On the one hand, I feel terrible for not having written for so long… On the other, it is the reality of this COVID crisis. I have been working a lot, like everyone else. No need to elaborate. I just need to get going on posting here because I like doing it.
All faculty and staff at the College receive a computer with replacement every four years. This is just a general guideline and several prefer to keep their computers longer. I try to stick to the same 4 year replacement cycle as much as possible. The current one I have is a 15″ MacBook Pro and I believe I have had it for just over a year and a few months. I noticed that some keys on my keyboard were wearing off. It got to a point where A and S were practically unrecognizable and I said “we paid a lot for this and this is not acceptable”.
Though we rolled out Workday Student in Feb 2019 in a limited fashion, the wider rollout to all students began in May 2019. Then, starting in July, we moved to Workday as our system of record. As is common with such major transitions, we continued to use Banner in parallel for a semester for a handful of things by synchronizing data between the two systems. We have a home grown degree audit system that relied on Banner we decided it is not worth moving because of the disruption it would have caused for our seniors and the faculty advisors. It turned out to be the right decision given what happened in March!
I am very happy to report that we have successfully completed a full academic year in Workday student. With the degree completion for seniors and academic honors entered on May 31 and transcripts reflecting them, it has been a thrilling ride! Thanks to the core team that consisted of staff members from the Registrar’s Office, Student Financial Services, Office of Institutional Research and of course, LTS, working so hard to make all of this happen. We could not have gotten here without Alchemy and Workday! We also had involvement from several other departments such as Dean of Students, International Student office, Study Abroad, and the Provost’s office. So, it indeed took a village but we all worked with enormous focus and in coordination to make it all happen…
In Higher Ed, the activities of an academic year has remained very predictable. The academic year begins by welcoming the newest members of the community, and then – the Fall semester starts, the Fall break and mid terms, Registering for the Spring, Thanksgiving, Early Admissions for the following year, Finals, Holiday Break, Winter Session, Spring Semester, Spring Break & midterms, Registration for Fall, Regular Admission notification, Spring Open Campus, Commencement, Reunion, Summer Session – and the cycle begins again. There are many variations on this theme, but each of the institutions has a predictable cycle. Though we have had some serious disruptions recently – 9/11 for one, a couple of major financial crises – but nothing stopped us from operating in significantly different ways.
But then came the COVID-19 pandemic. No one could have anticipated and planned for a global pandemic like this! So, it is remarkable what we have been able to accomplish collectively since March. The students and faculty adopted to a totally different and imperfect way to do remote learning/teaching amongst all sorts of issues that one rarely needs to deal with – staying at home and competing for bandwidth, family issues much closer to you than before, child care and elder care and so on and so forth. Despite all of this, teaching and learning happened and we can all agree it was not perfect, but everyone adjusted, improvised and through their creativity constantly improved the experience.
As much as this was a huge disruption in March, there was less uncertainty. For example, we knew that the most students, faculty and staff needed to leave the College and work and learn from home. That was not a choice! But now, here we are, in May and need to plan how would the next academic year shape up. It is very different with a lot of uncertainties and is creating a lot of anxiety and frustrations all around.
On the one hand, the last few weeks went by so fast.. On the other, though the rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis at the College began about a month ago, it feels like we have been on this for several months. This is a recount of how we prepared for supporting the remote instruction at the College and supporting work from home (WFH) for the administrative staff and faculty.
Before I start, I want to thank the all the LTS staff for rising to the occasion, especially those who spent a lot of time and effort to support the faculty and students in getting ready for remote instruction. We also could not have done this without excellent collaboration with Prof Oscar Fernandez, Associate Professor of Mathematics and PLTC Faculty Director. The unwavering support from the Provost’s office and the senior leadership was critical in our ability to make swift decisions, something we needed to do a lot in a short period of time. And finally, the familiarity of Zoom as a tool for many already and the fact that one could easily learn and adopt played a major role. The faculty and students have been tremendous partners through all of this and we are fortunate that all of these came together at this critical time and I am happy to report that the first week has gone remarkably well and we are hoping that this will continue.
What I describe below is something that you will see repeated amongst many of our peer institutions. We have all been exchanging information and ideas on our discussion fora which was tremendously helpful. I have tried to distill only important information and as you can imagine, there is a lot to getting ready and execution.
..My time in the past few weeks have been consumed by supporting continuing activities related to transition to Workday, Strategic Planning meetings and most recently the emergency planning activities related to COVID19. I am not complaining, but trying to explain why I have not written in a while…
Pretty much everything we do these days is data heavy and data driven. Though there is a huge explosion in the collection and availability of data, there is also a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about the data and how best to use it. There are so many external forces that come into play, including cultural sensitivities and politics, which add to the complexities.
We are far from reaching nirvana (one of the definitions for it is “a state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic place”) when it comes to data. However, that is not stopping us from attempting 🙂
When you move to a new system, it is not as if you cut over and you are done! Far from it… As I wrote earlier, we had a successful registration in November and immediately started planning some of the next steps. Our transition plan had us using Banner for certain continued functionality for mostly back end integrations. We were essentially duplicating some of the things in both systems, most of them automated. But as we approached December, it became apparent that we needed a bit more time to completely remove Banner dependence.
Since we continue to use Banner for advancement it was not the end of the world. We will be moving to Affinaquest during the next few days and Banner will be made read only at that time. This is a huge step and you can imagine the anxiety that comes with it. We have been aggressively moving various applications and integrations to use Workday as the source, but as everyone knows, with so many systems and dependencies, we are likely to find out we missed some. We have the staff waiting to monitor and take action as this happens.
Everyone knows that I have been and continue to be an active software developer. After I wrote my last blog post, my ex-boss at Wesleyan (John Meerts) reminded me of the first homegrown registration system that I helped write at Wesleyan in the mid 1990’s. This was a game changer at that point and it created the trust of the community in our abilities. This allowed me to both write and lead several other major programming initiatives there which I have carried with me to other institutions.
But, as a software developer in small institutions with small staff to work with, you always encounter issues. There is a lot of excitement around software development, but there is also a lot of risk involved. The community comes to rely on them and wants constant enhancements which can never be predicted ahead of time. Also, with constant changes to the web browser and underlying technologies, you need to continually monitor and apply fixes. As a result, we end up struggling to support these in the long run. Also, when we write our own, our capacity to thoroughly test them is limited and it leads to mistakes. I just wanted to highlight some such mistakes that I have committed myself or have seen it done by others. For the sake of anonymity, I am not going to say who committed which one and leave it to your imagination…
On November 15th, I completed 9 years at the College. It has been an enjoyable ride and the time has gone by a little too fast. We have accomplished a lot and we could not have done it without the dedicated and hard working team that we have! The list of Annual Reports is a good list to look back at the progression and if you haven’t looked at the 2019 one, please do so here. One of the major effort for the past 3 1/2 years has been Workday and now that we have completed the initial phases of Human Resources, Financials and Student, we will be concentrating on the post production work, which seems like a very different mode than the period when we were implementing. There are still a lot of things to do, but the pace is different.
Talking about Workday Student, I wrote about our First Year registration earlier, but the real test was going to be the time when all four class years register. They did it in November and by all counts, it was successful. (more…)
It is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) and I am reposting most of what I posted last year around this time which are mostly applicable and I am amazed at the number of people who are still not aware of all different ways you can protect your information. You don’t want your important information compromised or your financial assets stolen. So, better to take precautions early. I have added something about SIM swap, a technique that used to be prevalent in certain foreign countries is becoming common here.
Passwords & Passphrases
I use fairly long and complex passwords. I prefer passphrases wherever they are supported. It is so sad that so many systems still do not support passphrases and are restrictive in terms of the length of the passwords. As a rule, I use different passwords for different systems. I will be very happy to privately share with anyone who is interested in knowing more about how I maintain/remember all of these passwords. I also avoid saving passwords for some of the critical systems and financial institutions in my browser’s password manager. They are safe and continue to be safer, but, if ever someone steals my Google Password AND bypasses two factor authentication, they will have access to all my passwords (paranoia!).
I can’t believe that my last blog post was more than 2 months ago! That is how busy I have been, along with all my colleagues. As I have written before, we moved several additional processes to Workday Student this summer and you can imagine how much work this is. I am happy to say that given the enormity of this transition, things went well. Most importantly, the first year students registered without any known technical issues. We now have the ability to analyze the registration process in a way that we can make changes for future registrations to make the experience less stressful for the students.
Of course, no transition of this magnitude is without problems! So, I describe some of what happened during the last couple of months below.