Minutes, April 3, 2019 (Approved)

CIS Meeting Minutes – April 3, 2019

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, April 3, 2019 from 9:30-11a in MGC 247. The attendees were:

  1. Robert Adcock (SIS)
  2. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  3. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  4. Christine Dulaney (LIB)
  5. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  6. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  7. Robert Lyons (GRAD)
  8. Joseph Mortati (KSB)
  9. Rick Semitian (SPEXs)
  10. Scott Talan (SOC)
  11. Stef Woods (CAS)
  12. Guest: Scott Vanek (OIT)

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Alan called the meeting to order. The March 2019 minutes were reviewed and approved.

This is our final meeting of the academic year. Alan and Stef will finalize the Annual Report. Alan is stepping down from CIS, and Stef will take over as chair. Alan was thanked for his service.

FOSS Award: Alan talked to the Provost about a prize for using free and open-sourced software. The Provost liked the idea of a small award or donation to foundations (around $1500) to support the use of FOSS at AU. Discussion ensued as to how to determine which foundations. Kiho volunteered CTRL to administer a survey to those who have a clear interest in using FOSS. CTRL will ask either the larger AU community or just faculty to rank their top three open-sourced foundations from a pre-determined list. Then, CTRL can hand the survey results off to CIS to make a request to the Provost. CIS unanimously approved having: 1) Alan draft a formal proposal for the Provost (attached to these minutes); and 2) Kiho coordinate a subsequent survey from CTRL.

LMS Phase Two Evaluation:

Lengthy discussion ensued about the functionality of Canvas, what’s easier for adjuncts to use, and when the Digital Director position will be posted. Nancy also shared that we’re evaluating the best LMS for online systems to see if we can move away from third-party vendors.

Scott Vanek noted that the Phase Two LMS surveys can be completed through April. If further evaluation is completed in the future, the Committee recommends that faculty are required to rank/evaluate all three LMS (Blackboard, Brightspace and Canvas).

The Committee did not have a strong recommendation, but preferred Canvas over Brightspace and Blackboard.  Power Blackboard users seemed to still like that LMS. No one favored Brightspace. There was a unanimous vote that Alan would write up our recommendations, share them with the Faculty Senate that afternoon, and send via email to Scott Vanek, Mike Piller, and Nancy Davenport (attached to these minutes).

Scott Vanek reported that 67 LMS evaluation surveys were sent to faculty and staff. They’ve received 18 back, which is on par with the usual 30% return rate. They expect the amount of responses to increase throughout April. As of the meeting, 50% prefer Canvas, 30% Brightspace, and 17% Blackboard.

150 student surveys were set out with 50% responding. It’s a tie between Canvas and Brightspace, which follows nationwide trends. Students don’t care as long as the LMS is used well.

To clarify, Blackboard is not leaving the higher-ed market. They are just divesting some point-of-sale terminals. Blackboard will still provide support for Learn and Ultra. Scott Vanek noted that Blackboard works fine, and the system is updated every two weeks. Blackboard at AU is reliable 99.9% of the time, which wasn’t the case five years ago. With that said, tons of school are switching off Blackboard to Brightspace and Canvas. OIT thought and ATSC mandated that AU sees what’s out there.

The Phase One pilots will end in May 2019, based on what OIT is paying for. Additional pilots have not been authorized at this time.

Student SET Access: Stef reported that there was a glitch with respect to student access to instructor SETs. The glitch was resolved, and students now have access again.

Upgraded Classrooms: Stefano shared that the CAS Dean’s Advisory Committee (DAC) reached out about ongoing classroom technology issues in Watkins and Battelle. Nancy discussed how CAS classrooms aren’t under the Library’s responsibility. If the Library is responsible for a classroom, it has been upgraded to the highest standard. A discussion ensued as to how faculty can know which classrooms fall under the Library’s responsibility and which fall under an individual school’s responsibility. Stef and Nancy will work together over the summer to create a map or table listing the individual buildings and their rooms. Stefano will reply to the DAC. In the fall, Nancy and Stef will report to the Committee so that CIS can make a suitable recommendation.

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held in September 2019.




FOSS Proposal to Provost Dan Myers


I am writing you as the outgoing Chair of the Committee on Information Services (CIS) with a proposal for AU to support the free and open-source software (FOSS) community.

A month ago I presented you with the idea of creating a small award (I mentioned $1500) to be given annually to support development of FOSS that is used by AU faculty and students.

The idea is that AU can modestly “give back” to the FOSS developers who are so important to our research and teaching.  Since you were receptive to the idea, I brought this idea to the CIS to discuss the process for choosing an awardee.  To our delight, Kiho Kim offered that CTRL will conduct an annual survey of AU’s FOSS use and will provide CIS with the resulting data.  (The survey will include a definition of FOSS.)  This has value to the committee beyond this immediate proposal, but it will also provide the data needed for
sensible rankings.

Therefore we tentatively propose the following structure for your consideration.  Based on the CTRL data, each year CIS will provide the Provost’s Office (or designee) with a
ranked list of three non-profit foundations that directly support the development of FOSS software that is important for research or teaching at American University.  We will
include our reasons for the ranking and full contact information for each foundation.  The Provost’s Office (or designee) can then make the award to the highest ranked choice that you find acceptable.  In a year where funding is unavailable or no choice is acceptable to the Provost’s Office, no award will be made.

Thank you for considering this proposal.




LMS Recommendation to OIT and Faculty Senate


Dear Scott,

I am writing as the Chair of the Committee on Information Services.  We evaluated Canvas and Brightspace. CIS recommends Canvas over Brightspace and leans toward Canvas over Blackboard.  If AU drops Blackboard in favor of one of these, we recommend Canvas.

Canvas has better approachability and greater ease of use for a new user than Brightspace. For basic functions, it is easier than Blackboard.  However, it seems to lack some of Blackboard’s more advanced functionality.

Some committee members would prefer to stick with Blackboard. These tended to be “power” users of Blackboard who felt that Canvas does not yet offer comparable features to power users. There was particular concern that the gradebook functionality of Canvas appears less flexible than that of Blackboard.  One other concern is that, in contrast with Blackboard, it did not appear possible to specify that a hyperlink should open in a new browser tab without using the HTML source editor. (You have since indicated that in fact it is possible.)

The committee had some concerns about the structure of the assessment survey, which restricted the information we wanted to share.  Perhaps a better structure would allow rankings of each feature for each LMS rather than picking a “winner”.

Overall, CIS recommends Canvas over Brightspace and leans toward Canvas over Blackboard.  If AU decides to drop Blackboard, CIS favors a switch to Canvas.

Alan Isaac
Chair, Committee on Information Services