Update on Portal Advisory Group

Screenshot from 2013-03-14 17:30:10I’ve written about the Portal Advisory Group before.  Affectionately known as PAG, it’s a group that will assist us with setting priorities for the Portal, starting from the premise that the portal is a tool which we know HMC has not used to its full capacity. The group will guide CIS and the College in improving and expanding use of the portal.

The following people have all agreed to participate and I am grateful to them.

Mark Ashley (Registrar, Chair)
Lauren Kim (Assoc Registrar)
Susan Selhorst (CIS)
Cindy Abercrombie (CIS)
Paul Steinberg (HSA)
Vatche Sahakian (Physics)
Tim Hussey (OCA Communications)
Jennifer Greene (OCA Communications)
Guy Gerbick (DOS)
Scott Martin (BAO)

We are also seeking one or two students to help with this initiative.

The first meeting is being scheduled for just after Spring break.

I look forward to good outcomes!

Faculty Computing Survey Results

survey-300x224In late Fall 2012 the computing committee ran a survey of faculty, asking three questions about information technology at HMC.

About 50 faculty responded to the questions, and almost everyone wrote a few lines of comments in response to each question – in addition to giving scores.

Question 1: How satisfied are you with the current teaching services provided by the CIS (e.g. Sakai, portal, classroom support, labs, etc…)?

– Average letter grade: B- (2.57/4.00, 54 respondents)

Question 2: How satisfied are you with the other services offered by the CIS (email, research related services, laptop/desktop support, etc)?

– Average letter grade: B- (2.69/4.00, 55 respondents)

Question 3: How satisfied are you with the current computing services offered by your own department (e.g. email, website, lab, course support, etc)?

– Average letter grade: C+ (2.35/4.00, 49 respondents)

The spread of each score was roughly 0.50/4.00, with a bigger spread for the third question.

The committee summarized by saying that things have improved and are going in the right direction, but that there is still work to be done.

The computing committee members this year are:

Vatche Sahakian (Chair)
Alfonso Castro
Weiqing Gu
Jacob Bandes-Storch ’14
Joseph Vaughan

The committee made four recommendations of its own and added more recommendations coming from the Faculty Executive Committee. You can read the full report, with my responses to each recommendation at the following URL (HMC Credentials required to access the document):

December 2012 Update from the CIO

HolidayCard_2 This is the final update from the CIO for 2012.

Getting ready for the TLB.
That shiny new building will be ours in a mere 203 days.  CIS is working hard on preparations for our part in getting a building like this open. The things we are working on include:

  • Network within the building
  • Campus network to support the new building
  • Changes to the network to support the new uses of vacated space
  • AV services in the building, which will include “simulcasting” and (hopefully) videoconferencing from some of the rooms
  • Three “technology rich” classrooms to augment or replace the Learning Studio Classroom resource
  • As we get closer to the data we will need to be planning for moving computers for people moving into the building and all the moves that are triggered by it (in Kingston, Parsons and Olin)
  • Digital signage in the building

This is quite a list!  It is work we are (happily) undertaking in addition to the normal work of a Spring semester.  Please keep this in mind, especially if you are thinking of an IT project for 2013.  We’d love to hear about it soon.

I mentioned last month that we had contracted with SIGMAnet to help us with a review of our wired and wireless networks, which will form the groundwork for a longer term comprehensive network plan.  We recently received a draft of the review of the wired network and will be presenting the results in an update to the Board in January.  In part thanks to the report, we have begun preparations for upgrading the campus network core in order to accommodate the new building.
In the past couple of weeks two intercollegiate committees  approved our proposal for major changes to the network beyond the Claremont Colleges that connects us to downtown Los Angeles and the greater internet.  Working with Los Nettos, our regional network provider, we will be purchasing equipment and fiber runs that will increase the diversity and redundancy of the network, and greatly reduce the risks associated with single points of failure.
We recently completed a four day workshop with Fischer International which moved forward our Identity and Access management project.  The current phase of the project is focused on account provisioning.  In ordinary English, this project will allow us to automate the creation and deletion of accounts in many of the College systems.
On the News Site
Elizabeth Hodas wrote about Recent Changes to Sakai and about the exciting Spring Bite of Learning Schedule.  And we have an article about what happens when people give us honest feedback, which I hope you will take the time to read and join me in thanking the members of our community mentioned there.

Everyone at CIS wishes you the very best for the holidays.

The value of honest feedback

We request feedback in many ways.  One of them is via the surveys that are sent out when we close a ticket in Footprints, our service request management system. Over the past year, we’ve seen a definite increase in the number of people who are filling out those surveys.

Whenever we receive feedback, I ask “what can we learn from this?”. If the feedback says “excellent service”, then we have learned that we got things right.  If the feedback identifies some problems, then we can ask what aspects of our procedures, guidelines or systems may have led to the problem.

I wanted to call out some of the feedback we’ve received this past year and thank those who took the time to give it to us.

Peter Saeta recently said it would be nice if we could let people know when an update was available for software such as Mathematica.  Jeho is now gathering the information we need about what software to include in our list.  Elizabeth told me that she used to use an m-software-l list for this purpose, so we may revive that, or create a calendar (or both!).

Stephanie Graham ran into a problem with an event that was scheduled for AV setup before 8am.  She was unable to contact anyone at CIS when the staff member was unavoidably late and the staff member did not have Stephanie’s number.  We changed our checklists for events so that we are always giving out a contact number and requesting a contact number from the event organizer.

Xanda Schofield told us about the challenges of being the moderator for students-l and suggested that we put something more modern than majordomo and easier to use than mutt in place.  So Xanda is going to help us review list software in the New Year (we’re very interested in Google Groups and in Sympa).

Many students have given us feedback on the new PaperCut print management system, which was taken up with great enthusiasm by the students in the early Fall.  We are working with the company to get some of the requests into the next version of PaperCut.

Similarly, we received lots of feedback when we launched the Fischer password management portal.  We have been working with Fischer and will relaunch this portal in the new year.  The new version will be at a HMC url https://iam.hmc.edu/identity/self-service/HMC/kiosk.jsf  and will have much more flexibility with respect to the security questions it allows you to ask and answer.

Mark Ashley and Lauren Kim gave us a spreadsheet filled with detailed suggestions for improvements to the portal.

To these and all the other folk who have given us honest feedback we say “thank you” and please keep it up in 2013.


Data Management Plans

Many faculty are already aware of the fact that the NSF and other funding agencies are now requiring that grant applications include a “data management plan”.  Last Spring, Jeho Park, our Scientific Computing Specialist wrote a report on data management plans, which is at http://goo.gl/XXdf8 (requires HMC credentials).

Jeho has also recently told me about the California Digital Library’s DMP Tool, which takes you step by step through the process of developing a data management plan.  It is at this link: https://dmp.cdlib.org/.  You can create an account at https://dmp.cdlib.org/institutional_login (choose “none of the above” under “select your institution”).  Once you create your account and log in, the tool is pretty self-explanatory.

Several faculty that have tried it have reported to me that the found it useful.

If you are writing up a data management plan, I urge you to contact me.  We can help with the specifics of how CIS systems are backed up and provide feedback on the plan.


November 2012 update from the CIO

I did not send out an October 2012 update from the CIO. My apologies. It does mean there’s a lot to report this time.  Hopefully, before you take off for Thanksgiving you’ll have a chance to read this update and maybe even comment on it.

CINE wireless signal.
If there’s only one thing you take away from this CIO update, let it be this: “CINE wireless is not going away yet and the college needs my help identifying problems with Claremont-WPA”. OK, that’s two things, but at least it is one sentence.

The CINE wireless signal will soon be retired, and has already been removed by some of our sister Claremont Colleges. As I wrote in a previous article, it is open and unencrytped, and therefore quite insecure. However, we have been hearing reports of issues with the new Claremont WPA signal. We are working to unravel the various elements in these reports.  For example, is there an underlying issue with increased wireless demand on campus?  Are there issues with individual devices?  Is there an issue with the configuration of Claremont-WPA?

HMC will not retire the CINE signal until problems have been resolved and we have a good wireless access solution for College guests.

The problems that are being reported (and that we sometimes experience ourselves) appear to be intermittent. Those are often the hardest to resolve, so please make sure to report any problems you encounter by writing to helpdesk@hmc.edu.  And a sincere thank you to those who have been reporting issues to us.

Planning activities: Portal Improvements
CIS continues to engage in planning activities that will update our list of tactical initiatives for 2013-15. Here’s one that you may find interesting.  We are going to pay special attention to the portal over the next 18 months.  John Trafecanty, one of our most talented programmers, and the person who gave us rock solid Sakai support for so many years, now includes the two Portals among his responsibilities.

Also, I have been discussing with a number of people the idea of forming a Portal Advisory Group that will help guide CIS work on the portal.  The vision statement for this group goes like this:

The portal is a tool which we know HMC has not used to its full capacity. This group will guide CIS and the College in improving and expanding use of the portal.

Registrar Mark Ashley has agreed to chair this group, which we are fondly referring to as “PAG”.  You can read a little more about this initiative at this link: http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=2311 and please watch for updates during the rest of the academic year.

Saddle Rock
The annual HMC Trustee retreat (called “Saddle Rock”) took place at the end of October in Palm Spring.  Trustees, Faculty, Students and Staff came together for two days of discussion of educational technology and its implications for Harvey Mudd.  We saw presentations about flipped classrooms by HMC faculty, about MOOCs by Stanford faculty and staff and about the latest in learning management systems by the founder of WebCT, Murray Goldberg. It was a joy to participate in the engaging discussion of these technologies.

Discussions with Faculty Executive committee (FEC)
During the month of October, I had a good discussion with Kerry Karukstis, Chair of the Faculty, about a number of things that had come up in the course of Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) meetings.  They ranged from a request for an online faculty voting system to requests for more information about our IT sourcing strategies. One outcome of these discussions was an agreement that I would meet with the FEC Committee at least once per semester.  I see this as a great new element in our evolving IT governance and I am really looking forward to working with the FEC.

Educause Annual Conference
7,600 people, including me, attended the Educause Annual conference in Denver the week immediately following Saddle Rock. Educause is an organization dedicated to IT in higher education. There were some excellent presentations, including one on “IT as a core academic competence” by Clay Shirky.  Despite its somewhat dry title, Shirky’s presentation included delightful examples such as a DARPA project that tested crowd sourcing to solve an intelligence problem, an example of crowd sourcing to solve math problems and an example of what happened when a large newspaper company instructed regional papers to “go digital” with zero budget to do so.  The whole presentation is online at http://goo.gl/0MJYK (Shirky’s presentation begins at about minute 19 of the video). It’s well worth looking at.

Much of my time at the conference was spent in meetings with vendors, with colleagues from other institutions and on two Educause committees (the IT Issues panel and the 2013 Annual Conference Programming Committee).  Next year’s annual conference will be near us in Anaheim: consider attending.

Teaching and Learning Building
Last, but very far from least, there’s the matter of a large building that is shooting up on our campus. There are only 233 days left until it opens! As I write, I see out the window that scaffolding is up in preparation for tiling the facade of the building.  At CIS, we have been engaged in preparations for the network and AV systems in the building.  We are keenly aware that expectations around the building are high and we are anxious not to disappoint.  Working closely with Project Manager David Dower, we have been meeting with all of the people responsible for systems that will need some network connectivity (everything from security cameras to the point of sale register in the cafe).  We have engaged a company called SIGMAnet to help with planning for network improvements around the building as well as the in-building network.  We are also actively working with Western AV, the “design and build” vendor for audio-visual systems in the building.

OK. If you made it all the way to the end of this long report, you are now among the people I am thankful for this holiday! As always, if you have comments or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below or email me directly (vaughan@hmc.edu).

Everyone at CIS wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Portal Advisory Group

I have been discussing the portal with a number of people around campus over the last few months. Improvement and expansion of the portal will be a key initiative for the next two years.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. The portal plays a key role in many important areas of the College’s activities.  Grades, Registration, Advising, Student Billing and Alumni Directory are just some examples.
  2. We know that other institutions have more attractive and functional installations of the same portal software (JICS), so our instance of the portal can be made better too.
  3. Because of the fact that we collaborate with the other Claremont Colleges to provide cross-registration for students, moving to a completely different portal is not a simple proposition.
  4. Both Jenzabar, the company that provides the portal software, and AISO, the Pomona College unit that manages the underlying student information system, are committed to making improvements to the system, and we can build upon those.  For instance, Pomona recently informed us that the back end database was handling 60 million transactions per day during the Fall pre-registration period.  They have recently migrated the system from HP Unix to Linux, and are anticipating improvements in response times.

We have already taken the first steps in the portal improvement initiative. We are planning to create a Portal Advisory Group, with the following vision statement:

The portal is a tool which we know HMC has not used to its full capacity. This group will guide CIS and the College in improving and expanding use of the portal.

Registrar Mark Ashley has agreed to chair this group, which will include representation from the many areas that use the portal, as well as faculty and students.  Among the tasks we will ask the group to undertake is to advise on the queuing of CIS projects related to the portal. They currently include:

      • HSA Advising application
      • 40+ Portal improvements suggested by Registrar
      • Electronic Billing
      • OCA requests
      • Student research portlet and forms
      • Single Sign On
      • Adding a staff tab to the portal

John Trafecanty has recently taken over responsibility for the portal, as his duties related to Sakai were much reduced when we moved the Sakai service to Pomona College.  John always bring talent and persistence to programming tasks, so we anticipate great work on the portal.

Watch for more updates on this initiative and do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

September 2012 update from the CIO

I know we’re two weeks in, but welcome back to all who have been away from Claremont over the summer. And welcome to the Class of 2016!

This is the first update from the CIO for the Fall 2012 Semester.

Here at CIS we had a very busy summer.  Most of this update will cover changes we have made or are in the process of making.  So please read on.

Email and Calendar
We closed down mailbox-01.hmc.edu and migrated all active accounts to either g.hmc.edu (Google Apps) or m.hmc.edu (Office365). We are now focusing on accounts that are still on the VMS system named “Thuban”. That work is a bit more complicated, although there are only a few accounts on the system. Once we have moved the accounts, and found a home for web content that still resides on Thuban, we will be able to close down the VMS systems. This is consistent with an approach we describe with the phrase “stabilize, standardize, simplify”.

Now that we have done the work of migrating accounts to the new systems, we are beginning to turn our attention to the fact that both Google Apps and Office365 are much more than email systems. For instance, we’ve been asking people how they make use of them.  For example, Eliot Bush told us how he uses Google apps, and Patricia Wang did the same for Office 365.  In CIS we’ve started using shared Google docs to capture the agendas and notes for our meetings. We like the fact that agenda items can be added at any time, and the notes are easily shared and searchable.  Senior My Ho has been helping us by building a Google Apps script application to help run meetings and automatically distribute notes and action items.  Meanwhile, some departments have started to explore the Google Apps marketplace and request the installation of apps in the g.hmc.edu domain. If you’ve found a good use for either Google Apps or Office365, do drop us a line to tell us about it.

Password Policy
In November 2011 the President’s Cabinet approved a password policy for HMC.  I ask that you read it carefully and follow the policy whenever possible.  During discussions of the policy last Fall, the Computing Committee advised that CIS should provide some information about password management tools, so Jeho Park and Calvin Tong wrote up a report which we hope you will find useful.

CINE wireless signal to be decommissioned
All of the Claremont Colleges broadcast the same wireless signals in an attempt to provide a consistent user experience. As part of a Claremont wide agreement,  the CINE wireless signal (SSID) is scheduled to be turned off.  The CINE network is insecure (no encryption), open (accessible by anyone) and the internet (IP) addresses) associated with it are needed by the other wireless networks.  The target date for shutting down the CINE signal is Fall Break 2012.   Some of the other Colleges and the Library have already stopped broadcasting the signal, so you may not see it if you roam off the HMC campus.  At HMC we will turn off the CINE signal only after we have established a system for guest access that is consistent with the College’s values and needs.

In the meantime, if you are not a guest, you should connect your wireless devices to either “Claremont” or “Claremont-WPA” and we recommend “Claremont-WPA” since it is the most secure. Our instructions for connecting to either of the two networks are on the College website.

The agreement between the Colleges means that your experience on either the “Claremont-WPA” or “Claremont” wireless networks should be the same, independent of which campus you happen to be on.

Computing Labs
Toward the end of the summer, the User Support and Systems teams upgraded the Windows operating systems on computers in Labs managed by CIS (LAC and Learning Studio). They are now running Windows 7 and OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard).  If you run into any problems, make sure to send a message to helpdesk@hmc.edu

The User Support team has been attempting to learn more about Academic Department Labs, with special attention to the labs that are in Departments without a dedicated IT person. We are exploring options for better hardware and software support for those labs.

IAM@HMC next steps
In August, we sent people a link to our new password self service portal, which allows you to configure your password for our Single Sign On (SSO) environment. We are working with the vendor to make some improvements to the self-service portal, based on feedback we received from you (thanks!). Currently, only three applications are part of that SSO environment, Ultipro (Payroll/HR), Google Apps and Active Directory (Charlie, Alice, Claremont WPA, Cognos reports).  As the year moves forward, we will add more applications and begin working on account provisioning and deprovisioning (automatic creation of accounts when someone joins or leaves HMC).

Planning Activities
We spent a good deal of time over the summer on planning, as we need to develop tactical initiatives that will shape our work for the next two years. We will continue to use the framework established by our IT strategy document (online version at http://www5.hmc.edu/strategy10/ and pdf version at http://www5.hmc.edu/strategy10/ITStrategyDraft10.pdf).  That document outlines four strategic areas for IT at Harvey Mudd:

  • IT Decision Making (Governance)
  • IT Infrastructure
  • CIS, the central IT organization
  • Innovation

This summer, each unit within CIS developed draft goals for our new set of tactical initiatives. The goals currently number in the 40s.  We are working on refining them and have begun seeking feedback from key stakeholders. Expect more updates on this during the Fall, along with a report on progress on the 2010-12 tactical initiatives. If you find yourself wondering “why all this emphasis on planning?”, consider this: High performing IT organizations not only provided more consistent and predictable service levels, but they consistently spent less than 5% of their time on unplanned and urgent work (also known as “firefighting”) (Behr,Kim, Spafford The Visible Ops Handbook 2005)

On the News Site
Cindy Abercrombie and Elizabeth Hodas put together a helpful list of Fall semester reminders for faculty, which you can read at http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=2116

You can also read about the exciting line up of Bite of Learning for the Fall semester http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=2110

Soon to come on the news site are articles on Little FE, Data Management Plans, XSEDE and other good stuff.  I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity.

From everyone at CIS, best of luck for a great Fall 2012 semester.


May 2012 update from the CIO

After a wonderful Commencement and set of Board Meetings, CIS has now shifted gears for the many projects we undertake in the summer months.

Email and Calendar
We are on track to hit the target of shutting down mailbox-01.hmc.edu by the end of June (Mailbox-02.hmc.edu was shut down some time ago).  At that point, we will no longer be using Zimbra for email.

In preparing for Calvin Tong’s departure, I checked in with the email and calendar team. Although they will miss Calvin, the team was confident that his departure would not slow the email migration project down.

The majority of faculty, most staff, and all students have moved to either Google Apps (g.hmc.edu) or Microsoft Office365. As a reminder, everyone will eventually have a google account, to facilitate collaboration on documents and spreadsheets; staff will also have an Office365 account, to facilitate the use of Outlook, one of the more popular “fat” (non-web) email and calendar clients. If you need a google account sooner (for example, if you are on a committee that is using google apps), please send an email to helpdesk@hmc.edu to request one.

You are more than likely aware that there were four significant Sakai outages during the month of April, for a total of 15 hours of unanticipated downtime.  They were due to problems with a storage device (SAN) at Pomona, a power outage on the Pomona campus that shut down cooling to the Pomona data center and human error. We are currently conducting incident review, in order to draw what lessons we can from these incidents.

In March, an intercollegiate committee, the Information Technology Committee (ITC), decided to move Sakai from Harvey Mudd to Pomona. The Claremont Academic Deans Committee (ADC) recently endorsed this idea, and we are now working with Pomona staff to arrange the transfer.  HMC was investing significant resources in managing the Sakai service for the Claremont Colleges, and we are now looking forward to being able to concentrate more fully on projects that are local to HMC.  From the end user perspective, you should not see any major changes in the Sakai service overall.

More important than the location of the Sakai service, both the ITC and ADC have begun to ask the question: what should our next step in Learning Management Systems be?  Should we stay with Sakai? Upgrade to Sakai 3.0 (“open academic environment”)? Change to a different system?  Look forward to more on these questions in the Fall.

Identity and Access Management
I have written before about the Identity and Access Management project. One of the future outcomes of that project: people will no longer spend time logging into different applications over and over again during their work day.  This is already true for those who make regular use of Ultipro, the HR application.  We are now testing self-service password management, which will allow you to reset your HMC password after answering a few security questions.  We are also testing single sign on for Google Apps, and the campus portal is next. After that, the really big phase of the project will involve mapping out account provisioning procedures so that we can automate account creation, triggered by changes in status (such as being hired, or becoming a student at HMC).

Portal Passwords
Speaking of the portal, we are aware of the problems that some people are having with portal passwords (unable to reset password).  We are working with Jenzabar, the company that provides our Student Information System, to resolve this problem.  We apologize for the frustration this has been causing for some users.  It is an intermittent problem which is affecting some users but not others and so it appears to be one of those issues that are difficult to track down.

Projects for the summer
We have lots more summer projects.  Here are some of them:

  • HSA advising project.  We are working to virtualize the server that hosts the HSA advising program. We are also working with HSA to redesign the application.
  • AV and Networking in TLB.   CIS staff are deeply involved in work on the network and AV functions for the new building, which will open in a mere 409 days.
  • Infrastructure and Network. In order to tackle the challenges outlined in my PPCPC presentation and build a long term plan for the campus network, we’ll be working with a vendor named LightRiver over the summer.
  • Creation of new student accounts.  We’ll be creating new student accounts as soon as possible, with a few changes this year, given the new elements in our environment (Single sign on and Google Apps).
  • PaperCut. We are rolling out print queue management software for all the large printers this summer.  The software is called PaperCut and it will allow us to provide a much better experience when printing to any of the large printers; it should also significantly reduce paper waste.
  • And we’ll be exploring app development in the HMC Google Apps environment, just to keep things interesting.
More to come …
As we did in previous summers, we have selected a number of faculty projects to support under the Teaching with Technology program. We are supporting three projects by providing software, staff time or student support.  Elizabeth Hodas will shortly write an article about them.

In the first of a planned series about “How I use Office365 and/or Google Apps for Education”,  Jeff Groves told you about two things he liked about Google Apps.  We’ve got an interview coming up with Patricia Wang, who will tell us what she likes about Office365. If you have discovered a feature of either Google Apps or Office365 that you like, please let us know.

Those who are on campus know that we’ve been hosting demonstrations of interactive whiteboard technology such as SmartBoards and Luida.  We’ll follow up with a summary of what we learned.

The incoming students are active and chatting away on the Mudd on Facebook app.  Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/harveymudd
It’s promising to be a lively summer.  Come back to this news site for updates. Enjoy!

Top 10 IT issues 2012

Educause has just released a video preview of some of the top ten IT issues for 2012, which is embedded below.

I serve on the Current Issues Committee that produces the list of top ten issues.   This year, we completely changed the process for selecting the top ten issues, and this resulted in some interesting new perspectives.  The full article is available on the Educause Review Site.