Duke ITAC - April 23, 2009 Minutes

Duke ITAC - April 23, 2009 Minutes

ITAC Agenda
April 23, 2009 4:00-5:30
Allen Board Room

  • Announcements & Meeting Minutes
  • IT in the Graduate School – Jo Rae Wright, Cynthia Robertson, David Bell, Phil Pope, Pakis Bessias
  • Feedback on IT from graduate and professional students - Ali Saeem & Tolu Adewale
  • OIT computer labs upgrades and directions – Samantha Earp

Announcements & Meeting Minutes

Terry Oas opened by asking ITAC members present at the April 9, 2009 meeting if they had comments on the minutes. Noting no objections, Terry accepted the minutes and stated that they would be posted on the ITAC web site.

Kevin Davis announced that the steering team decided to bypass the ITAC meetings scheduled for May.  ITAC Meetings will resume in June.

Terry noted that Bryan Fleming and Tolu Adewale were both serving in their last ITAC meeting.  He thanked them for their service and wished them luck.

IT in the Graduate School – Jo Rae Wright, Cynthia Robertson, David Bell, Phil Pope, Pakis Bessias

Jo Rae Wright, the Dean of the Graduate School, identified four areas the Graduate School staff identified of possible interest for ITAC.  The first was the transition to a paperless admissions process similar to the undergraduate process (ImageNow).  The technical process has gone very smoothly so far.  The next item was an integrated system for awarding financial aid notification.  Next, the school is looking at the graduate school funding application, known as the webapp.  This is the portal departments use to input data for student funding.  The last item involves academic reporting for students to track their degree requirement progress. 

Susan Gerbeth-Jones noted that NSOE is looking at a process for tracking graduate student progress through evaluations, similar to faculty evaluations.  Jo Rae mentioned this would be a component of the academic reporting initiative.  The graduate school currently requires an annual report; however, the graduate school has allowed individual schools to implement it for their needs and left it to the DGSes to track.  In addition, Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training is not tracked in ACES.  Students attend a variety of options and have those checked off.  This is tracked manually, she said.  David Bell added RCR is a Graduate School requirement but currently can only be viewed in the individual student record.  Jo Rae said this is a graduation requirement, but the graduate school has a labor-intensive process to retrieve this information.

Terry asked if the DGSA now forwards the annual report electronically to the Graduate School. David B. said the reports are filed in the student’s record in the local department; departments then inform the Graduate School when the requirements have been met.  Terry asked if the departmental process for submitting that information to the Graduate School uses ImageNow.  David B. said ImageNow is used for a committee approval process.  David B. said committee approval form works very well. 

Terry noted the committee approval form is Windows specific.  David B. confirmed it works on Windows XP.  Terry stated the committee approval form is used by students to report all the members of their dissertation committee, who are approved by the DGS and then the Graduate School.  The committee uses this formal process, which is an important part of graduate students’ formal training, for approval, Terry said.  This was a paper form until last year.  David B. said that only five units currently do not use the electronic system. 

Robert Wolpert asked if there had been any Linux platform demand.  David B. said he had not heard any feedback on that.  He added that there is a web client (WebNow) to access ImageNow. Furthermore, groups only need one Windows machine to originate the form.  Pakis Bessias added that the ImageNow client is a university-wide selection.  It is used in HR as well. 

Terry clarified that the DGSA needs the Windows dependent client, and asked if the DGSA will require a Windows machine to handle applications.  The team responded that only the application origination required the Windows client, the rest of the process could use the web client.  Terry suggested that the new electronic approval process is fairly complex compared to the previous paper-based method.

David Bell said that the process is now more secure and reliable, less prone to lost forms, and less prone to post-exam committee errors.  He also added that the DGS now requires NetID authentication, so it is more secure.  David added that some students had previously lost forms.  He suggested the benefits were not strictly efficiency gains. 

Terry suggested the process would be enhanced if the platform dependency was resolved.  Klara Jelinkova suggested a Citrix connection could potentially allow a Mac user to access the software.  Alvy Lebeck observed two potential items: platform neutrality and process streamlining.  Jo Rae stated that they were open to improving the process, and they believe an electronic solution is the way to move forward.

Alvy asked about the progress reports.  In building the systems, will the systems allow the units to gather the information and feed it up to the Graduate School, or will units need to rely on the Graduate School system? Jo Rae said schools determine graduation requirements, thus, she does not foresee needing the data.  She said she has seen Computer Science’s system and likes it very much; however, numerous schools are unable to navigate the system.  Jo Rae said that the only information the Graduate School needs is a “Yes/No.” 

John Board asked if the information the Graduate School needed from schools could be pushed to the Graduate School from schools’ internal systems.  Jo Rae was unsure.  Alvy added that some groups developed systems to meet this need and would like to continue to use them and just pass the necessary information to the Graduate School. Kathy Pfeiffer suggested that it might be possible to enable this capability.

Terry asked if SISS is capable of tracking degree requirements.  Kathy said four schools currently use this feature, and added that her office is in discussions with the Graduate School about using the degree audit process. The degree audit could look at this information.  Kathy said that they could work with groups to draft functional requirements.  This functionality has been successfully deployed for some groups.

John B. asked about the higher number of people that interact with the digital files in the graduate admissions process and where the Graduate School stands in respect to those documents’ security.  Jo Rae said the committee established a clear security policy.  She believes this system is more secure than the previous process, yet not without risk.  Terry asked about the process for delivering an application to an admissions committee member with the ImageNow application.  Wayne Thompson with the SISS office said they would provide the department with a set number of queues.  This web-based system would restrict access to those queues.  A faculty member would log in to a web based workbook queue.  The DGSA would be informed of which ones to look at via email.  All they will be able to do is open, read, or enter evaluation information on a web form. They can only read it through a web browser not as a PDF file.  Kathy P. added that the printing function will be disabled. 

Terry asked about the reaction of faculty who prefer reading documents via paper.  Kathy said the group considered this but received feedback from faculty that in practice this model is more flexible.  The overall reaction has been very positive, she said.  Terry asked if there might be a system where printouts might be an option.  Jo Rae said testing will occur in the spring when application levels are lower.  Kathy added that a faculty focus group is involved in evaluating the process moving forward.  Jo Rae added that they moved to an all electronic model two years ago.  The faculty pre-conception before that move was that they would want to print.  In that project, no one is printing at all, even though you can.  Klara mentioned that the issue might be more about the viewing.  She suggested ensuring that the display allows faculty to easily interact with the information.

Terry asked about the deployment plan.  A SISS office member mentioned that the goal is to offer a set of views enabling a faculty member to query the system and learn where a given application is in the process.  Terry and Robert urged the group to make elements of the application available as early as possible.  Kathy said the files will be updated in real time as they are received.  She said it is a business process question of when to release the information to the schools.  Jo Rae mentioned that the Graduate School will look into the process while ensuring the integrity of the process.

Susan Gerbeth-Jones asked if this process is looking to tie into alumni tracking.  Jo Rae said they were.

Ali Saeem asked if there was going to be an effort to archive application processes.  Jo Rae said the Graduate School keeps applications for one year, whereas schools maintain other records.  Jo Rae mentioned that the student record is permanently kept in the Graduate School, except for recommendations.

Feedback on IT from graduate and professional students - Ali Saeem & Tolu Adewale

Ali said he and Tolu Adewale had reached out to the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) and to personal contacts for feedback on IT services in advance of this meeting. Tolu summarized their findings under the rubric “no news is good news,” though cautioning that students may have been busy and concerned about exams at this time of year. He added that everything they seemed to need they could find on the OIT web site. 

Terry asked what kinds of questions they asked.  Ali said they originally reached out to groups without dedicated IT staff.  He learned that in many cases, some of the representatives already have an individual assigned who is meeting IT support needs.

Ali and Tolu also said they sought out “mobile” students who frequently work around campus as opposed to a lab or office.  Mobile students would need to know what hardware they need, network access instructions, ePrint information, and available software.  He added that in most situations, the OIT web site could answer the question “within four clicks.” 

John B. asked about the sense of research computing support.  Ali reached out to the Institute of Genome Science and Policy (IGSP - http://www.genome.duke.edu/) and Computer Science.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that these groups had access to high power computing.  Ali said the Duke Shared Cluster Resource provides faculty a means to purchase a machine to meet high computing needs.  He added graduate students in non-technical schools who lack funds for these kinds of purchases might have difficulty gaining access to high performance computing resources. John B. asked if there was a large subset of graduate students in the latter group, or if these needs are relatively rare.  Ali suggested these cases were more isolated.  Tolu added that one student stated that they had the computing needs they required and quick access to answers.

Tolu said that students may not always be aware about services OIT offered.  For example, students may not be aware of the full technical capabilities of the Link.  Terry said that ITAC should play a more active role in marketing these features.  Tolu reiterated that many students also have access to some computing resources and support staff in their schools.

Tolu said they had wanted to examine was awareness of OIT service offerings.   One example is the Link’s impressive videoconferencing and telecommunications facilities. (http://link.duke.edu/) Many people he spoke with were unaware of its existence.  He suspected most people are likely aware of the services they use daily, such as e-mail and network access, but they are unaware of the broad and deep range of services.  Terry suggested this concern about increased informational awareness is something ITAC should take on.  Tolu said they worked with GPSC and were unable to come up with other ways to market the information. 

Alvy commented that researching students who may not have direct access to high performance computing but may want to explore it as an option can take advantage of the Scalable Computing Research Center (https://wiki.duke.edu/display/SCSC/Home).  SCRC offers access to high research computing cycles as well as some support.  This new model is independent of a faculty member having purchased a machine.

Ali suggested one key service that could have been better marketed would be the Link.  Ali suggested initial service launches were another opportunity for marketing. Terry asked if graduate students read the Duke Chronicle (http://www.dukechronicle.com/).  Ali estimate 40-50% do.  Some other communication ideas ITAC members brainstormed:
•    dukepass (http://dukepass.duke.edu)
•    Information on the Duke web login page
•    Viral advertising so students have a steady stream of content rather than being inundated all at once

Samantha Earp asked to what extent graduate students use the public computing labs.  Ali said the highest users are likely from Arts and Sciences.  Pratt, Law, and Fuqua use their own resources, he said.  He added that the public labs are a good source for access to Linux or other applications not on his laptop.

Robert asked what the response might be if some labs were decommissioned.  Ali mentioned the labs seem to have a good level of activity.  He suggested their survey of graduate students produced no “bad news” and making significant changes might alter students’ perspectives.

Susan asked if graduate students get enough AV support when they are teaching.  Ali mentioned most groups employ a decentralized support model.  Most departments have tend to have a local technology expert that provides basic technical support.

John Aldrich asked about recommendation letter integration systems and their possibility for use at Duke.  Jo Rae stated that she preferred an all-electronic recommendation letter system; however, she is unsure if a central letter clearinghouse would work. David B. said some schools are using electronic methods for letters of recommendation.

Ali said Netbook popularity is increasing among graduate students.  Many of these machines come with Linux.  Ali suggested OIT look into providing broader support for Linux-based systems.  Klara mentioned that the Linux@Duke (http://linux.duke.edu/) effort might be extended to include the graduate students.  Ali suggested Link staff might be trained in basic Linux support.

Tolu recommended more ACES focus groups. 

OIT computer labs upgrades and directions – Samantha Earp

Samantha said a full lab usage report would be made at the end of May.  She said this is the time of the year when lab hardware and software usage is examined.  This effort coincides with an initiative Tracy is chairing to examine public computing needs. She added it would be a few weeks before she can present a report based on the lab statistics.