physical (aka ‘meat’) space for digital users…

Can we talk about how MOOCZilla is our friend, not our enemy when it comes to the future of higher education? While this awkward lizard may not be the most accessible or equitable lizard out there, he’s a lot better than Debt Kong or Inflated Grade-ra (please don’t actually try to hold me to my metaphors).

But, in the midst of edX growing, Arizona St going digital first year and Starbucks caffeinated, do we really yet know what it means for the physical meat space campus? I brought this up at last years ACUI annual conference (insert shameful self-plug here), and I think it merits much more discussion within our associations and very much in ACUI.

Here’s why.

I’m on a group email that fields most of the event questions for campus users and outside organizations, and this exchange, answered by my space colleagues who handle much of the main event space reservations, showcases what we are looking at down the line.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.45.40 AM

email from an interested party for a wedding in our chapel, which is ONLY avail to direct members of the MIT community. this person is not.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.45.31 AM

email from my very awesome colleagues.

Now, the chapel is a special case, and is available to only the MIT community for use, but expand this idea a bit, and we really really need to be looking at: how do we get ahead of the curve and offer the opportunities for interpersonal connection and learning that our physical spaces provide to our online users?

How does our on-campus work and the college union ideal/out-of-classroom experience translate online to ~10k+ learners that complete per course?

Mr. Morpheus, again, as I’ve told you before, you can’t just come in from your MOOC and have an event in the Ballroom… you have to reserve the space. (also, DAMAGE BILLING IN THIS WHOLE SCENE).

The MOOC language, once they were roundly mocked and ridiculed for their epic drop out rates, shifted, calling participants ‘learners’ rather than ‘students,’ underlining the fact that overwhelmingly, MOOCers (MOOCies?) were coming to MOOCs for specific bits of knowledge, rather than say, the entire 8 week course.  And that’s fine.

I am a MOOC statistic.  I cannot get it done in a MOOC.  I need to be sitting in the classroom, having a history prof drone on at me. That’s how I learn. That’s what I love. But am I anti-MOOC. Naw. Nope. Think they’re great… if we can figure them out and do them better.

So then, how are we going to shift, as space managers and event advisers?  Yes, I know our staffs are working 50 or 60 hour weeks.  Yes, I know we don’t even have enough space as it is.  Yes, I know we got bumped down the capital planning list again so students can get their Dunkies right by their lab.  But, if we don’t talk about this now, we are going to be left behind, and the next iteration of the college union idea will be gone before we can even grasp it.  We will be left in the dust by the rest of the academic world (which is really hard to do), and once again, faculty members will call you names in the coffee line in the morning (I have absolutely no proof that that actually happens, please don’t hurt me Professor.)

I have… no comment.

Should MOOCers be able to reserve space and have events… ehhh, probably not, maybe, all signs point to no. But you better believe we should be partnering with our MOOC friends to offer on-campus experiences that may supplement in some way the learning going on for some of the most engaged learners out there.

Got a wood shop, Hobby Shop, or maker space – partner with a product design MOOC and offer the chance for some meat space learning just as we would offer it to a product design class happening in the academic building on our campus.

Got a huge alumni base? Create the Uber of out-of-classroom experiences, and offer mentorship opportunities, meetups, or coffee chats led by them, meeting MOOCers where they are at in Moscow, Beijing, or Denver.

Have an event happening on campus that relates to the poli sci MOOC being offered through the edX network?  Offer some seats to local MOOCers in your area, to get them engaged with the content beyond their screen even further and engaged with your physical campus.  Who knows, maybe they’ll attend one day?

Yes. There are risks. Yes. The inherent inequalities of MOOCs still persist.  Yes. This ish will probably blow your budget out of the water… kasploosh.

You sunk my budgetship, Rihanna!

But, can we please, for the love of Internet Explorer, talk about this?  MOOCZilla lies relatively dormant for now.  We need to have a plan for when it wakes back up.  We’ve gotten through the hissy-fit phase of “MOOCs will change the world, but they suck, but everyone learns, but they don’t actually, but lets send internet balloons to communities that don’t even have safe drinking water…” and so on.

MOOCs are being challenged to be better (see edX getting slammed for harassment, security, and disability access), and so are we (see fraternity and sorority life discussions, admin bloat, what place do trigger warnings have in an experience where exploring difficult topics is relatively the safest it could be). We can learn together, we can grow together, we can offer the union community building experience to our digital learners while enhancing the out-of-classroom experience right here on our own meat space campuses.

Or we can just hang out and wait for the admin bloat scapegoat phase to come back in style. No srsly, I freaking loved that 6 month period.  Totallllllly awesome.

Administrative Bloat: now in violet!

dead streets, vibrant campuses…

Having presented at ACUI on urban campus communities with Pascha “Way too cool” McTyson, urban campuses have been on my mind for many months.  Having put the final touches on and being halfway through with ACUI Region VIII’s T-Around this summer, the topic has been on my mind even more so.

Day one, 7/8, we hit MIT, Emerson, and UMass Boston as part of our Red Line Day experience.  Day two, 7/16, will feature green line schools, like Wentworth Institute of Technology, the Tree House at MassArt, Emmanuel, Simmons (all members of the very intriguing Colleges of the Fenway consortium), and ends at Berklee College of Music.

In between all of my #NoBoston2024 rampaging on twitter, I’ve been trying to pay attention to the conversation around Boston about our urban environment. Particularly, after this last winter exposed a lot of discrepancies in basic transit needs for our communities, and now, with summer in full swing, how outdoor spaces are being utilized as we live in this big city of neighborhoods of ours.

“If the Red Line stops, we all freeze and die.” -Direct quote from Good Will Snowpiercer

I’ve had links and thoughts found later in this post in my draft folder for months now… but it was this tweet from @transitmatters that got me back on my game.  We are currently hosting the filming of the Ghostbusters reboot in town, and apparently, this is a thing…

Not holding it against Kristen Wiig and Paul Feig, but I’m definitely holding this against Boston and Massachusetts officials who day after day, leg session after leg session, pass the buck on making the T and our infrastructure top notch.

I need someone to blame when the Red Line or just shit in general breaks in this city.

So, the original tweet that got me going:

Read that sentence (+some more) again from this article:

…a dead street, laneway or plaza is the perfect petri dish for civic experimentation. It’s an opportunity to challenge citizens and businesses to come up with ideas for bringing that space to life…

Let’s just look at some of the pieces of this that are complete student affairs/higher ed buzzwords-

  • ‘petri dish’= all my STEM student affairs peeps just perked up
  • ‘civic’= isn’t that, like, the thing… where the students vote or something? or die? we want our students to be well-rounded global citizens… but you can never forget the local.
  • ‘experimentation’= just replace this word with innovation… yeahhhh, there’s that tingly feeling you love.
  • ‘challenge’=why isn’t the word support in this sentence as well… should I like… go up there and just edit it in? I don’t know what to do.
  • “bringing that space to life”= campus center bruhs, how many meetings have you been in where you heard that exact, freaking, phrase? Exact. Phrase.

Buzzwords aside, that quote above from the article about urban placemaking in Adelaide has so much potential for those of us on urban campuses.  We all have those silent plazas, alleys, pathways, streets, forgotten on our campus, forgotten in the hustle and bustle around us and as the city continues to grow or shrink outside our campus boundaries.

If you need to get a sense of what placemaking is, this is a great article on it – although like most urban design concepts, everyone has their own ideas.  They nod to Jane Jacobs though, so I have to give them the thumbs up.  A basic idea of placemaking is this:

  • Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.
  • …the thinking behind Placemaking gained traction in the 1960s, when PPS mentors like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte introduced groundbreaking ideas about designing cities for people, not just cars and shopping centers. Their work focuses on the social and cultural importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces.

So, you can see, this ideal fits right in with the higher ed/student affairs/campus center/student union ethos, creating spaces on campus that reflect the values and culture of the people using it and travelling through it, and that makes those spaces inviting, inspiring, and important.

Who are our partners in this?

Local orgs, we gots lots of them in the city.  Museums, cultural organizations, playhouses, adult education centers.

Facilities and campus safety.  Do you really think facilities wants to stare at that boring brown wall in that alley anymore than the students who pass through it do?  Campus safety would be thrilled if spaces had more activity or ‘more eyes’ as Jane Jacobs put it.  Uninviting spaces and thoroughfares means less usage means more risk of a dangerous situation getting out of control because no one else is around.

Local governments. They may have money. They may have ideas. They may have a larger plan you can tap into. They may have more resources.  They want to deal with you on something other than the noise violation your concert created last week on campus.

Students. Faculty. Other staff. Duh.

As the Project for Public Spaces suggests, placemaking needs a lot of different perspectives involved to be successful, because you are looking at a place at large, not at specific pain points that can be addressed by one profession.

Placemaking with pinecones is a terrible idea, little Sonic Hedgehog guy.

You’ve got to be willing to make small steps too.  That is the one struggle I’ve always found on a campus, is that students want wholesale change now, if they still have that 4 year view rather than a legacy view.  We’ve got to help in navigating that, channeling that, and ensuring that little by little, bit by bit, these underused pathways or plazas on our campuses, where space is so critical, are transformed, making life and the physical experience better for each person that passes by.

What form does this take? I don’t know… performance spaces, artsy fartsy walls/alleys/pathways, democracy plazas, road usage on campus that prioritizes the pedestrian and the bike rather than the car (this is a huge problem at MIT).  Its up to you. I hope you share some of your ideas with me from your own cities or campuses.  I don’t know, put up some guerrilla signage:

Cars are boring, loud, and car-y. Patio seating and humans are better. Can you put more humans in places where cars are? If so, do it.


Put up some signage on campus; point students off campus into the city or make sure they walk rather than drive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go think about what we can do on our campus.

I hope I can continue to blog some more on topics of the the campus and the city, including posts with thoughts from books on transit like Straphanger, some thoughts from the ACUI Region VIII T-Around, etc.  There are some issues bugging me on MIT’s campus regarding pedestrian experiences, and while I have no idea what I’m talking about from an urban design standpoint, I hope I make some sort of sense.

A workday poem…

“Imagine If Email Could Power a Rocketship”


Imagine if email could power a rocketship,

Every meeting request fuel to take you into the sky,

That angry email from the other department giving you an extra boost.

Imagine if email could power a rocketship,

What wondrous adventures you would have sitting at your desk,

Traveling to the moon, a most magical place.

It’s not made of cheese, but rather of 2 hour lunch breaks,

And the man in the moon, why, he just poured you a beer!

Imagine if email could power a rocketship.


Imagine if email was a puppy,

With text, signature lines, and attachments so fluffy,

Why, you feel so loved, because email loves you.

Someone sent you a red exclamation point email,

Which urgently wants to lick your face and wag its tail!

Imagine if email was a puppy,

With organizational folders like ‘fetch,’ ‘roll over,’ and ‘good boyyyyyy,’

And you never delete an email, you just pet it all day long.

Imagine if email was a puppy.


Imagine if email was your favorite YouTube video,

Where buffering never existed,

And each new email notification was a promise of laughter.

Imagine that email about a budget or a discipline case

Was actually a Sassy Gay Friend video, because budgets are a stupid bitch.

Imagine if email was really just your favorite YouTube video,

And that invitation to a lunch and learn you want to delete,

Turned out to be videos about Earl Grey Tea and cute dogs eating people food.

You always moan when you get the email from your boss asking you to work Saturday,

But wait, that email is actually just a super cut of Tina’s moans,

Moans that are much better than yours, like Bob’s Burgers is better than Saturday work.

Imagine if email was actually just your favorite YouTube video.

A YouTube video of Captain Puppy piloting his rocketship through space.



Hey, look.  You got eight emails while reading my poem.

You should probably answer those.

2014 books on the wall…

So this year saw quite a bit of new-ish things for me: 1- a desire to learn more about the urban condition, and to translate urban studies and urban architecture into how student unions on urban campuses influence the student experience, and 2- lots of reading at home and on the T (I count 2014 as the start of that, because the latter half of 2013 was marked by reading all 5 books of the Game of Thrones… which I mean… I guess it counts).

When the T suddenly stops and you rip a page…

The end of the year is a fun time, because all the great book lists come out, and my Amazon Wish Lists grow longer and longer.  Much like the World Cup of Literature that I blogged about earlier this year, finding new books is a fun fun thing.  So, I wanted to recap some of my reads this year, and then throw out some of the lists that I have found useful thus far.

Me at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale this year…

I’m going to pull this info from my Goodreads, so you can check out my lists over there for more info.

Books that I rated 5 out of 5 stars this year:

Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection – Ethan Zuckerman

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami – This book is over 1100 pages long, but it made my favorites list, which hasn’t been added to in awhile, because it felt like only a couple hundred pages.  Murakami’s style and themes aren’t for everyone, but for some reason, his books suck me in, and 1Q84 is one of the best examples of that power thus far.

How to Be Black – Baratunde Thurston

Bossypants – Tina Fey

The Architecture of Happiness – Alain De Botton

Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris

The I’s Have It: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs – Amma Marfo – It reads like Amma is whispering sweet, intelligent somethings in your ear… but in a non-creepy, and respectful of your personal bubble, way.

Yay for 5 stars!

Those were my top books this year, that I read, not necessarily written/published this year, so check them out if you want.

Or not…

Here are some cool lists out there for other best books to read:

Via NPR Books

Via Slate Staff

Via Electric Lit

Apparently, Kid President also has a book thing happening, I dunno.

So, let’s set up a reading date sometime?

get out of their way…

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of hosting ACUI Region VIII’s annual Drive-In Conference, which focused on Veteran Services and Campus Community this year, and took place up at the very beautiful new University Crossing building at UMass Lowell.  This was a topic that was not in the usual wheelhouse of ACUI programs, but I was able to rely on the knowledge and experience of awesome presenters, colleagues, and the UMass Lowell Veteran Services Office to make learning happen.

Unlike these puppies, no one was confused and the learning was real.

It was an interesting day, with a lot of good knowledge dropped, especially by student panelists throughout a couple of our sessions.  I think it was a mix of we needed to hear some of these direct observations of student veteran life and experiences, and there was a certain amount of frustration that the student panelists were also looking to vent.

A couple observations…

Don’t recreate the wheel

Throughout the day, a lot of the themes I kept hearing were similar to issues we faced in other areas… first-year student services and experience, orientation, medical affairs and mental health and wellness, and correlations with the GLBTQ student experience on many college campuses.

Orientation to the campus, to services, to the surrounding area, to work-study jobs, are all essential services we provide to our first-year and transfer students, orienting them to these basics of life at a particular institution.  I think what we heard from our panelists was that because our student veterans are considered adults, rather than students, they get lost in these introductions.

One of the things they all agreed upon that was extremely helpful was early registration, at the same time as seniors on some campuses, for a variety of reasons: ability to get classes essential to moving through an academic plan as quickly as possible (which many may want to do), gives them other time to schedule work, appointments, etc once they have their academic scheduled and figured out.

This also goes to staffing.  A lot of frustration was vented by panelists that veteran services at some schools is just a bullet point on one person’s job description, and that forms, processes, and policies interact more with our student veterans than our people do.  You don’t have to add a full fledged staff for a Veteran’s Center if your budget doesn’t allow it, but creating a solid network of staff and faculty knowledgeable about the laws and resources that govern the student veteran experience, so that while they have to fill out all those forms, their experience is guided by people rather than a step-by-step list and policy.

Avoid negative networking

While it seems that a Veterans Lounge is a well-appreciated and very beneficial space need for the student veteran community, giving them a space to be themselves and communicate without a wall up, it can have its downfalls.

One issue to watch is that this safe space saps too much of their time and attention, keeping them from extending themselves beyond that space.  While identity as a veteran should be embraced, talked about, and reflected upon, and transferable skills should be the focus for their development while at your institution, it should not be the sole area of identity development for these students during their time on our campus.  Just like we don’t expect one dimensional development to be the norm for our traditional students, we shouldn’t be ok with allowing student veterans only the opportunity to flex their veteran identity muscles.

Modern 3D movies suck… but development along multiple dimensions of identity does not.

While they may be older than our traditional students, I heard multiple times students talk about how their involvement in student organizations was beneficial to their own experience as students, and many of those organizations were co-curricular (for example, Student Finance Society for one of the business majors).  There is also the opportunity for student employment to capitalize on the skills of management, budgeting, supervision, and more that they honed during their years of service.

While veteran lounges and organizations are an ESSENTIAL support mechanism, they are not the only support mechanism and they are not the only outlet for student veteran activities and involvement.  Diversify the audience that uses these services (dependents, community, faculty mentors, etc.), and diversify the experience of our student veterans, so their understanding of resources and opportunities is broader and more well-balanced.

Get out of their way

No, I’m not comparing student veterans to busses… and the gif I actually want to use is linked to this image… but it has a language in it… so, it’s hidden… but by all means, click through, and get my real bus-drift.

So, take the above bolded statement with a grain of salt.

Overall, one of the best ways to ensure a thriving student veteran community is to stay out of their way – once you have a solid and professional group of student veterans making the lounge feel like home, providing advice and mentorship to each other, and advocating for their own community to campus leadership, you just need to step back and let them do work.  This group of students developed and matured in what could be argued one of the tightest knit communities in any workplace, and their commitment to each other is stronger than my commitment to a bold roast coffee every morning.

None of my gifs are actually veteran related…

Granted, we need to step in every so often to help right the ship or get the train back on the tracks.  For one instance, see Bolded Statement #2.  Some of the lighter issues where we may need to help out include reminding our student veterans that their dress uniform is not appropriate interview attire, as well as reminding them that colors outside of green and grey do exist and would look good on them (this is an actual suggestion from one panel on transition issues – they’ve been wearing a uniform for the past few years and that can wreak havoc on your closet’s color spectrum).

Some of the heavier issues are mental health, family life and personal life issues, and a higher ration of suicide amongst returning veterans.  We are not mental health professionals, but its darn good professional practice that your division embraces training tools like QPR, Mental Health Response Teams, etc. beyond just the folks who hold the Dean on Call phone.  These are issues that the entire staff should be educated and trained on (can we ever be truly prepared?), and not singularly for our student veteran community, but for every student, staff, faculty, and community member we engage with.


So, take some time, assess where your campus and division stands in addressing our student veteran populations – which will continue to grow and continue to bring new resources, successes, and challenges as we draw down from certain engagements – and come up with a P-A-L-N like Sgt. Bilko to support and engage this community in the campus experience.

this dystopian american life…

It’s been busy. I also went through a spell of books, some of which were good, and some of which were Academically Adrift, which left my soul and my interest and my creativity adrift.

However, recently, I’ve gone through a series of books, been reading some articles, and been playing some video games that finally got me back on track with the creative kick.

Fallout 3 on PS3

Slate articles related to Project Hieroglyph, a project to use Sci-Fi to create a better tomorrow.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman


I’ve been immersing myself in a dystopian extravaganza, a rather exciting desert of post-human existence.  The World Without Us helps to inform some of the aspect that appear in Fallout and A Canticle, particularly how nature responds or is unable to respond, and just how bad the nuclear situation could get post-human.  While Weisman does tend to drag and teased my urban design sensibilities way hard in the initial chapter, his look at the response of the natural world to the sudden extinction of humanity (but the very material and hazardous waste future we leave behind) is an interesting non-fiction take on the dystopian story.

A Canticle spends the first third of it’s length getting me all worked up about the discovery of a fallout shelter post-deluge, which is so Fallout, and which I would read all the books about.

I was sort of upset that it wasn’t the focus of the book, and to be honest, it lost me until the last few chapters, which made the book well-worthwhile, and highly recommended.  So dystopian, so anti-“Project Hieroglyph,” and I love it.

I didn’t plan it out this way at all, I’ve just been grabbing books off my to-read shelf based on my mood after finishing the book before it.  I lucked out that these two came together in this order, that I’ve been playing Fallout again, and Slate had been running this really interesting series of articles on sci-fi’s influence.  I do look forward to picking up a copy of Project Hieroglyph to check out how the future of sci-fi can improve humanity, but until then…

grumpday humpday…

Hello.  You have probably been directed to this blog post by an automatic posting on Facebook or Twitter.  However, this is not a real blog post, as I am currently at Jury Duty.

If you would like an analysis of my experience, might I highly recommend My Cousin Vinny.  This blog is suspended until I am no longer doing my civic duty of dutiful civility.


They said no shorts or tank tops… sooooo… I’m going with this number tomorrow.

Jury Room Reading: Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris