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IT vs T

This post would have better pictures if it were The Hulk vs. Mr. T, but then I'd probably end up violating someone's copyright.

A little over a year ago, I subscribed to MAKE magazine. I learned of it from a now defunct podcast published by O'Reilly. The driver behind the magazine is that with information technology as pervasive as it is now, there is much more surface area between IT and the analog world. MAKE set out to capture this phenomena and I think it does a great job of it. A week doesn't go by when my son and I aren't talking about some cool project we've see on on MAKE. We even set some time aside this past summer to make one of the projects we saw and it was really fun.

MAKE has also been a force behind the establishment of events called Maker Faire's. You can think of Maker Faire as the Grange Fair but with technology. Instead of showing off the pig, you show off the kite with the digital camera attached to it for taking pictures several hundred feet off the ground, for example. Or the Altoid can mod that becomes the case for your latest iPod. You get the idea.

Aside from the fact that this kind of innovation is fun and fascinating to track, it gets me wondering about what role IT thinks it has in this space. There are times I think we're (IT as much as ITS, but probably more of an issue for ITS IMO) hyper-concerned from the browser to the backbone, and for good reasons. But what about the plethora of cameras and digital signage on campus, or instrumentation in research labs, or the cornucopia of technology that now resides in residence halls rooms. Keeping in touch with how faculty, students, and peer staff are changing their IT environments to accommodate all of these new devices/agents/etc. is only going to become more important as the number of devices equals or greatly exceeds the number of computers running clunky browsers. We don't have too many first hand examples of this in ITS but we do have some. I'm wondering about how we get closer to what's going on at this IT vs. T interface.

Maybe we should co-sponsor a residence hall Maker Faire for residence hall students along with IST and Student Affairs? Maybe we could sponsor a faculty oriented Maker Faire so they could show off cool IT/T solutions they've come up with in their offices, homes, labs.
Even better, it would be great to have a place (and excitement) large enough to have both going on at the same time. 4H for technology at it's most basic level - getting things done.

Doing anything cool that you'd be willing to share here? Have any ideas about how we can raise awareness about our own Penn State MAKE attitude, so we can better prepare for the future (because it's here now)?

Comments (9)

Kevin - I really love this idea about co-sponsoring - or even sponsoring some type of Maker Faire, whether it's with SA, IST, a combo of both, or a bunch of other units. It reminds me of the very first Linux event we co-sponsored several years ago - and more recently, the ITS Event/Expo. Honestly (and personally), I prefer what you're suggesting over an "ITS Event" because I think our resources, human and otherwise, would be more wisely expended - and I think the outcomes would be better (my personal opinion) for the University community. It's also my opinion that the last ITS event should be the last indeed - and that ITS needs to look for and engage opportunities as you suggest here. This broadens our scope, our talents, our resources, in a way that more realistically fits with what we hope to accomplish as an organization.

Lisa German:

Some of our librarians are making interesting learning tools to help students with their courses. You'd have willing collaborators in University Libraries for a Makers Faire.

Sounds interesting - what kinds of tools?

Michael Pelikan:

It's popular to speak of students today as being "technology savvy".
I've come to believe instead that many are "technology avid".

Nevertheless, in working closely with IST students, I came to feel, as an IST professor once commented to me, that a little more emphasis could be placed on the "IS" since there's already such a pre-emphasis on the "T".

I mention this to echo what Ms. German has said in her comments.
The information science aspect of today's technology-suffused environment eludes many students (and, to be honest, many of those who are not students).

Perhaps we should be seeking ways to promote an understanding of how to:

* encode ideas in words,

* capture "knowledge" in technological environments,

* describe the oceans of information we accumulate (thereby making it usable (or even reusable)).

A specific suggestion: as tag clouds increase in visibility and importance, perhaps we should explore ways to help students do more than just use a new interface. Perhaps we should foster a climate in which thoughtful tagging is understood as an imperative (or at least an etiquette) both in social software settings and more formal digital gatherings...

You make me want to do a whole 'nother entry about these very important issues. If I can, I might put them in the "information literacy" space - although calling it that is bad marketing for what I think is a shared, hoped for outcome.

The point I'm trying to tease out is that we've long been consumed with designing infrastructures assuming that consumers or discovers of information are sitting behind a large screen, with a lot of horsepower behind it, with a fast network connection, etc. Today, we have units, people, etc. attaching cameras, cell phones, wii's, televisions, video cameras, accelerometers, bar code scanners, to the network - and that maybe we don't have enough of that perspective in our central IT blood. The portfolio of devices and capabilities and is rich and getting richer. Is this phenomena firmly enough in our planning DNA?


Hey Kevin. I love looking at the intersection of technology and all aspects of culture (from social interaction to viral art). If you like Make, I think you might enjoy Instructables as well, where people post and comment on step by step instructions for making all sorts of things.

Even though I've never created a throwie, seeing a video of people using them inspires me to think a little differently. I think it would be very cool to create a mental and physical space for people to share what they are doing.

The project we did involved lots-o-LEDs, but nothing quite like that. We'll check it out.

We're big instructable fans, too. I was just calling out MAKE since it was the first thing I bumped into like this.

FWIW, we also like http://www.indymogul.com/ for film making tips - wonder if this is a good strap on for Digital Commons groupies (does it have groupies yet?).

Ed McGowan:

I will contact our Crafts Center staff. Another possible venue for a co-sponsored event is LateNight at the HUB. Creative Crafts and the Gaming areas operate for 4 hrs each Friday/Saturday and are quite popular. Adding some new crafts would probably bring in students new to LateNight. I'm surprised that we haven't recognized a MakerFaire club yet.

Great idea! Let us know what we can do to help.

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