Fourth Annual ACANS Summit Brings Together IT Professionals

ACANS News & Information Center

Fourth Annual ACANS Summit Brings Together IT Professionals

The 2008 Association of Computer & Network Support (ACANS) Planning Summit was held November 5, 2008. Information Technology (IT) personnel from New Mexico State University and its satellite campuses spent the day at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces. Their day consisted of identifying, defining and in some cases, writing IT policy. The keynote speaker Tim Snyder, Executive Director of Innovative Digital Education and Learning in New Mexico (IDEAL-NM), enlightened the group on the direction of educational delivery.

Tim Snyder, Excutive Director of Innovative Digital Education and Learning in New Mexico (IDEAL-NM).Tim Snyder, Executive Director of Innovative Digital Education and Learning in New Mexico (IDEAL-NM).

Conquering the Last Mile: Connectivity Offers Educational Opportunities

As the keynote speaker of the Summit, Snyder’s presentation on the direction of educational delivery, P-20, served as an eye-opener to his audience of technology providers. Shaun Cooper, ICT Chief Information Officer, said, “We need to know where we are headed in this ubiquitous connectivity. And what I derived out of his (Snyder’s) presentation was that network is very important. It is the infrastructures we have built and are building that are fundament in keeping us (New Mexicans) from being the haves and the have-nots in the future of eLearning technologies.”

It is an exciting time in New Mexico and as Cooper explains, this past summer (2008), New Mexico distinguished itself as the first state in the nation to create a statewide eLearning system for its entire constituency, which in turn opens the doors for statewide enrollment in eLearning initiatives (IDEAL-NM).

On a global stage, Snyder told the audience of the vision of a small elementary school in Beijing. In a country whose first language is Mandarin, this school of approximately 400 students has 11 English teachers. “In terms of global commerce,” he said, “they get it!” Whereas graduation requirement for U.S. students may include three years of math, four years of English and three years of social studies, graduation requirement for Indian students typically include four years of chemistry and four years of physics. “Now that,” exclaimed Snyder, “gets to the next level!”

In a comparison to the readiness of American students to compete in a global environment, Snyder asked, “How do we make it happen?” In terms of the strategic vision and the systemic views of interoperability,” stated Snyder, “we are talking about the melding of policy and practice.” Acknowledged as a difficult terrain to maneuver because of territorial issues in regard to who does what and what is the vision, it is nonetheless a terrain that has to be conquered. The point was brought home when Snyder asked the audience, “Do we want our kids to be able to compete in a global economy?” He answered the question by outlining the initiatives of IDEAL-NM. Its aim, he explained, is to close the gap that penalizes students from rural and geographically isolated districts and provides them with opportunities that enable them to compete with students from more affluent districts. This is being accomplished with the eLearning initiatives that embody IDEAL-NM and that are in place in New Mexico.

Fourth Annual ACANS Summit participants listen to keynote speaker Dr. Tim Snyder.Fourth Annual ACANS Summit participants listen to keynote speaker Dr. Tim Snyder.

The Dept of Your Vision

The Council for Chief State School Officers in the North American Council for Online Learning and the Center of Digital Education ranked the state of New Mexico sixth in the nation in terms of policy and practice for its eLearning initiatives. “That,” exclaimed Snyder, “really speaks to the depth of your vision because even though you don’t have a lot of data behind you, you have a broader vision than anyone else in the country. You can be the catalyst for transformative change.” That change, according to Snyder, could be achieved by encouraging and facilitating lifelong intrinsic learning and educating New Mexicans to compete globally. Cradle to grave, twinkle to crinkle, that’s what we are all about –lifelong learning,” said Snyder.

Brainstorming IT Policy

The morning brainstorming sessions that occupied ACANS Summit participants’ attention were in response to an audit currently underway by Diana Hidalgo, Assistant Director and IT Audit Manager for NMSU’s Office of Audit Services. In her assessment of IT policy, Hidalgo identified 35 categories perceived by NMSU management that posed the highest risk in achieving its mission and goals.

Business data backups, disaster recovery and business continuity planning and incident response were ranked among those categories at highest risk. Although NMSU does backup its systems on a daily basis, there is no written policy that stipulates how that should be done. Regardless of whether you do everything right, such as NMSU practice of backing up to different physical locations, the need for a policy is evident. According to Hidalgo, “Policy is what communicates management’s expectations for a certain practice. Policy also dictates the risks that management is willing to accept.”

Working with Shaun Cooper, Hidalgo presented her findings to the IT professionals present at the ACANS Summit and they in turn studied existing policy, or in the absence of policy, began outlining policy that addressed those high risk areas. Randy Bamford, ICT Director of Special Project at NMSU, was among those who took part in the brainstorming sessions. He noted that the diversity of those who undertook the task of examining policy allowed those policies to be defined according to the specific needs. Bamford commented, “I think the Summit is an important function because it brings together IT professionals and provides them a forum to share ideas, needs and plans.”

Hammering Out a Policy

In regard to backups, Bamford noted, “We (NMSU main campus) backup to different places, we send tapes to a vault every day.” This is not the case of one of the community colleges that took part in the Summit. They have all their backups sitting right next to their servers, sitting right next to their disc, everything in one room. We discussed this and the issues concerning backups and their storage, including expense, space and people.

The result of this particular brainstorming session identified criteria in regard to backup policy. Among those criteria identified were what needed to be backed up, what university and government regulations dictated what student data needed to be kept and for how long it needed to be kept and where backups should be housed.

NMSU Library Dean Elizabeth Titus and Educational Learning & Resource Center Computer Specialist John Bazan take part in a round table session.NMSU Library Dean Elizabeth Titus and Educational Learning & Resource Center Computer Specialist John Bazan take part in a roundtable session.

It is a long and arduous task that involves continued dialogue among participants. The next step, according to Bamford, will be to synthesize the information, draft a policy, send that policy out to all the different entities involved and solicit their comments. Bamford also stated,“It is a back-and-forth process that continues until all parties agree that the policy works for everyone, and even then, the policy may end up being an umbrella policy that stipulates you do this in this instance, and in another instance you do that.”

All-in-all, the general consensus of the Fourth Annual ACANS Summit was that there needs to be more meetings. For those in attendance, the summit was an opportunity to meet people they had only known and worked with via the Internet. It was an opportunity to put a face to an email address and a voice to concerns that have been shared. It was a cooperative effort that opens the doors of communication and that is always a good thing.

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