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):

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.  [Update 2/2/15: these links are no longer active, but the tool is at https://dmptool.org/]

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.


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.

CINE wireless signal is going away

When you are on the HMC campus and look at the wireless signals (SSID) available, you will normally see at least the following:


As I mentioned in the September 2012 Update from the CIO, the Claremont Colleges have agreed to remove the CINE wireless signal from service. There are a number of reasons for this:

* The CINE network is open (anyone can access it).
* The CINE network is unencrypted and therefore insecure (network traffic may be visible to third parties).
* The Library licenses electronic content that requires authentication.
* The Library was subject to some overcrowding due to the “free wireless”.

The Library and some of the other Claremont Colleges have already stopped broadcasting the CINE signal.

What should you do? The next time you need wireless access on campus, you should configure your laptop or other wireless device to connect to Claremont-WPA . This is a one time configuration as most laptops will remember the wireless network and can also be configured to give Claremont-WPA priority over other networks on campus. You will not have to enter your HMC Credentials every time you connect to Claremont-WPA. For details about how to do this visit the following link:


We do not yet have a fixed date on which the CINE signal will go away. We need to design a guest access solution that will work for the HMC community and allows access for many types of devices. Our target to get this done is the end of 2012.

If you have questions or need help configuring your laptop or other wi-fi device to connect with Claremont-WPA, please contact the Help Desk on the first floor of the Sprague Learning Center (helpdesk@hmc.edu or 909 607 7777).

Time to change your password!

As we move into Fall semester, some of the authentication systems managed by CIS will be configured to require password resets every 365 days.

This is a step in improving the overall security of HMC systems and bringing us into compliance with our password policy.

To reset your passwords please visit the HMC password and account management portal at:

(Nov 2012 edit: we have replaced this link with


Using this portal, you will set up security questions and set the password for all of the following systems in one go:

Claremont WPA wireless (eg laptops, phones and other devices that connect to Claremont WPA wireless)
Alice and Charlie file servers
Cognos 10 reports
Google Apps for Education

If you have not reset your passwords in over 365 days, you should do so. We will be working with each department to ensure a smooth transition to this new system.  You can change your password any time you like using the password and account management portal.  Once we have worked directly with each department, we will turn on the feature that requires a password change every 365 days.

Thank you for your understanding and your efforts to increase the security of our systems.

Please don’t hesitate to send questions or concerns to us at helpdesk@hmc.edu

How are you using Office365?

A while back, I posted an article about how Prof Eliot Bush is making use of Google Apps for Education.   We recently completed the migration of accounts from mailbox-01 to Microsoft Office365 for Education.  I asked Patricia Wang how she liked it, and to tell me two things that she does with the Office365/Outlook combination.   Here’s what Patricia wrote:

Since I was really comfortable using Zimbra, I was a little apprehensive about migrating to Outlook 2010. I’ve only been using Outlook for a short time, but I’ve discovered a couple of features that I really like already.

One of the features that I find helpful in Outlook 2010 is the built-in task list. I use it to organize my tasks by assigning due dates, setting reminders, and marking tasks as complete when I finish them. It can also be used to delegate tasks to other people and manage task assignments. Tasks can be created from scratch by selecting the New Items > Tasks button on the Home tab. However, my favorite way to create a task is by by dragging an email to the task button on the bottom of the navigation pane. This transfers an existing email message to my task list without me having to create an individual task from scratch. I can also use this drag and drop method if I want to flag a contact record for follow-up.

Another feature that helps me keep organized is the Rules Wizard. Outlook lets me set up instructions, called rules, that determine how it should process messages upon receipt. I can set up rules to automatically move, copy, delete, forward, redirect, or reply to an incoming message. For the messages that are already in my inbox, I love the run-this-rule-now feature. It’s like waving a magic wand to reduce the clutter in my inbox!

I hope to discover other neat features as I explore Outlook 2010!

Thanks to Patricia for sending these comments. If you have other interesting ways that you make use of Google Apps or Office 365, don’t hestitate to share in the comments section below, or send me an email.

How do you use Google Apps?

We’re putting together short articles about the ways that people make use of the new HMC Google Apps for Education service.  I asked Eliot Bush, chair of the Computing Committee, to give me examples of things he does.   Here’s what he wrote:

One thing I do is use appointment slots in google calendar. This is great for setting up meetings with students. When its time for advising meetings and registration, I set up a bunch of appointment slots and have them select them.

I also co-teach quite a bit. We often have to do things like write an exam together. Its so much easier to do this with a google doc which can be edited together. It saves us from having a thousand different versions flying back and forth over email.

If you have found a good use for Google Apps, or know of a Google add on we should activate, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, or leave a comment on this post.

Sakai Service changes coming

Harvey Mudd College has been the “Lead College” for the Sakai service since its inception in 2006.  This means that we provide the service to all the Claremont Colleges and receive some funding from the other Colleges to do so.

About two years ago I began to explore the option of contracting with rSmart for Sakai hosting.  rSmart is a company dedicated to hosting Sakai and other Higher Ed applications for a long list of higher education customers.  Hosting the service with them would take advantage of their expertise and the scale of their operation, which is based in Arizona and housed in one of the largest data centers in the country. On almost all dimensions of the comparison — cost, architecture, functionality, infrastructure, expertise — rSmart looked to be an improvement over what HMC could provide alone. Exploration of this option took many months, and then in August 2011 I made a formal proposal to the Information Technology Committee (ITC) that we should host Sakai with rSmart.  A series of monthly discussions took place, including a visit by the rSmart team in December.   However, I did not manage to persuade my CIO colleagues from the other Claremont Colleges and so the ITC voted to accept an offer from Pomona College to host the service.  The ITC is now moving forward to bring that recommendation to two other Intercollegiate committees, the Business and Financial Affairs Committee (BFAC) and the Academic Deans Commitee (ADC).  Assuming those committees endorse the idea, the Sakai service will be provided by Pomona College effective July 1, 2012.

If the service does move to Pomona, end users will not see any real difference in how the service is delivered. Pomona has offered to continue to subsidize the service and to augment and strengthen the infrastructure, which are good things.  Over time, they may install the rSmart version of Sakai which would provide some nice additional functionality over the “vanilla” version of Sakai that we have been running.

User support for Sakai questions will continue in the same way as it does now.  You can contact the Help Desk for help with issues and if you need advice on how to use a particular tool, you could contact Elizabeth Hodas.

For CIS, the change means a return of time and resources that were being dedicated to supporting the intercollegiate service.  During the analysis of the rSmart option, I discovered that we were subsidizing the service by about $50k per year. We were indeed investing time and resources in an important service and received praise from the other Colleges for our work.  But we are now looking forward to investing time and energy in other projects that will benefit the College, while confident that the Sakai service will be delivered in the ways we were familiar with.


Google’s new privacy policy and Google Apps for Education

On March 1, 2012 Google introduced a new privacy policy that applies to their consumer products (gmail, picasa, youtube etc).   There was a huge amount of coverage of this in the media.

Discussion with the HMC Computing Committee made it clear that we should remind you that the HMC contract with Google is for the Google Apps for Education (GAE) service, which is a separate suite of products, covered by a separate contract.  The new privacy policy does not apply to the core GAE service.

Among the key differences between GAE and the consumer service is that GAE includes a FERPA clause.  This clause stipulates that Google is subject to FERPA in the same way as the college is, and must process educational records (such as emails to students) accordingly.

In our discussions within CIS, we were struck by the fact that what Google is doing seems so much part and parcel of the tracking we are all subject to, both on and off line.  Retailers have been doing it for decades, as we learned from a NY Times article about how companies learn your secrets. I find it fascinating which practices and policy changes get noticed, and which don’t.

So, again, the GAE contract is separate from the Google’s consumer product privacy policy. If you have concerns or want to learn more, you should read the Google Apps for Education contract.

You may also find these Chronicle, Educause and Campus Technologies posts of interest.