February 1, 2019 | University Life

By Philip PecorinoEd Tech News and UFS logo

The CUNY Committee on Academic Technology met on Friday, January 25, 2019. 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
This group has an executive sponsor, the Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost: Lexa Logue (who initially called and charged the committee), Julia Wrigley, Vita Rabinowitz, and Jane Bowers. This week Jane Bowers formally retired

Conferences and Ed Tech Events
CUNY Games Conference 5.0 (1/18/19, at BMCC); Robert Duncan (York College and the Graduate Center) reminded us that this year’s conference was the “lighter” version (as opposed to the prior year’s larger two-day, two-site conference) and it was a great success with over 70 in attendance. It was largely run as an unconference, a set-up that works well for its constituency.

Future events include the CUNY/SUNY OER Showcase (3/22 at Baruch)—website coming soon, the CUNY COIL [Collaborative Online International Learning] Colloquium (4/12 at LaGuardia, and though the CFP deadline has been extended to 2/1), the CUNY Accessibility Conference (4/24 at John Jay), the 2019 Bronx EdTech Showcase (5/3 at Lehman — proposals due 2/17), and the first (!) CUNYfirst Conference (6/14 at John Jay). About that last, we heard some high-level agenda development is underway and there will be more hard news soon.

CUNY Cloud Policy Advisory Group (CCPAG)- CUNY IT Steering Committee meeting
The Cloud Policy Advisory Group did not meet in January (November report here), but the CUNY IT Steering Committee met  (1-16-19) and had a report on STI (Strategic Technology Initiative) projects that included news of a one-time-only student tech fee “giveback”. (Money not needed by central for STI acquisitions will not consequently actually be swept from campuses tech fee funds this academic year but the unused funds needs to be spent by October and allocated according to student tech fee rules – on IT, for student benefit, etc.)  So, the Student Tech Fee Committees will need to be convened to reach decisions on allocations.

In the meantime, the intercampus network (high bandwidth connectivity for all) is being completed and the Palo Alto firewall secured. Dropbox has been procured, with no limits on storage for faculty and staff and about 15 gigs of storage on average for each student (at a cost averaging 19 cents per person). CUNY needs to renegotiate its Adobe license (now for the Adobe Creative Cloud), something being done in partnership with SUNY. And the big new thing in limited release is ACS (Automatic Course Scheduler); integrating with CUNYfirst, it uses a combination of requirements and preferences to create each student’s optimal schedule. This will be piloted at LaGuardia and Hunter and, if successful, will be put in use CUNY-wide. Finally, the CUNY Cloud Advisory Group’s drafted data use policy will be circulated for one last round of feedback before distribution, going to special constituencies like the University Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the Council of Presidents.  Phil (Pecorino) noted as before the distance that has been traveled from an earlier draft of prohibitions and constraints to a statement of support and authorized use and access.

Library Services: The Changing Academic Publishing Industry
While CUNY and other institutions have their eye on authorized use and access, publishers of scholarship, textbooks, and courseware have their focus on something else. This month, Greg Gosselin, Interim University Dean of Libraries and Information Systems, organized a meeting between a small group in CUNY and the leadership of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, – global thought leaders and policy influencers with vast expertise in the complex domain of scholarly communications. They are one of the most effective advocates for the pillars of open (open access, open data, open education) in higher education today. The meeting discussed SPARC’s latest report: “Landscape Analysis: The Changing Academic Publishing Industry — Implications for Academic Institutions.”  The author, Claudio Aspesi, was present to explain the implications of his long and very detailed report which is not yet available to the public.  The insightful and compelling report offers evidence and discusses:

  • Background to the SPARC project: overview of academic publishing.
  • Why are education and research publishers changing strategy – the shift from content to data analytics?
  • Implications of data analytics in academia: opportunities and issues.
  • What academic institutions can do to manage the issues: local responses and systemic actions.
  • Intersections with Open Access and Open Education.

Implications of controlling data (and data analytics) around access and use include: ability to manage workflows around scholarship (and the determination of scholarly impact — even the determination of tenure and promotion), to serve up evidence on learning and teaching efficacy (especially through use of digitized content), and so on.

Greg gave some data on Academic Works, our institutional repository. In 2018, it saw over 20,000 items with 1 million downloads from 27,000 institutions in 224 countries. Greg also said we are moving to Academic Works to a new, fully open infrastructure. The compelling reason: it is now housed in the Bepress Digital Commons — and Elsevier recently acquired Bepress.

From the BbCAT chair, Steve Powers, reported on Blackboard.  The update was decidedly mixed and yet still mostly good. Example: a recent slowdown in course copying (a major activity before each new term) had understandably caused concern, but as soon as that concern was registered, CIS’s Maxim Ryklis contacted Blackboard Managed Hosting and cleared the queue. Soon everything was running fine again – and all this on a weekend. Weird (but ultimately fixable) little problems have surfaced after the update – black on black (and so unreadable) navigation bars, laptops that the system takes to be (and configures for) smartphones, and especially problems with themes, themselves problematic because of issues of ADA compliance. Could themes be disabled? — Steve got a strong yes, particularly since themes are disappearing from the next version of Blackboard. That version (Ultra) is, for some, Blackboard’s attempt to be more Canvas-like, and so CIS is arranging a Canvas demo. One more bit of good news/bad news. The problem of breaks in access to Blackboard because of breaks-in-service (a special problem for adjuncts) is semi-solved. The problem has been addressed, in a collaboration between OHRM and CIS. A tougher nut to crack is that of access for new hires. For instructional staff, CUNY contracts make the first day of work the first day of class. No one can wait that long to prepare, especially anyone who has to set up a course site. This is still be worked out, but the progress made thus far by OHRM and CIS suggests we can get there before the next term.

 Frameworks for expanding and supporting online learning in CUNY
Olena Zhadko (Director of Online Learning, Lehman) presented an idea rooted in a presentation she had done at the CUNY IT Conference with Carlos Guevara (Hostos), Judy Cahn (JJ), and Bruce Rosenbloom (City), that a new subcommittee of CAT would take up developing frameworks for expanding and supporting online learning in CUNY. CAT discussed this strategic vision at some length, especially in terms framing the endeavor in terms of CUNY’s special mission and strengths (like recent success with the OER initiative and open education work on the Commons), and above all in terms of what will benefit our students. Those interested were encouraged by Olena and Carlos to contact them. There will be some preliminary work and discussion by the subcommittee as it coalesces; it will, when ready, report back to CAT.

Academic Commons
Reporting on what lies ahead for the CUNY Academic Commons and taking success as a challenge (now that the Commons has gone beyond 14,000 members and has never seen so much – or such varied use), Matt Gold talked of how the development team’s planning for the spring release is focusing on the creation path for new users. What kinds of sites or groups do they want to create? How can answering questions like that in a guided path get them what they want and also get the Commons metadata the team needs about evolving, diverging uses. The team already knows what had seemed uncomplicated decisions are getting tougher with new uses. For those teaching on the Commons, is a standard Creative Commons license a good default? Should there be guided choices, even multiple choices for teachers who want to have their students take responsibility for their own intellectual property? In some ways, the Commons has created enough options to make skilled users “educated users”, and so is fortunate to have been able to bring on full-time Open Education Technologists to do outreach and “train the trainers.” Anyone interested in availing themselves of them should contact Matt.

The next meeting of CAT will be February 22nd.

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.

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