ITAC Meeting Minutes
September 15, 2011 - 4:00-5:30
Allen Board Room

  • Computer Store Review Group (Angel Wingate)
  • Instructional Technology Update (Sakai & Wordpress) (Lynne O'Brien, Samantha Earp, Chris Meyer) 
  • Digital Futures Task Force Update: Research Data Management (Jim Siedow, Paolo Mangiafico, Molly Tamarkin)

Computer Store Review Group (Angel Wingate)

Tracy Futhey introduced Angel Wingate's talk by explaining that Jim Rigney had recently left his long-held position as the head of the Duke computer store.  In Jim's absence, Tracy and Tim Walsh have been working together to evaluate Duke's changing needs as they may influence future role(s) of the computer store.  Angel has agreed to help coordinate this effort.

Angel explained that this evaluation has a short timeline, kicking off this week and slated to wrap up between late October and early November.  Along with Rafael Rodriguez, Jane Pleasants, Brian Burtram, Debbie DeYulia, and Michael Ansel, the team will be investigating the current store model as well as a need assessment based on transactional and financial history.  The team seeks to identify purchasing trends to better serve the community.

Angel then opened the floor for questions or comments.  Student representative Michael Ansel offered that in his talks with students, many were not aware of the Duke Computer Store's existence, even if they took advantages of services hosted by the store such as the Technology Advantage Program (TAP).  A discussion ensued about TAP, as Terry Oas commented that he is not aware of equivalent programs at the universities his children attend, leading him to wonder how such programs are marketed.  Tracy said that TAP trends and marketing will certainly be included as part of the investigation.  Chris Meyer also noted that TAP helps Duke students by providing loaner computers when repairs are needed, helping to minimize the effect that computer problems can have on a student's studies.

Dave Richardson asked about the connection between the computer store and computer repair services.  Tracy explained that they were under the same management, so there is a very close connection between the two services.

In closing, Angel encouraged anyone with comments or ideas about this effort to email her.


IPTV Planning & Network Impact (Bob Johnson, Joe Lopez)

Bob Johnson introduced IPTV as video services that are run within the Local Area Network (LAN).

According to Bob, users get entertainment and academic content primarily in one of two ways: over the internet, and through the cable television system.  Though cable usage has been steadily declining, Duke decided not to completely do away with the service, but rather transition it into an IPTV system for the relatively small number of remaining users.

Bob says that IPTV uses multicast to conserve bandwidth by not replicating streams across the network core. A standard definition channel takes about 3 megabytes on the network while a high definition channel takes about 10.  The current IPTV implementation offers a mix of 107 standard and high definition channels served through 64 set top boxes.  Though Duke has 185 total set top boxes that will be installed in the coming weeks, Bob says that the 64 currently installed are enough of an install base to evaluate how the service affects the Duke network.

Alvy Lebeck asked about the limited deployment, as regular cable service has been discontinued.  Bob responded that the set top boxes are all ready to deploy, but much of the installation delay has been a matter of commons rooms construction/readiness.

Revisiting the question of bandwidth, Tracy Futhey explained the advantages and limitations of multicast.  If 30 people were watching the same high definition channel, she said, it would have a ~10 megabyte impact on Duke's network core, whereas if 30 people were watching 30 different channels, there would be a ~300 megabyte impact.  Bob said that IPTV currently represents about 18% of core traffic, accounting for less than 4% of total core capacity.

Terry Oas commented that as some fraction of the core is used for internet-provided television content, providing that content on IPTV might actually reduce the overall core impact.  Bob acknowledged this, noting that during the Women's World Cup final, there was a noticeable network spike due to many users streaming the game over the web. He continued to say that we're well within our network capacities.

Tracy said that deployment of set top boxes has been prioritized in common areas that see the most use.

In summary, Bob said that IPTV is being closely monitored and although future growth must be carefully planned, impact of the current deployment has been manageable.  Critical mass of user base and channel viewing patterns will be the driving factors for network patterns, he continued, and this impact will be more noticeable at the network edge than the core.

Tracy contextualized the IPTV service by noting that her first preference for future content delivery would be for users to consolidate their entertainment streams and get everything on the web.  When web delivery is not available or ideal, Tracy would like to see direct relationships established between departments and cable content providers, which OIT will help to broker as it did with the cell phone transitions over the past year.  This approach will limit university involvement in what has been known to be an expensive and complicated operation.  In the meantime, IPTV is a more efficient way to make cable content available to the community.

Noting that most IPTV activity occurs during the day, Ashutosh Kotwal asked whether there is more reason to do network-intensive data transfers during off-peak hours.  John Board responded that data transfer traffic would go through different channels, so IPTV should not be affected by such transactions.

Michael Ansel asked for an estimate on when all residential set top boxes will be deployed.  Bob said while he couldn't give an exact time frame, he could say that the equipment and network ports are all ready to go and Student Affairs is deploying as quickly as they can.  Were it not for ongoing construction, everything would likely be ready in a matter of weeks.


Instructional Technology Update (Sakai & Wordpress) (Lynne O'Brien, Samantha Earp, Chris Meyer) 

Lynne O'Brien began with an introduction to the transition between the learning management systems (LMS) Blackboard and Sakai.  The team wanted to have a small number of faculty using Sakai this fall, knowing that there would be some issues to resolve before the rest of the university made the switch.  According to Lynne, the LMS is the core for linking many of our academic tools together, but it's not the only academic tool.  Sakai is an open-source project, and Duke does not pay for licensing.  Lynne said that the majority of the costs in this effort are related to deployment and customization of the software.

In the spring semester, Lynne hopes that the majority of people will begin to be trained in using Sakai.  Content from four years of Blackboard courses (so far only migrated for pilot users) will be fully migrated by late this fall.  Blackboard will be decommissioned on June 30th of 2012.

Lynne showed some visual aids, showing Sakai use leveling out at about 7000 total users for this semester.  Looking at the graphs, John Board noted that most students have already been exposed to Sakai in one way or another, though the same does not appear to hold true for faculty.

According to Lynne, Duke has held training classes, office hours, and one-on-one meetings to help users get started with Sakai.  For the most part, though, Lynne says that users have been able to get up and running with little more than the online help materials. 

One part of Sakai that faculty and students have enjoyed is the syllabus view, which allows professors to organize content in terms of a logical flow of ideas instead of the chronological organization presented by Blackboard.  Michael Ansel volunteered that his ECE 51 professor has implemented a syllabus view for this course, and he has found it preferable to Blackboard's layout.

Duke has been migrating legacy content from Blackboard to Sakai where possible; something Lynne noted is rare among universities who have made the switch.  While Duke has been doing its best to preserve data where possible, some things (such as tests/quizzes and assignments) do not move well, and others (such as student grades and discussion boards) do not move at all.  Lynne said that this has presented some challenges.  

Grades have been particularly challenging, Lynne continued.  PeopleSoft accepts grade data in letterform, while Sakai saves them in number form.  Even having a standard scale, there are always exceptions where the translation becomes more complicated.

Alvy Lebeck asked Lynne whether she felt that mainstream users would have a better Sakai experience than pilot users have had.  Lynne responded that import scripts have been adapted many times for a smoother data transition, so in that respect things will be smoother.  She added that most users struggled to get their bearings with Sakai for a day or two before feeling fully comfortable with it, so the best way to ensure an easier transition is to encourage faculty to start engaging with the software as early as possible.

A discussion ensued about differences between Blackboard and Sakai.  Michael Ansel reported finding Sakai much more usable as a student. According to Michael, documents tend to be better organized in Sakai, and he appreciates getting notifications when a due date is modified or content is added for one of his courses.  Unlike with Blackboard, he said, he does not have to constantly monitor Sakai for updates.

Chris Meyer then provided a quick technical update regarding an outage on Monday.  Sakai is currently hosted by a vendor outside of Duke, and Chris says that OIT has been in close communication with the vendor to make changes necessary to prevent this situation for recurring.

Chris also added that OIT has been working closely with SISS to make sure that grade integration between Sakai and PeopleSoft is as seamless as possible.  Terry Oas commented that this integration doesn't exist in Blackboard, so this automation will make life easier for faculty.

Samantha Earp announced that together with a governance process team chaired by Ed Gomes, she has been looking at services within Blackboard like lecture capture and e-reserves in order to determine a reasonable priority order for implementation.

John Board asked the presenters how they felt about moving the mainstream to Sakai.  Samantha noted that one thing the team has heard consistently is that it takes faculty a couple days of careful thinking to really get acclimated with Sakai.  The earlier people get engaged, the easier she feels the transition will be on the university.

Terry Oas commented that Duke should spread the message that getting started with Sakai in December rather than January will help faculty and students alike.

Due to time constraints, it was decided that the Wordpress update would be deferred to a future ITAC meeting.


Digital Futures Task Force Update: Research Data Management (Jim Siedow, Paolo Mangiafico, Molly Tamarkin)

Paolo Mangiafico introduced the Digital Futures Task Force (DFTF) as having been appointed by the Provost in Spring 2009 as a steering committee for the "Managing Campus Digital Assets" project funded by the Mellon Foundation.  In 2009-2010, the DFTF investigated Duke's open access policy, while the 2010-2011 goal is to investigate issues and needs related to Duke-created research data.

Topics addressed in the 2010-2011 report include things Duke might do to help researchers manage and archive data, what services and support might be desired, and what services should be local to Duke and what disciplinary, national, international, and commercial services exist outside of Duke, what kinds of incentives we need to promote better and longer term management of research data, and how to pay for such initiatives and incentives.

Duke policies require data stewardship and retention for at least five years, Paolo continued, and there is a growing demand from faculty and schools to improve data management.  Additionally, there has been a steadily growing expectation by funding agencies, journals, and disciplines that researchers share data.  These days, the NIH, NSF, and even NEH require data management plans with grant proposals.  According to Paolo, both Nature and Science magazines have covered this topic in the last year. 

Paolo said that most management of research data is ad hoc and not formally shared or archived.  Funds are spent on lightly managed storage with little emphasis on issues of access, curation, discovery, and disposal.  Individual solutions are cost-inefficient and at times, present risks to Duke.  Though many researchers claim they will share data upon request, Paolo cited a study that showed that only 10-25 percent of data requests are actually fulfilled.  As studies tend to get more attention/citation when data is shared openly, it is beneficial to researchers to manage their data in a way conducive to sharing.

Molly Tamarkin then went over recommendations that came out of DFTF findings to support day-to-day research activities and provide tools to meet university policies.  Phase I of these recommendations includes offering consulting services for data management and infrastructure selection, guidance in applying relevant standards, and training workshops.  Managed storage should be provided that is cost-competitive with self-provisioned options and equally supported, while data repositories for publication and archiving would allow data to be discovered, as well as provide permanent storage of this data.

Phase II of the recommendations would provide management systems for data and research workflows via "virtual research environments" that help provide more consistent management from the beginning of a project.  This will make handoff for publication/archiving easier when needed.  This phase also includes a data registry service, or a registry of data produced by Duke research, regardless of storage location.  This service would allow search for discovery of data as well as mechanisms to track and report on downstream use and citation of data.

Molly then presented three options for offering these services.  The first option is to build on existing campus-wide services, such as Duke libraries and GIS services, OIT research computing, and the Scalable Computing Support Center.  The second option is to build on existing discipline-specific services, such as the IGSP Express data repository and related services, DTMI Duke research data services (DRDR) unit, SSRI data services core, and NESCent Dryad repository program.  The third option is to create a new unit.

According to Molly, the DFTF has been speaking with various groups across campus, seeking reactions to these findings and advice on moving forward. Molly also shared a website, ( with guidance on data management planning and data archiving.

Molly then opened the floor to questions.  John Board noted that there are a small number of labs on campus that account for the majority of the total research data published at Duke, and asked whether the DFTF report focused on the other labs.  Molly responded that she would be more interested in starting with bringing the smaller labs up to speed, as well as hearing what larger-scale labs find challenging about their current methods. 

Dave Richardson commented that the protein data bank was hoping at one time to provide all the tools needed for this type of data management, but ultimately that initiative lost steam.  The council then discussed a similar discovery process taking place on the health system side, which has resulted in an almost identical set of recommendations as the DFTF report.

Terry Oas also recommended that the DFTF look into offering boilerplate text for grant proposals.  Paolo commented that a 3-page sample text for NSF proposals has been created already and is available on the library website.