Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cabrini Connections Story video

Have you seen the Cabrini Connections Story video:

There is much more available at http://www.cabriniconnections.net/video.asp.
What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Results and challenges!

Hey, our local network is done!
12 laptops, 7 PCs and 7 Macs are ready to serve our students and volunteers. All together we have 26 computers. It is not quite like one student suggested during the election campaign for the 2008 Cabrini Connections Youth Leadership Council – one laptop on each table (40 laptops)…but almost. And the server is now running perfectly and silently.

Now our task/challenge is to utilize that technology. Numerous things have been done to try to increase it’s usage now we have to follow through.

What has been done? At this moment we have online community environment that, inside one Moodle course, include:
• A private forum, wiki and chat function for each student and mentor pair

• A forum, wiki and chatroom for all students
• A forum, wiki and chatroom for all mentors
• A forum, wiki and chatroom for all parents.
• Forms each student has to fill at the beginning and at the end of each session to track their goals and activities with their mentors. Only mentor of particular student can see the results of these forms.
• Forms each mentor has to fill after each session
• Blogs, wikis
• Career dictionary – a learning activity wherein each student has to input at least one term. Additionally, they can grade and comment on other students inputs
• Planning forum. Question and Answer forum – where each student-mentor couple should present their plan for coming year. However, they can not see other students answers unless they have already posted their own plan. Furthermore, each student and mentor can grade (list of 10 comments) each plan.

I think that is quite a lot. Now, our task is to use it and to improve it.
What are your thoughts abut it?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pure Rock ’N’ Roll

It is pure Rock ’n’ Roll. You know that feeling. Energetic, optimistic, music, bunch of friends, happy people… Yes it is only Rock’N’Roll. You can feel it in the air, you can even touch it.

No, no, I am not talking about music, I am talking about the feeling that I can make a change, you can make a change, your friend can make a change… Some of us can make smaller and some can make bigger changes, but together we can change the world. Nice feeling, right?

Yes, yes, it is pure Rock ’N’ Roll. OK, some younger people call it different things: Hip-Hop, Rap, Blues, Heavy Metal, Punk-Rock, some of us will even call it Country or Electronic Music. It does not matter what you call it. It does not matter which kind of music you prefer. If you can feel that big chuck of enthusiasm, the feeling that together we can: that is it!

And that is what happened on Friday (12/12/08) in Schubas Tavern. 4 different bands, came and played different types of music, but they all had the same quality, the same good feeling.

Those bands were:

  1. East Side Ramblers (they call it Jazz),
  2. Black Collar (they call it Hip-Hop)
  3. Trakan (they call it Power Indie Folk)
  4. The Howling Poppies (they call it - you know Rock 'n' Roll)

Video presentation is below and pictures from the concert are >> here.

Check it. See how good it was. Will you come to the next concert? It is great way to have fun and do a good thing (support Cabrini Connections). Right?

Of course, if you for any reason can not come, but you want to/can support our program you are welcome to donate at: www.cabriniconnections.net/donate/.

Energy... was all around.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cabrini Connections Web Development Strategy

Large network. Over the years Cabrini Connections has built a very large and well-connected network of websites, blogs and wikis. It is nice to see so many good ideas and so much enthusiasm in one place.

Productive and progressive. Cabrini Connection was one of the most productive and progressive organizations, – constantly producing new web content and trying new technologies. Cabrini Connections even made an official technology strategy at the beginning of this century while almost half of American and the vast majority of the World’s universities lacked such a document.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
Dwight David Eisenhower
Planning & Plans. Plans, especially technology plans are like a living being – they are as good as the amount of time and effort we invest in development and application.

Plan >> Act >> Observe >> Reflect >> Revised Plan >> act >> Observe…
- Cabrini Connections’ path to success

So, let’s say a few words about our Web sites. Sustainable web site development has become a big challenge.

Quantity. Cabrini Connections /Tutor/Mentor Connection have 7 web sites. Those are:
  1. Cabrini T/MC Golf >> www.cabrinitmcgolf.org
  2. Tutor/mentor Conference >> www.tutormentorconference.org
  3. Tutor/mentor program locator >> www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net
  4. Tutor/mentor connection >> www.tutormentorconnection.org
  5. Tutor/mentor connection @ ning.com >> http://tutormentorconnection.ning.com
  6. Cabrini Connections >> www.cabriniconnections.net
7 web sites? That is more websites than the number of Cabrini Connections staff. If Google worked the same way, they would have over 20,123 web sites since that is the number of staff they employ.

Google. Well… they did not do that. Probably because they do not have enough time, money and human resources to produce so many sites. Google.com is enough. If there is a big project/service as Google Maps, they simply create a short subdomain like maps.google.com

So, what happened at Cabrini Connections? Do we have time, money and human resources for this many sites? We have to develop them, we have to brand them, we have to maintain technology, pay for servers… but do we get the results that match the investment (Return Of Investment: ROI)?

Strategy. Let’s have a look how is it explained in Technology strategy. On page List of web sites and purpose is stated:

We work from many different web sites because:
  1. they serve different purposes and/or
  2. they were created by different volunteers at different times.
Reason one. As you can see, reason one says that all those sites have so different purposes that they can not be together.

Is that valid statement?

All those sites actually support the same mission/purpose and that is:
  • Supporting structured activities that make a life-changing difference for youth living in economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Strategy, mission and cost. There are minor differences in the particular strategies each site uses to support the aforementioned activities, but there is no doubt that they support the same mission (they serve same purpose). Furthermore, those differences are much, much smaller than the price we have to pay for the development, maintenance and branding of 7 different sites.

Real world example. We mentioned how Google manages web development. But how do successful nonprofits do it? Let’s have a look at Public/Private Ventures (PPV.org) web site. Although they are a very big organization (national leader in creating and strengthening programs that improve lives in low-income communities, 60 staff members) they have just one web site. And if you click link [Program Areas], you will see that their activities are more diverse than ours. But still, all those activities are presented through just one site.

Reason two suggest that we have numerous web sites because they were created by different volunteers at different times.

What about that statement?

Knowledge then and now. 6-7 years ago, I would say ‘Yes’ that is a good reason. Why? Because at that time I did not know much about multiple FTP accounts and services as blogger.com or ning.com did not provide CNAME service; I did not know much about online collaboration. But today I know that there is no reason why 100, 1000, or more, like with Google.com’s website, users can not work together on one web site. All you need to know is how to create a folder or subdomain with separate FTP account and in no time you can have numerous individuals/groups working on a site or collaborating through the same site – everybody just in his own area or everybody together. So… today the answer is no: there is no reason why numerous authors cannot share the same domain.

To summarize, those statements are not valid anymore.

Statistic. Recently I conducted a small research study: 10 random students and 10 random volunteers were asked how many web sites we have? None of them know the right number.
The greatest danger for the new venture is to “know better’ than the customer what the product or service is or should to be, how it should be bought, and what it should be used for. Peter Drucker
SWOT analysis
SWOT Analysis
is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project. It involves specifying the objective of the project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective. So, let’s make SWOT analysis for ‘7 web site web development plan’ and compare it with ‘1-2 web site web development strategy’.

SWOT analysis for 7 website web development strategy

Helpful to achieving the objective
  • Strength
    - Keeping Status Quo
  • Opportunity
    - None
Harmful to achieving the objective
  • Weakness
    - Time consuming
    - Fragmentized web
    - Expensive web development (different technologies, different websites…)
    - Impossible branding
    - Collaboration between users/sites is very limited
  • Threats
    - Misleading: 7 web sites can give impression that we are doing a good job. Unfortunately, that is very misleading conclusion. It is not important how much web sites we have, it is important how effective they are.
SWOT analysis for 1-2 website web development strategy

Helpful to achieving the objective
  • Strength
    - Easier development
    - One technology
    - Numerous users working together without technological problems
    - Strong, recognizable web site
  • Opportunity
    - Faster development
    - Branding
    - Becoming real Mentoring Web Portal
Harmful to achieving the objective
  • Weakness
    - Change – reorganizing web site is responsable and time consuming task
  • Threats
    - Losing data
    - Inproper redirection
So, what can/should we do? How can we manage our web development? As I said (and as you probably know), this is a big network with lots of good content, 7 web sites, much more blogs, maps, 2 web applications.
Management is the specific and distinguishing organ of any and all organizations. Peter Drucker
Status Quo. One way to plan development is keep it as it is – keep the Status Quo. In short term this is much easier solution; not much work, not much responsibility. But if we think about progress, cost, mission and results, then that is not an option. Maintaining 7 web sites is a full time job for a big team.

Management. Another possibility is making changes in direction of:

Unifying technology. We should use trusted technologies that fulfill all our needs and are supported by numerous users. That technology should be easy to use, easy to maintain and if it is possible – it should be free (open source). Fortunately numerous open source solutions, that are extremely powerful, easy to use, supported by millions of users and… are ‘designed for us’ are available. For example combination Joomla Content Management System (CMS) and Moodle Learning Management System can serve all our needs.

Planned and gradual process. Unifying websites should be a well planned and gradual process. There are numerous links to our sites. Therefore we should keep all domain names we have now as aliases. I If somebody clicks on an old link, she will be redirected to a new site. For example www.tutormentorexchange.net can be an alias for www.learn.cabriniconnections.net.

University ChicagoLand Example. I will explain how it works on one classical example. In our example we will use ‘University ChicagoLand’. This is one fictional university situated at 7 locations in the Chicagoland Area. Some of the campuses are situated more than 50 miles apart. so students and staff have to spend a few hours a day in traffic just to travel from one part of the University to another and some student have to skip classes because it is imposable to arrive on time. Furthermore, the University is paying 7 gatekeepers, maintaining 7 different buildings, 7 independent computer networks… Fortunately, after research the University management decided to change 7 distant locations for one where everything is on one place.
However, numerous partners and alumni have the old university addresses. But, that is not a problem. Simply all mails that come to the old addresses will be forwarded to a new location. So, as a result we will have better working environment, it is cheaper to maintain, and without travel problems… students and staff can focus 100% on education.

It works the same way in the digital environment. It is cheaper, easier to maintain, easier to develop and achieve results if we have just one web site.

Branding. A branding of 7 web sites is mission impossible. But a branding 1 or 2 web sites is something we can do.

Partnership. Since sharing the data/results we have costs little or nothing, and there are obvious benefits like improved results, better quality control, sharing costs, partnership is the way to go.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pedagogical DNA for 21st century

Have you seen this movie?
It seams that we need a new teaching DNA. Do we need a new tutoring DNA? What about mentoring?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TMC Conference - potential for eLearning

The Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference (November 21st, at the Field Museum) assembled over 100 tutor/mentor experts and enthusiasts. It was a day full of intensive, interesting discussions, workshops and lessons about mentoring, managing nonprofit mentoring organizations and utilizing technologies :).

You know those timeless questions: Quality control, marketing, networking, designing students’ activities, digital natives (net generation) vs. digital immigrants, and of course, budget... we can not forget the budget. All of that was discussed throughout the Conference. Some workshops have become real brainstorming sessions. Unfortunately I was not able to participate in all of them, so I will describe just the most interesting ones that I participated in.

Panel discussion How to incorporate arts, writing and technology into a volunteer based mentoring program was almost ‘how to do it’ tutorial. Panelist Robbie Telfer (Young Chicago Authors, www.youngchicagoauthors.org), Mindy Feber (Open Youth Networks, www.openyouthnetworks.org) and Patrick Shaffner (826 CHI, www.826chi.org) presented very interesting and dynamic activities they are providing for their students.

For example Young Chicago Authors use ‘real world simulations’. One of them is: students are collaboratively writing a story for a journal. However, there is an ‘invisible evil editor’ who is constantly sending their story back for improvements. At the end, when they are almost certain that the story is good enough, the invisible editor sends a message that they need actually 30 stories, and the deadline is in 35 minutes. Panic… you can fill the tension in the air… How? We do not have time! Should we quit… Is there a solution?
Well, let’s make 30 different endings. Each student should make his own ending of the story. At the end of this dynamic game, they had 30 different stories, each student had experienced collaborative writing, individual writing, they felt a few real world challenges (team work, roles, boos, deadlines, quality control) and they had great fun. Those are great results for one evening. Right?

Idea. In their situation ‘the evil editor’ is a person who is behind a black curtains and they can see only her/his hand when s/he is receiving the article. In our situation (Cabrini Connections), the editor can be in his office (in NY or in the same room – who knows) and communicating with writers through the internet.

Workshop Nuts and Bolts of the Juvenile Justice System. Mrs. Elizabeth Clarke (Juvenile Justice Initiative, www.jjustice.org) presented the challenges that are confronting the Illinois Juvenile Justice System. You can find out more at www.jjustice.org. I will just mention a few interesting facts I heard during the workshops. Illinois is one of 12 states where minors (kids under 18 years old) can be tried as adults . And the USA is the only country in the world where kids can be tried as adults… The majority of minors that end under adult court jurisdiction are there because of nonviolent crimes.

Kids do stupid thing sometimes, and although those ‘stupid things’ are not something we should always tolerate, we should know that if we incarcerate a 17 years old kid – there is almost a 50% chance that s/he will become a professional criminal. Scary, right? That explain why states (and countries) that do not have juvenile prisons and do not send minors to adult courts have much lower juvenile crime rate than those who do. Find more at www.jjustice.org.

Workshop Social networking: who do you know and how can they help you? Marian Casey (www.answersforspecialkids.org) and Allison Youngblood (www.jlchicago.org) lead an interesting and very interactive workshop. How to network? Ways to network? Should we use technology or is face to face communication OK? Which technologies?… Those were just a few of the issues we discussed. This video summarizes the most important topics of this Workshop. So, please, turn on your speakers and enjoy the following 2 minute video presentation.

How do you build your network?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cabrini Technology Wiki

As you probably noticed, the Cabrini Technology Wiki is available at http://my.mentorforme.org/. Each Cabrini Connections member with an SVHATS account can collaborate on development of this document.

And here we are - working together – because together we can do it.


Most parts of our technology strategy are fine as they are now, some parts can be improved, and some minor parts should be changed. But, probably more important than updating the Strategy is understanding the Strategy. Because… there is no strategy or plan that can be accomplished without support of volunteers, students, staff and sponsors (Bates 2004). Everybody should understand what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it? Additionally everybody should feel/know that Cabrini Connections’ technology strategy is designed to support her/his activities in Cabrini Connections. And everybody should know that our technology strategy is their strategy.

Therefore we all should discuss it. What do you think would be the best way to implement that strategy? Would you like to change or add something?

What are your thoughts?

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory .

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Source: www.gpworldwide.com

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let’s collaborate!

Have you checked SVHATS in the last couple days?

Yes, yes, that is because we are upgrading our web server. We are migrating from an expensive and insufficient virtual private server to one that is half as expensive but with better service. So, if you come to the SVHATS site in next few days, I am confident that you will notice the difference. A positive change.

Those days everybody is talking about change…
So are we :)

You will also notice a new design, a few videos incorporated into the site… Well, we are moving forward. Slowly but surely…

Soon we will add few e-learning activities. And…
Do’nt forget to check out our new computers. Actually they’re not really new, rather they are 4-6 years old, but we are reinstalling them and they now run like new!
Also, don’t forget to check your documents.

OK, first each Cabrini Connections member has to get a network password. Username is the same as for SVHATS: last_name.first_name. With that data you can log to any computer at Cabrini Connections as if it were your private computer: you will have your own documents, your own favorites… Of course there is also a shared folder, so students, volunteers and staff can exchange files with one another.
It seems to me that our e-learning environment is becoming much better.

OK, let me finish the technical part, and then we will talk how to utilize the technology.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New challenges

I am back. The past two weeks I have spent in Croatia. I met many friends, relatives, and numerous colleagues.

In one of the coming posts I will talk more about e-learning in Croatia. November 11th I have a presentation at the Croatian Academic and Research Network Conference ‘E-course for E-mentors – behavior-changing educational experience’… I have participated in numerous video conferences. However, this is the first time I will be only a long -distance participant.

More about that later…

Because, now we have more interesting things.

The new server is bought, same as the software. Chicago IT Help expert team is configuring the server and in 2 days they should start working here: changing the old servers with a new one.

And SVHATS numbers are growing, slowly but persistently.

Although the number of views is constant (now everybody knew how it looks like), the number of posts are visibly growing.

Check the graphs on this picture:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It is time to summarize…

Organization. “This week was interesting.” First 3 days I was working on our ‘hardware’. The challenge was to organize all staff we have. And we have a lot… starting from at least 150 electric supply cable cords for computers to 50 computer mice, 18 printers, and monitors. Newer staff is 7-10 years old and the older staff is older… Newer or older, there are a lot of very useful things. And it is good to have them organized.

Server/Laptop area. Then we reorganized the server area. Actually, if you come to Cabrini Connections now, it is now a laptop area. I assorted unused hardware in the other part of room, and then El and Chris and I moved the ‘set of newer servers’ next to ‘old one’, reorganized cabinets and… wow, we made a lot of space for laptops. So on Wednesday and Thursday we have 5 laptops in that area.

New laptops. When volunteers and students saw those laptops, they were very happy. ‘It is great that we have new laptops!’ were one of the comments. Well, the laptops are not new, but they are very useful. Also, all 4 Macs are now online. So now we have 7 more laptops + 2 more Macs working. You do not have to wait in line to do the SVHATS. Sounds good. Right?

Private Web server. As you probably remember, the SVHATS server was very slow, veeerrryyy slow. Therefore we upgraded the server and it should be much better now. Unfortunately during the upgrade process SVHATS were not working properly for a few hours. But now everything is fine. And fast!

To summarize, we have 18 computers for students and volunteers, much faster server and now we can focus on the SVHATS development, learning activities…

Activities. Did you try SVHATS Career Dictionary. It is an interesting and interactive learning activity through which each Mentor-Mentee team or each individual can add a term and description in the dictionary. Also they can add comments/suggestions to the dictionary terms submitted by your colleagues. And they will be able to suggest to you how to improve your terms.

Interesting, right?

There are many new things we will do now that I come back from Croatia!

Croatia? As you probably knew I left for Croatia on (Oct 4rd) and… No, no, I did not choose to have vacation when there are numerous interesting things happening in the Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection programs. I had a return ticket since last year. And this was the last term to use it. So it was use it or lose it.

New server. In meantime the new server should come: powerful PowerEdge 2900 III. Therefore now that I am back we should start implementing the new server, improving our network. Off course, we will have help of ChicagoIThelp.com.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mercedes or...

Finally, after weeks of thinking what and how we will do with our network, we have a conclusion. PowerEdge 2900 III, Ubuntu Linux 7.10 Server and virtual Windows Server 2003 R2.

Powerful and easy to maintain.

It was hard to make a decision. We have a set of three ‘newer servers’ (Dell 4560, Compaq DL 380 & DL 580 and one old one which has an active directory.

9 years ago those three newer servers were top of the line servers. Something like Mercedes C class in the car industry. Pricy (~20-30K) and powerful. Who would not like to drive a Mercedes C-Class, even if it is 9 years old?

Well, in IT industry time flies at least 3 times faster and progress is much much faster.
Therefore very affordable servers (1.5K) are much more powerful than old ‘Mercedes’.

Affordable, powerful and you do not have to pay costly mechanics.
Good solution. Right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The New SVHATS 2.0


The New SVHATS 2.0 is working, all users have their accounts and… we are ready for SVHATSing!

Here you can see the graphic presentation of the activities. Interesting; right?

That is just beginning. New features (calendar, dictionary...) are coming soon - so check for the updates regularly.

Hope to see your post in our SVHATS.

With best regards,


Friday, September 5, 2008

Team work

First month. It has been one month since I started working as an e-Learning and Technology Coordinator at Cabrini Connections.

Challenges. And, yea, it is interesting and challenging.

First week I spent mostly by researching: eager to find what is done and how it is done. There is 6 websites with domain names, many blogs, wikis, maps sites, local network made of 22 PCs and 6 Macs. Of course, the central point is a Compaq ProLiant 3000R server with Microsoft Windows 2000 Server. 10 years ago it was A top model. Well, that was 10 years ago.

Priorities. Anyway, with hope that Compaq ProLiant 3000R will provide a quality service – as this server was doing for many years, we focused our energy on web development.

Therefore we both one affordable web site hosting package, so we can develop and test web applications without interfering with the existing web sites. On that site (MentorForMe.org) we made.

  • New SVHATS and online communication system is available at http://my.mentorforme.org/. It is based on Moodle. Moodle is one of the best (if not the best) and with no doubts, the most popular Learning Management System. Therefore, the new SVHATS provide us with many new and advanced features. The same software is used by some of the world best universities, corporations, elementary and secondary schools. And, of course, by Cabrini Connection volunteers and students.
  • Customer support center is available at the http://support.mentorforme.org/ web address. Customer support centre is actually ticketing system. So, whenever you have a problem with Cabrini website, or learning environment, you can send us a ticket, and we will fix it ASAP.
  • Improving Tutor/Mentor Exchange website. Plan for a new website is available at http://www.mentorforme.org/. There is still many things to do, but… please, have a look and send us a comment. Behind the new site is Joomla – one of the most powerful Content Management Systems in the world.
  • Proposal for Cabrini Project Management website is available at: http://dotproject.mentorforme.org/. It is made upon the dotProject - a web-based, multi-user, Project Management application. I believe that the dotProject is ideal tool to increase the result focused project collaboration and quality of project management in Cabrini Connections.

And we are almost done. A few more days and we can start moving that content from mentorforme.org to tutormentorexchange.net website.

Almost… It can take us more than a few days. Because our old friend – server Compaq ProLiant 3000R - wants to get retired. Last few days it was not working stable. Just today it crashed 2 times, the internet is not available at least 20% of time…, there is problem with the one of the hard disks and… The old boy is… old.

Therefore, as soon as we finish the website – our next priority is local network.

Hopefully our ‘old boy’ will serve us at least a next few weeks. Because, our new server is a big, demanding project, we will need a lot of help.

One powerful server with Windows 2003 was donated to us. However, we need somebody who can help us finish the migration from Win 2000 to Win 2003 server.

Can you help us?

Do you know somebody who can help us?

Knowledge, suggestion, support… everything is welcome.


Idea is Beginning,
Work is progress
Team Work is Success…