Lies, Damned Lies and Software

After an all nighter watching India lose pretty badly to Australia in World Cup Cricket semifinals, I am beginning the healing process. One of the things that will make me heal quickly is for Australia to lose to New Zealand in the finals. Given that the New Zealanders already beat the Aussies once in this tournament and won their semi finals in a dramatic fashion, I am hopeful that they will clinch the finals. I know most of you don’t care about cricket, sorry, but remember I am going through healing.

I was invited to watch a demo of yet another software product that we are looking at that will help us with affordable care act reporting requirements. (As a side note, ever wonder when these regulations will stop adding to the cost of Higher Ed?) In light of this demo, I was thinking about our experiences in purchasing third party software and it immediately dawned on me that “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” is so appropriate parallel to software.

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EDUROAM – A great collaboration

We can point to so many different success stories in the open source world. I have a long list of favorites, but some of the top ones are:  Linux, Apache, Drupal, Moodle, Hadoop and R. I have personally benefited from all of this tremendously and at Wellesley we use Linux, Apache, Drupal and R. We also use Sakai, which is another open source software. I am taking a course titled “The Analytics Edge” from MIT and loving it. As a part of this, I am cracking away at R. It is such a brilliant system, which has matured so much in the past two years. I have been involved in data modeling in collaboration with my wife for quite some time and was looking at R to replace SAS for . The last time I seriously looked at it was 2 years ago, but ruled out on lot of counts. But, the progress in the past couple of years has been tremendous and along with R Studio, a GUI front end to it, it is awesome.

Along the similar lines, I wanted to talk about eduroam, another brilliant idea. It is one of those collaborations amongst higher ed that works great. As I have written several times before, collaboration in higher ed a lot of times is simply more talk than action. Here is one where it is a tangible collaboration that we can all point to and be proud of.

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Disruptions in Higher Ed

It is fair to say that the financial crisis in 2007-2008 affected higher ed in ways that no one would have predicted a few years ago. It exposed several structural issues in our space and there have been numerous calls for the need to make significant changes. The word “disruption” came into play a fair amount and I would say Clayton Christensen’s “Disruptive Innovation” had something to do with it. The cost of higher ed is often cited as the reason why we need a serious disruption, rightfully so. However, no one offers any magical answers to solving this problem, which can be frustrating. One of my colleagues remarked “people have always complained that the Colleges cost too much money”. There is some truth to this. You can look at the trends in tuition, fees and board here and here. The latter one is pretty comprehensive and I suggest you look at all the data. Data will be interpreted in different ways because the topic is complex. Besides, aggregate data typically tells a very different story than data for a particular person. You may be paying for your children’s college a lot of money and based on your personal situation your story may be so different than what the reported aggregate data may be telling. However, if you you look here, the key points talk about some salient points and the important note says how the net price a student pays after taking into consideration of grant aid and tax considerations has been trending lower.

Regardless of all of this, we, in higher ed, collectively feel that we are at a point in time where disruptions are inevitable. I think some of the recent events should serve as a reminder that we are not immune to disruptions and the more we accept and prepare ourselves, the better our future will be.

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Apple Pay, Samsung Pay etc. and security

I do not have an iPhone, sorry! However, there are a couple in my family who do, so I am aware of the apps and advances in that arena. I have been following the Apple Pay technology with a lot of interest. The fact that it is is touch free (“contactless”) is cool in itself, but I am very impressed by the thought that has gone into securing the information from start to finish. The web page titled “Apple Pay security and privacy overview” clearly explains how the technology behind Apple Pay works. I strongly suggest that you read it. In simple terms, a device and credit card specific “secure element” is stored on your iPhone. When you are at a place that accepts this form of payment, using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the iPhone and a payment terminal communicate. After you enter your passcode on iPhone, it then transmits a dynamically generated encrypted information that contains the secure element for the credit card you choose, along with a few other information (presumably, the vendor name, the actual charge etc.). This data is received by the bank or the payment network, which then verifies all of this information and accepts the transaction. The key to all of this is that the information is secure, encrypted and is stored on your device as well as the bank. No one else, including Apple and the vendor has access to this information except perhaps in transit, but without the appropriate keys to decrypt, the information in such a short transit is not useful.

Samsung has come up with Samsung Pay, which is very similar, but has one advantage over Apple Pay. It also can communicate with the traditional magstripe terminals. Google is rumored to be revamping its Google Wallet  to measure up to these. It is fair to say that most of us are not ready to use these and continue to use traditional methods of using the credit cards in the stores as well as through online. There have been numerous breaches where, because the stores retain our information, they have been stolen. Credit card companies are getting better and alert us of fraud detection, which sometimes can be annoying (because of legit charges) and they tend to arrive at the most inopportune moments, such as when you are just about to embark on a trip. I would love to transition to one of these more secure methods asap. In the meantime…

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Is the CIO still relevant?

I came back from a fabulous gathering of colleagues from Colgate, Davidson, Hamilton, as well as from Wellesley to discuss some of the next steps in blended learning/MOOC collaboration. What brought us together are two similar Mellon planning grants to see how we can collaborate on this subject. Another glue that binds us is that we are all offering or will soon be offering MOOCs through edX. We came up with specific action items and I will write about that later.

Today, at 2 PM, there is a twitter based discussion being organized by SearchCIO.com on the topic “Is the CIO still relevant?”.  An intro to this is available here. And it begins by saying “The traditional CIO is dead. Emerging from the ashes is a new breed of many-sided digital frontiersmen trying to find their place in an evolving enterprise.”. You get the picture.

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Higher Ed apps – why are they so bad?

SNowIt is snowing heavily and snow everywhere you turn!

While I was at a retreat last week, one of the faculty members was explaining to a trustee how easy it was for her to install and use apps like Uber and Lyft, she has a lot of trouble with software that the College asks her to use, such as Banner and Sakai. I wrote about a similar app that I used in India called Ola cabs. I agreed and gave her some reasons why.

One of the major reasons is that many of the software we use were originally developed very early on and due to a variety of factors, the software companies are simply building on top of older software. The newer “apps” are built using very efficient and modern programming paradigms and have a huge advantage as a result. In other words, if one were to design a brand new learning management system from scratch today, it is likely to be far more in line with the available technologies of today and will look and function very differently. Workday is one such example of an administrative system. It looks very polished, functions very efficiently using technologies such as virtualization in a seamless fashion whereas comparable software like Banner or Peoplesoft have the old look and feel and are monsters in terms of resource requirements. They do use virtualization, but nowhere near to its fullest extent.

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A New Portal for Wellesley

Wellesley has had Luminis portal for quite some time. We began actively promoting its use in the past 4 years. However, this is a very challenging system to understand, implement and maintain. The origins of Luminis are in an open source portal called uPortal. Ellucian, whatever the company was called back then,  decided to take a version of uPortal and implement it to work with Banner. This is the simple version of a long story.

Unfortunately, such techniques just don’t work as well as developing something that coexists with your software in a more integrated fashion. And it shows. I just spent a few weeks trying to unravel the mysteries of Luminis in order to get the information out so we can use it for our new portal and I was flabbergasted.

So, why a new portal? The version of Luminis we are currently running is being phased out & it is running on older operating systems that are not being upgraded. We spent considerable time and effort to look at what it would take to implement the upgraded version of Luminis, which in my opinion, is yet another mistake. Ellucian has decided to take LifeRay, a new open source portal, and branch it off to suit their needs. We estimated that the total resources required to implement and maintain the new Luminis portal is not worth it. We are not the only one who has come to this conclusion.

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Ola Cabs – a Mobile App that I love!

From: http://www.olacabs.com/mobile

From: http://www.olacabs.com/mobile

My wife and I spent three weeks in late December/early January in Sri Lanka and India. As always, we had a fabulous time. This time around, I got a chance to give two talks. One at CUSAT (Cochin University of Science And Technology) on MOOCs and another at MOP Vaishnav College for Women on emerging technologies. They were well received and there were some great questions.

We spend a lot of time in Chennai whenever we visit, because that is where most of our family members live. When we are in Chennai, we rely on autorickshaws (the three wheelers with the top covered), or simply “autos”, and taxis. Whereas autos are very easy to find anywhere in the city, that is not the case with taxis. In other words, you can easily “hail an auto” but not a taxi. You basically have to call in a taxi. There are variations in the theme. For example, when you arrive at the airport, there are “prepaid” taxis where you pay a flat fee, but then there are the ones that go by the meter and then there are many who do whatever they want. Taxis are costlier than autos, so generally, the local population favors auto. When you go from the US, given that each dollar buys you 61 Indian Rupees, you will see that the rides are ridiculously cheap. For eg. the 13 KM (8 miles) ride from the airport to my in-laws’ home cost about $6 in a taxi.

Riding in the auto is an experience in itself! It is cheap alright, but the greatest advantage is it’s agility. The traffic in the city has become a nightmare and the best way to get to where you want to are two wheelers like scooters or motorbikes. Since we can’t do that, the next best option is Auto. The driver will squeeze you through in traffic, take the local alley ways etc. You will be breathing all the polluted air, but that you cannot avoid whether you ride the auto not! However, the auto drivers almost never charge by the meter, despite the fact that it is the law. Negotiations with them is an art. And no matter what you do, they know that you are not a local! They can sock it to you. I hate it when they try to cheat me and try to find an honest driver who goes by the meter, but then tip him so heavily for his honesty. The other advantage with the auto is that most of them know about the city and will get you where you need to go. Most cab drivers have no idea (they are not locals) and you better know your way. Thanks to Google Maps, I survived. Not that I don’t know to navigate the city, but with massive expansion and constant construction, there are one way roads that have popped up all over that I don’t know about. Google knows all about them, of course!  Read more »

Copyright and MOOCs – again

I will be writing several short ones from here on because of time crunch.

So, why should MOOCs be governed differently than a face to face class when it comes to copyrighted material? For that matter, many institutions engaged in blended learning and online courses. I assume that fair use and teach act are used to govern the use of copyrighted materials in blended and online courses. So, whats different about MOOCs? In fact, in this article about the teach act and distance education, the following is mentioned:

Under TEACH:

  • Instructors may use a wider range of works in distance learning environments.
  • Students may participate in distance learning sessions from virtually any location.
  • All participants enjoy greater latitude when it comes to storing, copying and digitizing materials.

What’s so different about the MOOCs that we can’t apply the same rules of the game? Except for some lawyer speak and risk aversion, which is very legitimate, I have not been able to get a sound argument as to what the differences are. Some question whether those enrolled in MOOCs are really “students” or should they be called “learners”. Does it matter? Whether it is face to face class, blended or fully online, there are one or more teachers using copyrighted materials from various sources to teach to the students. Rapid advances in technologies has resulted in copyrighted material being distributed digitally than the old way – copies of paper distributed to a specific group of students. Much harder to duplicate and redistribute, which is not the case with electronic content. However, why would the use of a powerpoint presentation with copyrighted material used by a faculty in a face to face class can be used for a blended class or fully online class but not in a MOOC? Is it the scale? If so, where does fair use or teach act mention that? Whereas a small liberal arts college may have 15 students in a class, large classes in big universities can have 300-500 students or even more. In case of MOOCs it is significantly higher, but if you take the scale aside, whats the problem?

In face to face or online classes students actually pay the institution and apparently they can get free access to copyrighted material in compliance with fair use and the teach act. Whereas in MOOCs, they don’t pay, it is free, but they cannot get access freely to the same materials. What gives?

 

MOOCs – What do the students think?

From: a tweet by Jane O'Dwyer - http://bit.ly/1uvRtQM

From: a tweet by Jane O’Dwyer – http://bit.ly/1uvRtQM

I was at the edX Global Forum last week. This is a meeting attended by faculty and staff from edX member institutions. This was my second one and the number of attendees and the diversity of institutions they represent have grown tremendously. It was great to meet several new people, including several from edX with whom I have only had phone contact. Because of our early start and the fact that we have completed four courses through WellesleyX, many attendees were eager to talk to me about our experiences.

Of all the talks and sessions I attended, the best was a student panel. Nine students from MIT, BU and Wellesley (may be Harvard also) who have taken “blended” classes discussed their experiences. Wellesley student Sharvari Johari is seated fourth from the left in the picture. She did a terrific job as a panelist. In almost all the courses these students took, their faculty taught a face to face class and was either teaching the same course at the same time on edX or had used an archived edX course that the faculty member had taught before. It was refreshing to hear directly from them for a variety of reasons, primarily because they are not afraid to express their opinions.

They liked the experience overall

All the students liked several aspects of the blended experience. The most liked aspects of the blended experience was the availability of the materials outside the classroom and the “stress free” assessment. Seven of the nine students are STEM majors and the courses that they took had assessments that are multiple choice questions which allowed multiple tries and provided a detailed answers that they could look up after completing the assessment. One of them mentioned how the stress of having to get the correct answer in a given period of time is a bit too much and many a times one is penalized for making silly numerical mistakes. Whereas in this medium, the focus is on learning. If you made a mistake, the explanation provided helps guide you to do it right the next time around.

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