DotCIO, HASS present goals, ideas to Senate

CIO talks past, present, future of research, libraries, computing systems, infrastructure

VICE PRESIDENT FOR INFORMATION SERVICES AND TECHNOLOGY AND CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER JOHN KOLB ’79 EXPLAINS DotCIO’s future plans.

On Monday, November 5, the Student Senate held its weekly general body meeting. Over the course of two hours, both the Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer John Kolb ’79 and Professor of Composition Theory and Research Lee Odell presented information to the Senate regarding DotCIO and the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences core curriculum, respectively.

Kolb began the meeting with his presentation. He was joined by Associate Vice President for Information Services Jeffrey Miner ’78. Kolb discussed the past actions of DotCIO, the present state of the department, and the department’s future. He said that the goals of DotCIO are developing a “robust cyberinfrastructure,” “evolving the information environment,” and taking into consideration changes in “data, transport, and computation.”

He also talked about the challenges his department will face in the coming years. The first challenge was cybersecurity. Kolb commented on the increase in attempts around the globe to infect computers with viruses and the rise of “hacktivism.” He also discussed the idea of disintermediation. Essentially, Kolb wants DotCIO to “try to get out of the middle of users using services.” A third challenge was the “consumerization of IT,” including the concept of “bring your own device.” According to Kolb, the increase in technological devices has made it more difficult for the Institute to provide academic systems that are compatible on each type of device. He stated that the current Mobile Computing System may have to be changed to deal with this issue. This coincides with the issue of an “increasing regulatory burden.” Kolb also briefly mentioned the challenges involved with “social networking and the information culture” and “the pace of technological change.”

Kolb went on to discuss some of the work of DotCIO. He mentioned the Folsom Library’s archive. The archivists have created a blog to highlight a piece of RPI’s history each week. Interested members of the RPI community can visit the blog at http://archives.rpi.edu/blog/.

He discussed the six departments of DotCIO: Academic and Research Computing, Communications & Middleware Technologies, Information Technologies Infrastructure, Integrated Administrative Computing Services, Multimedia Services, and Research Libraries. Again, Kolb discussed the details of the Mobile Computing Program. He also talked about the Institute’s computing research, including the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, the Tetherless World Constellation, and the new Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, which the computing department is currently naming.

Kolb also touched on the future of RPI’s libraries as well as the Institute’s local efforts to prevent members of the Rensselaer community from being victims of cyber threats. For example, DotCIO is currently advocating that students keep their passwords sophisticated rather than use such passwords as “Password” and “12345.”

Following Kolb’s presentation was a discussion period. Kyle Keraga ’15 asked about the Institute’s direction regarding its wireless network. Specifically, he mentioned that the connection within the area of Warren, Nugent, Sharp, and Davison Halls is unstable. Keraga also wanted to know more about the relatively recent WPA2 network. Kolb explained that WPA2 was exactly the direction he wants to see the Institute move in, stating that the 802.1x network is based on an older infrastructure.

Russell Brown ’14 asked about a possible switch to Windows 8. Miner explained that there is currently a pilot implementation in the Voorhees Computing Center, where approximately 15 desktop computers have had Windows 8 installed. Miner added that there may be a new Windows 8 image available for laptops by next semester.

The meeting then turned to a presentation and discussion held by members of the HASS department. Odell was joined by Associate Professor Kathy High, Professor Bram van Heuveln, and Dean for the Class of 2014 J. Louis Trzepacz. Odell began by explaining that the HASS department is currently considering “messing with the HASS core.” Essentially, they plan to introduce an inquiry course which assists students with determining which humanities “track” they may be interested in.

High mentioned that she “wants everyone to be a creative problem solver.” As such, she hopes to relate humanities courses—which she believes provide students with that skill—with science and engineering fields. Van Heuveln added that he does not want the prefix of a course to determine whether it qualifies as a humanities course, citing his Introduction to Logic course, which he feels is simply a math class with a philosophy prefix. However, High mentioned that the idea is still in the works, as they do not want to develop a program students do not like. Bram added that they “don’t want to force anything on [students].”

She added that they are currently working with the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative to integrate these proposed changes with student life. Trzepacz said that, in regard to student life and HASS, the idea is to extend learning to outside classes.

Keraga expressed concern that, if the inquiry course is not planned carefully, it could become “frivolous or shallow,” and that students would not take it seriously. High replied that the HASS department has begun a three-year program to roll out the course, so it won’t be implemented without careful planning.

Erin McAllister ’14 said that many of her friends ask about “Easy ‘A’” courses, but she stresses that they take courses that interest them. She suggested that the HASS department “clump things together,” and call the various fields “buckets” instead of “tracks.” High emphasized that the goal was to make the inquiry course interdisciplinary.

After prompting from Elizabeth Anderson ’14, High said that the HASS inquiry course would not be required for students majoring or minoring in humanity fields.

Shoshana Rubinstein ’16 expressed concern that it would be difficult to make class sizes and teaching styles work for the inquiry course. High agreed that this was an issue they were struggling with in their internal discussions.

Greg Niguidula ’15 asked about how the changes to the HASS core curriculum might improve students’ writing skills. Van Heuveln mentioned that writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving will be core concepts for the new humanities program. Trzepacz added that the difficult part of improving writing skills is “finding something that ignites passion for writing.”

Brown said that, considering the average RPI student, an inquiry course would probably initially receive some backlash, but if the course is implemented well, the backlash would quickly fade away. High explained that, basically, they just want to make the HASS core “more cohesive.” “We want to work with a system that’s already in place and improve on it,” she said.

Senate meetings are held each Monday at 7 pm in Union Room 3202. They are open to all students. For more information about the Senate, students can e-mail senators at JustAsk@rpi.edu.