Wednesday, June 17, 2009

  • Task force would reorganize IT services
  • No Saturday test slots, senate decides
  • A few other notes for a Wednesday
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[White-on-black web page]

UW's home page looked like this for an hour yesterday morning, as officials tested various technologies for emergency communications on campus. (Note the link to the regular home page, at top.) Messages went out via voicemail, text to cellphones, and the Emerge system that provides a popup on computer desktops linked to Nexus or ADS.

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Task force would reorganize IT services

“UW’s pre-eminence in IT innovation, application and service has been eroded in recent years,” says the report of a task force made up of five top university officials. Its prescription: less duplication, better priority-setting, and more staff dedicated to client service.

The 18 recommendations of an Information Technology Task Force, created last fall, have received an okay from executive council and deans’ council, says a memo from provost Amit Chakma making the report public.

It was written by associate vice-president (academic) Geoff McBoyle along with two deans — Ken Coates of arts and Tom Coleman of math — plus Dennis Huber, vice-president (administration and finance), and the man who currently heads the biggest IT unit on campus, associate provost (information systems and technology) Alan George.

“Some of the recommendations are general in nature,” Chakma warns in his memo, “and details of their implementation will emerge only through further consultation with those affected by the recommendations. Discussions among the various IT units, led by the Associate Provost, IST, will begin as soon as possible. In addition, further discussions with all units across campus will be required to determine in more detail where and how IT services can be improved.”

The existence of those multiple units across campus is a major theme of the report, which notes that “around 133” people work in IST and “at least 170” people provide IT support in the faculties and other departments.

The report lists 15 IT services that are “essential to the University’s smooth operation” and says 14 of them — including networking, e-mail, teaching labs and software licensing — are split between IST and the local units. UW should move, it recommends, toward having IST provide these basic services, “at the same time as allowing local units to focus more on special requirements of their respective constituencies”. For example:

• “Providing multiple email services to students does not appear to provide advantages, and almost certainly represents duplication of funds, effort and staff time.” A single e-mail service, using IST’s “mailservices”, would provide “simplicity and clarity”, the task force says.

• Having multiple people across campus devote part of their time to supporting BlackBerry devices is “an ineffective way to deliver service, particularly since only about 500 are used on campus”.

• “IST would be the logical location for management of the UW network (up to and including wall jacks).”

And this particularly complicated issue: “There are two major active directory forests used at UW — ADS and NEXUS. ADS is the IST authentication domain used to access QUEST, and to log on to academic support computers. ADS is also used by many corporate resources and provides a single source for account maintenance in the University. NEXUS is managed by the Engineering computing group, and provides the major network for student labs. Separate passwords are needed for those using both systems.

“Given that there are twice as many NEXUS workstations — 4,000 — as ADS units, and that NEXUS is used in most student labs across campus, rationalization of the services could be achieved by folding ADS into NEXUS, with Engineering and IST computing staff collaborating in managing the system for the University as a whole.”

The task force goes on to say that “IST still underperforms in certain areas,” citing “slow response times; hierarchical obstacles; and inadequate management of change information.” In addition, it says, there’s confusion when users don’t know whether to approach IST or a local computing support office for what they need.

It recommends “a higher level of staff deployment . . . in the client service area, and says that “delivery of IT services by IST should be prioritized according to a hierarchy of needs.”

IT staff don’t talk to each other enough, and there is “a general absence of trust”, the report says. “The insularity of occupational activities is undermining the effectiveness of IT service delivery and hurts the University’s reputation of computer excellence.” It calls for more team projects, secondments of staff from one job to another, and other steps toward communication, including “the development of a library of best practices”.

It also calls for creation of a new Computing Technology and Services Committee that would include senior staff from IST and computing units in other parts of the university, “for the purpose of ensuring the exchange of information on IT developments, both active and planned”. Among its goals: “the development of a set of preferred configurations of desktop equipment across campus . . . a strategy to encourage all faculty and staff to adhere to the preferred configurations”.

The CTSC would thus take over some of the work of the present high-level University Committee on IST. UCIST would get a new name — the Committee for Information Technology Application and Management — and would “focus exclusively on the application and management of IT in teaching, learning and research”.

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No Saturday test slots, senate decides

After students and faculty members both raised objections, UW’s senate has turned down a proposal to open up Saturday slots for midterm tests that are hard to schedule during the present Monday-to-Friday framework.

“We have a tremendous practical difficulty,” registrar Ken Lavigne told the senate at its monthly meeting on Monday. It’s getting almost impossible to find time slots for large tests, especially ones aimed at the students from multiple sections of an introductory course.

“In recent terms there has been a move to more tests,” he reported. “There has been a move to larger sections and having common term tests across sections.” Even if a time slot is available, there can still be problems, Lavigne said, citing a recent Economics 102 test “in which the academic integrity was compromised because the space available to administer that test was simply inadequate”.

He said the class timetable has been set for next fall, and the time slots set aside for tests are the same that they have been traditionally, but things can’t go on as they are — hence the request to senate to authorize the use of time slots on Saturdays. “Am I going to put everything on Saturday?” the registrar asked rhetorically. “No; but I do need Saturdays.”

He added that the Wilfrid Laurier University business school — with many UW students registered in some of its courses — already uses Saturdays, and the UW engineering faculty, which does much of its own timetabling, has been known to do the same thing.

An earlier, “ill-advised” proposal to redefine “the teaching or work week” as including Saturdays has been dropped, Lavigne said, assuring the senate that the proposal about tests isn’t meant to open the door for Saturday classes at UW. “There is no body of evidence that we have to hold lectures on Saturdays,” he said, although the faculty of science has been holding some Saturday labs “in extreme situations”.

In response to the proposal, the senate heard from David DeVidi, president of the faculty association, who said that although there’s no evidence faculty workloads are really getting heavier, they are certainly getting more rigidly structured. What the Saturday proposal “fundamentally shows”, he said, “is that there aren’t enough classrooms.” (UW provost Amit Chakma told senate that the administration is trying to spend $1 million a year on new classrooms.)

Federation of Students president Allan Babor said of the Saturday proposal that “the negatives disproportionately outweigh the positives.” A poll of students found them 75 to 80 per cent against the idea, he said, citing concerns about rest, weekend trips home, availability for part-time jobs, athletics, and extracurricular activities. “This will negatively affect the work-life balance,” he said.

Other speakers raised issues of child care and family time, as well as religious obligations, since Saturday is the holy day for Jews.

Pure math professor Frank Zorzitto gave more perspective and called for fewer exams: “A typical student might have ten midterms from early October to mid-November. . . . I encourage faculty to cut back on midterms and remember that students have other courses.”

And faculty senator Paul McDonald cited research in his home department, recreation and leisure studies, about the harm a long work week can do to health and well-being. “All of these things will impose a cost on us, in a hidden way,” he said. “We need to be mindful of these hidden costs.”

In response to a suggestion from associate provost Bruce Mitchell, the senate considered allowing use of the Saturday slots for a trial two-year period, but the amendment to permit that was turned down by a slim margin. The main proposal was then voted down decisively.

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A few other notes for a Wednesday

A memo announces that UW’s Office of Academic Integrity “is seeking an individual to prepare the curriculum, content and assessment rubric of a six-hour workshop on plagiarism and excessive collaboration. The workshop will be available to first year students who have been found guilty of low-level, academic misconduct under Policy 71.” Details about the background, guidelines, requirements and remuneration are online, and proposals are due by July 10, says Faye Schultz, the office’s administrative assistant.

Carol Treitz of the School of Accounting and Finance has been inviting friends to support a good cause, and is now spreading the invitation to the campus at large. “I'm far too out of shape to run races,” she writes. “I haven't biked since public school and I don't have children [USB key]who need help selling cookies, chicken, muffins etc. What I do have is a background in music education, room in my suitcase and a sister who's the principal of a school in Kigali, Rwanda. As you may know, I'm going to Rwanda for the month of July to teach music at Nu-Vision School. One of the items on Cathy's endless wish list for her students is small (512 Mb or 1Gb) flash drives (memory sticks) that they can use to store their ongoing homework projects. The school has a computer room with desktop computers that were donated by a group of supporters about a year ago. They don't have a capacity to continually store unfinished work for all the students on those computers. There are currently 250 students at Nu-Vision School. It's become clear that as we keep moving on to larger/newer/faster technologies the smaller/older/outdated bits we previously used have become redundant — tossed, gathering dust in the back of a desk drawer. Hence, my search for used drives. I'd love to have a suitcase full. You can drop your used flash drives off in my office (HH 3156) or simply put them in my mail slot. Either way, despite making my luggage heavier, you have my thanks.”

Darange Gu, who has worked in UW's food services since November 1989, most recently as accounts coordinator, officially retired as of June 1. • "Effective Recruitment and Selection Techniques" is a non-credit course from UW's continuing education department that will be offered tomorrow, followed by "Leading People to Effectiveness" on Friday and "Process Mapping" on Monday. • A contingent of staff members organized by the UW Recreation Committee will be dining tonight at Kitchener's Two Goblets restaurant.

The bookstore, UW Shop and TechWorx outlets in South Campus Hall have moved to their summer schedule, meaning that they won't be open on Saturdays from now through Labour Day. • A brigade from UW's external relations departments are taking today for their annual golf outing to Foxwood Golf Course (or a local minigolf establishment if the rain doesn't hold off). • Members of Kairos, a social justice organization of Canadian churches and religious organizations, will hold a four-day "gathering" at UW starting today, with worship, workshops, and several public events in the Theatre of the Arts.


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Link of the day

'To combat desertification and drought'

When and where

Co-op employer interviews (main group) June 1-18.

Applied Health Informatics Bootcamp, June 17-19, Davis Centre. Details.

Library workshop: “Mapping Census Data” 10:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

UW Book Club. Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, 12:05 p.m., Dana Porter Library room 407. Details.

‘Clickers in the classroom’ workshop sponsored by Centre for Teaching Excellence, 1:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

NSERC and SSHRC granting agency information session about research awards administration, use of grant funds and other issues, 2:00 to 3:30, Rod Coutts Hall room 101.

Amnesty International Action Group of WPIRG presents Adil Charkaoui, “suspected terrorist” imprisoned under an immigration security certificate, 7 p.m., Math and Computer room 2066.

In Motion Dance performance 7:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering Quebec-Ontario Biotechnology Division annual meeting Thursday-Friday, Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome’s University. Details.

Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration information session about the Provincial Nominee Program, aimed at helping international students and foreign workers stay permanently in Ontario, remarks by minister Michael Chan, Thursday 10:00, Laurel Room, South Campus Hall, register online.

Renison University College 1950s carnival and barbecue to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary, Thursday 11:30 to 1:00, Academic Building, all welcome.

Surplus sale of UW furnishings and equipment Thursday 12:30 to 2 p.m., East Campus Hall.

Lectures in Quantum Information series by Anthony Leggett, “The physics of topological quantum computing: selected topics”, continues June 18, 23, 25 and 30, and July 2, 2 p.m., Research Advancement Centre room 2009. All welcome.

25-Year Club annual reception Thursday 6:00 p.m., Physical Activities Complex, by invitation, information ext. 32078.

Cambridge Galleries opening reception for “Architecture in Canada: Venice Biennale” exhibition, Thursday 6:30 p.m., Design at Riverside gallery, UW Architecture building, Cambridge. Details.

Last day for 50 per cent fee refund for dropped courses, June 19.

Pension and benefits committee Friday 8:30 a.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

Canada’s Wonderland trip Friday, buses leave Davis Centre 9:30 a.m., tickets $45 at Federation of Students office.

Co-op job ranking for fall term opens Friday 1:00 p.m., closes Monday 2:00 p.m.; match results available Monday 4:00 p.m.

The New Quarterly presents three storytellers (including Gail Corning, UW speech communication) as part of Latitudes Storytelling Festival, Saturday 3:00, Victoria Park, Kitchener.

Waterloo Classic road races (10-km, 5-km and 3-km) Sunday, leave University Stadium 9 a.m. Details.

Class enrolment appointments for fall term courses; appointments June 22-27 for continuing students, July 13-26 for new students; open enrolment begins July 27.

Larry Lamb, Faculty of Environment ecology lab, retirement open house Monday 3:30 to 5:00, Environment I courtyard, RSVP ext. 33463.

Joanne Wade, retired from office of student awards, recognition reception Monday 4:00 to 6:00, University Club, RSVP bdenomme@

Alzheimer Research and Education Program presents authors Heather Menzies and Richard Taylor, “Re-Connecting and Re-Learning How to Communicate with Persons with Dementia” Tuesday 1:00, Hallman Institute room 1621.

‘Wikis’ workshop organized by Centre for Teaching Excellence, Tuesday 3:00 p.m., Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Economic discussion: Waterloo Investment Research Exchange presents experts from business, UW and WLU speaking on “Where Is the Economy Headed?” Tuesday 6:00, Humanities Theatre. Details.

Farm market operated by UW food services and volunteers, June 25, 9:00 to 1:00, Environment I courtyard.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Career advisor, cooperative education and career services, USG 8
• Food services assistant, regular ongoing
• Food services assistant, regular recurring
• General cafeteria helper, regular ongoing
• General cafeteria helper, regular recurring
• Kitchen porter, regular ongoing
• Kitchen porter, regular recurring
• Nanotechnology engineering undergraduate lab coordinator, chemistry, USG 12
• International Tobacco Control and health psychology lab administrator, department of psychology, USG 6

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