Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reflections

Tomorrow is Big Block of Cheese Day, part of our annual IT input cycle. We actually have two IT input cycles: one in the Fall as part of Big Block of Cheese Day, and another in Spring when the Office of Information Technology visits and we consult in partnership with OIT on listening to campus technology needs.

Big Block of Cheese Day and IT input is about focusing on the future, things we need to do to make campus technology even better for our students, faculty, and staff. But before we look ahead, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the great things we have achieved in technology over the last year. This is a brief list, a summary of a few highlights:

Wireless Networks
We are always working to improve wireless network coverage on campus. This is our top priority in technology. In 2014-2015, we made important strides in networking, including expanded coverage in the Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA)Gay Hall, the Cube, the Regional Fitness Center, Moccasin Flower Room, Prairie Lounge, and Briggs Library. Looking ahead to other projects, we are scheduling work in Pine Hall, Spooner Hall, Blakely Hall, Education, and the MRC. We are also examining ways to provide wireless access to the campus Mall area, and perhaps expanding wireless coverage in other campus buildings such as PE.
Media Collaboration
One major achievement was the installation of a new media collaboration table in Briggs Library. Provided in partnership by Computing Services and Briggs Library, we are proud of this new technology addition to student study spaces. Up to five or six students can use the table to better collaborate in group projects. Connect your laptop to the display so everyone can contribute to the project. Having a large, shared screen makes group learning easier!
PeopleSoft Upgrade
This Spring, we finally completed the upgrade to the PeopleSoft system. This was the university's largest PeopleSoft upgrade to date, encompassing major version upgrades to the HR, Student, and Finance components. At Morris, we updated queries and custom jobs in our automated processes, and worked with users to update their access to the new system. The upgrade was completed in April 2015.
Websites to Drupal
This year saw a major shift in how we maintain websites. In March and April, Matt and Matt worked in partnership with our web steering committee to migrate the Committees website to Drupal. This was soon followed by the Alumni and Technology websites. Drupal marks an easier way to keep websites updated. In years past, our web team has managed website edits mostly by hand, with some automated content via RSS feeds. With Drupal, edits become much easier, effectively a "GUI" editor in a web browser, almost like editing a Word document. Drupal also allows others on campus to manage their own content, if they desire to do so. In the next few months, watch for more websites to move to Drupal, including the News and Academics websites.
Cost Reductions
Higher education faces a major challenge in reducing our administrative costs. This year, IT drove cost reduction by renegotiating our desktop support contract. We outsource our extended maintenance, for desktop and laptop computers that are outside their warranty period. The new maintenance contract consolidates systems and lowers costs campus-wide.
DICTION Software
This year,  alongside one of our faculty in her classroom, teaching students the DICTION software package to help them analyze rhetorical texts. DICTION is a computer-aided text analysis program for determining the tone of a verbal message. Conceived by rhetorical analysis scholar Roderick P. Hart, the DICTION software analyzes the words in the speech and does a categorization of each word used. We use five "master" variables to build a "fingerprint" of the speech: Activity, Optimism, Certainty, Realism and Commonality. This provides a jump-start in analysis.
Infrastructure
We have continued to improve our technology systems that support the campus. While these "infrastructure" systems may not be visible to the campus, they support major campus applications and processes. This year, we made important upgrades to the system backup software. The new system supports automatic "off-site" backups to a partner system at the Twin Cities campus, three hours away, providing data protection in the unlikely event that systems at the Morris campus are damaged. We also updated our virtual infrastructure: VMWare. Through virtual systems, we can run many servers on just a few hardware components, bringing efficiency and ease of management to our data center.
New Technology
Every year, we try to make new investments in technology "pilot" projects, to explore emerging technology that might benefit the campus. In past years, our department was the first to invest in Chromebooks and small-scale computing such as the Raspberry Pi. This year, we made other investments in new technology, including the Intel ComputeStick. This follows the small-scale computer paradigm, delivering a mini desktop computer in something not much bigger than a USB fob drive. Connected to your display via a standard HDMI connection, and powered from any phone charger, the ComputeStick provides a reliable computing experience. Sure, it's not as powerful as a more expensive desktop or laptop, and you "feel" it when opening a spreadsheet, but it's a great deal for less than $150. Imagine ComputeSticks in our general computer labs, or classrooms, to provide an inexpensive upgrade to campus technology. We may see this shift in the next few years as we explore supporting technology such as Application Virtualization.
image: Kissing the reflection by LadyDragonflyCC

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