were accurate.

Lo and behold, I get an e-mail a few days later requesting an apparently-standard conference call with the sales rep, contractor, and  subcontractor selected to do the install. There was a long agenda for this call, including reviewing all the terms of the SOW and a variety of other things. I had to leave a session at an out-of-town conference to do the call, which I’d pushed for since I wanted to get on the installer’s schedule while preferred dates were still available. I suppose it made sense get all the players on the same page, but what we ended up doing was essentially confirming all the information I’d assiduously entered on the form. The other agenda items never came up.

I behaved myself, but could not resist referring to what I had already said on the form. I was genial about it, but in truth, I was fishing for some acknowledgement that this was maybe a waste of my time. None was offered.

It’s tempting to think this is a little thing, but this has historically been a solid “tell” that there’s trouble ahead when working with a new vendor. When a vendor asks you to do something, and you do it, and then they act as if you haven’t done it, or ask for the same information again,  it’s a red flag, and it means I will have to keep a closer eye on this vendor than I would like to. It also means that I will have to (genially, of course) ask my sales rep if it’s SOP to duplicate clients’efforts. I’ll let you know how it turns out.