Austin city limits
The entire staff of the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently traveled down I-35 to Austin, Texas to attend the “HI TEC conference.” That’s shorthand for High Impact Technology Exchange Conference. The goal was to not only continue gathering insights and resources from other IT educators to improve the CTC’s best practices, but also to recruit faculty and schools to join the Convergence College Network (CCN). For me personally, the hope was that another conference immersion in IT education culture would continue to help me (someone without an IT background) better understand the topics the CTC is helping teach and the challenges two-year degree educators face.
On Monday the CTC staff stuck together. First up was a morning “pre-conference” workshop on virtual labs. The workshop, led by executives from VMware and NDG, provided a look at back-end logistics and key classroom advantages of this virtual lab tool. This seems to be the future of IT education and forms an integral part of the CTC’s long-term plan. The CTC always looks for ways to preach the value of virtual labs. Rather than offer a handful of real-world machines on a limited weekday schedule, virtual labs provide 24-hour access to multiple students across multiple servers, providing the kind of high classroom volume a typical school lab could never support.
In the afternoon, the CTC staff – along with a handful select partners and educators – enjoyed a VIP tour of Dell Computers’ Round Rock campus just a few minutes outside of Austin. This included a lengthy executive briefing on cloud computing from several different perspectives and executives. That briefing was followed by a facility tour. (What we didn’t see on the nicely printed agenda was the inclusion of a long stroll in the mid-day heat. Welcome to Austin.) The group visited the “Solution Center,” a kind of R&D unit where Dell showcases new technologies and interfaces for clients, whether it’s a next generation medical computer or a new consumer tablet. The group also visited Dell’s social media “command center.” Dell recently changed the way it interacts with social media. The company now considers social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to be one more avenue of customer service like help desk 800-numbers. And so trained Dell staff members proactively resolve customer complaints posted on social media platforms, turning disgruntled consumers into company advocates one person at a time.
HI TEC’s big reception happened Tuesday late afternoon. The CTC manned a booth in the exhibit hall, working in the shadow of an awesome 3-D printer that provided serious booth competition. Amid the mingling conference-goers balancing drinks and little plates of hors d’oeuvres, the CTC – and its partners – answered questions, talked up the CCN, and gathered business cards for a special prize drawing of a new Wireshark textbook. During that same reception, the CTC also sponsored three “student posters.” These students, all graduates of CTC partner schools, created slick displays that explored key areas of IT networking. During the reception, these students stood by their displays to answer questions and network with other students, educators, and business people. A future blog post will examine their presentation in more detail.
The CTC staff spent the rest of the conference attending breakout sessions, taking turns manning the exhibit booth, and enjoying the free meals.
Three sessions in particular intrigued me:
1. “Is Teaching Wireless Networking in Your Future?” provided a comprehensive look at how wireless networks… work. This included a discussion of wireless hacking vulnerabilities, future wireless formats, and the mechanics of how wireless signal “packets” are actually transmitted and received. While I attended the session mostly to provide support to the speakers, both of whom are CTC grant partners – Karl Dietrich and Bill Saichek, I found the session fascinating. Whether it was the charm and skill of the instructors or the familiarity of the subject since it seems we all have wireless routers at home, it felt like the sort of thing you might find on a basic cable network while you’re flipping through channels, then stop and watch the whole thing.
2. “Why Should We Hire You?” outlined BATEC’s six-hour instructional module for students that offers practical, non-technical instruction on self-marketing. The specific topics include writing a resume, choosing the appropriate interview attire, developing an “elevator pitch” about yourself, and conducting a detailed self-assessment with something like a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test. This sort of module would seem to be a perfect fit for the CTC’s program. Not only will the CTC use its resources to promote this module, but this might also be a good topic for a potential one-off webinar.
3. “Determining Evidence of Success” provided a look at the “Synergy” program, which was developed to help use rigorous evaluation criteria to strengthen ATE center processes. The CTC has participated in this program so I have some familiarity with it. But it was good to hear further details on the specific strategies Synergy employs. This sort of assessment would seem to work with any number of programs and projects since, at its heart, Synergy seeks to find a way to clearly measure a program’s success. Attendance to an event isn’t enough – this model urges one to go past attendance numbers and address the “so what?” question. That is, dig deeper to be sure what you intended to happen is what is actually happened.
Were you at HI TEC? What sessions did you attend? Did you see the 3-D printer?