Print

Print


Greg,

    This isn't a complaint.  It's a couple of observations and what I 
think is an opportunity.

    First, most of our clients would not benefit from following 
IT-Discuss.  In many cases, the discussions are too technical and are in 
problem-solving mode.  Most of our clients don't want to participate in 
figuring out how to fix problems, they just want to know that what 
they're seeing is a known problem and, if there is one, what the 
solution would be.  Searching the listserv for solutions would likely 
just confuse most of our clients because of the appropriate 
give-and-take that the list fosters.

    The Chronicle article was about the idea of using the experience of 
the community at large to let individuals help themselves.  While I 
think that's a good idea, that might end up being a case of the blind 
leading the blind (no offense intended -- just that sometimes people 
don't know what they're talking about, as in my response to Zoey early 
this morning).  I think a more beneficial system would be one in which 
the refined nuggets generated by this list would be deposited in a place 
where they would be more accessible and more succinct than they are in 
the form of discussion threads.

    The connection with IT-Discuss is that it seems to me there's an 
opportunity to use the discoveries and knowledge posted on IT-Discuss to 
seed a community information bank with validated information.

    A couple of our distributed support providers have pointed out the 
need and opportunity, and I think the Chronicle article points out that 
this is not just a problem here and that other schools are looking at 
ways to capitalize on it. 

J. Greg Mackinnon wrote:
> 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.
>>