December 7, 2018 | University Life

By Philip PecorinoEd Tech News and UFS logo

The CUNY Committee on Academic Technology met on Friday, November 16, 2018. The following are mainly the 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.

Aloha Announcements
Our Aloha moment was occasioned by a changing of the guard for the College of Staten Island (CSI). Patty Kahn and Christina Hagedorn are the new provost-appointed reps, replacing longstanding members Bill Bernhardt and Arlene Farren. We welcomed Patty (CIO, CSI) in person and will eventually do the same to Christina (Professor of Linguistics, English Dept, CSI). We thank thanks to Bill and Arlene for their decade-long service; we’ll miss them and wish them well.

Conferences and Ed Tech Events
Some of our members are currently attending OLC Accelerate (Online Learning Consortium, which longtime CAT member Tony Picciano describes in his blog. The 17th Annual CUNY IT Conference (11/29-30) is just a little further out on the horizon; conference chair Lisa Brundage reminded us the keynotes are NPR’s Anya Kamenetz and CUNY’s own Steve Brier, another longtime CAT member, and encouraged everyone to register. The other upcoming conference, the CUNY Games Conference 5.0 (Friday, 1/18/19, at BMCC, Fiterman Hall), is likely to be at least as much fun and informative.

CUNY Cloud Policy Advisory Group (CCPAG)
We turned to an update on the Cloud Policy Advisory Group, co-chaired by VC Brian Cohen and CAT (and UFS) member Phil Pecorino. Phil noted that the Cloud Applications Survey he has asked us and others to circulate in the first week garnered 300 responses–39 staff, 62 part-time faculty, and 199 full-time faculty. If you haven’t filled out the survey (or asked others to), now would be a good time. It might also be good to stress, as Greet Van Belle did, that the survey is anonymous. (The last of six questions ask whether you are completing the survey as staff, part-time faculty, or full-time faculty, so that the breakdown of roles is through that generic self-reporting.)

Phil also noted that after the Dropbox demo, the Cloud Advisory Group and the IT Steering Committee, negotiations began in earnest. The Dropbox offer was so compelling that, as VC Cohen put it, “I did not have time to socialize the proposal as I would normally.” He did raise it with the Chancellor, who asked him to put it before college presidents. Encouraged to proceed, he announced to IT Steering Committee that they are close to closing a deal, and details (including whether this offer includes the collaborative digital workspace Dropbox Paper) could be announced very soon.

Steve Powers (QC), Chair of the CAT Committee on Blackboard, reported that there was a demo presented to BbCAT and the Blackboard Management Council (BMC). But before getting to that, Steve Powers reported on the “glitchiness” of Blackboard last month. Blackboard Managed Hosting did a mea culpa on that–saying they had mostly addressed it through a reallocation of server space; what remains is an Oracle upgrade that will be done over Thanksgiving break, and without appreciable downtime. Downtime is in the offing in December – the annual upgrade will take Blackboard down for the 27th and 28th– but this is now standard procedure, and there’s a sense everyone has been duly informed.

The monthly Blackboard meeting of BbCAT and BMC (always the first Tuesday of the month), had a demo of Ally, the new analytics and tool suite Blackboard is offering in support of greater accessibility. The demo, which everyone agreed was a bit rushed because of the lack of time allotted, may have raised as many questions as it answered. It may indeed support ADA compliance – but largely by showing how out of compliance course content is. There is the question of who is likely to address that surfaced lack-of-compliance; if not the instructor — and if the instructor, could it mean faculty will turn away from using Blackboard? Ally also does not do compliance checks of linked content, which really means the all video and rich media content (the focus of most concern over ADA compliance) go unscanned.  As Steve noted, Ally is an expensive tool, so this raises the question of return on investment vs, cost of addressing compliance issues, possible ramifications for faculty development, impact on Bb system administrators, and the instructors using Blackboard. To be continued, no doubt.

Library Services
As for the Office of Library Services, Greg Gosselin gave the shortest possible report on what he said felt like the longest imaginable negotiation–getting a new Library Services Platform (LSP) to replace Aleph, which sunsets by 2020.  The year’s worth of work that needs to be done in moving over files and data means we seem to have just enough time and no more. One reason, as Greg note–and this bears on so many academic technology projects–is that the work of our institutions and their units and services is framed by the academic year, and this typically means about a four-week window to do the switchover till we wait another year for that brass ring to come ‘round again.

CUNY Academic Commons
The news on the CUNY Academic Commons, delivered by Matt Gold, included the big news also new news: just two days ago, we had the release of Version 1.14. The theme of this version is improving the Commons for Open Education Resources (OER) teaching and research. To that end, the new version features specially designed templates, plug-in packages rich in tools for teaching, and widgets for campus branding, OER licensing via Creative Commons, and research via OneSearch. The overview of the version release is definitely worth reading. Other versions have made important improvements to functionality and use, but these are often back-end changes. In this case, users get critical ways of customizing sites and content on the Commons.  And they are doing that. In the two days since release, 40-50 new sites have used the new templates.

Matt explained one reason driving this, a development surprising even to him. Since its inception, the Commons has grown steadily, by about a thousand members a year. The use of the Commons as an OER and teaching platform has caused membership to spike–and so dramatically, that of the 13,000 members, more than one- fifth have joined the Commons in a matter of months. Much of this includes an unprecedented influx in undergraduates–since they are the main focus of the OER initiative–and the arrival of this new constituency has raised interesting questions for the Commons, its developers, and its support team. The Commons has always been an opt-in and DIY space with a tiny largely volunteer support staff. As it turns out, the growth spike has really not changed this: students, like their teachers, find it easy to use, at least once the initial onboarding (streamlined in Version 1.13) is done. So should the Commons be changing for (or be changed by) this new constituency? Should there be more here for them? Or should they just feel free to come for a course, then leave? These may not be either/or propositions but possibilities for evolution.

One way that evolution might trend is suggested by another release, that of the NEH-funded OpenLab version of CBOX (Commons In A Box). This variant, inspired by the original City Tech OpenLab, works to build college community across and beyond courses as well as within them. Unlike a standard college site–very much Web 1.0 (a place to find stuff) – OpenLab foregrounds activity in a very Web 2.0 way (as a place to do stuff, even make stuff). And now the CBOX variant allows any school or institution to do that. BMCC (in a project led by CAT member Chris Stein) will be one of the first to do that. The CUNY Academic Commons gave birth to CBOX, and now perhaps turnabout’s fair play: the OpenLab variant of CBOX might not just be something for other colleges to try but could suggest ways the Commons itself might evolve in building community and fostering activity. We’ll see.

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.