Yes, but I would not make this "knowledgebase" a wiki. I think we
should look at the google analytics results on the ETS site to see what
people are accessing, if they access the current help videos at all,
etc. Then we need to choose the format most used as indicated by user
data, instead of tech speculation. Being always between tech minds and
user minds, I can tell you that one will not accurately predict the
other, in most cases.
Enterprise Technology Services: Client Services
Manager, UVM Computing Helpline and the Computer Depot Clinic
University of Vermont
[log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask]">
never take yourself TOO seriously...
artwork by Shannon Edmonds
J. Greg Mackinnon wrote:
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Ah... so perhaps to use a Web 1.0 term (where my brain seems to be
stuck, sadly... maybe I'll just skip Web 2.0 and upgrade to 3.0 when it
comes out...), you feel that we need a "Knowledge Base" web application
that is accurate, succinct, and accessible. I would agree with that.
David Todd wrote:
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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:
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type="cite">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,
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?
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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.