SkunkWorks: Past, Present, and Future

2011 CUNY IT Conference

December 2, 2011

***A special thanks to Anastasiya Fatiy (John Jay College of Criminal Justice Graduate Student) for blogging the session***

[14:30] A panel consisting of Helen Keier, Philip Pecorino, Christopher Stein, and Adam S. Wandt is convened to have a scholarly discussion about SkunkWorks. George Otte is a special guest of the panel today.

[14:32] Adam S. Wandt discusses the background of the group. The group has been convening once a month for the last year, trying to figure out how to be most efficient. Students are starting to be allowed to join SkunkWorks.

[14:34] Adam S. Wandt reviews the Academic Technology Research and Development Group web page at

[14:37] Adam S. Wandt points out that there is a digital application on the website to join –

[14:39] George Otte talks about the importance of SkunkWorks because technology hasn’t been a priority for far too long. Adam S. Wandt and George Otte are in the process of talking with members of administration on how to support this enterprise as it goes forward.

[14:42] Philip Pecorino agrees with George Otte about the importance of technology and also the need for having a forum to discuss individual experiences with technology which is how the idea of an R&D group came to be.

[14:45] Philip Pecorino: vendor involvement is a complicated yet necessary part of the process. It’s a no-strings-attached process with no promises made to the vendors regarding the reaction to their product.

[14:47] Christopher Stein – SkunkWorks is open to software developed by CUNY faculty to evaluate and assess.

[14:48] Christopher Stein – It’s important that technology is evaluated by students and faculty who are the intended audience for the product, so that the evaluations happen in an organized manner that produces comprehensive results.

[14:49] Helen Keier introduces herself as a part of the team for the BlackBoard installation in 2003 and the following updates, including the upcoming transition to BlackBoard 9. She shares that what struck her most through the transitions was the vast amounts of lost data. She suggests SkunkWorks examine how we upgrade to lose less valuable data.

[14:53] Adam S. Wandt makes the distinction between purchasing and evaluating. SkunkWorks is not a purchasing group. SkunkWorks exists to research, develop and evaluate academic technology. The idea is to be as detached from purchasing as possible, though CUNY is likely to pay attention to the reports and make purchasing decisions based on them.

[14:55] Adam S. Wandt talks about the first major funded trial by SkunkWorks, conducted with Sprint Evo 4G Smartphones equipped with BlackBoard Mobile Learn and the paper he has written on the topic. The result was that students quite enjoyed the trial and reported that the smartphones made it easy to do homework, discussion boards, and readings.

[14:57] Adam S. Wandt discusses trial pros: students accessed reading materials a lot more often than usually and partook in more class interaction and trial cons: bugs that were immediately addressed by the blackboard team as well as the short battery life of the phones.

[15:00] Philip Pecorino discusses the importance of university support. A space in the new location on the Hudson side was offered to SkunkWorks, should they need a physical space. This location is available along with equipment.

[15:03] Adam S. Wandt – Entourage edge devices were the first real trial.

[15:06] Audience question about visual disability comes up regarding BBML and Smartphones. Adam S. Wandt counters with the fact that iPads or larger tablets can be substituted.

[15:07] Audience question regarding the selection of technology for the trials. Adam S. Wandt shares that ideas come from one of the SkunkWorks members or from interested vendors. Philip  Pecorino adds that they receive internal proposals from people who are all interested in different things. Adam S. Wandt adds that everyone has their niche that they get passionate about, which is where ideas come from.

[15:11] Adam S. Wandt talks about his frustrations with email and subsequent move to Project Gnosis (taking inspiration from IT help desk ticket systems) as an example of making technology work for you in creative ways.

[15:13] Adam S. Wandt poses a question to Sprint representatives regarding the SkunkWorks trial. Anthony Furino responds – the future is all about phone applications and Sprint was interested in seeing results of the trial.

[15:15] Helen Keier – John Jay has the largest digital footprint of all CUNY schools.

[15:17] Regarding joining SkunkWorks: Philip Pecorino – if you volunteer to be a researcher, indicate your preference. Adam S. Wandt – the best thing to do is come up and say “I have an idea”.

[15:18] Adam S. Wandt- John Jay is at 80% of students with smartphones and the numbers are consistently on the rise, showing the need for technology by both students and faculty.

[15:20] Audience suggestion – a database for academic technology for sharing. Adam S. Wandt reveals that that’s the next big project. The wiki project is slowly underway in order to become a portal of knowledge. An audience member from the office of institutional research suggested integrating the scientific equipment database into the R&D wiki.

[15:25] Audience question – The apparent problem with some technology is that it’s tied to a service provider and students might have to switch to it. Philip Pecorino – that is an issue we are considering. Helen Keier – there is precedent for CUNY schools assuming the licensing costs for its students. Adam S. Wandt – SkunkWorks is there to evaluate the product, it’s up to CUNY to figure out everything else.

[15:27] Adam S. Wandt talks about the next SkunkWorks project next semester which consists of digitizing an entire class by giving students iPads.

[15:29] Helen Keier encouraged the audience and those following at home to join the conversation, come to meetings. You don’t have to have an idea. Philip Pecorino adds that those who join learn a lot about the products we are working with.

[15:31] Audience poll reveals that no one in the audience uses the cloud out of the five audience members who use technology in their classes. (Other than Blackboard).

[15:32]Adam S. Wandt – we want to start putting out a monthly academic technology podcast talking about academic technology, interviewing faculty members who properly use technology in the classroom, etc. a great contribution to the community. Philip Pecorino – we need to know what technology the faculty wants us to research.

[15:35] Audience suggestion – information about the different kinds of data storage in the cloud for when BlackBoard is not sufficient. Helen Keier argues on behalf of blackboard and its future, Adam S. Wandt offers to share his own expertise.

[15:36] Adam S. Wandt – all SkunkWorks meetings are recorded and on the website –

[15:37] Audience question – is the best product? Helen Keier – it’s only as good as the source data. Adam S. Wandt admits to being a big fan of the software.

[15:39] Adam S. Wandt thanks everyone for attending the conference and encourages all those interested to have a conversation about joining.

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