Task Force for the Future – Implementing the Initial Recommendations on Technology

Background

On May 28, 2020 President S. David Wu charged the The Task Force for the Future with re-imagining how the College will deliver education and provide student services in the post-Covid environment.  On June 30, the Task Force issued its preliminary report with recommendations that apply to fall 2020 and build a foundation for the long term.  President Wu has assigned responsibility for championing the implementation of the recommendations regarding technology to Vice President for Information Services and Dean of the Library, Arthur Downing with the support of the Baruch Computing and Technology Center (BCTC).  Mike Richichi, the AVP for Information Technology who leads BCTC, is serving as a member of the Task Force.  This page will be one of the methods of informing the Baruch community about the progress of the implementation efforts.  Information here will be updated frequently. Questions and comments may be submitted to  cio@baruch.cuny.edu.

Recommendations with Current Status of Implementation

Subcommittee 2 – Faculty Support
  • “Students should be hired to provide remedial technical assistance to the instructor for each class and departments can designate a teaching mentor to work with faculty members who need less assistance: One suggestion is that a student be hired to assist the instructor (e.g., to be the Zoom host and operator) for each class, drawing on work-study or other funding. A way to help instructors less in need of intense remedial support would be for each department to designate a department “teaching mentor” or “master teacher” who would work with department colleagues individually or in small groups to address issues specific to disciplinary issues or pedagogies.”

Status: BCTC has posted a position for part-time student Zoom assistants on the Starr Career Development Star Search site.  BCTC is reallocating the portion of its student staffing budget that would have supported on-site lab assistants for this purpose.  The position description may be used by departments for hiring student assistants to support the use of Zoom and other instructional software.  BCTC has appointed a coordinator for this initiative and virtual training sessions for the student assistants will be provided.  Given that there will not be a sufficient number of student assistants to cover every course that needs one, BCTC is consulting with the deans of the 3 schools to identify the high priority courses.

Update (9/10): BCTC has hired and trained a team of student Zoom assistants.  Recruitment continues. The student assistants have been assigned to faculty based on matching the students’ schedules with the meeting times of the classes they will support. Student assistants are not  assigned to support courses they are enrolled in.  Instructors receive an email message introducing them to the student assistant.

Subcommittee 3 – Technical Support
  • “Faculty without the minimum necessary hardware should be given Baruch-issued laptops as soon as possible.”

Status: The College’s equipment loan program will be expanded.  On July 16, we received another large shipment of iPads and Chromebooks courtesy of  CUNY Central. Although these items are intended primarily for students, they may be loaned to faculty to support online instruction as well.  We are also ordering laptops based on specifications that will meet faculty requirements. CUNY Central is working with vendors to obtain a quantity discount that will be 40% in the case of the model that we have chosen.   Although this has delayed the purchase slightly, it will yield more units for faculty use.  BCTC is working with the deans of the 3 schools to identify the full range of equipment needs and set priorities for the fall.  We expect to have the lists from the deans during the week of July 27.  Almost all of the new faculty who will begin in the fall have opted to receive a laptop as their primary device in lieu of a desktop computer.

Update 9/10: The College began shipping Chromebooks and iPads to the faculty who requested them on July 29.  The laptops and MacBook just arrived and are being shipped to requesters.

  • “Peripheral devices should also be provided (e.g., inexpensive tablet/pen solution (e.g., Wacom) that can replicate whiteboard classroom experience.”

Status: Purchase requisitions have been submitted for 100 Wacom Intuos tablets  and 50 Apple pencils that may be used with the iPads supplied by CUNY.   BCTC is working with the deans of the 3 schools to identify additional needs.  The information received to date indicates that the following items are needed immediately (list is growing and will be updated):

Update 9/10:

      • Headsets (50) – The school technology staff selected the Logitech H650e. Distributed to faculty who requested them.
      • Wacom Tablets (100) – Delivered to faculty who requested them.
      • Apple Pencils (50) – Delivered to faculty who requested them.
      • Webcams – Delivered to faculty who requested them.
  • “We also need to develop a policy of what we expect faculty to have vs. what support the college is willing to offer.”

Status: This is under discussion.

  • “Cloud-based and/or remotely accessed software must be a priority, so that students and faculty can use it remotely: Funds are needed for licensing and maintaining cloud-based and/or remotely accessed software.”

Status:  Both the College and the University have preferred to license software as cloud-based (SaaS) rather than on-premises since the adoption of the CUNY Cloud Policy in August 2019.  The only exceptions have occurred when the vendor’s price for remote access  has been prohibitively high.  Student remote access to Adobe Creative Cloud is the recent high-profile example.  BCTC is implementing a method for students to have remote access to the software on 250 of the computers in the Kaplan Computing Center in time for fall 2020 classes.  CUNY continues to pursue enterprise agreements for software that the campuses  report as necessary for online instruction.  BCTC is working with the deans of the 3 schools to identify software needs.  The following new licenses are in progress (Updated 9/10):

    • VoiceThread – Requisition for 450 users has been submitted and integration with Blackboard  has been arranged.  The license agreement is under review by CUNY Legal.
    • Amazon Web Services (AWS) – CUNY is in discusison with Amazon.
    • Zoom – A CUNY-wide license will eliminate the need for Baruch to continue to purchase on our own. The Baruch licenses will remain active until the CUNY license is in effect.
    • Online Proctoring – CUNY is working to license at least one product in time for use by final examinations, if not midterms.
    • Adobe Creative Cloud – CUNY continues to negotiate with Adobe to expand remote access for students.
    • Labster – Natural Sciences Department is now using Labster via the  agreement that CUNY negotiated.
    • JoVE – The College purchased the Biological Sciences package of JoVE to enable remote labs in Biology and Genetics courses.  It is no win use.
    • Minitab – The College is purchasing an unlimited license that will allow students, faculty and staff to install a copy on their personal devices,
  • “Faculty must be provided with instructional design and technology help before and during the semester:
    • “Full-time staff must be available to provide synchronous and asynchronous teaching support to faculty members.”

Status: The availability of full-time staff for this work is a serious challenge at this time.  There are only 3 full-time positions in the BCTC help desk and 1 full-time instructional designer.  The Center for Teaching and Learning has only 2 full-time staff for its entire program of services and relies heavily on its part-time, primarily grant-funded, staff.  During the PAUSE BCTC has reassigned several full-time staff from other areas of its operation to the help desk.  BCTC is also strengthening its collaboration with the full-time technology staff in the 3 schools.

    • “Staff must be available not only during the day, but after-hours and during the evening to support faculty who are teaching interactively during those times.”

Status: The BCTC help desk was staffed until 8:00 p.m. during the spring and will resume its regular hours (8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.) in the fall.  We will explore a staffing plan for the fall that enables an “emergency” response to faculty who need assistance while teaching in a virtual classroom.

    • “Additionally, faculty members should be given access to a sandbox environment where they can test-drive their online courses.”

Status: This is being explored.

    • “Course templates on Blackboard would also be helpful for faculty members so that they have a baseline environment that they can fill in or further expand.”

Status: We are investigating what is already available to accomplish this.

  • “New faculty (both full-time and adjunct) need to be given access to Baruch resources as soon as possible (even if HR onboarding isn’t entirely complete): There needs to be a minimum amount of information available to ensure both employment eligibility and the ability to manage accounts automatically.”

Status:  BCTC has just introduced an Account Management System (AMS) that has automated the creation of new faculty and staff accounts.  Users are now able to claim their Baruch system accounts the day after their record becomes active in CUNYfirst.  There is no longer any need to request access to systems or wait for approvals.

  • “Classrooms need to be equipped so that classes can take place in-person with some students attending remotely:”

Status (9/10): BCTC met with the Deans’ offices and the instructors to identify exactly what they need in the classrooms.  The College set up the classrooms in the main gym and the auxiliary gym, where BCTC installed the necessary equipment.  Media support staff are attending the classes remotely to assist with the use of the equipment.

    • “To do this, the college would need cameras/mics in the classroom to capture the class appropriately.”

Status: Completed.

    • “They would also need overhead video of any writing or handheld materials and a potential video of the class to match the online students’ usual learning experience.”

Status: Completed.

    • “Reliable wi-fi connections are also necessary to allow for dual teaching in real time.”

Status: This will not be an issue, because the classrooms are only in the Newman Vertical Campus.  BCTC tested the performance of wifi in the classrooms.

  • “The college must develop a clear communication plan on all relevant procedures:
    • The relevant procedures include how to borrow equipment if needed,
    • what software/equipment are available and how they can be accessed,
    • what are the class-related student privacy policies,
    • and what are the expectations around accessibility.
    • We recommend creating a list of resources available and of potential need, then surveying faculty to match their needs.”

Status: BCTC will work with the Provost’s Office and OCMPA on a communication plan.

  • “Students and faculty must be informed ahead of time of the technology requirements for their classes:
    • Students and faculty must be aware of the recommended minimum computing hardware,”

Status: BCTC has adopted the minimum requirements for a student laptop that were provided by faculty in the Zicklin School of Business as the basis for purchasing loaner laptops.  Those specifications will be shared and equivalent ones developed for other devices.

    • “suggestions for minimum network bandwidth for connectivity,
    • the use of existing CUNY and Baruch-based services,
    • and understanding of the most effective ways to access and use services.”

Status: These are being developed.

  • “Faculty must adjust their expectations and workflow to the needs of online teaching: Faculty need to plan ahead and start preparing their online courses well in advance. They must also be prepared and willing to make changes to their course material and exams/assessments as needed for them to be successful in an online environment. Faculty should also be aware that they may not be able to receive support from the CTL and BCTC at a moment’s notice or right before their classes start. Therefore, early planning on their part will help provide them with timely support for their courses. Faculty also need to take advantage of all existing resources, such as the extensive library of content from the CTL, in preparing their courses and exams/assessments.”

Status: How to assist faculty toward these goals is under discussion.

  • “Students must be provided with technological support as well:
    • Technological support includes dedicated Blackboard help desk support 24/7,”

Status (9/10): CUNY had licensed 24/7 Blackboard support through a third-party vendor in Spring 2020 and is continuing the service in the fall.  BCTC will raise awareness of the service among the faculty.

    • “training on Blackboard and other course platforms, and best practices support and training as well as basic skills training.”

Status (9/10): BCTC has begun to offer its fall training schedule.  This included 3 days of drop-in session on the use Zoom.

  • “Accessibility is a policy concern that must be addressed by the college. The issue of lack of accessibility has become much more severe since courses have moved online:
    • It’s important for the college to ensure that all content created for classes be accessible for students with disabilities.
    • Additionally, staff support should be provided to faculty to help them make their course material accessible.
    • Lastly, the college should make faculty aware that accessibility is a priority and course content must be made accessible prior to the start of the semester.”

Status: BCTC will discuss with Student Disability Services and incorporate accessibility in the faculty support plans and communication plan.

Introducing AMS

One of the challenges we face in BCTC is configuring and enabling access to network resources for faculty and staff.  This requires creating an account for login to Baruch resources, which involves getting users their initial passwords; configuring the account with the correct access to the systems they need; enabling access to email, the wireless network, etc., and disabling access when the person leaves the College–but not so soon that they can’t complete their work for the College and University.

Until this month we were relying on manual processes for much of this work, and multiple account creators in multiple locations to do this work.  This meant rules were being applied inconsistently and accounts might not be created the same way every time.  It also meant that if off-boarding procedures weren’t followed properly that accounts might not be disabled in a timely fashion.  This causes numerous potential security and liability issues for the College and is unacceptable.

So our first goal was to automate account creation and centralize it so that it happens in a consistent and traceable fashion.  This requires an automated feed of new people to campus that can be parsed and used to stage new accounts.  It then requires a consistent, secure methodology for users to claim those accounts that does not rely on shared credentials.  It also requires that all people who need a Baruch account are in the feed, since dealing with exceptions would create the problems we’re trying to solve all over again.

To that end and in the culmination of over a year of work not just in BCTC but in coordination with Budget and Finance, Human Resources, and support from all administrative offices who hire new employees, we have implemented the first phase of the Baruch College Account Management System (AMS).  AMS tracks Baruch Active Directory (AD) accounts, and parses daily feeds from CUNYfirst (known as the 856 file) to automatically create new accounts for any new entities at Baruch.

New people are either full-time tax levy employees entered by HR, part-time employees for whom an ePAF is submitted to Human Resources and approved, or Persons of Interest (usually volunteer or privately funded employees like employees paid by the Baruch College Fund or CUNY Research Foundation.)  We have formalized the process for POIs so that all are entered into the ePAF system and are renewed manually every year.  Likewise ePAFs for part-timers are managed and entered into CUNYfirst every year based on their employment terms.  Full time employees are also entered by HR, who process both their start and end dates when appropriate.  By requiring all entities that need a Baruch account be entered into CUNYfirst by one of these methods we are assuring that we have a comprehensive feed of everyone “working” at Baruch.  This is critical for ensuring that everyone who needs an account gets one, and that only people who are authorized for an account gets one.

The 856 is then parsed nightly by a series of programs that put the important data into an administrative database, that AMS uses to do its work.  Every day it determines the new accounts that need to be created, and stages those accounts.  A notification is then sent to the user’s personal email address (collected as part of the application process or POI registration) telling them to create their account.  The link in the message expires after a day (after which a new message is sent) and the user must use that link to enter selected personal information to verify their identity.  This process can also be triggered manually if a person is visiting the Help Desk in person.

Sample "claim your account" email message

Once the person verifies their identity at the secure link, their account is created in AD, with the password they have specified.  They will then get a message to their personal email with account information, as well as to their (new) Baruch email address with additional resources and links.

Email confirming account claming and directing users to webmail.baruch.cuny.edu and telling them their email address.

Email to the user's Baruch account with links for more information.

Having a fully automated feed of employee data also allowed us to revamp the employee directory, which now has people automatically added to the directory when their account is claimed, and allows users to edit their phone number, office room number, and other information not stored in CUNYfirst:

Picture of the edit directory screen with the fields a user can edit

AMS not only makes our account creation and claiming process much more secure, it reduces time spent manually creating accounts and distributing default credentials.

Now that Phase 1 of AMS is implemented, we are focusing on future projects which include:

1) Developing the mechanism for automatically disabling accounts based on 856 data.  To do this correctly we need to both receive account status information from CUNYfirst with effective dates; and understand overall account management policies that CUNY enacts for CUNYfirst access, since access to Baruch resources must be congruent with that.We also must incorporate all contractual obligations like multi-year adjuncts and other employment arrangements.

2)  Expansion of the Campus Directory functionality to allow groupings under official CUNYfirst departments (for instance, BCTC could have areas under it like “Infrastructure Services”), allowing for display of official and “business card” titles,  identification of employee managers (both for approval of changes and to allow for organizational chart functionality in the app) and additional personal information (cell phone number, social media accounts, etc.)

3) While our student account creation process is automated, most of the work was done a while ago and is in need of updating, and to make the account claiming process more secure.  AMS will be extended to creation of new student accounts so we benefit from the enhancements there as well.

In the longer term, CUNY is working on initiatives to streamline identity management overall, which will hopefully allow for automatic provisioning of Baruch accounts directly from CUNYfirst information, and perhaps even a single unified account that provides access both to CUNY and local Baruch resources.  We are in fact working with CUNY on the process to identify the needs and move to implementation now.  But until then AMS will do the job admirably.