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Notes from November 16, 2006 ITPAC Meeting:

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    notes by Steve Lasley

    Streaming Audio from the meeting. (Note: meeting doesn't really start until about the 5:15 point.)

    The meeting was run by ITPAC chairman, Pete Vergot, District Extension Director of the NW District, via Polycom. Jan J. van der Aa, CIO for the UF Health Science Center (HSC), was a guest at the invitation of Dan Cromer, IFAS Acting Director of IT. Jim Syvertsen and Russ Rouseff joined us from the Citrus REC via conference phone.

    ICC Updates

    Steve Lasley had no formal recommendations from the ICC to present. He did, however, mention that the ICC had held a successful "OU Admin Peer Training" (ufad\admn credentials required) session on November 7th in McCarty G001 that was well attended and which had participants, additionally, from four RECs across the state (Ft. Lauderdale, Mid-Florida, Indian River, and North Florida).

    Steve took the opportunity to inquire as to the status of an IFAS or UF-level video committee, as discussed at the last ITPAC. Pete Vergot said that he was not aware that anything had been done on this and asked Dan Cromer if he had any information. Dan responded that he believes we need to work toward resurrecting the video committee. He stated that he is working with Dr. Joyce, but Joe has been very busy and Dan hasn't been able to speak with him about this lately. Pete mentioned that there are three video conferences scheduled for Quincy today which overlap in time and they have consequent bandwidth issues. Also Pete doesn't believe that conference scheduling with the Radvision is where it needs to be yet. Dan mentioned that Justin Stone has returned to the Help Desk and that they were investigating placing Dean Delker with the video support group.

    Web-based Informal Training

    PIO Courses

    Marion Douglas, IT Expert with IFAS Communication Services described various web-based course offerings for informal education. Marion said that the involvement of ICS was not currently in course creation, but rather in developing back-end systems for course evaluation. The Pesticide Information Office under Fred Fishel has about a dozen courses currently with 5 more nearly ready for release, which they have created using a software product called Articulate Presenter. This allows for simple course creation using Microsoft PowerPoint, followed by publication to a web-based Flash format using Articulate Presenter. These courses include the complete presentation, including images, and provide for questions at the end as well as dispersed throughout the course. The courses may be purchased through the IFAS Bookstore. These courses provide Continuing Education Units (C.E.U.s) for Certified Pesticide Applicators to recertify or extend their certifications to other areas. At the very end of each course there is an evaluation form, which Marion has created, that asks the student various questions about whether they liked the course and the on-line experience.

    These courses were developed in response to the need for timely certification renewals, with the idea of making it easy and convenient for applicators to renew. Previously they had to visit their county extension offices in person. The PIO is fortunate to have Nathan Whidden on board with the expertise to develop these programs in coordination with the local subject matter experts; this combination gives that office the right ingredients to be able to develop such materials in-house. They have found Articulate Presenter very easy to use and credit its use with making their task so doable. These courses may be viewed without purchase and ITPAC committee members are encouraged to take a look--the purchase merely provides for the formal recording of results for pesticide applicators seeking their recertification.

    Allen Wysocki, Assistant Professor with Food and Resource Economics, asked Ashley Wood, Director IFAS Information/Publications Services, if these courses were able to generate any income and whether this was one of those programs with which Dr. Arrington was trying to acquire funds to help other develop such programs? Ashley responded that this wouldn't be in the IFAS Bookstore if it didn't generate money. The PIO had the in-house expertise to get this done. The idea down-the-line is to take a portion of the income from such development and use it to provide assistance and incentive to others for development of their own materials. Ashley feels that the PIO courses are underpriced (at $20) and that increasing the cost of those might be investigated as a method for helping provide such incentive funding. Ashley believes that the convenience factor which such courses provide would more than justify course price increases.

    Pete expressed concern that our county faculty are unaware of these modules. Ashley said that these had been advertised a couple of times via the IFAS-ALL list; he suggested they we might want to re-announce those each time a new course is added. Pete thought this might be a good topic for the next Extension Admin Super meeting as well.

    David Palmer, South Central District Instructional Media Agent, asked if county people could create such courses, either for sale via the IFAS Bookstore or for free public access. Ashley responded that any item which is a product of the IFAS Extension Bookstore follows the same review process which an EDIS document follows. Such things could be originated by county faculty in conjuction with a state extension specialist here. A program leader and department chair must sign off on such materials and the Bookstore is structured to receive monies from the sale of courses and apply that to an account which you establish for that (with a 10% overhead). One may always create a course and post that on your own web site for distribution without such a formal process, however.

    GNC University

    This program is created within the Food Science and Human Nutrition department by Carmelo Nieves, Jr. using WebCT. ICS handles the registration aspects of using their three courses. Food Science and Human Nutrition currently has an arrangement with UF's Distance, Continuing and Executive Education (DCE) division for handling these courses, but they had wanted more flexibility in terms of a course routing system for students which would keep track of the courses which particular individuals had completed. That is what Marion is supplying currently. The courses are offered each semester for GNC employees. At some point, the plan is for ICS to support this via the Bookstore once the current contact with DCE is terminated. These courses are not on-demand like the PIO courses, but rather GNC registers their employees at set intervals and Food Science and Human Nutrition monitors their progress during the training session to determine exactly who has completed those requirements. This allows GNC to be able to certify to their customers that their employees meet a certain training level requirement.

    Safe Food Handlers Course

    These courses use the IFAS Extension Bookstore for the on-line registration process and for handling the funds thereby obtained. The courses themselves are not online, but are held across the state in various county offices at various times. These courses are live training sessions.

    Other Courses

    Brian Myers from Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) has approached ICS about the Distance Delivered Master's Program. This will not be through the Bookstore, but rather via Solutions for Your Life. It will be one of the certifications which will be available there for extension faculty to access. Katie Chodil is helping develop the web-based aspects of these courses. Brian will be using ICS to supply, track and log course evaluation forms for this program.

    Ed Hanlon, with SWREC, is developing a program called the Certified Crop Advisors (CCA), which is going to be a series of on-line modules which will feature the study of specified pre-existing EDIS documents followed up with the completion of an on-line exam to evaluate mastery of those materials. This will allow participants to acquire and maintain certification as CCAs.

    Green Industries is another organization which we are trying to plug-in to using the IFAS Extension Bookstore for the registration of CEUs, though there are a number of political issues there yet to resolve. The Master Gardener Program is also looking at on-line course presentations. According to Ashley, there appears to be a "tidal wave" of on-line certification applications coming our way--especially in the gardening and environmental areas.

    A discussion developed over supporting such programs, for example, regarding what software is used for their development. Ashley mentioned that there are numerous methods being used, including Articulate Presenter, Breeze, WebCT, and even the Accordent Capture Station as a high-end solution. Ashley believes it is the wrong thing to do to say we will only use one particular system, because each system has benefits for a particular instance and application. At the same time, others expressed concern for our inability to coordinate and support multiple platforms. There are certainly efficiencies involved in picking a particular platform or platforms and specializing in those. The basic infrastructure needs (network throughput and server capacity) are also a concern which must be addressed as these course proliferate. Dan Cromer stated that we need to be preparing rather than simply reacting--not just with the issue of formal and non-formal distance course offerings, but with the more general matter of hardware and software acquisition for all sorts of IFAS application development. This is a matter for IFAS administration to address; it needs to obtain faculty input and identify priorities, then locate and allocate resources to the implementation of structures and procedures for supporting these programs. Otherwise, each group will proceed independently and negate any efficiencies which might otherwise be enjoyed by all.

    Michelle Quire, Administrative Assistant, Dept of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, emphasized that such programs should have indirect costs built into them as overhead to help fund for basic infrastructure. Ashley mentioned that, while there was an IMM relating to Bookstore charges, there was nothing in that which spoke to the issue of on-line courses currently.

    Jim Selph, County Extension Director, DeSoto County, mentioned that the Beef Cattle Shortcourse could have an on-line aspect for which we could charge at least some small cost. Ashley Wood also mentioned the Virtual Field Day as being something which is given away for free currently, but which could potentially pull in some income. Michelle pointed out, however, that our status as a land-grant institution requires us to offer certain things free of charge.

    Processes for New Web Site Requests

    Marion reported that this subject was discussed at the last meeting of the technical sub-committee for "Solutions For Your Life". Dave Palmer was there for that and Dan Cromer attended via Polycom. At that meeting, Mark Ross (who is the new web server administrator for Chris Leopold's IFAS IT/SA group) raised the issue of developing a screening/review process for new web site requests. Marion agreed and proposed that some process be put in place to determine if the web site being requested was, for example, similar to an existing site or whether the domain requested would be better served being part of an existing site. The idea would be to avoid unnecessary proliferation of new sites, improve the organization of our existing sites, and offer assistance in that process--including making site owners aware of UF web policies. One possibility Marion mentioned was the creation of a "web oversight" committee whose charter would be to review new web site applications.

    There was some discussion as to how this proposal fits into the concept of a content management system, something towards which we have hoped to move. Pete Vergot was concerned that, whatever process was implemented, the ability for rapid site creation would not be impeded. Ashley Wood suggested that web sites should be handled more like EDIS, where a review and sign-off process controls the proliferation of information. Ashley recommended that those applying for new web sites should supply their reasons for the web site request, sign-off that they have read and understood the UF web policies, and supply the name of an "approver", along the lines of a center director, district director or departmental chair, who would be ultimately responsible for the content. Jim Selph cautioned that approval be attributed to a department for most "commodity" type pages, leaving Center and DED approval for sites with subject matter relating directly to an entire center or district; we need to be careful how we coordinate content so that we don't end up with multiple similar sites among Centers or Districts, for example. Jim felt that some guidelines should be developed for this approval process.

    Dan Cromer would like to have a process in place whereby web site requests were handled initially by someone other than the web server admin. Dan then asked and received support for modifying the web request form so that requestors confirm having read and understood UF web policy, that they specify the reason behind their request, and that they specify a chair or director who would have approval authority over the site.

    IT Updates

    Personnel changes

    Mark Ross, previously computer support for Plant Pathology, joined central IT on November 3rd as their new IIS web server administrator.

    We are in the process of consolidating the IFAS E-mail system with UF. Jimmy Cheek and the Deans agreed that we would join a central Exchange server and allow Dwight Jesseman to move to Tigert to begin that effort under Mark Hoit's supervision.

    The position vacated by Chris Hughes has been advertised and candidates will soon be investigated in anticipation of beginning interviews shortly.

    Another vacancy has opened up as well. Richard Lee, our SQL database administrator/software developer has left and we are working on replacing him.

    Microsoft Vista and Office 2007

    Dan mentioned that the new Microsoft Windows operating system, Vista has now been released to manufacturing along with the latest version of Office, Office 2007. Vista will begin arriving on new machines in January and Office 2007 will be available for both the Windows XP and new Vista platforms. Vista requires considerably heftier hardware than did Windows XP, so not all existing machines will be able to upgrade to that. Office 2007 has changed the format on many of its files, so we will have to install file compatibility tools on our Office 2003 installations in order for them to be able to read files created on the newer platform; that should help us handle the transition until we can get all users onto the newer version. Michelle asked that Peoplesoft's Enterprise Reporting be tested with the new Office to assure that problems do not arise--she remembers earlier issues with that when Office 2003 arrived.

    Dan also mentioned that Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 has been made available as well. This new version of Microsoft's web browser is being made available via Microsoft updates, and it is expected that many of the IFAS computer users will begin to get this on their machines shortly.

    Wallplate Network Service

    A discussion ensued about the announcement regarding Central Funding for Wall-Plate Network Services. From experience with HealthNet at the Health Science Center, Jan van der Aa could confidently say that the true cost per port is somewhere in the $150 range per port per year. Consequently these ports will not be "free" at any level and there will be issues regarding allocating those resources certainly, and in developing a business model which allows for support of such an infrastructure. Along with this, there are numerous governance issues relating to access and control and there will be numerous procedural and policy issues which will have to be considered in implementing this proposed upgrade of campus to Wallplate network service. The ITAC Network Infrastructure subcommittee will host a presentation on this subject by Mark Hoit on December 14th at 10AM.

    Information Technology Software Development Committee

    Dan Cromer had, about two weeks previously, drafted the following and submitted it to the ITPAC members for their consideration:

    Information Technology Software Development Committee
    The IFAS Information Technology Software Development 
    Committee (ITSDC) is organized as a standing subcommittee 
    of the IFAS Information Technology Policy Advisory 
    Committee (ITPAC) to support the IFAS Senior Vice 
    President and Deans in recommending software development 
    (internal or contractual) applications in support of IFAS 
    programs or administration. Requests for software 
    applications will be made to the Director, Information 
    Technology, who will assist the requestor in estimating 
    the resources and available funding sources needed for 
    the application.  This information will then be presented 
    to the ITSDC for initial review.  Upon review, the ITSDC 
    will make a recommendation to the full ITPAC for 
    discussion before making a recommendation to the SVP and 
    Deans to proceed with the application development.  
    Requested applications may be purchased or developed by 
    the Office of Information Technology Software Development 
    Section, with formal support to continue from that office.  
    In the case of software development in support of 
    sponsored programs, the Principal Investigator will 
    provide the resources necessary from the sponsored 
    program resources and should be budgeted for such 
    activity and expenditures.
    Membership in the ITSDC will be as designated as the 
    Teaching, Research, and Extension Deans appointments to 
    ITPAC,  with others as deemed appropriate by the 
    Executive Associate Vice President and Chair of ITPAC.

    The above proposal relates to discussion at the last ITPAC meeting regarding the general topic of administrative oversight for IT project prioritization, and has roots in the IT Taskforce 2005 report. Dan related that various individuals come to him with software application needs and that he feels IFAS must develop a process outside of IT to help prioritize, coordinate and locate funding for such requests. What has happened in the past, and is happening currently, is that IT tries its best to support whatever proposals are made and is consequently stretched too thin to really assist anyone as well as they would like. New applications are needed, but they must be added in a supportable and sustainable fashion; that requires administrative oversight, as IT cannot and should not be the group to decide overall developmental priorities for IFAS.

    Steve asked for a clarification of how such a committee would change things from how this matter is handled currently. Steve wanted to know if this would be viewed as a new "service" that could/would be advertised to all. Certainly, we currently are not looking to stimulate development requests due to our limited resources. Steve wondered if the goal was to provide a service which individuals and units might be attracted to use rather than attempting to develop applications on their own and potentially then looking for support after-the-fact. When Dan Cromer replied that this was indeed the intention, then Steve re-raised Dale McPherson's comments from our last meeting regarding the proper level at which to handle such matters. Dale had felt that funding requests should go directly to the Deans and Steve had some concerns that adding another layer to the process might not be the best way to address things. The goal and purpose of any process we implement should be to improve and enhance opportunities for software application development; we need to be careful that we keep that goal in mind and don't implement a screening process that might actually discourage cooperative innovation.

    Michelle mentioned that grants, which might provide the financial drive behind many software innovation attempts, often will not allow for overhead support of the nature IT might require. Departmental indirect costs might supply that, but it would require coordination with, and the support of, each unit to arrange that.

    Dan moved that ITPAC support development of a central process for software development coordination within IFAS, with the details of that process to be developed via future discussion. The motion passed unanimously.

    Legislative Budget Request (LBR) for IT

    IFAS has a LBR, approved by the Board of Regents, which requests $2,606,127 ($1,405 recurring and $1,201,127 nonrecurring) for Technology Enhanced Distance Education and Climate and Weather Decision Tools (see page 108). This request has been ranked third in priority by UF from among the requests which it has submitted for consideration. Pete wanted everyone to consider ways of getting our constituents involved in backing our requests. We cannot lobby directly, but we can promote support from our constituents who may, in turn, lobby on our behalf. Pete mentioned that such support is vital in bolstering the work of Cindy Littlejohn of the University Relations Office of Government Relations. Jim Selph said, for his county, he intends to ask the members of his Farm Bureau Directors to take a look at the streaming videos from the Quail Shortcourse; not specifically for the content, but rather as an example of how the application of technology can be used for information dissemination--whether for citrus, cattle or whatever commodity may be of interest. When that group meets in December with the state representatives and senators, Jim hopes they will voice the need for IFAS to have more help in that area. Jim wants to demonstrate what we are capable of when we have the resources. Others mentioned that the Virtual Field Day and Solutions For Your Life would be other good examples to use in building support among our constituents.

    Next Meeting

    Our next ITPAC meeting will be scheduled for sometime in February.

last edited 20 November 2006 by Steve Lasley