CIS minutes for 2020 01 22 meeting

CIS meeting • 2020-01-22
The meeting was called to order at 10:06am.

Stef Woods (former Chair, non-voting), Brian Yates (CAS, Vice-Chair), Rueben Jacobsen (SOE), Stefan Kramer (University Library), Mauro Tiso (CAS), Alan Isaac (CAS), Kiho Kim (CTRL, ex officio non-voting), PTJ (SIS, note-taker), Rick Semiatin (SPEX), Joseph Mortati (KSB), Jennifer Gumbrewicz (SPA), Terry Fernández (OIT, ex officio non-voting), Nancy Davenport (University Librarian, ex officio non-voting)

The committee had no objections to Stef leading the meeting.

Rick moved, Joseph seconded, the approval of the minutes of the last meeting, with one minor spelling amendment.

Bylaws have been approved by the Committee, but then it then goes to the Faculty Senate EC; some discussion about how leadership changes, and whether someone newly on the Committee would be ready to take over the Chair position if the Chair had to resign. “Staggered terms” are the key thing that the Senate requires, both for members and for leadership. Length of service term on the committee set by whom: major teaching unit? Deans? VP for Academic Affairs? Also people have different contracts, so requiring that a V- Chair accede to the Chair position discriminates against those on 1-year contracts. On the other hand, the Senate liked the rotating model. Maybe we don’t need formal rules on this? Amendment to the bylaws to say that the V-Chair will serve as Chair if willing and able, and not making this a fixed and absolute requirement:

The committee elects, from among its faculty members in the first year of their term, one member to serve as Vice-Chair. The following year, if willing and able, the Vice-Chair will serve as Chair. If the Chair or Vice-Chair can no longer serve in that role, the committee will elect, from among its faculty members, a new Chair and/or Vice-Chair for the remainder of the academic year.

Amendment passed with general acclamation.

Election of new officers. Brian to be Chair, Mauro to be Vice-Chair, for Spring 2020. [Note that Brian, having been elected Vice Chair for AY 2019-2020, automatically accedes to Chair for AY 2020-2021, unless he is no longer “willing and able.”] Alan moves the slate, PTJ seconds, approved with 2 abstentions (the candidates themselves).

Mike Piller working on online learning stuff, under the auspices of the Provost’s office. There will also need to be a faculty rep on the university’s enterprise systems committee. Some discussion of the scheduling and responsibilities; apparently there is always lunch provided. Interested committee members should contact Brian directly.

IP grades have been changed, now changing IP requires a change of grade form. That’s been resolved, IP is gone, now there’s just Incomplete. Some discussion of whether the IP grade served a useful function, especially for grad students. Maybe SP/UP take that place? PTJ will ask OUR whether the IP grade is entirely gone, or what. It’s still in the regs. Why are only some courses IP-eligible, and who decides that?

FARS alternatives. Possible pilots in 2020, possible use also in the reappointment file process overseen by Mary Clark’s office. Symplectic is being considered. Whatever system we get has to be rolled out properly, since to make a system like this work requires changes in practice and process. We need to eliminate rework and retyping, so automatically harvesting data from FARS and from other sources (like Google Scholar) would be important as well.

Rick reported on DACA implications of photo rosters. Seems like it’s okay if the photos are used only by instructors in the class, even though the university gives no official answer related to DACA. Even students who opt out of directory information have to have a working e-mail address that is known to instructors in the class. Currently no photos in Blackboard, because of bottlenecks as students add and drop classes, but also some gap between the OneCard office and OIT, and a bug in Blackboard which has yet to be fixed…no information about when it will be fixed…Also, no communication from Blackboard about this to the faculty, except a notice posted on the Blackboard login page which many people may have missed. Joseph will contact Scott Vanek to find out what is going on, and to encourage communication with faculty about it.

Brian, reporting on Recruit: needs to be reinstalled. Disasters this year are worse than disasters last year. Workarounds are being created on the fly, and in the past people could download PDF versions of applications for evaluation. There is a need to get everyone together across campus who uses Recruit, so that all the issues can be clearly presented. Currently using three Ellucian systems: Recruit, Advise, and Advance. General faculty dissatisfaction with Recruit for being clutzy, hard to work with, and improperly configured for admissions filtering/screening processes rather than the marketing tasks of tracking prospects. Brian will reach out to everyone on campus who uses Recruit, or use his judgment on who precisely from different programs to reach out to. It was also suggested that we include offices in UEAS that use Recruit too.

LMS. There is an offer out for a new COO. The assumption is that we need a new COO in place in order to move ahead on the LMS switch, but that process remains unclear. Some discussion on timeline. Possibly to be completed by 2022…definite need to run systems in parallel for some time. We need to start the transition as early as possible. Committee should reach out to Mike Pillar to a future meeting to discuss this; Brian will draft a letter. Running multiple systems might produce some confusion for students and faculty, but we see no real way around this. Some faculty don’t give a lot of feedback on student work through the LMS, which is not really a technical problem — although there are some technical barriers that a new LMS could solve. Microsoft Teams? Nope. Default to POLS (plain old listserv) for committee communications for the moment.

There will be further e-mails. Meeting adjourned 11:34am.

Minutes, September 18, 2019 (Approved)

CIS Meeting Minutes – September 18, 2019

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, September 18, 2019 from 11a-12:30p in MGC 327. The attendees were:

  1. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  2. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  3. Jennifer Gumbrewicz (by phone)
  4. Reuben Jacobson (SOE)
  5. Stefan Kramer (LIB)
  6. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  7. Joseph Mortati (KSB – by phone)
  8. Rick Semitian (SPEXs)
  9. Mauro Tiso (CAS)
  10. Stef Woods (CAS)
  11. Brian Yates (CAS)
  12. Guest: Scott Vanek (OIT)

Before the beginning of the meeting, for future remote participation, Kiho Kim offered the use of CTRL’s collaboratory or Zoom account.

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Stef Woods called the meeting to order. The minutes of the April CIS meeting were approved.

LMS Update: Scott Vanek (Assistant. Dir. e-Learning & Instructional Design Services, University Library) provided an update on the future Learning Management Systems (LMS) evaluation (see also Eight faculty courses with over 100 students and various staff accounts had been set up. It has been recommended to the Academic Technology Steering Committee (ATSC) to move to “Canvas,” but any final choice has to wait until the new Chief Online Officer (COO) is in place. (It was clarified that this a new position, not that of a new CIO; and that candidates are being interviewed now.) 

OIT will also have to be involved with some parts of infrastructure implementation.  At other universities, including Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Cornell, and UMD, LMS switches have been made in a little as three and as long as two years, in the latter cases sometimes with two platforms (the old and the new) available in parallel. Students at those schools were reportedly not fazed by the switch, regardless of how it was undertaken. If we operated multiple platforms at AU, they would feature single sign-on. 

Contrary to some rumors, Blackboard (BB) is not abandoning the higher education market, but has lost significant market share to other platforms. If the COO wanted AU to keep BB, we could consider its “Ultra” version. But, the e-Learning unit does not recommend it because it lacks essential functionalities. Videos with demos of Ultra are available online. Operating more than one LMS at the same time would be more difficult to support, but could ease the transition for faculty. UMD transitioned over one summer and offered extensive faculty training during that time. There are also cost implications to running parallel LMSs. Vanderbilt hired a dozen staff for their LMS migration. More AUx students have asked for help with BB this year than last; therefore, an LMS orientation may be offered to students during Welcome Week 2020. 

Kiho Kim suggested that the new CTRL Tech Talks series could include one on LMSs. The Chairs, Deans & Directors meeting could be leveraged to disseminate info about the LMS evaluation to faculty. Scott will also ask Mike Piller to communicate the evaluation outcome to faculty. The School of Education is using Canvas and is satisfied with it. The e-Learning unit likes the grading system in Canvas. AU students in the evaluation pilot cared more about how the LMS is used by faculty than the platform itself, but had a slight preference for Canvas over Brightspace. The mobile device experience provided by BB is rough.

Bylaws and Vice Chair: The CIS bylaws were changed in the spring. The Faculty Senate requested that the Chair and Vice Chair serve staggered terms. The CIS internally approved that the Vice Chair will become Chair the next year, but that did not make it into the bylaws. The bylaws also don’t reflect that there are now 12 rather than 11 faculty members, with the addition of the School of Ed. Incorporating the language from the spring CIS meeting minutes, the Chair will send a revised version to the CIS, and a vote on the revised bylaws will be taken online.

In the past, the CIS Vice Chair has taken meeting minutes and created the meeting agendas. The CIS Chair is on the Faculty Senate as a voting member. CIS members should send self-nominations for Vice Chair to Stef; eligible members are those in their first year on the committee, since the Vice Chair will become Chair in the second year of their term.

FOSS Award: The Provost wants CTRL to cover the cost of the FOSS (free and open-sourced software) Award (see April 3, 2019 minutes for background). CIS could make a recommendation selecting an awardee organization, which could be a different one each year. A survey of faculty for input would have to come from the CIS. Stefan volunteered to draft a survey in Qualtrics, with a list of FOSS (such as R) to be suggested by the CIS, and an open-ended response for other nominations.

FARS Alternatives: Stef attended several meetings with the Dean of Academic Affairs (DAA) over the summer regarding the selection of a new FARS (AU’s faculty activity reporting system) platform. There may be a piloting phase in 2020. Does the CIS want to be involved, be it by looking at demos or testing? Data migration from the old to the new FARS would be an important consideration, as are costs. Platforms being considered are Interfolio and Symplectic Elements. (Symplectic is now part of Digital Science, which is part of Holtzbrinck.) The CIS might set forth the functional requirements for any platform to replace the current FARS. Simultaneously changing the LMS and FARS platforms would create a burden on faculty. Simplicity and flexibility in the new FARS would be important. Should CIS take a recommendation to the Faculty Senate? What does the vendor of any FARS system do with the collected data is an important question. Interfolio does not pull in publication metadata, while Elements can. What information the new FARS makes public would have to be configurable, since the FARS database also contains information not for public consumption. The CIS Chair will give the DAA feedback on this CIS discussion and offer manageable involvement. It was noted that LMS reviewers who completed a semester-long pilot were compensated.

Grading: The in-progress/incomplete grading process was changed last year. Faculty can input final grades from an Incomplete easily, but are required to submit a Grade Change Form to update an In Progress grade. The website does not note this process, when faculty issue a temporary IP grade. This particularly affects faculty supervising multiple, multi-year theses/dissertation writers and internships. The CIS voted to request the Registrar to provide guidance and information to faculty on the change.. 

Upgraded Classrooms: The “Upgraded technology in classrooms” agenda item will be moved to the October meeting. Classrooms of the School of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences are not managed by the library. Clarity is needed what classroom require what equipment. There is a problem with classrooms being reconfigured, to the surprise of the next faculty teaching there. A list of which classrooms are CAS-controlled would be useful; Stef will forward a list from Mike Piller.

Final Items: The library is currently setting up a “One Button Studio” on the lower level, to open within a month.

CIS members should send agenda items for future meetings to the Chair or the LISTSERV. The next two meetings are expected to be in the library. Please note the location on the agenda close to the meeting, since it may change, as was the case for this meeting.

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

Minutes, March 6, 2019 (Approved)

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, March 6, 2019 from 9:30-11a in Bender Library 143. The attendees were:

  1. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  2. Jen Gumbrewicz (SPA by phone)
  3. Katie Holton (CAS)
  4. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  5. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  6. Robert Lyons (GRAD)
  7. Joseph Mortati (KSB)
  8. Rick Semitian (SPEXs)
  9. David Spratt (WCL by phone)
  10. Scott Talan (SOC)
  11. Stef Woods (CAS)

The following items of business were discussed.

This meeting replaces the February 20th meeting that was canceled because of the snow day. Chair Alan called the meeting to order. The January 2019 minutes were reviewed and approved.

Alan will confirm that ex-officio members do not have voting rights on the committee, in accordance with what’s listed on the Faculty Senate website, as well as whether a quorum is 50% of voting members.

Further discussion ensued about LMS evaluation and change. The change will likely occur simultaneously, allowing faculty to keep using Blackboard or running the new system.

We discussed whether faculty will feel as though the LMS change is being imposed on them, even if they’re happy with the decision. What steps are being taken to ensure community buy in, and what is the role for CIS?

  1. Take it to our departments/units
  2. Send out a note to faculty through Faculty Senate
  3. Get as many faculty involved in the conversation and Phase 2 evaluation

Alan will reach out to Scott Vanek and determine whether CIS should send faculty an email to mention change and remind them of the LMS evaluation option.

Kiho reported about active learning spaces on campus. How can AU have more active learning spaces (moveable furniture, natural light, writing spaces, monitors, some technology, etc.) and train faculty on how to use it? This is being explored in the early stages by Katie Kassof.

The committee discussed software related to our work as scholars and teachers. Qualtrics went up about $10K with add-on costs for analysis. Now, you can get it a la carte. Should we move to enterprise level so it’s not just for research? The Provost and Housing & Dining also use it. Can we change this so people aren’t paying for individual things like survey monkey? Details will roll out over the next few weeks.

MATLAB used by under 20 at AU. AU pays $21,000 for unlimited services (up from $14,000). We might move to a smaller seat license. That would allow us to save a little bit of money and use it on other software. AU is gathering data right now and talking to users to evaluate demand. Nancy offered to have someone from Library help if faculty needs assistance. Alan mentioned the good, free options like Python and LaTeX. One question was raised as to whether faculty will accept work from free software.

Katie commented that this puts a lot of burden on faculty, and Jen asked if we could be promoting students to continue using software problematically. There are differences between promoting and informing, especially since some people are still paying for software. The Library has this on its radar and will continue to evaluate legal and licensing issues for open-sourced and not.

Alan recommended that the library bring free and open-sourced software to the attention of students on September 21st, software freedom day. It wouldn’t take a lot to promote this via sites and URLs and could raise student awareness for options on campus and after graduation.

Rick asked about whether greater Adobe Acrobat Pro access would help us as a research institution. Kiho will talk to Kamalika Sandell at the Enterprise Meeting. At present, it’s not available to the entire community because of cost. This will be evaluated based on cost, accessibility, what can be done via the free version, and how many features are needed by how many people.

Robert reported that the 4,500 graduate students have a newsletter, the Graduate Gazette, with an open rate of 50-60%. The GLC also received funding to have a website for all grad students. The newsletter and website can be used for surveying students or promoting services and events. The current GLC’s term ends on May 1st.  Alan will check will Scott about possible grad student input for LMS.

Nancy reported that there will be the third-annual conference on high-impact research on May 13th. The conference will feature morning sessions, a luncheon plenary with the Provost, and skills sessions in the afternoon (Zotero, GIS, etc.).  New conference features include sharing books coming out or giving a book talk. There will be lightening talks for people who want to find PIs for co-proposals. AU has invited all special collections librarians at area universities and DC Public Libraries to attend and share what materials they have in their collections (spurred by Dan Kerr) and what we can use (CCNV collection at GW). To show that we’re a stronger research university, we want to call together all those who research in or on DC to share their experiences and provide opportunities for collaboration. More information will be available in the faculty newsletter. Grad students are welcome to attend.

Alan proposed giving faculty who use open-source/or do things innovatively modest funding ($1500). Shouldn’t we recognize value of those who use free software? If it’s a good idea, then the Provost and CTRL can figure out funding. Kiho noted that in principle it’s a great idea, but we still pay for software that isn’t open-sourced and annual licenses. Other incentives were proposed, and Rick suggested tabling this for the next meeting.

Stef noted that SETs are still available to faculty online, but no longer available to students. She is concerned that will steer students toward anonymous sites like Rate My Professor. Is this related to the Fac Senate’s discussion of SETs? Is this just a glitch, or was a decision made? Stef will check with the Registrar.

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held from 9:30-11a on Wednesday, April 3rd.

Minutes, January 24, 2019 (Approved)

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Thursday, January 24, 2019 from 1:30-3:00 PM in MGC 328. The attendees were:

  1. Robert Adcock (SIS)
  2. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  3. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  4. Christine Dulaney (LIB)
  5. Terry Fernandez (OIT)
  6. Jen Gumbrewicz (SPA by phone)
  7. Katie Holton (CAS)
  8. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  9. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  10. Joseph Mortati (KSB by phone)
  11. David Spratt (WCL by phone)
  12. Scott Talan
  13. Stef Woods (CAS)
  14. Guest: Scott Vanek
  15. Guest: Teresa Valais

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Alan called the meeting to order. The November 2018 minutes were reviewed and approved.

Scott Vanek, Assistant Director of E-Learning & Instructional Design Services, spoke on the LMS pilot. Phase one is underway. In this phase, eight faculty teaching 100 students across the university (CAS, SIS, SOE, SOC and KOG) are piloting Canvas or Brightspace Desire2Learn (D2L). The general feedback from the pilot thus far is that students don’t care whether Canvas or Brightspace is selected. They care more about how faculty implement it.

The second phase is open to all faculty likely in early February. When faculty receive that email, they can login to the LMS, dig around the site in a mock class, and send ATSC a survey about their experience.

Over the summer, ATSC will prepare a report and make a recommendation to Provost. There is no official timeline beyond the summer due date for the report. It’s not official that we’re moving away from Blackboard. The School of Education has indicated that it will move to Canvas, regardless of the university’s decision.

The president’s strategic plan indicates that there will be a new digital department. LMS evaluation is on that department’s agenda.

Scott and his colleagues have evaluated LMS options over the last year. Universities are almost evenly split between Canvas and D2L. AU has talked with Vanderbilt and Cornell about their experiences with the new LMS, inquiring about why they switched, the timeline for the transition, and their experiences with the new LMS. Georgetown ran Blackboard and Canvas for a number of years to see which LMS faculty gravitated toward before switching.

Surveys about Canvas and D2L are pretty even for faculty. Brightspace is Canadian, and clients and customers have loved working with the staff. Students seem to like Brightspace more, and faculty liked Canvas slightly more. Brightspace is more hands on during the process, while Canvas is more hands off. Canvas is better for faculty via phone support. AU can pay Canvas to convert rubrics for faculty. It’s easier to migrate into Brightspace.

Blackboard hasn’t been redesigned since mid 1990s. It has the most tools and functionality, but it’s cumbersome. From Scott’s perspective, the D2L student interface is better, and Canvas is better for faculty interface. Canvas is modern looking with technology that seems more like Facebook. Brightspace is just an improved version of Blackboard and was developed as a Blackboard competitor before Canvas was on the radar.

Everyone loves Canvas and how the administrative side is clean and modern. But, the faculty side is very different and not flexible enough, and there’s the potential for lots of complaints. Canvas isn’t hard, but you have modules and can’t change what’s on your homepage. That could make it potentially difficult for faculty to change their courses, but Scott is looking into templates to design the homepage. Brightspace forces a look similar to Blackboard.

Before any transition, AU will need to look at how many faculty members are active on the site. Then, once we choose LMS, we’ll need an accounting for complicated courses, medium and no-use courses. 60-65% of faculty use Blackboard during the semester. But, what they’re doing with it needs to be analyzed.

Having some transition time from Blackboard to the new LMS would allow for training and the staffing of extra people to lead the training. Another option that some universities have done is to rip the band aid off.

For the transition, there will need to be one-on-one training that enables faculty to work through the LMS with a staff member. At UMD, it was simple to do from Blackboard to Canvas with graduate students. Vanderbilt hired 10 part-time employees to help with migration.

Canvas is open sourced. Users can download and access Canvas without going through system. Brightspace requires a license with software. There’s no journal tool in either LMS so faculty will need some solutions to use Canvas or Brightspace like they’ve used Blackboard. For conferencing, Blackboard has Collaborate. Both Canvas and Brightspace have open-source software for free basic versions. Can bundle things like Zoom and Kaltura and jettison components.

Alan asked why we wouldn’t choose open sourced and about the risks of a closed model. Scott noted that if we install Canvas, we pay for support. AU isn’t going to tinker and lose support from team and host on our own servers. Canvas support is Instructure out of Utah.

When faculty receive the LMS survey email, they will be asked to look at well-designed courses on both Canvas and Brightspace and add a few things to both. ATSC wants to know how easy the LMS is to figure out. Faculty will have perspectives as faculty and student.

The Committee agreed to look at the model courses on both Canvas and Brightspace, discuss our findings in our April meeting, and provide recommendations to ATSC.

Terry Fernandez shared that OIT is working on its next roadmap/strategic plan. There are four main objectives, and OIT would like feedback from CIS after that’s finalized.

Given the number of password reset requests that the Help Desk received last year, there has been a full-time position for password resets. On August 20, 2018, everyone was switched to a new self-service password reset tool, using four questions. Since then, there has been a 300% increase in password reset requests from people that aren’t setting questions or have set it but forgot them. The Help Desk is fielding 60 requests a day.

OIT is in crisis mode because of this and is evaluating what’s acceptable from a user experience and security. There’s a prototype with info that’s on your colleague record (AU ID, cellphone, and DOB). If it’s matched, you’ll get a text and have a pin to reset password. We discussed possible security concerns with SMS and user design flaws, while noting how banks and other entities are using SMS. OIT is evaluating whether people will provide this basic info, even if cell phones are only used for password resets.

Teresa Valais, Instructional Designer for SOC, spoke about how we ensure that our content is accessible. She started to forage on campus for guidelines, until she found the December 2017 web content policy. 2.0 guidelines and communication with Rachel Weatherly provided further context, and then she collaborated with folks on campus who are partnering with online partner programs and instructional designers. Who other than instructional designers should be trained? How do you remedy this? CTRL works with faculty. What do we do in working with partners? What do we do if we build internally?

We need to build internal capacity who are working in instructional design/tech and working with faculty. There’s a lot of room for improvement if we adopt the AA standard for Web 2.0. She’s looked at adopting that aligns with public-facing websites. There’s quite a lot of room with growth hopefully with the president’s learning theme. Teresa has worked with UMD and visited the GMU Digital Learning Office. GMU is like an Apple store in terms of how instructional designers work with faculty in a way that’s empowering.

Kiho reported that CTRL will be hiring an accessibility specialist soon.

Scott commented that the web side of accessibility takes a long time because his office needs to correct every element.

Alan discussed how the background presumption is that cost-benefit isn’t really under consideration. The object is to satisfy these aspirations regardless of the cost or whether there are actual accessibility issues.

Teresa and Scott discussed the challenges for institutions. Fines are imposed on schools that aren’t compliant — $55,000 for the 1st violation and $110,000 for each subsequent violation. EEOC and DOE are enforcing ADA requirements.

The AU website was already done, but whatever a faculty uploads (power point, etc.) needs to be formatted. There are so many steps that the faculty don’t know about so we need to give faculty the tools they need to grow in the online space.

There’s no university guidelines, but technically, faculty are supposed to accommodate every course regardless.

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held from 9:30-11a on Wednesday, February 20th.

Minutes, November 14, 2018 (Approved)

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, November 14, 2018 from 9:00-10:30 AM in Library Room 143. The attendees were:

  1. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  2. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  3. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  4. Katie Holton (CAS)
  5. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  6. Joseph Mortati (KSB) (by phone)
  7. Rick Semiatin (SPEX)
  8. David Spratt (WCL)
  9. Scott Talan (SOC)
  10. Stef Woods (CAS)

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Alan called the meeting to order. The October 2018 minutes were reviewed and approved with two small modifications.

Robert attended the November 9th ATSC meeting about LMS and provided Stef with notes. Blackboard Ultra was evaluated and found unsatisfactory. Two potential replacements for Blackboard (Canvas and Brightspace Desire2Learn) are being piloted by a small subset of faculty. Scott Vanek gave an update at the ATSC meeting on the piloting process. Initial ATSC impressions of the two options largely favor Canvas. There was also a briefer discussion of how to manage a transition to a new LMS. (For example, would all faculty have to switch at once, or would two different LMS be an option during a transition period?)

The Committee agreed that we should invite Scott to an early 2019 meeting to discuss why Blackboard Ultra was deemed unsatisfactory and provide updates on the Canvas and Desire2Learn pilots and timeline.

Several instructors noted that they’ve used Canvas before and found it easier/more functional than Blackboard. Other instructors commented that even if Blackboard isn’t perfect, they’ve gotten used to the LMS. Kiho indicated that there were fall info sessions for faculty and staff to see how Canvas and Desire2Learn operate. He also shared that the Blackboard contract runs out at the end of the academic year.

Kiho further provided context for possible switches to a new LMS. The absolute list of functionalities between LMS is almost the same, but how you access the functionalities is different. Canvas is open-sourced, quick and flexible, and it ties into the registration system.  The front end is easier on Canvas, and expected to be easier on faculty to learn and easier for faculty and students to navigate. The back end is easier on Desire2Learn, but the differences are minimal.

We will maintain a legacy version of Blackboard. Kiho explained that everything will be transferred to Blackboard in a way that is almost seamless and done from the back end. When faculty log on to the new LMS, everything from their courses will be there.

Shifting to the next agenda item, Alan provided some background for the importance of posting working papers online. Core question: You look at what normal professional practice is and you ask are they being able to participate in normal ways. If not, how can this be improved upon? We need to express solidarity with faculty who require these functions just like we would hope that they would express solidarity with us.

Mary Clark, Terry Flannery and Rachel Weatherly joined us to discuss the issue of posting working papers online. How can there be equal and accessible opportunities, while also fostering the scholarly work of faculty? Terry shared the laws that have influenced web accessibility and discussed the web accessibility committee, WCAG 2.0. She further discussed that there are different interpretations as to what’s an equal experience and that complaints can be filed against schools through the Department of Education in 30 minutes.

AU is undergoing an audit focusing on captioning and accessibility of PDFs (image IDs – alt tags, colors, etc.). The working group is focusing on data visualization, LATeX, and captioning for theater or dance. WCAG 2.0 has made headway with faculty and works with colleagues at other institutions to find an equal experience for people who have physical or cognitive limitations. In most instances, captioning can be taken care of with new sets of tools. 80% of these captions are accurate, and then the rest is addressed by hand. The goal is not just access, but an equal experience.

The working group is still trying to make headway with equations. GMU’s ASAC works with faculty and students to make scholarly work accessible. With two weeks’ notice, GMU has helped to make 98% of work accessible. But, how can we get work all the way there? How can we meet the principle of equal opportunity, meet what the law requires, and allow faculty to conduct their scholarly and artistic work? GMU works with faculty on scholarly documents to make anything accessible with two weeks’ notice. For most documents, it takes minutes or hours, but some few documents take days.

At AU, in a circumstance with a PDF with equations that we can’t translate with the available tools – faculty will have to work to describe what the equation is saying (data visualization). If that doesn’t work and there’s a piece that we can’t translate, we need to include a reference to the scholar and a contact point. This contact points allows for further discussion between fellow scholars. This applies to all sites that are created with an AU email or on an AU webpage.

The working group will work with CTRL to determine what a similar pilot like what GMU did could work. Conversations will need to happen, using economics documents to help develop a solution that mines both values – reputation and accessibility.

Further specifics discussed include:

  • Captioning tools will go to all faculty before the end of the semester
  • Adobe license to make PDFs accessible – available to all faculty who need it
  • Some need for templates. Steve Casey will work with colleagues at GMU, specifically for Math. Site visit to Mason in the future.
  • Microsoft Office – PP, Word, etc, available in accessible templates
  • Rachel working with Steve for tech templates. That much closer to accessibility
  • Working on an accessible abstract
  • Notifying faculty about tools and templates: Mary asked who should notify faculty about the tools and templates. Stef recommended that the email comes from Mary. Alan indicated that there’s a webpage with descriptions of available tools and expectations.
  • Training: Kiho indicated that CTRL is handling this. Anyone who is interested at this point can sign up for available trainings (Adobe, for example).
  • Kaltura – way to host video content. Enterprise licensing and they provide AI captioning thru hosting fee. Less expensive.
  • Anticipatory vs. responsive. A little anticipatory (someone will be in your class and how can you make the class and material accessible). We hope to get to the point where we’ll be making things accessible from the get go. Translation is an intermediary step.
  • Stefano inquired about the types of documents that fall under this category and how it’s made accessible. An example was provided in the power point.
  • How can instructors begin to do this? There are 45,000 pages for web content for AU. There will be an analysis of what’s ROT (Relevant Obsolete Timely). Other items will be archived.
  • It was recommended that Econ and Math/Stat should work with Thomas Meal in CAS, and there will be a meeting within the next week or two.

Alan concluded the meeting, saying that this meeting exceeded his expectations!

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held in 2019 at a date and time to be determined.

Minutes, October 17, 2018 (Approved)

CIS Meeting Minutes – October 17, 2018

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, October 17, 2018 from 9:00-10:30 AM in Library Room 143. The attendees were:

  1. Robert Adcock (SIS)
  2. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  3. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  4. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  5. Katie Holton (CAS)
  6. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  7. Joseph Mortati (KSB) (by phone)
  8. Rick Semiatin (SPEX)
  9. Scott Talan (SOC)
  10. Stef Woods (CAS)

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Alan Isaac called the meeting to order. The September 2018 minutes were reviewed and approved unanimously.

Steve Kelly from Office of Information Technology attended the meeting to discuss the new virtual application platform (AU Apps). VCL will be retired as soon as AU Apps is fully tested. URL: The client is already available to the general community and uses Duo multi-factor authentication. Duo will also be available for students to access the VPN. The web development team will transpose the AU portal to the ADFS, the same system used by Blackboard. An AU mobile app will also be released.

With respect to the OIT ticketing system, Steve clarified that Blackboard just moved to the OIT ticketing system, which should solve any issues with customer interactions. Tickets with OIT and Blackboard issues can be found at

Photos on Blackboard are only uploaded/updated twice a year. This leaves many rosters without photos. It would be good to change this policy. CIS will write a note to Lee Ruble to raise the issue.

Stef Woods gave her availability to be Vice Chair. CIS elected her unanimously.

Robert Adcock gave his availability to be the contact point for ATSC.

Stef gave an update on the online learning platforms. There is a dispute as to what falls within AU responsibility or within the partners’ responsibility with respect to rendering the courses accessible. Scott mentioned that this is a case of legalization, not customization. There is still an open question regarding videos that are shown in class. All videos that are shown in class should be captioned. It is unclear whether recommended (but not required) videos posted on Blackboard and not shown in class should also be captioned. The youtube automatic captioning system might be adequate, but instructors should check it for accuracy.

Faculty in mathematics, economics and statistics need to be able to post working papers online. Faculty members could post their material on personal websites. However, this is not standard practice. Most economics departments have official departmental websites for posting working papers. The econ department is prohibited from posting its working papers on a website, even though the site does not have an url.

The meeting with Mary Clark and Rachel Weatherly had to be rescheduled due to a scheduling misunderstanding. The committee proposed to postpone the meeting to November.

However, Mary Clark was able to step in for a few minutes. She mentioned that at GMU, they have found a solution to render working papers accessible (including complex figures and tables) by a dedicated office. Alan will reach out to GMU and stated that accessibility goals should not be allowed to impose an excessive burden on the ability of faculty to practice their ordinary professional activities.

Kiho Kim and Bill Harder gave an update on the reorganization of CTRL. Staff roles have been changed to reflect the shift to bringing your own device. There has been no change in the software available to students. The only changes are open source software. For instance, students should be able to download R software on their machines,  although there are certainly some challenges with the configuration. Moreover, some students only have tablets or chrome books, and the app runs on a Windows operating system. Shared computers are still available in Anderson. The application runs on a remote server, but you can save on local drives.

Kiho and Bill stated that although CTRL is primarily a faculty-facing unit, it also supports graduate and undergraduate students when they work with faculty. Regarding STATA, the cost to have licenses for individual installations is about $30,000. This is separate from the virtual STATA application. Individual licenses are $250 (and they are perpetual). The main problem is whether the departments that use the software or CTRL should bear the costs.

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, from 9:00-10:30 AM in Library Room 143.

Minutes, September 19, 2018 (Approved)

CIS Meeting Minutes (20180919)

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Wednesday, September 20, 2017 from 9:00-10:30 AM in Library Room 143. This was the first meeting for the Fall 2018 Semester. The attendees were:

  1. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  2. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  3. Michael Fernandez (LIB)
  4. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  5. Katie Holton (CAS)
  6. Kiho Kim (CTRL)
  7. Joseph Mortati (KSB)
  8. David Spratt (WCL)
  9. Stef Woods (CAS)
  10. Sonja Walti (SPA, standing in for Jennifer Gumbrewicz)

The following items of business were discussed.

Chair Alan Isaac called the meeting to order. The April 2018 minutes were reviewed and approved.

The decision process to select the chair was reviewed and Stefano explained the Senate Faculty process changed to replace CIS’s longstanding three-person co-chair model with a Chair and Vice Chair model, with the Vice Chair assuming the Chair role in the following year.

Since the meeting scheduled for Wednesday, November 21st (Day before Thanksgiving) will not work for most of the Committee members, the November meeting will be held Wednesday, November 14th, from 9:00-10:30 AM (room is TBD).

Nancy Davenport (LIB) briefed the following items:

  • First floor renovation completed this summer.
  • Library moved to a new library services platform, which has been relatively smooth but there have been a few issues.
  • Ensure hardcopy textbooks have a copy on file with the library.
  • Library is about to start the budget cycle.

Michael Fernandez (LIB) explained he is leaving AU to work at Yale and this would be his final CIS Meeting. We thank Michael for his service and wish him the best in his new endeavors.

Stef Woods (CAS) briefed the following items:

  • Online Leadership Learning Council has been extended.
  • What happened to the pilot implementation of Blackboard Ultra? Xref Scott Vanek’s meeting in October 2017.
  • Nancy to follow-up with Scott and report back prior to our next meeting.

Kiho Kim (CTRL) briefed the following items:

  • All statistics applications except Stata have a university license. For this app, there are per-seat (individual) licenses, which have been issued on an as-needed basis. This sparked a discussion as to which organization – CTRL or individual schools – should be responsible for individual licenses, an issue larger than this Committee. He further explained he can take inputs to the Budget Committee and we agreed this issue needs further discussion at the October CIS meeting.

Alan Isaac (CAS) raised the following issue:

  • Accessibility (508) Compliance (for details, see: The goal is all public-facing documents should be compliant, but this becomes an unbearable burden for certain departments that extensively use equations, tables, and images (e.g., Statistics, Math, Economics). Likewise, instructor and student working papers, some of which are public-facing, are required to be compliant (AU treats this as an accessibly issue). For example, Economics Department uses a non-AU website, LaTeX (a document preparation system; see for details), but some files are blocked from being uploaded due to non-compliance. However, there is no current technology that can quickly and easily convert such content, so expensive manual intervention is required. Alan will provide CIS a summary to of the problems of generating accessible PDFs with LaTeX.
  • The Digital Communication Strategy Team appears to be moving forward without faculty input, which is concerning. How will faculty get timely updates to their working papers (which are works-in-process and may change frequently)? It appears this is an undue burden.
  • Alan proposed CIS send an email to Digital Communication Strategy and a robust discussion followed with Katie Holten and Stef Woods raising the concern that a meeting with Rachel Weatherly (Director, Digital Communication Strategy) should precede an email to ensure the severity and timeliness of the issue is understood. That said, Alan was charged with sending an email to Rachel expressing the desire of CIS to meet with her very soon so that CIS can understand her working group’s activities.

A corollary item arose regarding Graduate Leadership Council and AU Student Government representation at CIS. For the AY 2018-2019, both these positions are unfilled.

With the expiration of time and there being no other items to discuss, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be Wednesday, October 17, 2018 from 9:00-10:30 AM.

Minutes, April 18, 2018 (Approved)

The Committee on Computer Services met on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Room 150, University Library.

Those attending:

  1. Assen Assenov (CTRL)
  2. Stefano Costanzi (CAS)
  3. Nancy Davenport (LIB)
  4. Michael Fernandez (LIB)
  5. Katie Holton (CAS)
  6. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  7. Billie Jo Kaufman (WCL – by phone)
  8. Sarah Menke-Fish (SOC)
  9. Joseph Mortati (KSB)
  10. Rick Semiatin (SPEX)
  11. Sonja Walti (SPA) and
  12. Stef Woods (CAS).

Minutes of the March meeting were approved unanimously.

Assen addressed Katie’s concerns regarding the difficulties with statistical software on VCL. There is research support for classes and projects utilizing VCL, and there has been considerable growth in how many students and faculty utilize virtual desktops (1,385 uniques, 200 per day, and 500 per week). There are challenges for the casual or inexperienced user, and efforts are being made to increase access and reliability. CTRL, OIT and the Library IT team are committed to ensuring optimal user experience. Client-based access is the best user experience.

Joseph concurred with the recommendation to access VCL through VMware Horizon Client, rather than through the browser. Client may take a bit longer to get onto initially, but it allows students to save work to their desktops. The browser version does not save work. Assen advised that faculty and students go to for questions and troubleshooting. He also noted that graduate students who attend orientation that addresses VCL have reported higher rates of satisfaction with VCL.

The committee noted that faculty need to know what will and won’t be available. For instance, students are unable to download SPSS. Assen noted that En Vivo can be utilized by students. For support, the Library handles matters that are inside the box, and OIT/Library are responsible for design and the server.

Further discussion ensued regarding continued technology needs in classrooms. Nancy reported on the modernization of the classrooms on East Campus. The Library is responsible for the maintenance of eight classrooms on East Campus, and the Registrar handles scheduled. Two classrooms (117 and 219) are under local control through the Game Lab and Kogod, respectively. All classrooms in Anderson have been upgraded, including the lounge. McDowell Hall will be upgraded over the summer with funds through the Registrar. Hughes and Clark Halls have yet to be scheduled for upgrades, as funding has yet to be secured. The Library recommends that upgrades conform with the standards used on East Campus. The committee questioned who will handle problems with the non-centrally scheduled classroom space. We will follow up with this issue in the fall.

Assen informed the committee that CTRL is being reorganized. The committee expressed concern as to what the reorganization will consist of and why CIS was not consulted prior to the reorganization. We will invite someone from CTRL to our first meeting of Fall 2018 to report to the committee about CTRL changes.

The survey responses that Alan collected and the committee reviewed indicated the need for more of what CTRL has been doing. The committee hopes that the reorganization will not impact training and support. We also discussed how special purpose software like Adobe Acrobat is only available via individual request. There was further concern that the lack of a university-wide solution leads to time wasted for faculty, staff and students.

Alan expressed concern that accessibility standards are limiting the ability of faculty to publish their scholarly work on the Internet. Faculty are opting out of posting working papers online, which is a detriment to their scholarship, students’ access to research, and the field as a whole. Stefano reached out to Rachel Weatherly about joining us for the April 18th meeting. Rachel asked to organize a team to join us for a May meeting. The committee agreed to have an informal information session in May to talk with Rachel about our concerns.

We briefly discussed that Michael raised regarding the shift to multi-factor authentication. Stefano commented that it’s easy to install and use statistics and reports. The committee questioned whether access abroad has been impacted by the shift.

For 2018-19, we will implement our plan to have one committee chair with a term ending in 2019 and a vice-chair with a term ending in 2020. The vice-chair will then become chair in 2019-20. We will vote on chair and vice-chair at our September 2018 meeting.

There being no additional business for the good of the order, the meeting was adjourned.

Stefano will email the committee regarding the informal meeting with Rachel Weatherly in May. The next official CIS meeting will be held in September 2018.

Minutes, October 20, 2017 (Approved)

A meeting of the Committee on Information Systems (CIS) was held Friday, October 20, 2017 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM in SIS260.

The attendees were:

  1. Robert Adcock (SIS)
  2. Stefano Constanzi (CAS)
  3. Michael Fernandez (LIB)
  4. Terry Fernandez (OIT)
  5. Katie Holton ( (CAS)
  6. Billie Jo Kaufman (WCL)
  7. Joseph Mortati (KSB)
  8. Rick Semiatin (SPEX)
  9. Sonja Walti (SPA) (by phone)
  10. Stef Woods (CAS)
  11. Alan Isaac (CAS)
  12. David Rose (CTRL)

These items of business were discussed:

Chair Stef Woods opened the meeting with approval of the minutes.  The minutes from the September 20, 2017 were approved (

Committee members introduced themselves.

Scott Vanek, Assistant Director, e-Learning & Instructional Design Services, University Library, reported on the new features for BLACKBOARD.  He provided an update on training (one on one; handouts, and short videos). The future enhancements will eliminate downtime for back-ups and offer a choice to faculty for the “ultra” version.  Many updates will be seamless to faculty.  The e-Learning team will allow for “pilots” in summer, 2018.  They will also present at the Ann Ferren Conference in January.

Alan Issac spoke briefly about the survey for AU faculty on classroom hardware/software needs.  Alan intends to prepare a final draft of the survey instrument and arrange to distribute the survey via OIT.

Stef presented a request from the Senate to “rebalance” the terms of the CIS Committee to comply with Senate By-Laws and create staggered terms for chairs so there will greater stability.  A motion was made to make the adjustments and provide an updated list of members, expiration dates of terms, and chair transitions.  It was approved unanimously.

The next meeting will be held Wednesday, November 15, 2017 from 11AM – Noon in BL1B143, Library Administration Conference Room.  A representative from the Registrar’s office will present on classroom scheduling and modernization plans.