Annual Report of the
Committee on Information Technology
For 2007-2008 the elected members of the committee were Jonathan Christman, Paul Escott, Wei-chin Lee, Hugh Howards, Luis González, Delphine Masse, and William Elliot. Rick Matthews attended every meeting as a representative for the Provost. Jolie Tingen and Jeffrey Muday attended each meeting, made helpful contributions as Instructional Technology specialists, and drafted a memo sent by the committee. Either Susan Smith or Erik Mitchell attended as a representative from the library. Lynn Sutton attended several meetings. Anne Bishop and/or Patrick Morton were present at every meeting. Nancy Crouch attended a meeting for Anne Bishop. Ching Wan Yip was invited to several meetings and always provided valuable input. Dean Best, interested faculty or staff also attended at times. Matt Nelkin from Creative Services was present at several meetings. Luis Gonzalez was the chair, and Jolie Tingen kept the minutes.
The CIT formally met seven times during the academic year. The committee also had two emergency meetings (March 19 and April 18) to approve the configuration of the ThinkPad for the coming academic year, as proposed by Patrick Morton.
Important actions by the CIT included the following:
- A message to Eric Carlson stating that his question about password will be part of the information system security policy to be drafted. That work is underway.
- After extensive discussions during at least two meetings, the committee decided to recommend maintaining the standard load on the thinkPad. Jeff Muday and Jolie Tingen drafted a memo sent to Provost Tiefenthaler and IS CIO Michael Spano on March 24.
- Acting on a recommendation from the CIT, Patrick Morton was able to make the case to Lenovo that the Thinkpad for 2008-2009 should include 2 GB of RAM instead of 1. Lenovo agreed to this request at no cost. In April, Patrick Morton and Rick Matthews, Assistant Provost for IS, were able to get Lenovo to upgrade the initial student machine (An R61 14W) to the level of the faculty machine (T61 14W) in order to have a standard machine. Instead of a 15W screen, the new computer will be 14W. However, the new machine is superior in 6 out of 12 specifications. The other 6 specifications are the same for both machines. For example, the new ThinkPad will have a hard drive of 160GB instead of 120GB, the battery will run for 3.8hr instead of 2.5hr. The new machine is slightly smaller and lighter. The CIT approved this change during an emergency meeting on April 18, 2008. Much of the credit for the success in this negotiation goes to Patrick Morton and Ching Wan Yip, who had superior knowledge of the machines.
- A recommendation to the administration to allow faculty members who wish to keep their computer for a third year to do so. The CIT also recommends that the administration consider offering higher end ThinkPad options or tablets to faculty who need them. It is estimated that the cost of some higher end computers could be offset by some faculty choosing to keep computers for a third year. The CIT also agrees that IS should honor requests for tablets when their use significantly enhances presentation of class material.
- The CIT decided to continue for one more year with Windows XP SP2 rather than switch to Vista. Windows XP’s life cycle has been extended to 2010, and there are operational as well as security concerns with Vista. However, the standard load will move to Office 2007.
- Jolie Tingen updated the CIT website. The committee also decided to set up the web site in such a way that it requires WFU username and password to be able to access the minutes.
- After extensive research, consultation, and discussion, Jeff Muday placed a “Request for Project” in IS to use Google email as the email system on campus. Jeff is working with Chris McLaughlin. The project is approved and is moving forward to clarify details for why we want to do it and how we can do it. Jeff maintains that there is not a whole lot of risk to the current infrastructure for the project, and a recommendation for a pilot is expected.
- The CIT voted unanimously to sponsor a request by Jolie Tingen and Jeff Muday to fill out a Request for Project form in IS to request an upgrade to Blackboard 7.x. for fall 2008. The university must upgrade to be able to obtain support, and get critical fixes and upgrades to the program. The request also includes a petition to name a group in charge of overseeing Blackboard as well as a system administrator.
- IS received a request to update keyed software during the semester. An update could mean that current users of an existing version may end up without support. The CIT unanimously approved a motion to begin a software policy that would make the summer (to be in sync with the load) and January the implementation times for new versions. Jolie and Jeff will write the CIT opinion memo.
- Elected Jonathan Christman as the chair of the committee for 2008-2009.
Other matters discussed by, reported to, or handled by the CIT included the following:
- Patrick Morton has made the CIT aware of skyrocketing prices for parts of the software load image. The lack of competition for programs like Dreamweaver and Photoshop, to mention just two, is making them prohibitive. However, the CIT recognizes that these programs are leaders in the industry and do much more than comparable products. The IS team in charge of the load is fully aware of prices, and is constantly looking for ways to make software as cost-effective as possible. The standard load already includes several OpenSource or free programs.
- Jolie Tingen reported on a Blackboard Survey prepared by her and completed by faculty and staff. The main findings are:
- The majority of survey respondents agree that Blackboard does help their teaching.
- Blackboard eliminates photocopying and enhances communication.
- The most common areas used in Blackboard are Assignments and Course Information (to post syllabus).
- The most common file format posted to Blackboard is Microsoft Word. Many faculty use Blackboard as a repository.
- Not many faculty post media-rich content.
- In general, people think it is easy to use.
- The survey also reflected that users appear to be happy with support and training.
- Survey respondents seem willing to switch to another management system.
- Other solutions that faculty use instead of Blackboard include coursepaks and departmental servers.
- Some frustrations and concerns were also expressed:
- Some respondents have had problems with testing/quizzing features.
- For some users, navigation is confusing, has “too many clicks,” and is too time consuming.
- These few concerns may be due to the fact that Blackboard is not being effectively managed.
- Jolie proposed the creation of a group to keep the university’s Blackboard utilization policies/procedures at a professional level.
- Jolie Tingen also reported on preliminary research into CMS (Course Management Systems). In fact, the group that will be in charge of keeping Blackboard will also be investigating and piloting alternative CMSs and support for them.
- The Committee heard from Mike Spano, interim CIO. He was going to be heading the creation of an Information System Security Policy. He stated that he would create a security task force whose focus was policies, procedures, and reporting. By April 2008, Rick Matthews had been appointed as Assistant Provost for Information Systems.
- The committee discussed a question from Stan Thomas on computer repair policy. Anne Bishop stated that every faculty and staff member receives a Technology Resources Agreement in which the policy is stated, and that this policy has not changed in several years. Susan Smith recommended that something that can have an immediate impact is that the policy be part of the training script. She will see to it that this is done from now on.
- Hugh Howards asked why the university does not have automatic back up in case hard drives crash. Jeff said that he believes someone is looking into this. Susan Smith said that this could be part of the institutional repository, an issue that should be taken more seriously.
- Rick Matthews discussed the need for prioritizing projects in IS until a back log is eliminated, a process that will require about one year. He proposed the creation of a group which will be called the IS Partnership Council. Mike Tesh, Mary Gerardy, Tim Snyder, Paul Heinrichs are on the administrative group. Jeff Muday and Luis González volunteered to be part of the group on the academic side. The IS Partnership Council began meetings on March 11, will meet biweekly for about one year, and hopes to operate by consensus.
The Chair thanks the members of the CIT for their hard work and their readiness to volunteer as tasks arose. Special thanks go this year to Ching Wan Yip and Patrick Morton for their role in getting a better computer than the one originally negotiated, at no additional cost to the university.