COUNCIL Reports on the April 18 Agenda
Report of the Communications Committee, 2000-2001
April 12, 2001
The Committee met seven times by itself during the academic year. The Task Force on Privacy of Personal Information, a small group made up of members of the Communications and the Personnel Benefits Committees, met five times and two members of the committee met four times as committee representatives to the Network Planning Task Force. The major topics that have been addressed, our conclusions and, in some cases, recommendations are summarized in separate sections below. The first four sections cover the specific charges given to the committee by the Council Steering Committee this year while the next six report on additional issues that were brought to our attention.
Methods: During the current academic year the Chair of the Communications Committee and at times the entire committee was consulted by Mr. David Millar (University Electronic Security Officer) for advice in interpreting aspects of the policy.
Findings: The committee chair has had significant involvement with the evolving interpretation of this policy. The committee has had some involvement. It appears that this policy is being applied reasonably, fairly and conservatively.
Recommendations: The "of record" publication of this policy called for evaluation at the end of a one-year trial period. The committee suggests that this evaluation occur during October 2001 and that this evaluation becomes one of the specific charges of the communications committee for the academic year 2001-2002.
Background: The committee was asked to monitor the new Remote Access policy, the University's arrangements with outside Internet service providers and to assess the financial impact of such changes on students, faculty, and staff. The changes in remote access were instituted after an extended, multi-year, deliberative process that produced the decision to phase out the "no charge" University modem pool, a service that had provided remote access to PennNet at no direct charge to the end user. The reasons for the decision to terminate "no charge" remote access involved the increasing cost of maintaining the system, the lack of capital for needed upgrades despite increasing demand and the fact that the pool was lagging technologically with respect to speed and band width. Arrangements were made with several local Internet service providers (ISPs) for Internet and PennNet access at preferred rates. It was hoped that these arrangements would allow a greater variety of services including 56 kbps modem speeds, cable modems and DSL. In addition, the University planned to maintain, for a limited time, the existing 33.6 kbps modem pool for those willing to pay a $13 per month fee. Finally the express modem pool, a limited service option (15 minute session limits), would continue to be available at no direct charge. These changes were implemented on August 1, 2000. At the time of this report there has been six-month experience with the new remote access model.
Methods: The committee initially met with Mr. Mike Palladino (Associate Vice President for Information Systems and Computing (ISC) and Chair of the Network Planning Task Force) for discussion of these issues. There was continued communication with Mr. Palladino as well as with Ms. Robin Beck, Deputy Vice President for ISC and an ex officio member of the Communications Committee. As a result, ISC placed notices in both the Daily Pennsylvanian and Almanac in an attempt to identify groups adversely affected by the changes in Remote Access. The super users group and local service provider help groups were also contacted in an attempt to further identify adversely effected users.
Findings: The committee spent considerable time attempting to identify individuals adversely affected by the change in remote access. There were anecdotal reports of inadequate service, including the experience of three committee members, but overall the committee was unable to identify a large group of disenfranchised users. Two advertisements, placed by ISC in the Daily Pennsylvanian, failed to solicit any response. There was a similar lack of response to notices placed in Almanac. Two PENN "news" groups established to discuss remote access had few participants. The ISC help lines had few calls about remote access issues. There were few requests for Remote Access "help" to the local service providers or the super users group. The use of the new PENN "for fee" Remote Access modem pool was considerably less than predicted (250 users signed up for the "for fee" service (post-August 1) compared to 14,000 users of the "no charge" modem pool (pre-August 1)) suggesting that many potential users for the paid service had found other solutions. Together these findings suggested that either there were not a large number of disenfranchised users or that, if there were, the committee together with the ISC could not identify them.
There was a range of transition problems brought to the committee's attention (though as noted earlier the numbers appear small). These included difficulty with connection to the selected ISP, unreliable ISP service, inability to send e-mail, and inability to access services that required authentication. There were a number of complaints about some "free" ISP providers and some reported difficulty with DCANet. Of interest, three of the committee members reported difficulty with remote access using commercial ISPs. Finally, it should be noted that the University modem pool appears to be very robust and easy to configure. Individuals having difficulty with commercial ISP often reported little difficulty with the University modem pool.
Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Paul Mosher and Director of Information Systems for the Library Roy Heinz reported problems related to access of certain electronic resources from outside the PENN domain. The process of proxy authentication was reviewed, as were plans to simplify this process. There occurred a marked increase in proxy server use (about 200-400%; about 3 million page requests each month) with transition to the new system for remote access. This further supports the idea that most users found commercial sources for remote access and were accessing library services from outside the PENN domain.
In exploring the issues related to the transition in remote access, the committee found that remote access information on the Penn Web was difficult to find and not complete enough (particularly with respect to configuring SMTP and authentication PROXYs). At the Committee's suggestion ISC has already begun to make this information more accessible and to upgrade the contents of these pages to include pictures (screen shots) of the appropriate configurations within various programs. ISC also has established an e-mail address for those with remote access firstname.lastname@example.org the two NEWS groups continue to function. The remote access Web site is www.upenn.edu/computing/remote/.
Undergraduate Admissions Web Site
Background: The growing importance of the Web in the recruiting of students being recognized by the upper level administration led to the formation of a group to update and reorganize the Undergraduate Admissions Web site to bring it more in line with the growing expectations of an increasing computer and Web literate high school student body. A task force was formed and an outside Web design group hired. The key focus was on the Undergraduate Admissions Web site with a time-related challenge to avoid bureaucratic distraction. The task force began meeting during the summer and the new web site went live in September. At the time of this report the Web site had been live for about 8 months--www.upenn.edu/admissions/undergrad. Others are applying similar efforts to the Graduate Web site.
Methods: Meetings and discussions were held with some of the key participants in this web design project including ISC Director of Data Administration Jeanne Curtis and Director of Undergraduate Admissions Technology Margaret Porigow. The committee "toured" the new Web site. Some members of the committee explored the admissions Web sites of other universities to compare them to the new Penn Web site.
Findings: The committee was impressed with the new version of the Penn Web site. It loaded quickly with both a cable modem and an ethernet connection. We were told that its load time using 56 Kbps was also reasonably fast and that fast loading was one of the design parameters. The design of the Web site was dignified and appeared to emphasize the academic nature of the institution. The Web site was reasonably easy to navigate, and information about admissions criteria, finances, majors, etc. was easy to find. Audio and video clips on the web site sounded and looked good and should appeal to a generation used to "surfing" the web and to watching television. A virtual tour of the Penn Campus was implemented after the committee's discussions, however, the committee chair has taken this virtual tour and found it very satisfactory.
At present the Web site is primarily informational. It does provides an on-line application utility. It does not, for example, allow tracking of a submitted application. To date there has been minimal user feedback. Director Porigow feels that the site is too new to have generated enough users for accurate feedback. She also notes that feedback will most likely occur when the Undergraduate Admissions Office does its yearly poll of admitted students. She also noted that the old Web site had many complementary comments despite its deficiencies. The committee made a number of suggestions about the new Web site during its discussion. These were summarized and later sent to both Ms. Curtis and Ms. Porigow.
Telephone Directory: During the 1999-2000 academic year, the publication of the telephone directory was significantly delayed. In contrast, the telephone directory was published "on time" this current academic year. Leroy Nunery, Vice President for Business Services and an ex officio member of the committee noted the institution of several major changes, including the use of a publisher specializing in college/university directories and the institution of an "on-line" system for adding and changing directory information. The changes appear to have resolved the problem of timely publication and this need not be an issue requiring the committee's ongoing attention.
Online Almanac: The Editor of Almanac, Marguerite F. Miller and the Associate Editor, Margaret Ann Morris, updated the committee on both the hard copy and the on-line versions of Almanac. Almanac is a weekly publication of record and has been published weekly since 1971. The Web edition began in 1995 and is available in HTML and PDF versions. The newest addition, the "Express Almanac" was launched January 2000. It is an e-mail edition with about 500 subscribers. It contains links to the Web version of Almanac as well as evolving news.The Almanac Web site gets about 9,000 hits per day with about half of the users coming from within the PENN community. The Web version is not a duplicate of the print version but contains color as well as sound bites. The Web version of Almanac and Express Almanac are dynamic implementations of electronic technology that have significant potential for improving communication within the University community and for moving that communication into new areas such a streaming audio and/or video of important campus events.
Network Planning Task Force (NPFT)
In prior years the Communications Committee had been invited to the annual "State of the Union" meeting for this task force. This current academic year the Communications Committee was invited to send a representative to NPTF meetings. Together Committee Chair, David Smith and Committee Member, Martin Pring were able to represent the Communications Committee at most the NPTF meetings. The two Communications Committee representatives were among the few non-technical people attending these meetings and perhaps were able to provide some perspective from the user viewpoint. Both Professors Smith and Pring felt that NPTF attendance was a valuable experience and hope that the NPTF will continue to seek members from the Communications Committee.
Methods: A Task Force on Privacy of Personal Information consisting of members of the Communications Committee (David S. Smith and Gene N. Haldemen) and the Personnel Benefits Committee (Gerald J. Porter, chair, and Susan Russoniello) along with two students (Jesse A. Cohn and Daniel Orr) was appointed to explore these issues
Findings: The task force met throughout the fall and winter to investigate these issues. The task force has completed the investigatory phase of its work and has prepared a report concerning the use of Social Security numbers as identifiers, information privacy and solicitation. The task force has obtained input from the respective committees that made up the task force, and will submit the report directly to University Council.
The committee met with the newly appointed Director of University Communications Lori Doyle. Ms. Doyle provided a broad overview of her conception of this position including issues of improved media coverage, "branding" and expanding beyond the traditional functions of this office to video and the Web.
Penn Web Governance
Background: The committee investigations into the new Undergraduate Admission's Web site led to concerns about Penn Web governance. Of particular concern was the ad hoc nature of the group that organized itself to revise the Undergraduate Admission's Web site. The group was pulled together from a variety of departments, funds were apparently scavenged from other projects and there appears to be no clear provision for the ongoing evaluation and updating of this resource. The efforts to produce this revision seemed similar to those used to build or revise other portions of the Penn Web; a group organizes for a specific project and then disperses with little or no provision for ongoing development or maintenance. At present it is hard to identify those responsible for the Penn Web, yet this resource will be seen and used by as many or more people than will use the physical campus. With the appointment of Ms. Lori Doyle as Director of the Office of University Communications, that group has accepted the challenge of Web content oversight.
Conclusions: It would seem that this critical entrance into the University should have a person or group with the specific mission to develop and maintain the Web site at its multiple levels, to make sure that it continues to reflect the goals of the University, and to assure its technical currency and utility as a University resource. Recently the Office of University Communications has accepted that responsibility. That office has been given some resources to help fulfill these new responsibilities though it is too soon to determine if these resources are sufficient. Commercial Web sites are undergoing rapid evolution with respect to services, speed and usability. Many of these techniques are being adopted by the University's academic competitors. Failure to maintain a "state of the art" Web site may eventually place the University at a competitive disadvantage.
Computer Disconnect Appeal Board
This group continues to exist but was not needed during the current academic year. The chair of the Communications Committee is one of the members of this body.
Vice President for Campus Services Larry Moneta updated the committee on the further transition in PennCard services. Briefly, the newly revised PennCard will be a debit card and use a campus-wide system for real time transactions instead of the Cash Chip. The transition is proceeding smoothly.
The committee thanks Ms. Tram Nguyen of the Office of the Secretary for her helpful and efficient staffing. The committee also notes and appreciates our lovely meeting space in the beautifully renovated Houston Hall.
The committee also thanks the many talented University personnel who took significant time from their over filled schedules to meet with the committee and share their observations and expertise with us. We continued to enjoy and appreciate an excellent working relationship with the members of the ISC.
--David S. Smith, Chair
2000-2001 Members of the Council Committee on Communications
Chair: David S. Smith (Anesth/Med); Faculty: Ellis Golub
(Biochem/Dental), Steven Kimbrough (Oper & info mgmt), P. David Mozley
(Radiol & psychol/Med), Martin Pring (Physiol/Med), Edward Rubin (Law);
Dana Tomlin (Landscape arch); Lyle Ungar (CIS); Graduate/professional
students: Aveek Das (GEP); Song Li (WHG); Undergraduate students:
Jennifer Denlow (COL); Maria McClay (COL); PPSA: Gene Haldeman
(Undergrad admis); Helma Weeks (Commun/Vet sch); A-3: Amy Bogdanoff
(Clin stud/Vet sch); Catherine Lawrence (Bioengineer); Ex officio: Robin
Beck (Assoc VP/ISC); Phyllis Holtzman (Univ commun); Larry Moneta (Assoc
VP campus svcs); Paul Mosher (Vice prov & dir libraries); Leroy Nunery
(VP business serv)
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 30, April 17, 2001