Wednesday, April 14, 2010
A meeting to discuss UC computing environments
Yesterday UC's Information Technology Systems (ITS) inserted a C in their name and came to communicate with a few of us who have expressed frustration over some things to do with UC's computing environment and connectivity management.
David Formica, David MacNivan, Stef Batts-Cirilli and Geoff Rozenberg came from ITS to C with Danny Munnerley and Leonard Low from the Teaching and Learning Centre and Ben Rattray and myself from Faculty of Health. Apologies for the meeting sent in from Michael De-Percy from the Faculty of Business & Government and James Neill from the Faculty of Health.
The meeting was prompted by the document I was preparing for Laurie Grealish, the Associate Dean of Education in the Faculty of Health, Things That Don't Work, that documents difficulties we are having with computing and connectivity. It is preparation for a larger proposal for some fundamental changes in policies and procedures in aspects of UC management.
Over all it was quite a positive meeting. There was the usual icey-ness with a couple of the IT guys that came along, no doubt feeling under siege, aggravated by my impatience and aggressiveness on such issues. But David was very patient, and eventually I think we broke through some of that get-to-know you business and realised we have ideas and concerns worth discussing rather than treating. It felt towards the end like we were actually having a dialog, and might be open to some more interaction in the near future.
Key points I noted where:
The notorious proxy, will be taken away in July! You beauty, here's hoping we can load files to media sharing sites, use webcams, webstream, create multiple Blogger accounts in workshops, etc.
The Content Management System used to run the UC website will remain :( looks like plan B of stripping down the content that's on the website to bare essentials and pointing into a second site we can actually manage is the best path to take. For example, Sport Studies and Nutrition have both set up open Moodle sites to act as a kind up-to-date face for their study areas.
Separating education and research from the business and admin side of things. ITS is considering the advice from Wollongong University to separate the business and administration infrastructure of the university, from the teaching and research side. I think this would be a good move, as it may enable more flexibility to innovate and try new things on the education side, while the business and admin people can die a slow death with their legacy software/rod up their backs.
Free and open connectivity - especially wireless across campus was a longer discussion point. I see it as the more important point of discussion, as it could be the one that helps change the culture of the university from one of being about lecture halls, exclusive access and credential inflation, to one of connectivity, inclusivity and networked learning.
It seemed as though the two groups had quite different ideas of what access to connectivity meant. In my opinion, free and open connectivity to the internet for anyone who walks on to campus (and even hotspots out in regional towns) is a core service the university should be aiming to offer, as it is for public libraries and other public services (and I'm certainly not advocating Eduroam either).
The cost of providing such a service is an obvious concern. David said we pay AARNET approximately $700 000 per year for our present restricted access use. If we were to offer free and open connectivity on campus, would that data use increase given the campus is actually a long way from dense residential populations, and the culture of internet use for education is not really here yet? Geoff in ITS believes data use won't go up significantly. So could we afford to go further and offer free hotspots in regional towns? Is there a cheaper option than AARNET and their Eduroam shareholders?
The other concern raised about offering free and open connectivity is an apparent requirement by AARNET that we require sign in, and a suggestion that we track all data transferred by individuals on the network for auditing!? David MacNivan spoke to this point, and I'll need to look into it more. On the face of it, it stinks. Perhaps its better that we buy in service from an ISP who has the courage to stand up to such legislation, if it exists. Even if there was a requirement to "authenticate" (sign people in and record their use in plain English) I don't see why we couldn't still offer free and open-to-anyone connectivity and ask people to create a UC account before using. Why we should issue barcodes to people who must first sign up to $25000 of student dept before we give them access to the greatest educational device ever known, seems a bit more than simply fulfilling a server and audit requirement to track use. Are we thinking laterally enough? Students and staff can obviously use their existing barcodes if we realise we need to differentiate the quality of connection due to over use... if!
Finally, thanks to Danny's supporting comments that tried to point out some fundamental differences in outlook being discussed, we were able to put forward some sense that there is a fair bit of energy behind the notion of open access education using popular media. David indicated that ITS are open to a defining vision, and that the consultation period for the 5 year road map just authored by ITS (hoping for a link soon) is the place to pitch it. I questioned the authenticity of that consultation process - relating to many other such processes that are merely cosmetic while the deal is in fact done and dusted. David assured us the consultation was real, and he was putting money into it. He suggested we get a vision document together that aligns with the over all strategic direction of UC, and puts forward a business (and educational) case. We need to get the Associate Deans of Education championing the vision and relaying it up the chain of command.
So I've loaded the strategic plan to Wikiversity as well as the start of a Vision for open education using popular internet, with a view to linking the vision with the strategy, and outlining a business and education case.