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Academic IT

Online survey tool for SU staff and students

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

 

The web-based e-Survey service (SUNSurveys) is available to support academic staff and students of the University of Stellenbosch using online surveys for their academic research. SUNsurveys is also regularly used for staff opinion polls, voting and service delivery surveys.

Information Technology uses Checkbox as platform for our surveys. Checkbox is an intuitive survey creation tool with real-time reporting which allows for surveys to be customised. 

To register for use on Checkbox and send out official Stellenbosch University surveys, you can apply for the service online. More information on our Service Catalogue.

Once you have registered, support will be provided throughout to enable you to set up your survey, as well as training if needed. Additionally Checkbox has detailed help guides which will assist you will any potential problems you may encounter.

Take note that before you are allowed to send out a survey for research purposes, you will need institutional permission. Full information on the process can be found on the Information Governance website 

If you have any enquiries, please log a request on our ICT Partner Portal at ICT Partner Portal.

Academic IT: when IT has to become your best friend

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

In these unprecedented times, many staff and students are rightfully concerned about how they will teach and learn online. Everywhere we look online, the world has been talking about online learning. While we are, understandably encouraged by the interest that these discussions and social media posts have generated, we need to recognise that Online Learning is not the first choice for many, and in some cases shouldn’t be. We note that the emergency measures in place necessitate a new relationship with IT, and because of this, would like to make this as easy a transition as possible. The Stellenbosch University Learning Technology Systems are managed as an ecosystem with the Learning Management System, SUNLearn, as the hub for facilitating teaching, learning and assessment.

Consultation with partners, Faculties and the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement have been on-going since Friday, 13 March 2020, and will continue to ensure the stability of the service we offer. SUNLearn, through integration with the student information systems, includes all registered academic modules.  This allows Lecturers to have access to all students online, and supports an ongoing effort to assist students in having access to their lecturers even when they are not physically able to attend classes or tutorials.

We have been receiving daily questions from Faculty management across the University, staff and students regarding the availability of the LMS and its’ role during this time. Some of our frequently asked questions are shared below, and we encourage all to use the service desk for additional queries: https://learnhelp.sun.ac.za

Frequently asked questions:

  1. What if I don’t have reliable access to an internet connection, how would I be able to access the content my lecturer is uploading?

The SUNLearn Mobile app is available for download for both Android and iOS devices. Installing the application will allow you to download most content that a lecturer has uploaded to your device when you are connected to the internet. You will be able to read and study your content without an internet connection once you have downloaded the content. If your lecturer uses interactive, self-guided lessons, these can also be completed offline and synced to SUNLearn once you are connected again.

  1. I want to create content for my students, but am not sure where to start? Can IT provide me with a license to stream my lectures?

Right now, we encourage the academic community to limit the amount of content that is live-streamed to students. By doing so, we limit the cost for data from both staff and students. For short “face-to-face” sessions, Adobe Connect sessions can be scheduled in a SUNLearn Module. Adobe Connect is the preferred streaming software for lectures and is fully integrated into SU systems. Should you opt to utilise another 3rd party streaming platform like Zoom, we are unable to assist in support for this product.

  1. I don’t have my own laptop or computer at home, how can I teach/learn online without it?

If you have a mobile phone or tablet device with Internet access, SUNLearn Mobile allows for a range of interactive strategies like text-based chats, audio feedback on assignments, and audio/video uploads directly into a discussion forum. Lecturers can create and share instructions and activities via the Mobile app for their students.

  1. Won’t SUNLearn crash with everyone being online at the same time and uploading a lot of extra videos?

We have strongly recommended that the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement advise and train lecturers in strategies to keep modules as “data light” as possible by structuring modules for asynchronous learning first, while adhering to our SU regulations which require academic content to be accessed via SUNLearn. This includes storing videos and other multimedia on SharePoint and linking this to a module instead of embedding it directly into SUNLearn. We have seen software giants such as Microsoft, Zoom and Moodle Online all struggle to keep up with the higher demand over the past week. SUNLearn is hosted on-site, this means that we are able to limit the influence of the global demand on our LMS. However, as with any other system, user cooperation in best practice approaches will be key to ensuring the stability and access for all.

  1. I have never used SUNLearn to teach, how can I make sure that my students are supported with no experience of how to do it?

The Centre for Learning Technologies, our partner in providing a robust Learning Technologies Ecosystem, are responsible for supporting lecturers during this time. Please contact them directly via https://learnhelp.sun.ac.za . The end-user support team will redirect any queries for pedagogical support to the Advisor and Blended Learning coordinators tasked with this support. The end-user support team also have a range of guides available for those who wish to make use of a self-help approach.

SUNStream, our established and integrated streaming solution, has been in use for a number of years at SU. This solution, utilising Adobe Connect, is currently being upgraded and migrated to a new on-premises server. This maintenance will ensure that the higher usage of streaming services will be supported once the expected requirement for streaming resumes after 30 March 2020.

There have been a number of requests for IT to support a recommendation for the use of Microsoft Teams as a streaming solution for the academic environment. While MS Teams has virtual meeting, recording and storage capabilities, there are a number of security, integration and access considerations that need to be taken into account for users who wish to use this software for teaching purposes.

With our relatively small team, the cooperation and hard work of both IT and Academic partners, we are focused on ensuring the success of all maintenance work currently underway to provide the necessary system stability for the new term. This means that other IT-projects are, regrettably, unable to receive priority attention at this stage. We thank the University community for understanding this and supporting our efforts during this time.

We acknowledge and thank the staff working to provide this support during these stressful times, and their commitment to ensuring that a stable and functional system remains available to all.

 

[Article by Lianne Keiller – Manager: Learning Technology Systems]

Another successful e-Registration completed

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

More information on registering onlineThe IT Division contributed substantively to another relatively successful e-Registration. The online registration of students opened on 2 January for medical students and on 15 January for the rest of the university, and up to Thursday, 30 January, 16 172 students had registered online for the 2020 academic year.

During registration an online “war room” consisting of Student Information System Support (SISS) and IT staff, was created to monitor and operate the system around the clock.

E-Registration is noteworthy because the service was jointly developed by SISS and IT in the mid-2000s. It first went live for registration in 2006, and in so doing, bought another 15 years of service for the homegrown Adabas-Natural Student Information System (SIS). The development formed part of the e-Campus Initiative. The SIS was enhanced by more modern web front ends at the time and the University was one of the first, if not the first, university in Africa to offer online self-registration.

The original software still operates on on-premises hardware, although there are performance challenges from time to time when it comes under heavy load. The emerging technology and people risks were significant reasons, amongst others, for the SUNStudent and SUNFin implementations that are currently underway. 2020’s e-Registration is consequently one of the last on the existing SIS, with e-registration slated to be handled in 2022 by the Academia service which is being implemented by the SUNStudent project.

 

 

 

 

Data Privacy day

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

In South Africa, we’re a bit late to the Data Privacy Day party. In Europe, it’s been around since 2007, while The United States joined in 2009. 

Data Privacy Day (known in Europe as Data Protection Day) is an international holiday that occurs every 28 January. The purpose of Data Privacy Day is to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. 

Even though data Privacy Day has been around for more than ten years, awareness around the protection of data is becoming a critical issue. The reason is twofold. Firstly, data breach incidents across the world are occurring on a more regular basis and it’s happening to large companies who should have strict measures in place to protect their users’ data. Which brings us to the second reason – the implementation of GDPR and POPI. Before both these data laws, there was little to enforce companies to protect users’ data. The GDPR and POPI acts changed this. Now companies are held accountable and can be heavily fined for compromising their clients’ personal information.

Why is data so important, though? According to Mark Barrenechea, CEO at OpenText, “[e]very day we are building, brick by brick and bit by bit, a digital copy of ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not.” A bigger digital footprint makes it easier to find information about you, whether it’s personal information such as usernames and passwords, your physical location or your interests or hobbies. Algorithms can track your actions and anticipate your behaviour. Every little piece of information adds up to a bigger picture and can be used to your disadvantage. 

Sharing data is easy, which makes it critical that you take responsibility for protecting your own information. We can no longer depend on companies or social networks to keep our digital identities safe. This we’ve clearly seen over the past few year with multiple data breaches – many including large companies such as Facebook and Google. 

Data Privacy is just one day in the year to make data owners (that’s anyone using a digital platform!) aware of the importance of protecting data. However, we should be aware of the risks every day. How can you protect your data?  www.digitalguardian has an extensive guide, but here are 10 basic tips:

  1. Use encrypted networks when you’re accessing important information. Even though open and free Wi-Fi is tempting, it comes at a high risk. If you’re browsing websites not using https, know that whatever you do can be seen by someone else.
  2. Choose strong passwords. Don’t know how? Here are some tips. The general trend is using two-factor authentication. Better even, use a password manager as it’s the most secure solution.
  3. Protect your passwords. Don’t write them down. Don’t share them. And most importantly, don’t use the same password for all your social networks or websites. 
  4. Update your software when it prompts you to. Don’t ignore it because you don’t have time – it might be an important security update which will prevent that you are at risk.
  5. Update your antivirus software regularly. New versions of viruses, malware, etc. are released regularly to explore weaknesses. If you don’t update, you’ll be an easy target. Also, consider an anti-virus for your mobile devices – they are even more vulnerable.
  6. Check and configure privacy settings on your phone. Consider carefully which apps you give access to use certain services on your phone, for example the camera function.
  7. Lock your smartphone and tablet devices when you are not using them. Mobile devices are used to access social media, banking services and various other apps containing personal information.
  8. Enable remote location and device-wiping. If your mobile device is stolen, no-one will be able to access your information.
  9. Delete your data from old devices, for example, smartphones, before you sell, discard or pass them onto someone else. 
  10. Back up your data on a daily basis. If your device is infected with malware or stolen, you’ll still have your data. 

[SOURCES: https://www.forbes.comhttps://www.techradar.com]

SUNStudent blueprint workshops off to a good start

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Over the past few months the SUNStudent implementation team, comprising members from SU, Eiffelcorp and Serosoft, have been conducting and coordinating blueprint workshops to understand and unravel the Stellenbosch University student life cycle process. Existing procedures, processes, and assumptions are being challenged and stakeholders are rethinking and redesigning processes while retaining students as central stakeholders. The journey from being administration intensive to being student-friendly is off to a good start.

Workshop participants are visibly excited, willing to adapt to something new and different and are challenging the status quo. Collaboration, respect, simplification, change and coordination are the key elements emerging from these workshops and attribute to their resounding success.  

For SU the outcome of the workshops is not limited to SUNStudent system requirement’s definition, but also to identify policy and procedure changes and correct process misalignments. For the first time in many years this is possible due to participants from various campuses, faculties, departments, IT and SISO having a focused discussion on capability. 

As facilitator of these workshops, Serosoft is extremely satisfied with the outcome so far. Unravelling the details of capability and completing the requirement definition will help us implement and deliver the best student information system currently used at a South African university.

Article by Team Serosoft

 

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