2010 Sakai Conference

Susan Kullman (SCR), Sue Roig (CGU) Mary McMahon (POM), Elizabeth Hodas (HMC), Jason Smith (POM), Ben Royas (CMC), Sunny Chau (CGU, not pictured)

The Claremont Colleges were well-represented at the annual Sakai conference this year in Denver, Colorado. Seven staff from five different institutions attended. We also gave three different presentations at the conference. My presentation was titled “Designing an SLA for Sakai at The Claremont Colleges.” Bejamin Royas (CMC) organized our second presentation, a panel discussion with the title “Goodfellas & Wiseguys: Sakai Support for Faculty and Staff at The Claremont Colleges.” Our third presentation, “Sakai: The Student Perspective,” was presented by Mary McMahon (Pomona) and Susan Kullmann (Scripps) and described the results of our recent student customer satisfaction survey. All three presentations were very well received with good attendance and interesting questions.

A hot topic at the annual conference this year was Sakai 3. Sakai 3 is the next generation of Sakai and is currently under development. It will have a completely new back end based on Apache Sling. More importantly for faculty and students, the designers are working closely with the Teaching and Learning Group and other user groups in order to focus on user experience and the user interface. You can learn more about the Sakai 3 project at http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/SAKDEV/Sakai+3. You can also try out a very early prototype at http://3akai.sakaiproject.org/dev/.

Dr. Scott Bowman
Dr. Scott Bowman, TWSIA first place winner

One of the highlights of the annual Sakai conference is the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Awards ceremony. This year the first place winner was Dr. Scott Bowman from Texas State University-San Marcos. Dr. Bowman’s students used the Sakai wiki tool in his course on Juvenile Justice to research actual practice in the juvenile justice system in cities across the United States. The second place winner was Dr. Sally Knipe from Charles Sturt University in Australia. Dr. Knipe used a variety of Sakai tools with the students in her course, Transitions in Middle School, to create a sense of community. One of my favorite examples was her use of the Blogger tool to conduct online debates on a variety of topics. You can read more about the TWSIA award here: http://sakaiproject.org/innovation-awards.

Dr. Sally Knipe
Dr. Sally Knipe, TWSIA second place winner

Notes on experiments in Cloud Computing

If you read the technical media, you know that “cloud computing” is a phrase that is much in vogue these days.  There’s lots of debate as to precisely what “cloud computing” means, and there are lots of sub-categories to get a handle on too:

  • Software as a service
  • Platform as a service
  • Infrastructure as a service

 At CIS and indeed across the College, we’ve been keeping an eye on these developments and experimenting with cloud computing for some time.  Here are some examples.

Formstack (formerly FormSpring).

The old way:  whenever someone needed to create a form on the HMC site, they contacted our “webmaster” and then went back and forth discussing how a form should look, while the webmaster made changes to a set of perl CGI scripts.  The new way: end users log on to Formstack and create their own forms using a drag and drop interface in the browser.  Features like encryption of data and email notifications are easy. 

This experiment has so far been a hit with users, especially administrative staff. We’ve used it for Alumni surveys, HR forms and lots of others.  Users really like the fact that they can design the forms themselves and turn around time is a matter of minutes, not days.   We are not entirely satisfied with the rudimentary data analysis tools that Formstack provides, even though they are improving all the time.  So we are looking at other online survey creation tools as well.


Google Apps

Some 47% of our students currently use Gmail as their primary provider, per our Fall 2009 survey.  In the engineering department, many faculty staff and students use Gmail and Google calendar as their primary email and calendar systems.  There’s clearly interest in this form of cloud computing.   Google Apps for Education is a different offering that we are currently experimenting with. It differs from the public version in several key ways, notably the absence of advertising and a contractual agreement recognizing FERPA obligations.


Jumpboxes are pre-built virtual machines that contain one or more dedicated applications.  They provide a web based interface for managing the virtual machine.  The idea is to provide a ready to run virtual server.  We’ve been experimenting with Jumpboxes in partnership with a hosting company out of Chicago.  media.claremont.edu is one site that needed an instance of WordPress.  It took two or three emails and about 15 minutes of work to get them up and running.


Bluelock  is one of a group of companies that are offering on-demand access to virtual machines, based on VMWare’s technology.  Via a web browser, one builds a “virtual data center” with virtual servers (windows and linux) . You can manage the virtual servers from anywhere (as long as you can get to a web browser) and you can power them on and off as needed.  The pricing model is based on usage.   In general, cloud computing offerings are priced in a “pay as you go” fashion.  One thing we have to do is analyze how much it is costing us to provide similar services in house so that we can get a good understanding of whether services like Bluelock’s are a viable supplement to our own efforts.


This is a fun one.  Presentations online in a format that is very different from good old stolid Powerpoint. Elizabeth Hodas has done several of her conference and in-house presentations using this tool, and enjoys it greatly.  It takes an approach that is very different from Powerpoint, using the idea of a large canvas on which you create presentations and zoom in and out to work your way through the presentation.  It’s worth a few minutes of your time to take a look at www.prezi.com  Or chat with Elizabeth about her experiences.

I’ve mentioned virtual machines several times. In another article, we’ll delve more into that topic.

So what cloud computing experiments have you been doing lately?  Let us know what you’ve been learning.   We’re especially interested when you find something that you think the would be of interest to many HMC users.

CIS welcomes new student assistants for the summer

CIS’ student assistants provide help in many ways, such as helping with software installation, computer setup, moving computers, removing viruses, replacing printer consumables, and much much more.

At the end of the Spring 2010 semester, we said goodbye to a couple of our students:  Angus Ho, Jackie Fu, and Vivian Wehner.  Both Angus and Jackie were seniors and graduated (congrats!).  Angus has worked with CIS since his first year at Mudd, and Jackie has been with CIS for several years.  Jackie originally worked with CIS Audio Visual services to help provide AV support for events and also regularly check AV equipment in classrooms.  Jackie later joined the CIS User Support group to provide help with the labs and daily user support operations.  Vivian joined CIS in Fall 2009.   This summer, she will be working with Computer Science for summer research.

Paula Ning and Joe DeBlasio are continuing to work with us through the summer.

We’re also welcoming our new CIS summer students:

Carl Pearson, Class of 2013
– Interests, hobbies:

My Ho, Class of 2012
– Interests, hobbies: learning languages

Paula Ning, Class of 2012
– Interests, hobbies: gaming, drawing, and writing

Stephen Levine, Class of 2013
– Interests, hobbies: Linux, system administration

Steven Hang, Class of 2013
-Interests, hobbies: too many to list.  “speaks C++ and Python”

(first picture: Paula Ning sitting behind the Help Desk,
second picture: Steven Hang working on a laptop in the User Support area)

Microsoft Online Training

HMC has a software subscription license which provides faculty and staff with access to many Microsoft Products.  As part of that agreement, we have access to online training resources at http://business.microsoftelearning.com/ The courses include and advanced material, are self paced and include assessments.  You can save your place in a course and come back to it at any time.

To get access, you will need to register with your HMC email address and an account access code which you can obtain from the Help Desk

May 2010 update from the CIO

I hope that this finds you shifting into summer mode, whatever that might mean for you.  I notice that it means a lot of hard work for the faculty and students involved in Summer Math (I see them there in Galileo every morning).

In CIS we have definitely shifted gear, with much more emphasis on projects that need to be carried out over the summer, as well as busy preparations for next year.

1. Alumni Weekend.

As you know, Alumni Weekend was a great success.  It seems so long ago already!  Calvin Tong wrote an article about the role CIS played, which you can read at http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=401

2. LabSTOR

Over the past 18 months I’ve been working with the CIOs of Allegheny, Middlebury and Occidental on  a project we’re calling LabSTOR.  It is designed to allow access  via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to application environments that run specialized software for which we might have limited licenses.  No more having to trudge over to the <insert name here> lab to use a given application!   Read more at http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=393

3. Microsoft Online Training.

As part of HMC’s  software licensing agreement with Microsoft, we have access to online training for many Microsoft applications.  Perhaps the summer would be a good time to consider taking one of the courses.  I just logged in and saw 134 courses in English on everything from “What’s New in Microsoft Powerpoint 2010” to “Working with pivot tables and charts in Excel”.    Thanks to Jeff Sessler at Scripps College for reminding us about these online courses.  For more information see http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews/?p=456

5. The Learning Studio in Sprague

If you’ve visited the first floor of Sprague recently, you’ll no doubt have noticed that the carpet is in, the walls are painted and the wood is stained.  We’re waiting now for the arrival of furniture (scheduled for June 14), equipment and the Nanawall (mid-July) that will enclose the east side of the classroom.   I stroll over there every now and then just to get a boost from standing in the space.  We believe it will be an exciting place in which to teach and learn starting this summer.   Elizabeth Hodas is your direct contact for details about the Learning Studio.

6. Tactical Initiatives

By now, I probably don’t need to remind you that we have four areas of emphasis in our strategic planning for information technology:

  • IT Governance
  • IT infrastructure
  • CIS, the central IT organization
  • Innovation

In each, we’ve been identifying tactical initiatives for the next year.   A big one for us in CIS is our client centered initiative.  At our May staff meeting we put together a plan to do our first round of service catalog development.   We plan to do the work of examining fifteen services this summer.  We intend to rethink services from the ground up, taking the perspective of our clients, based on what we learned in focus groups and surveys.  We will be redesigning things to make our services “easier to do business with” and we will look at such things as the potential for automation and moving away from the model we used to have where one person  often had sole responsibility for all steps in a piece of service delivery.

On the IT infrastructure front, our team recently identified three vendors to which we wish to pay closer attention in our search for an Account Provisioning and Identity Management solution.  They are Microsoft, Novell and Fischer International.  Andy Davenport is leading this project and he can talk your ear off about it if you want to drop by his office.

I have not mentioned all the posts that are on our news site, so please visit  http://www5.hmc.edu/ITNews

Thanks for reading.  More to come at the end of June.  Stay cool!

Joseph Vaughan

CIO/VP for Computing and Information Services

Wireless VOIP Phones

In our efforts to continuously improve customer service and become more client-centered, we have been exploring the world of wireless VOIP phones to replace  desktop phones for our staff  who tend to need more mobility. We believe this will improve communication for our staff members who spend some of their time in the field. We explored several options before deciding on the CISCO 7925G Wireless VOIP phone. We based our decision on several factors, including cost, size, weight and functionality. This phone was  recommended by both the CUC Telephone Office and Scripps IT, who have already begun using them.

The areas we felt would most benefit from a wireless phone device are: User Support, Audio Visual/Media Services, and Printer Support Services. All phone numbers will remain the same, and the phones will work anywhere on campus where there is wireless access. We hope to have the phones installed by June 30th.

If you’d like to learn more about the phones visit this url:   http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps9900/index.html or you can contact the help-desk to arrange for a demo.

2010 Student Sakai Survey

The Sakai Administration Team (SAT), a subcommittee of the Intercollegiate Academic Computing Committee (IACC), is responsible for managing the Sakai learning management system for The Claremont Colleges. The subcommittee meets once a month to discuss issues such as testing new versions of Sakai, evaluating new tools, and Sakai support and training. SAT also conducts surveys of customer satisfaction with Sakai. Faculty and students are surveyed every two years and we are planning a staff survey in the Spring of 2011 as well.

This April SAT surveyed students for the second time since we began using Sakai. In order to encourage participation HMC conducted a raffle for one of three prizes: an iPod Nano, a LiveScribe pen, or an Amazon gift certificate. HMC had the highest participation in the survey with 307 students contributing (40% of our student body). The winner of the raffle was Alice Paul who chose the LiveScribe pen. Congratulations Alice! We really appreciate everyone’s participation.

SAT is in the process of analyzing the results of the survey. Results of the quantitative questions can be viewed in this PDF of the survey. Analysis of the 5 open-ended questions will take more time. Results of the 2010 survey were similar to the results of the 2008 survey. One difference was that students reported using Sakai for three to four courses versus the one or two reported in 2008. Resources, Assignments, Syllabus, Announcements, Assignments, and Dropbox were the most widely used tools, which is similar to the 2008 results. A majority of students reported that Sakai was “Easy” to use and that their overall experience with Sakai was “Good.” A majority of students also reported that they agreed with the statement “I prefer courses that use Sakai to organize course materials and communication.” This was also the case in 2008. However, more students reported that they “Strongly Agree” with this statement this year than in 2008 (22.8% verses 9.4%).

SAT will be giving three presentations at the annual international Sakai conference in Denver in June. One of the presentations will focus on the results of our two student surveys. While there are usually many presentations on faculty perceptions and usage of Sakai, the student perspective has largely been absent from the conferences that we’ve attended. So we’re very excited about being able to share our students’ insights about how Sakai is used at The Claremont Colleges, what works well for them and what doesn’t. The open-ended questions are a particularly rich source of information. SAT is already looking forward to using the information to better inform our decisions regarding the default tools available on course sites and training for both faculty and students.