University of Canberra/Things that don't work

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This page is a summary of concerns regarding the UC computing and connectivity infrastructure, as well as the procedures in managing it. These concerns primarily come from academics in the institution who feel they are being prevented from developing innovative or more appropriate practices in their work. This document feeds into a manifesto for changes at UC - affecting governance, services, support, and academic practices. It should be thought of as an appendix to that manifesto.

The full and original log, including discussion and suggestions that helped create this apendix can be found on the version of 21 April 2010, and of course the discussion tab.

Areas of concern[edit]

Following are areas of concern that UC teaching and research staff have in relation to Information and Communications Technologies at UC. These staff members are recognised as leaders in the use of ICTs in their work. All these concerns might be addressed if we reviewed the overall values and principles that drive policy and procedures around ICT at UC. Perhaps rather than a centralised and necessarily one-size fits all approach to service and management, an individualised, personalised, and more light weight provisioned computing and connectivity environment would achieve better results. It would be necessary to seperate the 'business and administration' systems from the education and research systems also.

Free software[edit]

Currently the UC computing 'image' (standard software on a UC computer) does not include much in the way of free software. This presents both a service as well as an educational issue for staff and students.

  • If a staff member is sent an assignment digitally formatted to a free and open standard such as ODF, without free software like Open Office, the staff member will not be able to view the file.
  • Open Office is high quality software that is a viable alternative to Microsoft Office. Many staff and students face a career of self employment, and would financially benefit from a working awareness of Open Office as an option. This same rational extends across a range of high quality free software including: Scribus - desktop publishing, GIMP - photo editing and illustration, Inkscape - graphics and illustration, Blender - animation, Firefox - web browsing and quite a few others.
  • Greater awareness of quality free software will help raise awareness in the community and industry of effective cost savings in software, and best practices with document creation and formatting.

The current response from ITS is that this is a resources issue. Software that generally duplicates functionality of other software (such as Open Office and Microsoft Office) is thought to be an unnecessary drain on training and support services. Apart from the functionality not being duplicate (one is free and open source, the other is not. One supports a wider range of formats, the other does not. Etc), the free software could be made available without training and support, for a trial period on 30% of lab computers.

Network security[edit]

Currently UC network security in the form of proxies and firewalls disrupts workflow and productivity of UC staff and students. Specifically:

  • It prevents, interrupts or creates difficulties for uploading files to social media sites such as Youtube, Slideshare, Blip.tv etc. This issue is most noticed when the uploader dialog is Flash based, but it is not limited to that.
  • Webcams don't connect to some social media sites such as Youtube, however it does work on Ustream. It is noted that some UC computers don't have drivers for webcams. This is a separate issue covered below.
  • Can't use Ustream.tv Producer - downloaded and installed software that requires a streaming connection to the Internet
  • Lab computers with limited connectivity, or connectivity and security settings that are different to staff computers. The unexpected confusion this causes staff when they attempt to move work from one computer to the next, or plan activities only to be confronted with an unforeseen problem in the labs is an obviously frustrating disruption.
  • The username and password system is depersonalized and the requirements create difficulties for staff and students attempting to memorise them. This often results in them being written down and left, or shared between colleagues for the sake of access. It would be preferable that a personalised system be used that gives the users full control of the preferences including preferred username, bio, contact details, profile image etc.
  • Login disruptions disrupt workflows, cost time and create stress and frustration. It is estimated that network and proxy logins cost an individual 20 minutes per day, an hour per week, 40 hours per year. Separating business and admin systems from education systems might help reduce this disruption.

In the meeting with ICTS in April this project was advised that UC will remove the proxy login as of July 2010, promising to solve many of the issues stated above. A 5 year road map with a consultation period was also mentions. This project might propose that a guiding principle for policy and procedure be one that ensures maximum levels of access and freedom, that continually work to remove all barriers to Internet use, and that enable and support individualisation, preferences and choices in computing use generally.

Connectivity[edit]

Seamless and ubiquitous connectivity to the Internet provides access to information and communication - core elements to education and research. UC has issues regarding ease and reliability of access to this connectivity however. Specific issues we face now are:

  • Wireless is unreliable and difficult to connect, especially when using devices that operate on systems other than Windows, such as Linux and Android. Connection otherwise requires a setting in a browser, which requires a personal visit to the service desk. Often that setting is then lost when the person restarts their computer, and a few visits to the service desk are required before the user understands the setting. This process is inconsistent with expectations being set in cafes, public facilities and other free wireless hubs.
  • Having no guest access has caused numerous embarrassing moments for staff, students and their guests on campus. Guest access could be provided by way of account set up with email verification, or just an arbitrary guest access with limited data-per-session if need be. This project is seeking a copy of the terms and conditions of the Inernet provider AARNET, but it is our understanding that "guest" is included in those terms and that this could be interpreted in the context of UC being a campus that is physically isolated from resident and business zones.

ICTS advises that a significant investment is being made into the on-campus wireless. Wireless Mesh was considered in 2002-4, as was the hotspot model that would utilise the 85 separate possible connection points. The investment is being made in 2010 and it is not known if mesh, hotspots and/or a single unbiquitous wireless is being considered. This project would urge all 3 be developed, and that guest access be added to all UC connectivity.

Moodle[edit]

UC has invested in Moodle as the primary platform for online teaching and administration of courses. Some unit conveners are attempting to make their units more open using the platform. Others are attempting to use Moodle as a hub or portal to their discipline areas. 3 specific problems are affecting these efforts:

  • Having no ability for guests to create accounts on the platform causes difficulties for courses who are allowing open access to potential students, industry reps and other interested individuals. Moodle needs to enable the creation of accounts on the platform so that we can invite such guests in and assign them roles in the system.
  • We need more design templates and the ability to customise those templates with banners for the course and a navigation bar more appropriate for the specific use of the Moodle instance. Either resource be made in TLC for sourcing and/or creating base templates, or "teacher" roles be given access to the code for their Moodle instance so they can commission a design. This may require a review of the Moodle platform sharing the one set of layout and graphics files so that individual instances can make changes without causing changes across the platform.
  • URLs are important identifiers for a course. We need a process whereby a manager of a Moodle instance can either assign a domain name to it, or customise the URL into a more memorable one, such as http://mymoodle.canberra.edu.au where "mymoodle" is the word they choose based on availability.
  • Given that 80% of staff are reportedly using Moodle in some way, and the trend emerging that discipline areas are using Moodle as a portal site for their area, ITCS should consider Moodle as a platform for the UC website. The problems with the present CMS being used for the UC website are noted below, but the argument is that through a combination of ICTS, Webteam, Marketing and TLC resources, UC's Moodle could be enhanced so to effectively function as both a website CMS and a teaching and student admin platform.

Computing environments[edit]

This project recognises the challenges ICTS faces with providing a manageable computing environment to staff and students. However we hope to open the opportunity to rethink our approaches to that challenge, and invite wider suggestions to the solutions. As stated above, the guiding principle being proposed is to remove all barriers to use, and enable and support individualisation and preferences. Specific problems being experienced are:

  • Users can't install software. While people installing software presents obvious challenges to the security of the user's computer, the network and the reliability of the computer, almost everyone at some point needs to install software and they need to do it then and there. It is noted that the review of software included in the standard image is open for input, and if that list can be made to encompass a wider range of software, this will help somewhat. Granting admin rights with the image as backup is also a good option, although the process for obtaining such rights should be easier.
  • Extremely out of date software. Recently lecturers and guests have been embarrassed and prevented from running sessions because the browsers on UC computers have been out of date. Enabling staff to install software and plugins would quickly fix this problem.
  • Many students do not access their UC email account, and this is a problem that UC has largely set up. The need for providing email accounts to students and staff is debatable, but setting that provided account as the default channel is counter productive. Similar to the login and password barriers mentioned earlier, the principle of individualisation can guide the way UC manages this problem. Instead of requiring students and staff to set up forwarding rules or change preferences set for them, the email and other details they are contacted on should be based on their preference up front. If a staff member of student elects to use the provided email account, fine. The proposal is for it to be an opt-in service, not opt-out.
  • Further to email is difficulties using it off campus. The officially recommended method for staff to access UC email from off-network is via a webmail interface via Internet Explorer. This idiosynchratic method of accessing the mail server is cumbersome and does not allow individual preferences in browser or email client. Edit: It is possible to use the 'new' student email with an Email client that support Exchange ActiveSync. It works quite well.

The website[edit]

The UC website runs on a absolute beast of a CMS called MySourceMatrix. On the one hand marketing and the web team want to ensure 'quality' and consistency, but on the other hand the site is loaded with out of date and incorrect information due to the extreme difficulty staff have in updating the site. Specific issues with the CMS are:

  • It can only be updated on campus and through the IE browser. Many staff use other browsers, and not being to make updates off campus causes delays and disruptions.
  • Cut and paste doesn't work. Many staff prepare updates in software that is familiar to them, and that has features the CMS does not, such as spell check. However, a simple cut and paste update does not work in the CMS like it does in some other systems.
  • Adding images is difficult, time consuming and again requires hand coding.
  • Hand coding a page is easier than using the graphic user interface, resulting in specially skilled people making updates, delaying updates further
  • RSS feeds are extremely difficult to bring in and send out from the site
  • The CMS runs very slowly and unreliably, sometimes freezing the browser, or simply not finishing the process

It was mentioned earlier in the Moodle section of this document that we consider changing MySourceMatrix to Moodle. Many argue that Moodle is not designed to manage a website, yet edna.net does just that with Moodle. The advantage of such an approach is that 80% of UC staff know how to use Moodle. Further, a consolidation of TLC, Webteam, Marketing and ICTS resources around Moodle for both the website and the online learning platform would arguably be a more efficient use of resources, and with the right management - result in both an enhanced website and learning platform. From a user perspective, the one system offers a more seamless experience, and just one less thing unique to UC people have to familiarise themselves with. The project realises this is not a trivial proposal, but the approach could be by supporting discipline areas and then faculties setting up portals with Moodle. For the first few years, the present website would simply link to these Moodle based portals, until such time as the tipping point is reached and we can stop using MySourceMatrix all together.

Development notes[edit]

  • ICTS have set up a consultation process where many of these concerns will be addressed. Already, several of the issues have been and are being addressed. UC will have a much better connectivity to the Internet later in 2010, when security procedures are changed to remove the proxy, and wireless across campus is made simpler.
  • Laurie Grealish, Keith Lyons, Ben Rattray and Leigh Blackall met 4 May 2010 to discuss summarising this document to take forward to managerial meetings. This document feeds into the Vision document that is being developed as a proposal to UC managers. Edits from here will reduce the listed issues down to general issues, with a link to the full version contained in the document history for reference.
  • Leigh's notes of a fairly spontaneous meeting with ITS regarding this list

See also[edit]

External links[edit]