PACAC Minutes for March 4, 2009

Provost’s Academic Computing Advisory Committee
Minutes for March 4, 2009
March 4, 2009 PACAC Agenda
1. Online course evaluations – Don Carter
2. After Blackboard Vista – John Campbell
3. Update on PACAC guidelines for sustainable budgets – Angie Golden
4. Microsoft Live Meeting roll-out – John Campbell
5. Thin client update – John Campbell
Meeting Minutes
Attending: Robert Alban, Kris Andersen, John Campbell, Tom Carpenter, Don Carter, Rodrigo
De Toledo, Eck Doerry, John Eastwood, Fred Estrella, Angie Golden, Chris Gray, Jill Koelling,
Casey Machula, Georgia Michalicek, Wally Nolan, and Chih Tu.
Online course evaluations
Don Carter informed the committee that online course evaluations were now the responsibility of
the e-Learning Center. However, Academic Computing still runs the systems, and Chris Gray’s
team is developing a new Pentaho reporting tool. He said that NAU Yuma will be using online
course evaluations for all courses. Currently, that creates a problem because course reports are
separated by prefix and not by location. He will be discussing this with the Chairs Council next
week. Pentaho, (an open source reporting software) will be piloted this summer and Don hopes
to roll it out this fall.
After Blackboard Vista
John Campbell said faculty were receptive to the email he sent regarding open source learning
management system (LMS) options. In that email he notified members that our locked-in
Blackboard Vista license cost expires in 2010, and Vista itself is going to reach its end-of-life in
2012. He recommended that if we want to critically examine other options, we should begin
doing that now. John said there is no choice since we will be getting off Vista at some point.
He said Blackboard Vista is very important to NAU and very expensive. With the current 4.8%
price increases expected to be raised to 7% in 2010, it would be good to look at open source
LMS options. The two biggest packages are Sakai and Moodle. He shared that Sakai does not
have the market share that Moodle has and that it has had complexity problems with
Chris Gray reported we already have the new Blackboard version in-house. After reading the
white paper, he believes migration might actually work from our version of Vista to the new
version of Blackboard. He also said he has the Sakai wiki running, but only one professor is
using it. John said he is well aware that Moodle is favored by faculty. Wally Nolan added that
Moodle is easier to use but the wikis have the same functionality. However, building blocks and
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Minutes for March 4, 2009
learning modules would take a little more work. He said faculty would need to learn how to use
the tools.
Chih Tu said faculty in the College of Education were looking forward to using Moodle. He had
also used Sakai and reported the interface was difficult to follow. John Campbell reported that
Google and Moodle were developing what they call Moodlerooms to create more social
interaction, and Don Carter offered that Vista had the best gradebook.
John said we could move forward with making a decision by resurrecting some of the criteria we
used the last time the campus evaluated LMSs. Chris Gray could collect data on the tools that are
used the most in Vista. Don Carter said he would not recommend going to the current
Blackboard Version 9 as it is missing both the Vista File Manager and WebDAV interface. Chris
Gray said version 9.2 will be out in 2010. Fred Estrella said Blackboard claims version 10 will
be as good as Vista is now. Don Carter said that means no progress.
Fred said he is currently paying $173,000 for Vista, it will be $182,000 next year, and they want
to add on 7% with the new contract. He said he thinks we could leverage the money better with
an open source product. John said the number of CIOs who have chosen an open source strategy
is encouraging.
Angie Golden has been working with students who have to use both systems: Vista at NAU and
Blackboard Enterprise running at ASU. She reported NAU students say nothing is organized in
the Blackboard Enterprise system. From a student perspective, Vista is much easier to use. She
reminded the committee that students at NAU have been using Vista for years now and it won’t
be just faculty who have to face a huge learning curve.
Fred Estrella shared that we don’t even know how well the new version of Blackboard tools will
work. He said he wants to get started early with the LMS evaluations, and have a Moodle pilot
up next year. Don Carter explained we need to be off Vista by 2011 to facilitate the archival of
courses and those who need to keep courses up an additional year due to incompletes. Questions
were asked about e-Packs from publishers, e-Portfolios, and how well Sakai and Moodle will
integrate with PeopleSoft. Chris Gray said the product to look at right now is Moodle because
Sakai is being rewritten. He also recommended exploring Sakai 3, the new rewrite, as soon as it
becomes stable.
Angie asked what is needed from PACAC. John Campbell said a formal evaluation is needed.
Don Carter and Chris Gray agreed that a Moodle pilot could be up and running by fall. Angie
asked about faculty support. Wally Nolan said free video training software is available, and the
e-Learning Center would help faculty. Since there won’t be any vendors to do demonstrations of
the open source products, it was suggested that Moodle classes could be found for faculty to
view and evaluate instead.
It was recommended that the pilot include a small group of faculty. Angie Golden, Robert Alban,
and Chih Tu volunteered to have existing courses moved from Vista to Moodle. Angie asked
about the same courses being migrated and tested in Sakai as well. Chris Gray said Sakai
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Version 3.0 will be available this summer, but it would not be possible to have it up until
December to run a pilot. He thought Blackboard might be available by then also.
Don Carter said the main motivation is not financial. Any open source LMS will need to be
flexible and customizable while working in collaboration with other university communities.
Paying for Blackboard is not the majority of the cost; supporting it has costs also. Don said it’s
important to make sure the things we do, such as accessibility, work well. John Campbell agreed;
we want to stay successful.
Fred said the long-term license is what he is concerned with, but the benefit of moving to open
source is in the community support and getting away from the vendors. He said we will have to
sign a new license in 2010 and they will want multiple years, but he might consider signing a
one-year license. His plan is to make the comparisons and have a decision by next spring.
Update on PACAC guidelines for sustainable budgets
Angie Golden reminded the committee she had asked for volunteers at the February PACAC
meeting who were willing to serve on an Academic Computing sustainability subcommittee. She
did not receive much response. John Campbell said he, Georgia Michalicek, Jill Koelling, and
Don Carter will write a draft document that will provide guidance to the Office of the Provost for
sustaining academic technologies, such as webcasting applications and Elluminate. They will
then present the document to PACAC to discuss and decide upon at the next meeting.
Microsoft Live Meeting roll-out
John Campbell reported that Marc Lord has expressed an interest in using Live Meeting for
distance classes. Although it is not currently running at NAU, it could be made available by
April 15 to Don Carter’s group and Marc Lord’s group for testing. Elluminate will still be
available. However, he and Marc spoke about scheduling, and the use of Live Meeting could
help them better meet the 100-seat-license limitation in Elluminate. There is no way of knowing
now whether there will be too many sessions at one time. John said there will be license issues to
figure out for Live Meeting, too.
Members were informed there are no breakout rooms in Live Meeting. There were severe
limitations for Macintosh users in release one, but this problem has been partially addressed in
release two, which is the version we will be running. Macintosh capabilities will need to be
tested. Alternative access methods, such as terminal server or VMware, might be options used by
session leaders who use a Macintosh. Eck Doerry moved to have Live Meeting tested by early
adopters. John said anyone interested should contact him. Don Carter will contact all recent
Elluminate users to survey their interest in testing Live Meeting and select some likely
candidates. There is a possibility it could be accessed by PACAC members by May 15 to work
with for summer courses.
Thin client update
John Campbell reported ITS had deployed thin clients in the South Learning Resource Center
computer lab. He said at first, there was a problem encountered with packets being passed, but
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Minutes for March 4, 2009
they had worked with Cisco and Sun to get all switches on campus to work. Interestingly, older
switches already deployed in other areas worked fine.
He noted that thin client technology breaks down when viewing videos. Although this was not a
problem in Engineering where thin clients are deployed, he said ITS is very Windows-centric
and a four second delay occurred on the Sun clients running Windows products. However, some
web sites work fine for videos depending on which plug-ins they are using. He reported video on was the worst, but thin clients will work well for ninety percent of what people want
to do in the labs.
Fred Estrella explained that ITS will be taking the computer labs out of Residence Halls due to
budget cuts. He and John met with Residence Life and offered to support thin clients in those
areas for student use where they will be unattended and locked down. ITS will pay for the
backend servers and Residence Life just pays for the thin clients. Fred is currently working with
Sun to obtain discounts, and said they could also be deployed when it’s necessary to replace the
public workstations in the library.
John said Academic Computing is also experimenting with a charge-back printing service for the
Residence Halls and the library. They were told that this is one of the reasons students use the
ITS labs in the Residence Halls. Each printer will have a release station and billing service. Fred
said they will also be able to allow students to print from their own rooms. John’s team will
develop the code needed over the summer. Robert Alban asked if this service could be made
available to Arts and Letters; John said to ask him again this summer.
The next meeting of PACAC will be postponed until April 24 to allow for work to be done
on the guidelines for sustainable budgets.
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