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IT-DISCUSS  November 2009

IT-DISCUSS November 2009

Subject:

Re: Crowdsourcing IT Help

From:

"J. Greg Mackinnon" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Technology Discussion at UVM <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 8 Nov 2009 09:58:09 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (206 lines)

What is the problem with accessing information on IT-Discuss? Listserv 
posts are archived and search-able... they even show up in Google 
Appliance searches (although not with high relevancy, perhaps 
unsurprisingly).

I am not saying that there is not a problem, just that we need to better 
understand the complaint. Rather than investing lots of time in making 
just one mailing list more easily accessible, I would like to see a 
solution that fixes the perceived problem for all active/relevant 
mailing lists. Do we need a better search front-end for Listserv? Do we 
need better global search integration for Listserv (such as a search 
widget that can be embedded into a portal, or into select UVM web 
template-based pages)? Do we need to replace Listserv with something 
more modern and flexible?

-Greg

David Todd wrote:
> Good Morning, All,
>
> The article below was from this week's eChronicle, and I thought it 
> might be of interest to others on this list following the discussion 
> here a couple of weeks ago that Bryan Fleming raised on 10/15. Bryan's 
> question was whether we have a "primer of technical resources 
> available on campus", specifically for IT support staff. We in ETS 
> have been looking at ways to do that, especially now that we have 
> redirected some effort to the ETS web page (thanks, Jonathan!). But 
> Nick's point on 10/16 was that we have a wealth of information on 
> IT-Discuss but no easy way to access it.
>
> As this article points out, other schools are wrestling with this issue.
>
> So, would mining IT-Discuss archives to seed a Wiki be a feasible way 
> to start something like this for UVM?
>
>
>
>
>
> *Colleges Try 'Crowdsourcing' Help Desks to Save Money*
> The tech expert at the other end of the line could be you
> Colleges to Try 'Crowdsourcing' Their IT Help Desks 1
>
> Ben Weller for The Chronicle
> By Jeffrey R. Young
>
> At Indiana University at Bloomington, good help is not hard to find, 
> but it's pricey. Questions to the 24-hour tech-support help desk cost 
> the institution about $11.41 per phone call and $9.39 per e-mail 
> message—and last year the help desk handled more than 150,000 inquiries.
>
> All that advice adds up, and at peak times some in need of it are left 
> waiting. So, in a few weeks, the university will try something 
> different: letting computer users answer one another's questions.
>
> Information-technology people call this "crowdsourcing," a buzzword 
> that puts a positive spin on leaving the job of writing and editing to 
> volunteers rather than hired experts. The idea is to open a Web site 
> where students and professors can post their IT woes and share their 
> solutions. College officials tell me they hope it will grow into a 
> self-service support center for colleges nationwide—a kind of 
> Wikipedia for campus computer problems.
>
> After all, professors and students everywhere suffer from the same 
> digital headaches: glitches in Blackboard's online grade book, 
> corrupted Microsoft Word files on the day a term paper is due, 
> problems checking college e-mail messages on their iPhones, and the like.
>
> The new database—being discussed by leaders at a handful of 
> universities—will let users rate the quality of answers and highlight 
> which contributors are the most reliable. Anybody, not just Al the IT 
> Guy, can play the part of techno-wizard.
>
> Even talking about such a change represents a cultural shift for many 
> IT departments, which were once the unchallenged technical experts on 
> campuses. These days many more professors and students are savvy 
> enough to work their way through problems on their own, and even to 
> offer solutions the sanctioned experts haven't thought of.
>
> In some ways campus tech-support leaders themselves are crying "uncle" 
> as the variety of gadgets and software packages that students and 
> professors bring to the campus grows beyond what any college can 
> support. When I asked Sue Workman, associate vice president for 
> information technology at Indiana, one thing that students might 
> contribute to the new Web site, one of the first things she mentioned 
> was a video-game console. "A student might say, 'My Xbox gave me this 
> error; what can I do?' Or, 'My Xbox quit working; anybody know where I 
> can take it to get it fixed?' It might not be highly technical, but 
> just something that we probably wouldn't spend money on maintaining."
>
> But can the it-takes-a-village approach that built Wikipedia work for 
> the narrower world of technical documentation? Will busy professors 
> and students bother to contribute? If they do, will their answers be 
> accurate?
>
> And even if such a system is workable and promises cost savings in the 
> long run, who will pay for the initial development?
>
> I'll put those questions in the queue for now, with the promise to get 
> back to them in the order they were received. First, a few caveats:
>
> No one is talking about hanging up on old-fashioned telephone support. 
> Because technology has become so crucial to teaching, research, and 
> managing colleges, an IT-support hot line is bound to remain as long 
> as there are phones on campuses. The new system would supplement, 
> rather than replace, the existing model.
>
> And many colleges already have well-stocked databases of 
> technical-support documentation online. Indiana has something called 
> the Knowledge Base, with more than 15,000 articles on just about any 
> technology installed on the campus (even one on connecting an Xbox to 
> the campus network). Until now, though, only help-desk employees could 
> add or revise articles, which means the resource is expensive to 
> maintain and not always up-to-the-minute.
>
> Though anyone can search the Knowledge Base (it gets about 18 million 
> hits a year), the primary audience is help-desk staff members, who use 
> it as a reference library when they answer calls. The new idea is that 
> the expert at the other end of the line—or Web site—could be you.
>
> *A Crusader for Crowds*
>
> Dewitt A. Latimer is among the most vocal proponents of the 
> crowdsourced model of college technical support. He's chief technology 
> officer at the University of Notre Dame, where the help desk is open 
> only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. "But our students don't stop learning at 5 
> o'clock, and the faculty don't stop teaching at 5 o'clock," he told me 
> recently. And, unlike Indiana, Notre Dame does not have an online 
> database of advice, even for internal use.
>
> A couple of years ago Mr. Latimer attended a college-technology 
> conference and had one of those aha! moments. The keynote speaker was 
> Barry Libert, a co-author of We Are Smarter Than Me: How to Unleash 
> the Power of Crowds in Your Business, who talked about how companies 
> like Amazon.com were tapping into user recommendations to increase 
> sales. "I was sitting there in the audience," Mr. Latimer said, "and I 
> thought, This concept was very applicable to the higher-education 
> space—it just needed somebody to recognize it and run with it."
>
> Since then he's been running with it. He helped organize a session 
> that drew a standing-room-only crowd at last year's national 
> conference of Educause, the education-technology group, and began talk 
> of forming a consortium to build a national IT-support database. That 
> conversation will continue at a discussion session scheduled for this 
> week at an Educause meeting in Denver.
>
> Mr. Latimer also made the case, along with three other colleagues, in 
> a bulletin published in April by the Educause Center for Applied 
> Research. "While the private sector has quickly caught on to the power 
> of crowdsourcing, higher education has not yet recognized those 
> benefits as fully," they wrote.
>
> The key to making the database work, he argues, is getting a big 
> enough audience by attracting a large number of college partners. To 
> nudge students and professors into action, he proposes that each 
> participating college hold monthly contests in which the most-frequent 
> contributors win a free iPod or some other geeky goodie.
>
> As for accuracy, Mr. Latimer argues that Wikipedia has proved 
> remarkably reliable for most types of articles, and that its 
> contributors quickly weed out most faulty information.
>
> That's an area that still concerns Ms. Workman, though. "My motto is, 
> Bad information is worse than no information," she told me. She said 
> that when possible, published items in Indiana's new open database 
> will be reviewed by staff members. Contributions that check out will 
> be given a seal of approval. Other entries will be 'Use at your own risk.'
>
> What does the help desk think of the new service? "It's a love-hate 
> thing," said Al Joco, a user-support specialist at Indiana, who said 
> he has seen plenty of errors on Wikipedia and doesn't want technical 
> answers from "some random yahoo." The expert-approved Knowledge Base 
> should remain separate from the crowdsourced one, he recommended.
>
> He perked up when I told him that several college-support staffs might 
> contribute to a shared database, though. "The more people that 
> contribute to a knowledge base," he said, "the better."
>
> *
> Who Pays?*
>
> Early this year, the talks that started at Educause nearly led to the 
> creation of a consortium to make a national help desk a reality. 
> Negotiators even had a name for the project: "Hosted Integrated 
> Knowledge Environment Project," or Hike. But the economy was in the tank.
>
> Now nothing is certain. Notre Dame and some of the other universities 
> participating in the talks said they could no longer afford the 
> membership fees needed to run the consortium, or the staff time to 
> develop the software to make the database work. Even the name has been 
> scrapped, in hopes of finding something catchier.
>
> Mr. Latimer still believes that a help desk that involves users is the 
> only way colleges can hope to keep up with demand for support as 
> budgets shrink.
>
> Lately he's tried to reach officials of Yahoo, which offers a popular 
> service called Yahoo Answers, with the same tools to manage 
> user-generated questions and answers that the colleges were thinking 
> of building themselves. It would be a "win win" situation, he says, if 
> Yahoo would let colleges set up sections of that service, on which the 
> company could sell advertisements.
>
> So far, no answer from Yahoo.
>

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