I just received an email that a paper I’ve been coauthoring has been accepted at Information Systems Research. “Trust is in the Eye of the Beholder: A Vignette Study of Post-Event Behavioral Controls on Individual Trust in Virtual Teams” reports the results of a study that began during my introductory seminar for the PhD program at Indiana University in 2004.   It’s wonderful to finally see the nearing culmination of years of work. I’m grateful for dedicated coauthors who have labored so diligently to bring this work to light.

In brief layman’s terms, the message of the paper is as follows: Virtual teams is the term we use for describing teams whose members interact primarily using technologies instead of in face-to-face settings.  With such teams, a managerial concern has been that it is difficult to control such groups, and that when controls are put in place, it tends to undermine trust among the team members. In our study, we conducted an experiment testing whether behavioral controls (requiring group members to report on the performance of their team members) and the presence of reneging behaviors (people failing to following through with their commitments) affect trust in these virtual teams. What we found was that these controls actually lead group members to notice both positive and negative behaviors and enhance what is called the “selective perception bias.” Basically it helps people find what they were predisposed to look for. If people tend to be distrustful, behavioral controls in virtual teams increased that tendency. If they tend to be trusting of others, behavioral controls increased that tendency as well.

Ever since I began work at BYU Hawaii almost a year ago, I’ve been hearing about and thinking a lot about the mandate we have from our board of trustees to teach more students, teach them better, and lower the total cost per student here at the university. Although on the surface, this seems like a restatement of the “do more with less” adage common in business management, particularly during times of economic recession, I think there’s more significance in this challenge than simply saving money without completely gutting the educational experience our students receive. I think it’s a challenge to lay a foundation for growth and scalability.

Currently BYUH serves about 2,500 students from 70 countries. In comparison, the BYU Provo campus has an enrollment of approximately 30,000 students from 115 countries. BYU Idaho has an enrollment of approximately 11,000 students from about 57 countries. For each of these institutions, the international student percentages are in the minority.  For BYU Idaho, the percentage is 3%. The LDS Business College has an enrollment of 1,600 students with almost 4% from outside the United States. 6% of BYU Provo students are currently from outside of the United States. For BYU Hawaii, international students make up 43% of the student body. That means roughly 1,100 students from BYUH, 330 students from BYUI, 60 students from LDSBC, and 1,800 students at BYU are from outside the United States — a rough total of 3,290 international students enrolled in Church-sponsored universities / colleges.

I have not done the analysis to see whether each of these schools are attracting international students from the same countries or target areas, but I think two conclusions based on this data are worth mentioning here: 1) the enrollment demographics at Church sponsored universities are not reflective of the overall Church demographic trends (with membership outside the United States making up just over 50 percent of membership). 2) BYU Hawaii (based on percentages) is closer to that statistic than the three other Church sponsored college / universities. Even though BYU Provo technically has more international students enrolled than BYU Hawaii, I think the percentage of international students is significant in terms of the way it shapes our academic culture, our community, and our educational environment. And I believe that, if we are going to see a significant increase in enrollment at Church sponsored institutions of “higher education,” much of that is going to happen here.  I think because of both organizational inertia as well as the demographics of the region surrounding the other three Church schools, transforming those universities into international communities is going to be much harder than growing Brigham Young University Hawaii.

In terms of Growing BYU Hawaii, our current administration has talked a lot about and is making great efforts to increase enrollments at the university (by about 5000 students or so) so as to make the administration of the university cost effective in a way that offsets the fixed costs of running a university in Hawaii.  Although that’s an important subject, that isn’t the focus of this post.  I think much of the intent behind the charge to find a way to both increase the quality of the educational experience here and to teach more students more cost effectively is that if we can figure out how to do that, we will have found a way to extend the blessings of a BYU Hawaii education to tens of thousands of additional students (primarily international students). I think we can do it, and I don’t think we have to bring them all here to Laie, Hawaii to do so. I believe that communication technologies are gradually allowing us to increase the richness of the educational experience across time and distance to such a degree that many BYU Hawaii students will not need to live full time “on-campus” for us to achieve this goal and for them to benefit from a Church-sponsored university education.

While I enthusiastically support the efforts being taken by my friends in the BYU Hawaii Online division to create online courses that can benefit students in our target area, I think we can and should explore additional avenues that may allow us to help more people learn without significantly increasing the costs of providing this educational experience.  My personal thoughts and efforts are focused on the following challenges: 1) the English language barrier is one of the most significant obstacles I’ve seen for educating more international students. I am often challenged to adequately communicate with students who have had multiple semesters of in-class English language training.  Reaching out to those with less instruction in the English language living outside the United States is a formidable challenge for me. 2) many nations lack the technological infrastructure that “developed” nations “enjoy.” High-speed internet is not universally available to carry live video interactions across oceans and continents.  Power is often not consistently available. A generation gap often exists between desktop and mobile computing devices here and in many countries.

So what is to be done? How do we bring BYU Hawaii to more international students despite these challenges? In thinking about these questions, I’ve had a passage of scripture come to mind.  A revelation give through Joseph Smith the prophet to an early Mormon Church leader, Thomas Marsh states:

62 Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature. (Doctrine and Covenants 112:62).

The part of this passage that keeps coming back to me is this, “and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send.” Another related passage from The Book of Mormon states the following:

7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth? 8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true. (Alma 29:7-8).
In an attempt to apply these teachings to my educational efforts, I am planning to assign my students in the coming term to each teach what they are learning in class to at least one person in their home state or country who can benefit from knowing these things. This teaching should be ongoing throughout the term and should be done in the native language of the individual’s being taught whenever possible. They will need to report back to me throughout the course as to the progress of the teaching/learning experience. I’m still trying to figure out how to grade such an assignment, and this doesn’t immediately translate into enrolled students for the university, but it does get us moving in the direction of educating more students.
Now for the technological challenges.  I’m going to need more help from my students on this one, because they are much more familiar with the communication tools being used by individuals in their home country  / community.  I think initially I will leave it up to the enrolled student to select the tool(s) for communicating with and teaching their friends in hopes that it will give me a better feel for what is possible in what countries. I’m not trying to build infrastructure / donate hardware.  For now, I’ll leave those efforts to others and will focus on working with the existing tools, whether it be high speed web access, email, text messaging, social networking applications, video conferencing, online videos, cell phones, voice mail, postal mail, etc.  I have a hunch that mobile technology will ultimately play a key role in all of this, but I’m still figuring out how.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions on these rough ideas, please share them with me.  I look forward to your feedback.

There’s been a lot of activity on the web discussing Google Buzz, it’s latest foray into social networking.  Much of what I’ve read seems to be questioning whether this poses any kind of threat to Twitter or Facebook.  Personally, I think FB and Twitter are secondary considerations here. I hope this development is taking us closer to an open platform of status updates, much like we enjoy with email today.

One of the features I like about Buzz (though I think they should have made it a bit more obvious) is the ability to mute posts.  Much like moving things out of my inbox once I’ve categorized them and put something on my todo list, I think a major failing with FB and twitter is it’s hard to figure out the info bits that have already been processed. Hopefully we’ll see more progress on this end as well.

I’ve had some experiences in my teaching this week that have left me seeking a greater focus in what I choose to teach my students. I heard through a colleague in my department that one of my students in my management information systems course feels like they’re in a snowstorm with so much new stuff coming at them. I keep feeling like 60 minutes is insufficient time, particularly in that class to have a meaningful discussion about even half of the material in the chapter of reading assigned for each day in class. We discussed two major topics (a review of principles of competitive advantage and an introduction to computer hardware), and we didn’t have enough time before the class session finished.  My colleague, who has taught this class, empathized with me, but indicated I’m still trying to cover too much, particularly when taking into account the size of my class and the language barriers we are working with here at BYU Hawaii. He said I’m just going to have to figure out which arm to feed to the shark, because something’s going to have to go.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend trying to get my class sessions more structured and modular, but apparently I need to streamline my overall approach further.  It seems I need to pick a single learning objective to focus each class session on, and to craft learning activities to support that single objective. I’m going to need to be more diligent in making the identification of each day’s learning objective a matter of prayer. Another colleague shared his teaching philosophy with me–that our job is to light a fire of interest in their hearts and to get them interacting with these tools as much as possible and let them direct their learning. It appears then, that I need to have the faith that, if I can motivate my students and provide them with enough of a foundation, that they will be able to return to the text or other reference material as they need more information.

I just watched an interesting video of Bruce Schneier discussing the future of the IT Security industry. His arguments parallel Nick Carr’s discussion of trends toward utility computing. Schneier argues that as outsourcing trends continue, we’ll see the IT security become the focus of firms providing the outsourced services (like Facebook & Gmail) and security will become part of the bundle of services rather than a single product to be marketed to businesses / end users.  He bases his arguments on Tversky and Kanneman’s prospect theory, which indicates that individuals are more willing to accept a reward-based risky sale / option than a fear-based risky sale / option.

In addition to leading me to think more seriously about an important trend in the security industry, the long-term perspective, which Schneier builds by drawing on the past and projecting into the future of computing and IT security specifically, also reminds me of how important it is for me to educate my students for the demands they will face in the future rather than simply the skills they need today.

Preparing for Fall Semester

After a very momentous new faculty training yesterday, I set out today to seriously begin my preparations for my fall semester courses. (Classes start on Thursday). I spent much of the day familiarizing myself with the textbook and other resources for my network services management (with Windows 2003) course. I’ve been very impressed by a book, that was given to me yesterday called What the Best College Teachers Do. The book discusses (among many other things) the perspective that classroom instruction is often most effective when teachers approach knowledge as something that is cocreated rather than transferred. In the spirit of that principle, I’m trying to set the class up so that we can have meaningful knowledge producing interactions rather than passive learning focused lectures. Admittedly, this is a hard task, particularly since I’m preparing this course for the first time. But I really want to interact with my students rather than repackaging the textbook material during class. And I really want them to learn to engage with the topic managing a network server in a way that will help them to both develop technical skills they can use in their future work, but also to understand the personal and leadership issues that are reflected in server configuration.

I’m also trying to find ways to make the classroom time more productive–pushing administrative activities like homework submissions outside of the class time, so that we can use our time together more effectively.  It’s going to require me to be even more prepared for class, but hopefully the Lord will magnify my efforts if my desires are right.

Learning through Tinkering

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get my students to build more and become invested in their work and learn through experimentation. I think this video by John Seely Brown captures some of the things I’m trying to accomplish in the classroom. To me, however, the challenge appears to be that this kind of thinking requires a complete restructuring of class preparation and student assessment. Time is focused on building, sharing and critiquing things. In some classes, like Web Design and Programming, I can see this being more readily implemented. But what about courses with “softer” skill sets? Can we get students in an intro to MIS course to build, share, and critique things that get evaluated based on their functionality as well?