October 25, 2018 | University Life

By Philip Pecorino

The CUNY Committee on Academic Technology met on Friday, October 19, 2018. The following are committee notes of George Otte (University Director of Academic Technology) with a bit of editing. Faculty questions, comments and blog submissions regarding these topics are welcomed. The discussion and reports cover: The Cloud Policy Advisory Group, Ed Tech Events, BlackBoard, Library Services, and the CUNY Academic Commons.

CUNY Cloud Policy Advisory Group (CCPAG)
The Cloud Policy Advisory Group, co-chaired by Vice Chancellor and CIO Brian Cohen and CAT (and UFS) member Phil Pecorino and the draft CUNY Cloud Policy continues to be the main focus (see earlier posts.)   However, the group mission is expanding, in no small part perhaps because of the work its members have embraced in broader consultation, especially with the faculty and that the restrictive, even proscriptive tenor of the original draft has been supplanted by an emphasis on support, of which consideration of “acceptable use” is but a part. The advisory group is small enough to get things done and also large enough to have representation across CUNY. (Note that in addition to legal, CIS, procurement, and HR, several CIOs, student services, academic affairs, and faculty – including five CAT members form the CCPAG.)

CCPAG’s interest has expanded to consideration of use metrics—actual and potential—at CUNY.  Please be on the lookout for surveys aiming to answer these questions. CCPAG is also holding discussions with providers. Google and Dropbox, for example – CCPAG joined the IT Steering Committee this week to learn about their latest offering Dropbox Paper (a collaborative digital workspace accommodating many applications and embeddings – links to websites and videos – that “unfurl,” like the collaborative activity itself, in real time). Very interesting.

The provider presentations sparked discussion on what is needed to work with CUNY’s core mission? If the answer is more online learning tools, or external hosting of overloaded infrastructures for applications like Blogs at Baruch and OpenLab at City Tech, what are the possibilities? With the stillborn effort to secure an OPM (Online Program Manager) for the University, might the University create its own OPM?  What might be the role(s) for CAT?  To summarize, the discussion raised thoughtful questions, many without clear and immediate answers.  Anticipated surveys may assist – please watch for Phil’s announcements. Until then the run-through of the Microsoft Office365 Suite training planned for the CUNY will be held on 10/24 and a chance to see how well you think this fits our needs.

Ed Tech Events
Looking further ahead, we noted upcoming conferences. Registration is now open for the 17th Annual CUNY IT Conference (Nov. 29-30), with keynotes by NPR’s Anya Kamenetz and longtime CAT member Steve Brier. Conference chair Lisa Brundage said the draft program is ready with 40 slots and 7 tracks (Community & Collaboration, Inclusive Accessibility, Open Educational Resources (OER), Pedagogy, Tools & Assets, Innovation, and Emerging Technologies).

The other big annual conference coming up is the CUNY Games Conference 5.0 to be held on Jan. 18, 2019, at BMCC.  Maura Smale noted that the thinking is to alternate larger and lighter conferences. This one is the “lighter” one following last year’s two-day, two-site conference, and it will focus on posters, game demos, and workshops. The call for proposals is open till Nov.10, 2018.

Steve Powers (QC), Chair of the CAT Committee on Blackboard, reported that all was quiet on the Blackboard (Bb) front with the exception of yesterday’s hiccup. The 10 minutes of downtime was a culpability attributable to Blackboard Managed Hosting. This is good news, since we are at new highs in traffic and users – 139K unique logins as we start the term, a historic peak. (Reported on last month.)

Other good news is that OHRM and CIS are collaborating on a fix for the break in Bb access that comes with a break-in-service for adjuncts – which keeps some part time faculty from having access to course sites they are building or readying for a new term. Although there are both technical and policy terms to work through, a fix is being tested.

Library Services
As for the Office of Library Services, Stephen Francoeur (User Experience Librarian, Baruch) reported that they continue moving forward with a new LSP (Library Services Platform) to replace Aleph as the support agreement expires in 2020.  Stephen also mentioned two other things of note: 1) hosted EZproxy, a web proxy server used by libraries to give access from outside the library’s computer network to restricted-access websites and databases, will get connected to CUNY single sign-on system (starting in March 2019 and hopefully rolling out over the summer); 2) several data visualizations about CUNY libraries are on the CUNY OLS space on Tableau.


CUNY Academic Commons
The news on the CUNY Academic Commons, delivered by Matt Gold, was all about growth. The Commons Subcommittee, with 20 members, today had about twice its usual attendance. There is astonishing growth in the Commons itself. Membership, which has steadily grown at a 1,000 members or more a year, jumped over 2,000 members in the last two months to over 12,600 total. The number of sites on the Commons went up between a quarter and a third in the past year.  Also astonishing is the growth has been achieved without increasing support requests or straining the infrastructure. The recent server migration (the third in the history of the Commons) and PHP upgrade (to 7.2) should result in some improvement in speed and stability. This provides an exciting context for the upcoming release of the new version of the Commons in November. With new widgets (e.g., for college logos and licensing options) and templates (e.g., for OER and teaching), the new version is about heightened visibility for what people are doing with the Commons. The Commons began by basically saying, “Here are tools to build things; do what you want.”  Now it’s foregrounding purposes – teaching courses or using OER, for instance. This has the Commons team thinking hard about the next version, which will key in on projects – ways of focusing on purposes that extend beyond the tools of WordPress to tools like Omeka or Manifold. This foregrounding of purposes poses an interesting quandary for the Commons. Can it continue to be the DYI, do-what-you-want site fueled by diversity and serendipity if it is increasingly facilitating purposes like OER use or teaching with templates and tool packages? And does this oversimplify the path(s) ahead for the Commons, with its amazing evolution and growth over the decade since its conception and its launch? In trying to help its growing number of members, does the Commons risks being too guiding in its enabling of them — which may be about as fancy a problem as you can have. It is in any case a fascinating juncture to have come to.

Philip Pecorino is Professor of Philosophy at Queensborough Community College and serves on the UFS Executive Committee and is a UFS representative on CAT.  Ed Tech News is a UFS Blog series on educational technologies. Colleagues are invited to weigh in.  

Please send submissions on this topic to Stasia Pasela, Editor.

Images: Ed Tech News logo, S. Pasela and J. Mun.   OLS visualization on Tableau.