Louisiana Tech Joining UTeach Initiative

My colleagues in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech deserve some major props. Tech has just been announced as one of five research universities across the United States to be part of an expansion of the UTeach program that originated at that University of Texas at Austin.

The program will help leverage Tech’s strengths in science and engineering to help train educators in STEM fields. I’m hoping, that perhaps, there’s a computer science teaching certification somewhere in the future (given Southeastern Louisiana University is the only public university in Louisiana offering teaching certification in computer science).

Did I mention this comes with a $1.45 million grant over the next five years?

Let me reiterate that; $1.45 million. That’s a lot of money for innovation in Louisiana’s cash-starved higher education environment.

I won’t belabor this news any further, and will let the University press release handle the rest.

Suffice it to say that I’m happy to be part of an institution doing this kind of quality work despite being underfunded by the State. I’m proud to be part of the Louisiana Tech family.

Featured image: IDEA Place Balloons, from the 2010 Anniversary Gala; own work.

Looking Back at Tech – Seven Years of Progress

It seems rather fitting to christen the redesign of my personal website with a look back at the last seven years of my life. Truthfully, there has been a lot happening that has caused me to be reflective. Anytime you start polishing up your resu… er… curriculum vitae and start looking back at what you have done with your life for the last decade, you are probably going to start getting a little reflective, but even then things don’t necessarily seem real.

Taking action, however, makes things real, and the potential for future change became real today. As of December 1, I am officially an applicant to Ph.D. level programs in Information Science at the University of Washington (Seattle), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), and Cornell University.

I honestly never thought I would be applying to a Ph.D. program. More honesty, I never thought I’d pursue a Masters. When I finished my B.S. in Computer Science at Tech, I was burned out. It took me seven years of back-and-forth between Computer Science and Electrical Engineering to finish a degree, and I was tired. I swore I was finished with school, and I went off to find a job. I guess fate took over.

I  left the College of Engineering and Science and moved just across campus to the College of Education. When I started work here, it was a pretty technically abysmal place. Our computer labs were mostly old and broken (the Mac lab was new, but still broken). The majority of classrooms in Woodard Hall were pretty much the same in 2007 as they were when I started school in 1999, with no technology of any kind. Even our website was a wreck.

Since 2007, a lot has changed at Louisiana Tech. Some buildings have gone, and other new ones have been built. As a campus, we have a renovated recreation center, the beginnings of a research park, and we have grown in enrollment by about 1,000 students. All this, despite State administration that has consistently cut higher education expenditures to below… pretty much below everyone.

IMG_1129In the College of Education, we have made tremendous strides. We have almost completely eliminated our circa-1960’s seating. Rather than classrooms with worn out chalkboards and projectors on rolling carts, we have classrooms with built-in technology. Our website, is lightyears ahead of where it was when I started. We have not only caught up technologically with other Colleges on campus and the schools in which we are supposed to be preparing educators to teach, but we are also beginning to lead and innovate on campus through the build out of a student collaboration and study center and through the build out of additional cyberinfrastructure.

Louisiana Tech University has made great progress over the last seven years, and I’m proud to have contributed to the growth and progress. I think, as much as I have contributed to the University, the University has contributed just as much to me. Had it not been for the work experience I have had at Louisiana Tech, I would likely have not built the resolve to attempt my Master’s degree, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the inclination to pursue a Doctorate.

I will always have  blood and sweat (and I mean that as literally as I can) invested in this University. No matter where I go from here, this will always be home. Alas, sometimes, we have to leave home to continue our growth. I’m going to miss Tech, but I’m also prepared for a new chapter of life.

Featured photo: Louisiana Tech Band of Pride Drum Corps, own work.

Twitter Snooping and the Ethics of “Opting”

I was reading an article on Naked Security earlier about  updates Twitter is making to its mobile applications, on various platforms, that might be alarming to some people, depending on just how much personal data you’re comfortable having mined by social media companies.

Apparently, Twitter is preparing to rollout  “app graph,” their term for what is essentially a list of all of the applications installed on your mobile device.  “App graph,” according to Twitter, is intended to provide additional data to “deliver tailored content that you might be interested in.” Reading between the lines, that means refining targeted advertising in Twitter.

One might be tempted to ask why targeted ads are critical to Twitter, and the answer, quite simply, comes down to a matter of cash.

More specifically it has proven difficult for Twitter to monetize 140 character messages, particularly in the face of less-than-expected user demand. This reality becomes evident in Twitters’ quarterly financial statements that demonstrate large GAAP losses despite increased revenue. For example, in 2014 Twitter has posted losses ($132 million in Q1, $145 million in Q2, and $175 million in Q3) that has sent TWTR south from a 52-week high of $74.73 to a Dec 2 close of $38.91 (that’s nearly a $23 billion loss in market capitalization).

Twitter clearly needs to turn around its losses, and it has two ways to do that. The first option is to increase the size of its user base, and App Graph may be somewhat helpful on that front by improving Twitter’s out-of-the-box experience, but that approach has limits. The second way is to take a page from Google’s playbook and focus on increasing the reliability of its targeted advertising (hence raising its value).  App Graph, seems to be an attempt at laying the groundwork for option two.

I go through the pains of pointing all of this out to drive home the point that, in the digital world,  privacy is intrinsically linked to a company’s financial performance (and this isn’t just true for Twitter), and it can be tempting for corporations to abuse the privileged trust that users bestow upon them.

I’m not saying that’s the case with Twitter. In fairness, Twitter indicates in their support document that App Graph will provide a notification to users when the feature goes active, so it isn’t as if (at least if the feature works) Twitter is completely “putting one over” on its users.

I do think it is a good time to start asking ourselves about the ethics of the industry’s current “opt-out” model for introducing new features that may potentially share private data. Where is the proverbial line in the sand?