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Technology changes quickly, and there are few constants. Although rapid change can make for challenging planning, there’s one touchstone to which we can always return: regardless of how specific technologies appear, develop, grow, and eventually fade away, I believe that the best technologies have, at their core, a human-centered purpose.
The most useful tech doesn’t change or define the meaning of what we do. Instead, it is aligned with what we need and helps us, frees up time, and improves our lives. To that end, a strategic plan for information technology at Colgate must be connected to us, our dreams and desires, and the work we set out to do in these first years of our third century.
In the fall newsletter, I outlined areas where a technology plan might provide focus. In this edition, I expand a bit on those areas and would like to share with you what I’m thinking about and let you know how those plans are connected to the community we serve.
Improving Classroom Technology and Innovative Spaces. Our students, and the majority of our new faculty, are digital natives. Prospective first-year students visit Colgate from schools with fully digital, flexible, and modern learning spaces. Although we have some outstanding special spaces like the Ho Tung Visualization Lab and the Peace and Conflict Studies War Room, there’s work to be done in providing comprehensive maker technology, and 3-D and virtual reality development facilities for interested faculty and students. Additionally, we have many opportunities to refine further the technology experience and overall fit and finish in our regular classrooms, auditoria, and seminar rooms.
Enhanced Support for Teaching, Learning and Research. Digital technologies offer unique affordances to support teaching, learning, research, and creative work — bounded only by the imagination of our faculty and students. ITS staff collaborate with faculty in the exploration of ways in which technology can be used to amplify the residential liberal arts learning experience. As reflected in the recent Middle States Self-Study Report, faculty satisfaction around collaboration with technology staff has improved in recent years, and interest continues to grow. As the satisfaction and demand increases, our strategic effort in this area includes the growth of instructional design support, evaluation of technology-based instructional innovations, and providing access to top quality academic technology resources.
Special Support for the Arts. We’re seeing increases in demand for digital media and special event support, and we anticipate that the demand for this suite of services will continue to grow. Film and Media Studies and Art and Art History are both beginning to open dialogue about improving their dedicated learning spaces and are looking to upgrade special event facilities, which support very special programs like the Flaherty Film Seminar. The technology plan must reflect our university’s strong commitment to support the arts.
Connectivity and Infrastructure. During the last two years, we have made substantial investments in wireless infrastructure in our residential spaces. Looking comprehensively at our network, we must ensure that the whole campus — its buildings and its outdoor common areas — has fast and reliable internet connections. Planning must include an opportunity to take advantage of high-speed research networks like Internet 2 and other services to fully support an active community of scholars and their ability to collaborate with national and international colleagues.
Information Security and Risk Mitigation. This is a consistent technology priority for higher education. For the second year in a row, it’s been identified as Educause’s #1 area of technology focus for our peers nationwide. Our information security program, especially in areas of community awareness and data governance, needs additional focus. Our technology disaster recovery plans are ready for refreshing, and our community has expressed interest in learning more about how to navigate safely, both personally and professionally, in an increasingly complex digital world.
Enterprise Data Systems and Data Analytics. Major enterprise systems that support admission and advancement are on solid ground with the implementation of Slate and ongoing implementation of Raiser’s Edge NXT. We are making strides in helping our community leverage analytics and data visualization to support decision making. However, many other systems supporting financial functions, human resources, service management, and student records are in need of modernization. Many administrative processes are paper-based and labor intensive. Many of those that are electronic are running in Banner, which is 25 years old and has not changed to keep up with current practice or technology standards. There are many “shadow” or ancillary systems that have been implemented over the years to fill gaps left by our older major systems. We must look strategically and holistically at these current systems to discern whether they are costing us more in staff time and institutional efficiency than we’d pay for refreshed and modern systems in these areas. As the Information Technology Strategic Plan continues to develop, we’re fortunate to have the support of great colleagues both at Colgate and in the broader higher education community, faculty and administrative governance bodies, student government leadership, and the community at large. To that end, I invite you to consider these six areas of focus and offer your feedback directly. As always, please reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and thoughts about our planning direction.
Thanks, and enjoy Innovations!
As one reviews Educause’s “2018 Top 10 IT Issues,” it is evident that data are front and center.
While information security is rightfully #1, three of the other top 10 issues are:
#4 “Data-enabled institutional culture. Using business intelligence and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions.”
#8 “Data management and governance. Implementing effective institutional data governance practices. The maturity levels of analytics data efficacy at the median U.S. institution are still developing.” In spring of 2017, the Data Analytics and Decision Support team was created as one of the important pillars to support faculty, students, and staff.
#2 “Student success. Includes student success data warehouse/operational data store and student success analytics dashboards.”
The representation of data through infographics, charts, and informative visualizations is now the
norm for newspapers, online journals, and written communications. These representations help clearly communicate complex information and, when properly organized, help people make better decisions. With data-informed decision making increasingly important to the people we serve, Colgate ITS has adapted by adjusting the focus of key members of our staff to provide new services.
Tooling and Staffing Up
A few years ago, Colgate undertook a detailed review of data and reporting needs. Most reporting consisted of static reports developed in Excel and distributed via e-mail. Thousands of Excel documents, each tweaked by the business unit as needed, resulted in redundant and wasted effort, inconsistent results, and a high security risk. Given this state, we looked for a solution that provides web reporting and dashboards. After an extensive review of vendors, we decided on Tableau as our web reporting, dashboard, and data visualization solution.
At the same time, we researched and held discussions on the best technology for our data warehouse — a place to store the full collection of our institutional administrative data across our many systems. The makers of Banner, Ellucian, were an obvious choice at first with Banner-specific support out of the box. However, as we looked more more closely, we realized that this option would take significant work to customize, and their offering did not allow us to access data from other systems. Since we already used SQL Server for most of our custom application development, we decided to custom build our warehouse in SQL Server.
Over the last few years, we hired a data warehouse developer, and dedicated a position to data visualization, reporting, and analytics. In spring of 2017, the Data Analytics and Decision Support team was created as one of the important pillars to support faculty, students, and staff. Recently we established a small, cross-functional working group with Institutional Planning and Research, which is co-chaired by ITS and IPR. We developed the following charge: “This team will develop procedures, standards, and best practices for accessing and exploring data. This team will develop a vision and plan to support data-informed decisions and data usage on campus, while ensuring the information is available only to those who need it.”
An Enterprise Data Warehouse
As systems have matured and an abundance of data are available, Colgate has a wealth of information worthy of pulling together and analyzing to better understand our work and to add insights as we make decisions. The creation of an enterprise data warehouse has been underway at Colgate for a few years. A centralized, properly formatted, and secure data warehouse allows cross-functional and historical reporting, trend analysis, and easy access to appropriate data and dashboards across the university. We have completed the budget and expense data mart and are currently putting the finishing touches on our admission data mart to ease reporting of point-in-time comparisons and to provide quick and easy creation of dashboards and more robust reports. This spring, we will begin the design and development of our advancement data mart, which will include some parts of the student, parent, and employee data marts. This effort will be key to the transition to the new advancement software, Raiser’s Edge NXT.
Our early ventures using Tableau included budget and expense dashboards for all budget managers and SET forms results for all faculty. Over the last few years, we’ve used the warehouse and Tableau to analyze survey results, track Alcohol Edu and Haven progress, better understand annual fund giving, reconcile web gifts, assess advancement portfolio progress, support enrollment planning, review Banner security access, provide student and employee dashboards for campus safety, display major/minor lists for administrative assistants, inform decisions on first-year registration, analyze social media trends, track computer inventory, and analyze Concur expenses.
We want to help
Over the spring and summer, we are reaching out to faculty to hear their needs, build bridges, and better define our team’s service offerings. We also will be working on a supervisor dashboard, ITS specific dashboards and key performance metrics, equity and diversity reporting, and paid family leave notifications. As we build more and more dashboards, we are working on dashboard standards and a better way to organize our Tableau sites.
While we have a fair number of projects in the queue, we are anxious to help all areas around campus that want to explore, analyze, and visualize their data.
SOME THINGS IN LIFE REALLY ARE FREE (Tableau for academic use)
Tableau Desktop is a free download for students and faculty who use it for instructional purposes. An online community exists for faculty that includes self-service learning, classroom materials, and FAQs. If you need help downloading Tableau or wan to talk about what’s possible, please contact Tim Borfitz at x 7190 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Peace and Conflict Lab was purpose built to explore the history and impact of conflicts and peace accords with experts far afield. Alumni Hall’s one of a kind “war room” includes large TVs, iMac workstations, and high-quality conferencing microphones. This collaborative space has hosted numerous international and transcontinental video conferences in addition to traditional lectures. Bridging geographic gaps and bringing people together to share a collective experience has been the overarching goal of the PCON Lab from its inception.
In the summer of 2017, ITS and faculty partnered to initiate a major technical upgrade and provide a much-needed equipment refresh to improve the ease of use and reliability of the equipment. Sound quality improvements, wireless AV controls, and maintenance to the existing infrastructure were completed, ensuring the Peace and Conflict Lab will remain a premier teaching space for Colgate students and faculty.
The Peace and Conflict Lab is used by numerous faculty members in a number of ways. This unique learning space has been a focal point for connecting disparate continents, bringing in noted authors, connecting remote classrooms, and virtually hosting visiting content-area experts.
Between 2015 and 2016, Professor Andrew Rotter, director of the peace and conflict studies program, noted author, and the Charles A. Dana Professor of history, taught a blended online course on the Vietnam War with a colleague and her students at St. Lawrence University. The two professors brought students “face to face” from across the two campuses in real time using video conferencing technology for conversation and idea exchanges. “Functionality was excellent,” Rotter noted.
Professor Daniel Monk organized two international virtual conferences with colleagues from Canada, England, The Netherlands, and other locations. “It worked flawlessly . . . and it has now led to a special issue of a journal called Critical Studies on Security,” Monk said. Monk is a member of the PCON faculty and chair of the Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization program.
Assistant Professor Teo Ballvé used the space to connect with book and article authors the class was reading. The experience “really helped bring material to life and allowed students to learn about what goes into research that you would never know about by reading the finished book or article,” Ballvé said. Ballvé teaches in the Geography department and Peace and Conflict Studies.
In the fall of 2017, Amanda E. Rogers, NEH visiting assistant professor of the humanities in the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies program, connected with global media professionals, artists, and activists from near and abroad, discussing the political unrest and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring. Using Bluejeans conferencing software, students from her MIST 220 (Media, Power and Protest) class spoke with experts located in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, and other North African and Middle Eastern areas who experienced firsthand the upheaval and turmoil that have become all too familiar headlines.
Caio Brighenti ’20
During the fall semester of 2017, the Student Government Association took on an ambitious initiative to livestream all senate meetings, making them accessible to all students either in real time or for later viewing. As the student government webmaster, I worked in partnership with communications director Curt Reeves and senator Marc Maggiore to propose the project.
Curt and I make up the SGA communications team. Our mission and goal is to promote transparency for the student government. In that spirit, we brainstormed potential ways to increase the visibility of SGA and increase student involvement in the matters we take up. The senate is the largest SGA body and deliberates on many of the important decisions impacting Colgate students. Given our role and interest in improving student access, the senate was a natural fit for our first foray into livestreaming.
Students are encouraged to attend senate meetings, but attendance has typically been low. We had heard from students that, while they would like to be informed and stay up to date with what happens in the senate, they were simply too busy to attend weekly, often multiple hourlong meetings up the hill in Persson Hall. A livestream offered a way to watch without having to leave the comfort of an off-the-hill apartment, and the freedom to tune in only to parts of particular interest or replay content that was missed. Having videos of meetings available on demand would allow students to watch, even if they were busy during meeting times. Overall, implementing a livestream seemed an obvious choice to improve our transparency and increase student engagement.
After just a few meetings, we learned that the room the senate meets in, Persson 27, was already set up to livestream events, had a production booth for streaming, and was fitted with multiple cameras, microphones, and audio gear. From there, it was only a matter of implementing the stream.
Over the span of several weeks, we met with Mark Hine and Doug Watson to work out issues in the technology, and they taught me how to use the equipment. Part of this process involved creating professional-looking graphics to be overlayed on the camera feed, including elements such as the Colgate logo and a document view, which had to be consistent with the branding we have built for SGA. Once we settled these few details, we were ready to stream.
Our first livestream happened at the senate meeting on November 28 of last year. Over the two hours of that meeting, we accumulated 19 total viewers. While this may seem a small number, it is a massive increase given that few students observed meetings prior to this. An increase from one to 19 is a nineteen fold increase. Since then, the audience has continued to grow. In one March 2018 meeting that included an address from Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin, and a heated discussion over a bill opposing Betsy DeVos’ changes to Title IX, we had more than 300 views. The “Livestream” page on the SGA website has had nearly 450 page views in a recent 30-day period. These are incredible numbers that show we were successful beyond even our expectations in increasing transparency and student engagement.
This winter, Research Computing has been focused on space, both physical and digital. First, we’re happy to announce that Research Computing is now located in room 350 of the Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology, adjacent to the north entrance. Our new space features area for collaboration and project planning with faculty and students. We plan to have an open house event sometime later in the spring, and expect to use this space when working with researchers. Please stop by and visit us!
Following the space theme, Research Computing has also been thinking about data storage and working on a long-term strategy for research storage. Last summer, ITS purchased a 160TB IBM Storwize storage system, which was used primarily to provide storage for the research virtual machines mentioned in the last newsletter. This storage is highly reliable and fast, but quite expensive — about $690 per TB. That’s about ten times more expensive than disk storage available at a retail store, because of the speed and redundancy required for such important work. That’s perfect for active storage of data that’s changed and accessed frequently, but too expensive for data that’s used once and then stored long-term.
Over the winter, we’ve been looking at what different researchers across campus are already doing for long-term storage. What’s become clear is that there’s a need for a simple long-term data storage solution that offers the reliability and redundancy that our researchers need, but without such a high cost barrier.
In the last newsletter, we mentioned a small server that we could help configure that would hold a total of 40TB of disk space at a cost closer to $50 per TB. This system is based on FreeNAS, an open-source operating system designed for storage. The FreeNAS software is free and well supported by a community of users who also desire a reliable, inexpensive storage solution. Using FreeNAS along with a relatively simple server and a set of high-quality hard drives, we are able to provide a private server to researchers here at Colgate with enterprise-quality features. These servers are small and energy efficient, so it’s easy for ITS to provide a home for them in our secure, climate-controlled, and power-protected campus data center. Researchers can simply use the storage space as a network drive from any computer on campus, much like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Netstore — but with the speeds available using the campus network.
Research Computing has also been working with the libraries to consider data management best practices so we can better assist researchers developing their own data management plans. Most of us are using Crashplan or DropBox to back up our files, but as with research data, that’s not always the best option. This spring and summer, Research Computing plans to review our backup strategy and supplement it as necessary, which means we will be reaching out to our faculty colleagues to help us better understand research data workflows and help identify any risk that can be mitigated.
If you have any questions about storage, or if you want to get a head start on preparing for your summer research, please let us know. We welcome drop-ins or can arrange to meet in your lab or office.
The Good Old Days
The sudden explosive value of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and Monero have led many companies to recognize it as a legitimate form of currency. Through regulations, several countries have even legitimized and authorized its use on exchange markets. As cryptocurrency becomes increasingly integrated into our digital lives, it has also drawn the ire and attention of cybercriminals looking to make easy and lucrative profits.
Cryptocurrency coins or tokens, the digital and open-source equivalent of banknotes, are generated as a reward for solving a computationally intensive puzzle known as a block. Together, these blocks form what is known as a blockchain, or the vast digital ledger that records all transactions within a given cryptocurrency system. One can willingly participate by utilizing their computer or handheld device’s resources to “mine” these virtual coins or tokens and reap the monetary rewards in turn. Unfortunately, cybercriminals looking to make easy profits can exploit security vulnerabilities on individuals’ computers to install and run malicious software (malware) without your knowledge. This malware works by hijacking the system’s computing power, forcing it to mine cryptocurrency without any user intervention or awareness. Cybercriminals end up pocketing the profits at your expense.
In recent months, the information security community has witnessed a surge in malware dedicated to cryptomining. Although this form of malware was first observed in 2011, the introduction of new attack vectors, coupled with the growing interconnectedness of systems, has greatly increased the rate of infections. This is evident by the sheer variety of compromised systems, ranging from millions of Android smartphones to digital signage in department stores to government websites serving up malware to the casual internet surfer. Even system updates from a major software vendor were found to be compromised and delivering cryptomining malware.
This type of malware has proven so profitable to cybercriminals that it has even altered their favored tactic, ransomware, which itself had become pervasive in recent years. While always a tricky proposition, balancing courtesy and professionalism with demanding a ransom be paid to restore valuable files, cybercriminals have determined that it is far easier to simply hijack the same system in order to steal its resources and mine the very cryptocurrency they are after. Symptoms of a cryptomining malware infection include unexpected system slowdowns, nearing the point of a system-wide crash.
The best protection against cryptomining malware, and malware in general, is to raise your security savviness in order to spot security risks. Although the recent focus on stealing coins and tokens is novel, the method of delivering malware still relies on variations of existing attack patterns, such as phishing e-mails and drive-by downloads. The axiom “trust, but verify” is used throughout the information security community as a way to scrutinize actions and behaviors. This is increasingly important given the hectic pace of our digital lives. For example, prior to opening an e-mail, ask yourself, “Am I expecting an e-mail from this individual about this subject?” and “How well do I know the sender of this e-mail?”. When reading an e-mail, ask yourself, “Is there a sense of undue urgency in the message or tone?” or “Is this e-mail causing an unexpected emotional response (e.g., anxiousness, excitement, anger) coupled with an action to be taken?” When in doubt, there is no harm in attempting to verify the authenticity of an e-mail or request, such as calling the sender on the phone if the e-mail or request feels questionable. Ultimately, it’s our gut reactions that will keep us safe and secure online. Cybercriminals will attempt to provoke and lure you to react a certain way, known as social engineering, but that is a topic for another time and newsletter.
A fly-fishing enthusiast designs and 3-D prints a functioning fishing reel and shares it freely on the web for others to download and make; an art student wants to make samples of sound more tangible and creates a model of a waveform that can be 3-D printed as a sculpture; a San Francisco design firm prints and assembles a three-dimensional 400-square-foot house in under 24 hours. These are but a few of the countless examples of how 3-D printing and scanning technologies are being used by people to make and share things in new ways. This digital making — enabled through the use of 3-D modelling software and printing technologies — is opening doors for creativity and problem solving that once required the services of fabrication shops and high-end manufacturers.
At Colgate, we have begun to explore the use of these technologies to support teaching, learning, research, and creative work. Over the past two years, we have increased access to resources, encouraged experimentation, and developed the capacity to support a range of student and faculty projects. This work has largely been supported through efforts to grow our fledgling maker space, The Hub, located on the fifth floor of Case-Geyer near the Digital Learning and Media Center. Visitors to the Hub will find they have free and open access to a collection of 3-D printers, scanning technologies, modelling software, and microcontrollers, all of which can be used to support digital making. In addition to these resources, we regularly consult with students and faculty members to assist with idea development or envision ways to design digital projects using these technologies. Doug Higgins, instructional designer in the ITS Learning and Applied Innovation group, has been providing expanded support for work in this space, offering both walk-in and more structured opportunities to learn about these technologies.
Recent experimentation with these technologies has led to the development of some interesting projects at Colgate. Working with Sarah Keen, head of special collections and university archivist at Colgate, we partnered with representatives from Brandeis University and Wellesley College to create professional 3-D scans of Sumerian cuneiforms that date back to approximately 2100 to 2200 B.C. The 3-D scans allowed for the creation of 3-D models that could be digitally displayed, printed as three-dimensional objects, and handled by students and faculty. You can view and interact with a collection of 3-D models of the scanned cuneiforms on the Sketchfab website (sketchfab.com/thehub).
William Peck, professor of geology, 3-D printed several models of crystal systems (e.g., triclinic, monoclinic, orthorhombic, tetragonal, trigonal, hexagonal, and cubic) to introduce students to basic concepts of crystallography. The models were downloaded from Pinshape, enlarged to twice their original size, and 3-D printed on equipment located in The Hub. The models allowed students to physically interact with each structure to gain a better understanding of their key characteristics.
Karen Harpp, professor of geology and peace and conflict studies, and Peter Tschirhart, former assistant dean for undergraduate scholars programs, incorporated 3-D modeling and printing into their Global Challenges: Science/ Technology/Culture (CORE 147) course during the fall 2017 semester. As part of their exploration of design thinking within the course, teams of students modeled and 3-D printed an item to facilitate a rapid prototyping process as they worked with real clients to offer creative solutions to identified problems or issues.
“We chose to use 3-D printing because it was a way for students to make their ideas come to life in a tangible way, relatively quickly and easily. The design process is quite accessible even for non-technically oriented people, particularly given the assistance from the IT staff (Doug Higgins). The 3-D printers allowed the students to prototype their design ideas, take them to their clients, and then amend their designs according to the feedback they received. Being able to do this with a solid, tangible object made the process more real, in a way, and therefore significant for everyone involved,” said Harpp.
Each of these examples highlights new and interesting opportunities to create enhanced learning experiences that are limited only by imagination and creativity. And while this digital making certainly holds promise, it is perhaps less about the affordances of the technology itself and more about the emergent thinking that encourages us to consider what is possible in a different light. We welcome you to reach out to us with an idea you’d like to explore, or just stop by The Hub to begin learning more about how to get started making your next creation.