Comments Action Plans by ITS Directors
The Academic Technology group comprises several smaller work teams in ITS:
- Academic technologists
- Media Services
- Web and Mobile Development
- Language Resource Center (a "dotted-line" reporting relationship)
Observation #1: We are reassured that the survey responses indicate our faculty's broad general adoption of mainstream technologies. At the same time a substantial number of faculty expressed interest in developing their skills with key technologies, especially digital media editing, geographic information systems (GIS), and online survey tools.
Response: Academic Technologies will focus training and outreach efforts over the next academic year on the faculty's major areas of interest.
Observation #2: Not surprisingly, the instructional staff's most commonly cited obstacle to adoption of new technologies was lack of time. 55% also said that also need more information about ways that technologies could be helpful beyond what they already use.
Response: There is no reason that we should allow a lack of information to persist as a major obstacle for faculty. Through the academic technology fair, faculty lunches, special training events, and email/web news items, we have made a significant effort already in 2010-11 in increasing our outreach on academic technology issues. We will try to even harder in 2011-12 to frame technologies we offer in contexts relevant to the faculty's teaching and research interests. If individuals, departments, or programs would like to have an exploratory meeting to review technology opportunities, Academic Technology staff will be available at your convenience.
Constraints on faculty time are an ever-present factor to contend with. We will continue to engage with faculty and the Provost's Office to consider new ways of supporting innovation and development that work within and around limitations on time. To mitigate the costs of adoption, we will offer as much hands-on support to curricular technology reports as we can. Ultimately, though, we also feel there is too much at stake in the long term to let time dissuade us, and we will continue to make the case and invite faculty participation as a strategic investment in the long-term health of the academic program.
Observation #3: We still haven't capitalized on effective use of our Learning Management Systems as much as we ought to. Some faculty would like to learn how to balance open and private course materials. Few faculty make use of online gradebooks or electronic assignment collection.
Response: The majority of the faculty will be making their transition to using Moodle in the 2011-12 academic year. The transition to Moodle affords us all an opportunity to construct course sites that are more than just repositories for course readings. In Moodle training and support, ITS and library staff involved in the transition will emphasize effective instructional design of Moodle course sites.
Observation #4: The broad and frequent use of classroom projection systems and built-in computers, etc. supports the strategic ongoing investment in classroom AV and computing technologies.
Response: We will continue to make the quality, reliability, and availability of classroom technologies job #1. For 2011-12, the College has funded $250,000 of improvements to classroom technologies in over 20 rooms. We'll also be adding built-in computers in several classrooms that do not already have them.
Observation #5: We are pleased by the high levels of satisfaction expressed for several of the areas we manage. Media Services support was identified as a special area of strength. Generally speaking, instructional staff are also satisfied with the course management systems (Blackboard/Moodle), academic software resources, and storage for instructional and research data. The one area of concern, though, was a pocket of faculty who indicated that they were somewhat dissatisfied with academic technologies project support.
Response: One of the items on our summer project list is to develop some web resources about academic technology support. We will create an online portfolio of our various projects. We hope to make the steps for getting onto our project list more transparent. We do note however, that only four in ten of the faculty who responded to the survey answered this question, which may be a sign that some people felt the category was not applicable, while others may not have even been sure how to interpret the question. So while we will endeavor to make sure that our project management practices are solid, we also encourage anyone to communicate with us about problems you may have experienced. We welcome your feedback at any time about how we can be more effective at improving our services.
The Client Services team consists of 4 help desk technical support specialists, 1 software specialist and 1 hardware repair technician and the director for the team. Our mission is to provide the Swarthmore community with excellent customer service and technical support. Our responsibilities include desk side support for computer related issues, applications support for Swatmail, Swatfiles, Google Docs and many more applications used with our community, and wireless setups, for example. The help desk is the central point of contact for your technology needs, whether it is a request for an individual computer issue or a request for assistance in selecting a new piece of software or hardware or a long term project.
Submitting a service request is simple and we have many options for you to submit your requests, such as via telephone, walk-in support, and online self-submission and via our email (firstname.lastname@example.org). A ticket entry via our call tracking system ensures that your request has a reference number if you need to follow up on status and is recorded to provide referral to the appropriate ITS member who will assist you with your needs.
Summer computer replacements occur on a 4-year cycle. We have recently sent out the individual surveys for staff/faculty members whose computers are scheduled for replacement this summer. The survey runs up to May 13th at which time we will place our order. We have a standard Dell desktop and laptop as well as a Macbook Pro and iMac to choose from within the survey and additional accessories or upgrades are available at a cost that is then charged by to the individual's department. This summer we will be replacing 350 computers, including the machines for our public spaces and labs.
Other recommendations are provided to protect the community from spyware, viruses, etc. via our ITS blogs as well as our website www.swarthmore.edu/its. We encourage you to be vigilant about your data. It is a good idea to test your computer backup periodically. The instructions for testing are available via our website as well. Another exciting and free tool available to the community on and off campus is the web-based Atomic Learning. Here you may view over 250+ quick videos on applications such as Microsoft Office, Windows 7, and Adobe Creative Suite.
We welcome any suggestions and comments. If there are specific training sessions or technology needs you would like to discuss or recommend, please feel free to contact us at the help desk in Beardsley, via the web by submitting an ITS service request or send an email to email@example.com.
The Administrative Information Systems group is responsible for any content that draws from the college's centralized database. MySwarthmore and Faculty Services are two such applications, as they provide information that resides in the database as a result of the various functions facilitated by the college's enterprise-wide software system, which is Banner. Daily processing of admissions applications, student registration, payroll, and accounts payable, among others, provide the data that are then available for display in mySwarthmore and Faculty Services.
We have collected and reviewed the suggestions for changes and enhancements to College systems and we will review them with the relevant application "owners." While ITS provides the programming and support for these applications, the content and rules of access to, and distribution of, College information are governed by the department(s) responsible for the data and relevant College policies. In the case of Faculty Services, we worked with the Registrar and Dean's Office in determining the design specifications for the system. Typically, change requests for a particular application may be directed to the parties responsible for the application, for example, the Dean's Office in the case of Faculty Services, or the Business Office in the case of budget reports.
One of the biggest challenges for computer operations is to balance the demands for availability and reliability against cost, convenience and innovation. People often cite the reliability of the landline phone as a goal for IT but it is important to remember that the landline phone system has changed little since the advent of direct dialing. Achieving the same level of reliability from our systems environment would require a highly stable application environment where major new features come once every 3-5 years, with annual changes limited to minor updates and bug and security patches. Whenever there is an update to a system that adds new features, it introduces more risk, and will, invariably, cause more downtime. We seek to find an appropriate balance between change which enables new innovations and an acceptable level of system reliability and availability.
Communication about outages, both planned and unplanned, along with system change events that might precipitate an outage, is something we are working to improve. Improvements coming this year will include a system status dashboard, a calendar of planned system events, and a published list so communication resources like the system status dashboard and the ITS Twitter account are easier to find.
One outcome from bringing new services to the College is that they invariably clash with traditional ways of doing things and the community needs guidance on what-replaces-what or what-complements-what and how to decide which service to use. One area where this has become evident recently is the area of file storage and sharing. Traditionally, we all had home directories on a server with department folders enabling file sharing. In recent years, we have added SwatFiles and Google Apps. Both offer file storage, collaboration, and sharing features, but each very different strengths. While we make general recommendations about how the strengths of these various systems can be used, it can be confusing at times. We acknowledge a need to express the systems strategy with greater clarity.
ITS is committed to providing a fast, reliable and secure wireless network throughout campus. We will be upgrading our wireless equipment throughout campus this summer to the latest technology using new tools to ensure adequate signal strength. We want to know if you encounter areas of campus where signal strength is weak. If you experience problems, please let the help desk know the specifics of the location and what type of device you were using. Typically, signal strength issues can be resolved quickly by installing an additional wireless access point.
The wireless network depends on a number of other technology services that have sometimes been problematic. We will be improving the reliability of the login process in the near future by moving to a new authentication server and providing redundant servers for this process.
Internet and VPN
This past year we have had to perform several software upgrades on the Internet firewall to enhance operation and security. This device also provides the Virtual Private Network (VPN) service that allows individuals off-campus to access on-campus resources. These upgrades have required making the Internet and VPN services unavailable for short periods of time. During the academic year, the Internet is heavily utilized until 3 AM and VPN usage is highest at night. We usually choose to perform upgrades late on Friday afternoons as there is a dip in Internet and VPN usage while the majority of people are commuting or having dinner. We remain on campus while usage increases after dinner so that we are available to respond quickly to any subtle problems that may be reported. In the future, we will provide e-mail and telephone contact information so that any questions or problems associated with this work can be reported directly to the staff performing the work.