This monthly newsletter is sent to the Michigan IT community to provide updates, answer questions, and spark conversation about the projects that the university is undertaking as part of NextGen Michigan, a university-wide effort to improve IT services and invest in technologies that support U-M's current and future needs. Please direct questions or comments to email@example.com.
In the coming months, members of the IT Council and I will be meeting with representatives from campus units to share the IT Strategic Plan. As we begin these conversations, I want to remember the historic shifts in technology that brought us to this transformative place in time.
From mainframes in the 1960s, which relied on centralized computing power, to personal computers and the Internet in the '80s and '90s, which empowered individual computing, each evolution demanded a change in how U-M delivers technology on campus. We are once again at a turning point in technology, and this time, we are responding with a strategy that allows for a balance of individual access, unit expectations, and central support. Representing the collective endeavor of hundreds of members of the U-M community over the past two years, the IT Strategic Plan is intended to help unify and guide us on our path to success in this next era of technology transformation.
I am looking forward to these meetings, where faculty and staff from university units can share candidly about the IT Strategic Plan and ensure it accurately reflects individual and departmental needs as well as those areas that require more thought. I also look forward to engaging with you, and encourage you to participate when you can. In the meantime, I am pleased some of our work is already underway, from increasing our Wi-Fi capacity and enhancing tools for teaching, to piloting Amazon Web Services and identifying new NextGen technologies.
As always, I want to know what's on your mind—what we are doing well and where we need to improve. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Laura Patterson
The IT community at the university is dedicated to partnering with faculty, students, and staff, developing strong technology and shared infrastructure, and supporting mission-aligned technology. The goal of our efforts is to enable faster innovation, team-based learning, and collaboration at levels never seen before. How are YOU making the NextGen Michigan vision a reality?
The Office of the CIO is currently collecting success stories of how next generation technologies and service models are used across campus. What are you doing in your unit? What do you know about that others are doing? We want to hear from you. Please send a short summary to email@example.com and we'll highlight your contribution in a future newsletter article.
With its release on November 16, faculty interest in CTools Lesson Builder started strong and continues to grow. Its popularity is not surprising given the amount of faculty involvement throughout its development.
Lesson Builder creates a new way to use CTools in teaching and learning. Its sequencing capabilities allow instructors to design CTools sites with easy-to-follow navigation and instructions for students.
Martha McComas, clinical assistant professor in the School of Dentistry, was one of 20 faculty members involved in the Lesson Builder pilot. "Lesson Builder... helps to organize an online environment where face-to-face interaction is minimal," McComas said. "However, it is nice for the face-to-face classes too, because things are easy to find." Watch this video to hear Professor McComas as well as faculty members Stacy Peterson and Gundy Sweet share their thoughts on using Lesson Builder to engage students.
In spring 2013, the ITS Teaching and Learning group and Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) jointly arranged an evaluation session with 19 faculty from across the university. Participants explored and analyzed Lesson Builder, and developers incorporated suggestions into the tool as it was being prepared for official release. (The event was sponsored by the Collaborative Domain Group, a combined advisory group convened by the Knowledge and Teaching & Learning Domain Stewards; James Hilton, University Librarian and dean of University Libraries; and Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education.)
Feedback from faculty indicates Lesson Builder is popular with students, as well. More than two-thirds of the 77 students in Professor Gundy Sweet's Evidence-Based Medicine course agreed Lesson Builder is an effective way to follow material covered in the class, and they indicated they would like other professors to use it.
Since Lesson Builder's release, faculty are able to access articles, workshops, and other support documentation to help maximize their use of the tool.
Since December 2013, researchers, students, and staff representing units across U-M campuses are testing computing resources in the cloud as part of the M+Amazon Web Services (M+AWS) pilot. The pilot reached another milestone this month by establishing direct billing for the service using the university's Service Unit Billing (SUB) process.
Direct billing allows subscribers to directly charge a university shortcode for use of AWS resources instead of using a personal credit card or P-Card. Billing is managed by ITS, which recharges units for their use of AWS resources without any additional fees or overhead.
College of Engineering pilot participant and student Allison McDonald says, "As most of our users are working in research, a large portion of our projects are funded via grants. With the M+AWS collaboration, it (became) much easier for these users to pay for their computing directly from their grants, as opposed to paying out-of-pocket and being later reimbursed, which can be messy for a number of reasons."
Beginning March 17, M+Amazon Web Services will be available on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses, allowing the U-M community to easily access and use AWS's cloud-based IT infrastructure services under a single U-M master account.
The M+Amazon Web Services team is preparing for March availability with a series of training sessions offered by Amazon Web Services and tailored for U-M (see sidebar for details).
You can visit the Michigan IT Services Portal for details on M+Amazon Web Services. Learn which sensitive data types are permitted in M+AWS on the university's Sensitive Data Guide to IT Services. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our Cloud Sourcing Manager, Bob Sabourin (rsabes), or the Program Director of Infrastructure Projects, Terry Houser (thouser). You can also keep up on the project on the NextGen Michigan website.
Demands on the campus Wi-Fi network have grown exponentially in recent times. The impact of this growth is felt most acutely in locations served by older equipment or where the equipment is trying to handle connection requests from a very large number of devices.
U-M faculty, staff, students and visitors expect consistent and adequate Wi-Fi coverage in all campus buildings. To address this need, a major project to improve the Wi-Fi environment on campus is currently underway. The Wi-Fi network in the Shapiro and Hatcher libraries was already upgraded. In the next phase, a number of public buildings such as Palmer Commons, the Michigan Unions, Student Activities Building, Rackham, and Ruthven, among others, will go through similar upgrades.
Immediate benefits include:
Personal Wi-Fi enabled devices that serve as routers or access points to connect to the university's Wi-Fi network can interfere with it and prevent it from working at optimal levels. A campaign to educate students and other users about the disadvantages and to encourage good citizenship is planned. More information is available about personal routers.
A new UMICH Account Management website, to be available March 17, will allow anyone with a regular uniqname to reset their own UMICH password if they forget it. While the ITS Service Center will continue to provide password resets as needed, the new option will provide added convenience for users and will free up technical support staff to address other issues. The self-service feature is similar to that found on many commercial websites.
To begin using the new self-service option, people will first need to set-up security questions and answers on the new website ahead of time. From then on, if they forget their password, they can answer the questions to have a password reset code sent to a non-university email account, and then use the code to reset their UMICH password.
When the UMICH Account Management website is released (over the weekend of March 15), the current Change UMICH Password page will be replaced by a new page within the new website. The new page will work just like the current one, with an interactive check of password strength. The page layout will look slightly different, and for UMHS users, a new feature will enhance the system's security to ensure one's UMICH password (usually called "Level-1") is different from one's UMHS password ("Level-2").
Watch for links to UMICH Account Management on ITS websites on March 17. Choosing and Changing a Secure UMICH Password (R1162) will be updated with a link to the new site and instructions for using it.
The university's new network Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) moved closer to implementation with the selection of a vendor product, HP TippingPoint, and delivery of the hardware. Five units—University Audits, School of Public Health, School of Nursing, the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), and Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences (AOSS)—were involved in the evaluation process. AOSS and University Audits participated in on-site testing of two vendor products. ITS staff will pilot use of the new IPS on some ITS networks in spring.
The IPS will provide advanced threat detection and block malicious network traffic coming from outside the university. It will sit between the university networks that it has been set to protect and the Internet, and will allow the university to extend protection to its wireless networks. An IPS is one layer of protection in a multi-layered approach to security.
After this protection is in place, the opt-in ITS Virtual Firewall Service, which provides centralized perimeter protection, will be discontinued, though a final timeline is not yet established. ITS is currently exploring with units whether a for-fee firewall service is needed and feasible to address any potential service gaps.
This summer, the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences (AOSS) will pilot the IPS. Additional units are welcome to participate in the pilots. After the pilot, the network IPS will be available to units on the Ann Arbor campus. Contact Dennis Neil (firstname.lastname@example.org) of ITS Information and Infrastructure Assurance (IIA), who is leading the implementation effort, to volunteer.
For more detail, see Network IPS Planned for 2014.
In preparation for the upcoming transition to MiWorkspace, the team is working closely with academic pilot units to fine-tune its unit and faculty engagement approach. Some activities are underway include:
The MiWorkspace service currently supports 10,717 MiWorkspace customers (both faculty/staff and temporary and/or student employees) on a total of 5,746 devices (including shared machines). The service operates in 120 locations in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Lansing, New York and Pasadena.
Learn more about MiWorkspace on the project site.
When SiteMaker was created in 1998, it broke new ground with a combination of flexibility, power, and simplicity for web publishing. It has served U-M very well, but a lot has changed in 15 years.
"The technology behind SiteMaker has reached end of life and there are now potential performance, security, and opportunity risks in maintaining this legacy system," says John Johnston, the ITS product manager for SiteMaker. "In addition, many robust and flexible web publishing platforms have emerged since then. These services have the potential to provide the U-M community with better tools at a lower cost."
As a first step toward evaluating how to best transition active SiteMaker accounts to alternative services, ITS had initial conversations with a SiteMaker Steering Committee and a pilot user group. These two groups—which represent a broad cross-section of stakeholders—provided very valuable guidance early in the evaluation process.
"At this point, it's time to broaden the conversation," adds Johnston. "So we've created a SiteMaker Transition Project to get additional feedback, help organize our efforts, and share information with the wider campus community."
More details about project activities to date are on the new project website where you can find:
"As an IT community, our primary task is to work together to build a world-class computing environment that supports the academic and research missions of the university," says Johnston. "As the pace of change in technology keeps getting faster, we'll have to constantly re-examine which tools and services are the best choices for achieving that goal."
This past fall ITS launched Project Horizon, an initiative that aims to better meet the changing technical needs of the university community by delivering a more streamlined portfolio of IT services to the U-M community.
When possible, ITS will transition legacy services into their new NextGen alternatives. If ITS alternatives do not exist but comparable cost-effective third-party options are available, legacy services will be retired. In the case where ITS alternatives do not exist and there are no obvious cost-effective third-party alternatives, the project team will work with campus partners to evaluate, develop roadmaps, and collectively decide the future of these services.
In February, the Collaboration Services Team focused on Box Edit and Box Sync as the featured tool of the month. These two add-on apps for M+Box make working with your files easy. With Box Edit, you can edit content directly from M+Box on the Web. But what if you need files saved in M+Box available on your desktop? With Box Sync, you can choose which M+Box folders or subfolders to sync to your computer. Compare the two and use what makes sense for the way you work. A shared Box folder contains more resources and information about Box Edit and Box Sync.
U-M's Collaboration Forum is a public group for you to ask questions, exchange information, and showcase interesting uses of collaboration tools including M+Google, M+Box, and CTools.
IT Governance was formed to represent the many needs of the U. read what they're discussing and follow-up with your representative if you have questions, comments or new ideas.
Learn more about the various committees on the CIO website
Do you have a suggestion for other IT-related campus publications that we should include here? Please send them to email@example.com.
The success of the next generation of Michigan IT relies on the efforts of scores of people from across campus. This feature profiles those who are making NextGen real. If you are interested in being profiled or want to suggest someone to be profiled, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Todd Raeker is the Manager of Computing at the School of Information
What is your role in the NextGen effort?
My personal role is to lend the experience I've had working in various capacities in the IT community interfacing with users rather than the enterprise infrastructure that doesn't see users on a day-to-day basis. I think that's been missing in ITS for quite awhile. I see my role as filling in that gap of knowledge and experience and helping us move forward with NextGen. I am also blessed that the School of Information sees technology as a top priority for the school and the university. They encourage me to participate as much as I can. I have also been able to send many of my team members to various working groups to offer their expertise. So they encourage that, see the need and my desire to want to contribute.
What do you think are the opportunities or wins for campus coming out of the NextGen effort?
I think a big win will let us focus more resources on the user experience needs and not on all the backend stuff that gets done in order for people to do their work. We can make their experience and use of technologies a lot better and more efficient if we don't have to spend so much time paying attention to backend stuff. Someone else will be doing that. From my perspective, that's where I see the big win.
What do you think are the challenges for the NextGen effort on campus?
There are both external and internal challenges. The external force is technology is moving faster than we can keep up. You make a choice but as soon as you enact it, you're already behind. The internal challenge is trying to address as many people's needs as possible and spending a lot of time trying to to capture a "big win." I would say you can't do that efficiently. There are dozens of solutions to address the same problem out there. Because there is no one thing that encompasses it all. I think the challenge on NextGen is to not get stuck in the "we've got to get that one big encompassing item." There's not a cookie-cutter approach.
What brought you to the NextGen project?
The frustration of not wanting to have to deal with a lot of the mundane, infrastructure effort that takes away from users. The mundane stuff means sacrificing the interaction and face-to-face with users. I have a limited number of people and most of time is spent right now on the backend stuff. We'd love to be able to spend more time face-to-face to solve everyday problems.
What is your educational background?
It's a very convoluted path. I'm a science and math geek. I went to college at Bemidji State University in Minnesota and got a BS in Chemistry and a BS in Mathematics with a minor in Physics. Then I went to grad school at Iowa State University for Theoretical Chemistry and that's where I learned and got exposure to computing and IT/infrastructure. I discovered I like playing with computers and programming them and building them just as much as I like the science, so it was a perfect match. In Theoretical Chemistry, I didn't touch any chemicals and I didn't have to be stuck in a lab. It was all IT-based.
What book are you currently reading and/or what is the last book you read?
Being a science and computer geek, I oscillate between science fiction and reading about science. When I do read about science, I pick a subject I want to learn more about. My current choice is weather modeling and understanding weather, so I'm reading Invisible in the Storm: the Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather. Very interesting to me, especially with climate change happening.
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you order?
Albert Einstein, not because he's a famous theoretical physicist from a long time ago, but today we have the opportunity to hear world famous scientists speak on tv and radio shows and it gives me an idea of who they are and how they think and how they came to be where they are today. I never had the opportunity with Albert Einstein. I'd like to sit down and talk to him over lunch and figure him out if that were possible. As a test of his personality, I'd let him choose for me.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
I think my science background. I deal almost completely in IT these days and all of that was based on my science desire. I still do science at home. I build computers at home and I do other science computing at home, outside of work.
We're always interested in your feedback, comments, concerns and questions. Please share your thoughts with the Program Office using the Contact Us section of the NextGen Michigan website.