3 questions to a higher ed blogger: Dr. Adrian Sannier, University Technology Officer at Arizona State, from “Adrian Sannier’s blog”

January 18th, 2006 Karine Joly 1 Comment

An expert in human/computer interaction and three-dimensional visualization, Dr. Adrian Sannier, University Technology Officer at ASU since August 2005, has been blogging for a year and half on his personal blog. A passionate user of Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis and RSS), Sannier has even managed to get his president, Michael Crow, blogging at the “President’s Post.”

1) You use your blog as a professional communication channel. How does it help in your work at ASU?

I started blogging as a way to communicate with my students. I think every professor has those l’esprit de l’escalier experiences. You realize only after lecture what you should have said, or how you might have answered a student question differently. So I began to use a blog to communicate with my classes that way, writing on lecture topics, and including links to other web resources. But always to a very well defined audience of the 50 or so students in the course.

When I came to ASU with the charge of developing a strategic technology plan, it was clear to me that I needed to establish communication with a much broader audience very quickly, and introduce some of the ideas that were emerging from my analysis of the institution. I started blogging on it almost as a whim, just to see if it could work. The results were startling to me. Within days my readership spiked and it has held steady ever since. I think people are attracted to the openness and transparency of the process. Administration is usually a hidden thing, and even when people are committed to transparency, there is still this air of the back room about it. So blogging on the process can feel a little like a high wire act. You are never sure if something you write is going to set off a firestorm of controversy or if an article you wrote months ago will come back to haunt you. But in the end, I think these forms of media will have a positive effect on people’s trust in the process.

2) You have also set up a Wiki for ASU Tech Plan. Why did you choose to do so and how do use this wiki for this project?

In the First World War, generals from both sides used trench warfare tactics, despite their lack of success, because no-one seemed to have a better alternative. In many ways it was a catastrophic and tragic exercise in futility. Well, at the risk of a gross oversimplification and callous generalization, I feel the same way about the committee process, and I think a lot of other people do too. We use committees, particularly in universities, as a way to address issues that need input from a variety of perspectives, but too often they result in much talk and little action. In looking for an alternative, I was inspired by the nets in Ender’s Game, the way that skilled communicators could influence policy through the force of their written ideas. I liked that notion, and thought a wiki was an opportunity for a group of the interested and informed to come together on their own to discuss in detail, within an established structure, what the elements of a technology plan might be.

So the wiki is designed to put together a document that provides an analysis and prescription for the application of technology in eight overlapping areas of the university’s mission. We are about three months in, and the brain storming phase has died down and we are moving into a synthesis phase, where some of these ideas are being hammered together into something more coherent. I expect that as that process comes together, the wiki may become a controversial space, as people begin to discuss the merits of the plan as it comes together.

In the long run, I hope the wiki is able to continue as a living document that communicates the strategic intent of the university in the technology arena. I’ll know it has been successful if our strategic technology partners begin to contribute and discuss how higher education can make better use of the emerging technology trends. But its early yet and we are still learning how to use these technologies to find our way.

3) In his first blog post, your president wrote: “one of my inspirations for starting this experiment has been perusing a blog by Adrian Sannier.” What did you tell him (or write) to convince him to blog?

I don’t know if I convinced him so much as enthused him. President Crow is an amazing and inspiring communicator. He reminds me of President Bartlett from West Wing (but only the first two seasons, when Sorkin was still with the show). He has a fascinating grasp of history, popular culture, and technology that makes him really interesting to listen to, especially when he applies those ideas to the challenges facing our institution. I’m hoping his blog will give him a chance to convey some of that personality, to let the university community get a feeling for where he’s coming from, what he’s reading and watching, and how those things connect to his ideas for the university and for the broader community.

It’s certainly a risk though. There’s the danger that it will be perceived as a public relations play, or that the comments are being artificially censored. The dialog on the site could degenerate into a whine fest. But I hope that as it builds a readership over time, that the opportunity for the president to address issues in a less formal way, and communicate the underlying themes that drive his administration, it will bring good things. And I’m hoping that, by contributing insightful commentary, the President’s Post will be an opportunity for good ideas to emerge from the places in the U they might not otherwise have come from.