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.

CIS to make more use of Footprints ticket system

Partly as a result of our recent BAO and CIS service initiative CIS has committed to making more effective use of the issue tracking system Numara Footprints.  This system is housed at Pomona College and is used by most of the Claremont Colleges, though each has a separate section in the database.

CIS has developed a process for working with the ticket system which identifies roles, responsibilities and the stages in the ticket life cycle. There’s a quick overview in the following slideshow.

Essentially, there are three roles and three life cycle stages. The roles are “user” (you, the customer!),  ”assignee” (members of CIS staff that do the work), and “owner” (member of CIS staff responsible for guiding the ticket through to completion).  The “owner” plays a customer advocate role to ensure that we provide the service we aspire to provide.

Why would you care about any of this? If we put issues in a ticket system they are less likely to be forgotten, and are seen by more than one pair of eyes. We will be able to track the work we do at CIS better, and build a knowledge base of solutions to common problems.  You don’t have to know the details of who does what in order to see your requests answered.  And we’ll be able to ask you for specific feedback about individual service requests.

I am very impressed with CIS staff member’s quick adoption of our process.  We’ve had a couple of “ticket squashing” pizza parties that resulted in closing large numbers of issues and, when we identified nearly 200 older tickets that did not have an owner assigned, the group pulled together to eliminate this problem in less than one day.

Room reservation software upgrade to EMS Campus

Guest author, Isabel Jordan, wrote for us about a recent upgrade to the Event Management System….

HMC’s reservation software, Event Management System (EMS), has been upgraded to the Campus 3.0 version. Virtual EMS was only changed in appearance but not use. There has been some feedback from Mac users who say they are having difficulty viewing Virtual EMS. The solution has been to use Google Chrome
as the browser rather than Mozilla Firefox.

Currently, CIS and the Facilities & Maintenance team are working together to
get the Integrated Authentication module up and running. This module will
integrate EMS with the directory server so that one can log in to EMS with
the same account log in/password that is used to log in to one’s computer
(HMC credentials).  There are over 600 users who have accounts in EMS so we
are trying to figure out the most efficient way to make this happen.

Moving forward the plan is to install an Academic Planning Module that will
assist the Registrar’s office to connect the academic schedule from CX to
EMS. Currently the 5C registrars are being trained to learn the
collaboration between CX and EMS.

IAM @ HMC journey begins

In my last update from the CIO  I gave a quick overview of Identity and Access Management (IAM).  We have now contracted with Fischer International for Identity and Access Management services.  Throughout 2012, this decision will have an increasing impact on all of our daily computing lives.  You will hear and read more and more references to your “HMC Credentials”, which will be a username and password derived from your current Charlie or Alice passwords (Active Directory).  We will stop referring to credentials that are specific to an application, such as “your Zimbra username and password”.   Eventually, your HMC Credentials will be the only credentials you need to access most services; moreover, you will see a “single sign on” ecology begin to emerge:  once you’ve logged in to one service, you typically will not have to provide credentials for the next service you visit.  For example, you would log on to your computer in the morning and then visit Sakai, which would recognize that you have already authenticated and not ask you for your credentials a second time. Ditto when you visit email (including Google Apps) after you’ve logged into Sakai or the Portal.  And so on.

The IAM @ HMC initiative will also bring you a web interface to reset your password for your HMC credentials.

There’s more: an important milestone along the IAM @ HMC journey will be our ability to join InCommon, which is an Internet2 initiative.  Two immediate benefits: you will be able to use your HMC Credentials to access online resources through the library, NSF resources and any other “federated” resources that work with InCommon.  We anticipate joining InCommon in the first six months of 2012. 

Presentation to PPCPC on Campus Network Infrastructure

At the September Board of Trustee meetings, Cindy Abercrombie, Mitch Shacklett and I presented some information about our work in the area of network infrastructure review.  We are working toward a long term plan for the network infrastructure and wanted the Physical Plant and Campus Planning Committee (PPCPC) to be aware of the issues we are seeking to address.

Below is a reconstruction of the presentation, which I recorded afterward. If you want to look at the full size screen cast, you will find it here.

Saddle Rock Presentation on Technology and Education

At the annual Saddle Rock Trustee retreat in October 2011, all of the Vice Presidents gave presentations.  I wanted to stimulate discussion of issues in technology and education, so I spent about twenty minutes giving an overview of four interesting examples, and then had people discuss them in groups.  Prior to the retreat, I had mailed out a document that contained information about the four topics, for those who wanted to read beforehand. You’ll find that document linked here: IT reading prior to Saddle Rock 2011

Below is a reconstruction of the session, which I recorded afterward. If you want to look at the full size screen cast click here.

Learnstream

Our series, A Bite of Learning,  is intended to foster innovation.  In October 2010, Ryan Muller ’11 and Neal Pisenti ’11, approached us about doing a presentation on a project they’d been working on.  It was Learnstream, an application for creating lecture notes around YouTube video content.  Their pilot version was built around Francis Su’s Real Analysis Class.  This was one of our more popular Bite of Learning presentations.

You can see how the current version of Learnstream works at beta.learnstream.org

Since then, Ryan and Neal have been working very hard on the project and CIS has been supporting them where we can.  Together Ryan, Neal and I applied for an Educause Next Generation Learning Challenges grant, although we were disappointed in that effort.  Working with Jeff Burkett ’11 and Chandler May ’11, they added social networking features to the application over winter break.  They showed Learnstream to Bill Gates when he was here, and he found it “stimulating”.  

As soon as Commencement is over, they will be working hard on a rewrite of the application and on developing content for material to support high school students who are preparing for the AP Physics C exam.  This work will be funded by a Shanahan grant and CIS funds.

This is quite a success story from one Bite of Learning presentation!  Got a project you’d like to present?  If so, get in touch with Elizabeth Hodas or with me (vaughan@hmc.edu).

 

Two new Directors join CIS

I am delighted to announce that on May 2nd, two new Directors came to work at CIS for the first time.

Cindy Abercrombie joins us as our new Director of Information Technology Projects and Planning.  Cindy was most recently Manager of Network Operations at CENIC (Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California), which operates high speed networks for California’s education and research communities.  She has also worked at AboveNet and Fair, Isaac and Company (which creates FICO scores).  She holds degrees in Electronics and Management.  This is Cindy’s first higher ed position and she will be taking the lead on a number of our IT projects, as well as overseeing administrative operations in CIS.  Cindy is a native Californian and in her spare time she enjoys watching her children play basketball and relaxing in the backyard with her dog.

 

Our new Director of Systems and Network is Mitch Shacklett.  He comes to us from Fort Lewis College, Colorado where he was most recently Manager of Systems Administration.  Like HMC, Fort Lewis College has a mixed IT environment, so Mitch is knowledgeable about  Windows and Linux server administration.  He holds degrees in Finance and in Education from the University of San Diego. Mitch has a connection with Claremont, as he was born here (although his parents moved when he was very young).  When not deeply immersed in Information Technology, Mitch likes to enjoy the outdoors: snow skiing, mountain biking, surfing and dirt bike riding.

You may recall that our reorganization last summer allowed us to create these new positions.  The search for a Systems and Network Director was a long one, but we did find two new Directors for the price of one search.  Please join me in welcoming them to Harvey Mudd College!

CIS presents at faculty meeting

On April 21, 2011 the CIS management team presented a report on the state of Information Technology to the faculty. Joseph began the presentation with a review of our four strategic directions and our customer service initiative. The four strategic directions are IT Decision Making (Governance), IT Infrastructure, Central IT (CIS), and Innovation. Before presenting examples of projects in each of these four strategic initiatives, Susan Selhorst described the iterative process we went through with the management team and the CIS staff to create our service vision statement.

  • CIS is dedicated to providing excellent client-centered services to the HMC community.
  • We promote the mission of HMC with reliable, innovative, and convenient technology.
  • We provide customer support that is friendly, knowledgeable, and responsive while working collaboratively with clients to develop effective and relevant solutions.
A Bite of Learning

A Bite of Learning

Joseph talked about the gap between what we espouse and what is actual, and how we approach that gap. As an example of initiatives in the area of Central IT, Calvin Tong spoke about the DTA program and introduced the two new staff on the User Support team. In the DTA (Department Technical Analyst) program individual staff in the User Support group are assigned to specific departments. This allows the DTAs to become very familiar with the needs of each department.  Elizabeth Hodas talked about the A Bite of Learning series as an example of innovation. The series focuses on introducing new and emerging technology to the HMC community in an informal lunch setting. Joseph continued with a discussion of how IT decisions are being made and some examples of the different sourcing models we are using. He concluded with a description of the planned email and calendar migration. Questions after the presentation focused mostly on the email and calendar migration.