Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Case for a Faculty Database

There is a need for a database of the faculty. There is a real need from both the management, the individual faculty members and the external stakeholders. The management (College-level and up) needs to make reports about the status of the faculty as a whole with regards to their faculty loading, ability to service the courses requested by the students, how much overloading will happen (which means overload payment), and others. If the College wants to defend its choices (for example, opening classes or getting additional faculty), a faculty database which has a record of loading will easily present that data. It can also tell higher offices (eg, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Budget Office) that this is the load that we have, because this is the number of faculty items the University gives the College.

For the faculty members themselves, a faculty profile database can help them easily make professional profiles for promotion application or extension opportunities, because the database will have records of their research, publications, extension and career history and other recognitions and affiliations.

From outside, the faculty is not properly promoted and affiliated with the University nor the College. Sure, we have faculty members who are recognized by certain bodies for particular topic (eg, a faculty member for VFA, and another in health social science and AIDS), but they are recognized only by those certain bodies (eg, the Senate, AIDS Society of the Philippines, respectively). Anyone else (eg, a journalist) who needs an expert in any topic or field, whom we have here at CAS, have no way of knowing nor contacting our internal experts because there is no user-friendly way of searching for them.

From the University’s point of view, a CAS faculty database will be a good prototype to test how it will run and how it will be used and extended.

These are just some of the uses of a faculty database.

(I will not discuss if there is a need to promote faculty. It is the assumption that they need to be promoted not because of financial rewards but more so due to social issues and needs. The question we need to ask, probably, is do our faculty members want to serve that social responsibility call.)

With this, I am proposing a comprehensive faculty database that will be useful to management, the faculty members, and the various stakeholders.

Here are the general functions of the faculty database:

1.Allow management to collect useful information for strategic planning, faculty development, routine reports and academic decision-making.
2.Allow faculty members to have easy record-keeping of their academic, research and extension activities for their professional development
3.Allow stakeholders to know the strengths of the faculty of the College through an easy-to-use interface that will allow them to communicate with our experts.

In order to be useful, the faculty database is recommended to be able to generate the data required for the following forms:

2.Individual CV (Centennial Form)
3.PAASCU forms
5.UP Form 24
6.UP Form 03
7.UP Form 22 (Research)
8.UP Form 17 (Extension)
9.UP Form 18 (Extension)
10.UP Form 19 (Intellectual Property Rights)
11.UP Form 20 (International Publication)
12.UP Form 21 (Patents and Copyrights)

The faculty database will source data not just from one database but will be more useful if it is connected with the following existing database:

1.CRS – for loading
2.CAS Website
3.PDTS (of Personnel Office)

This table shows the relationship between the data requirements, data channels and data presentation properties (Everything is tentative.).

The table shows how useful the faculty database can be if planned properly from the users’ point of view.

Obviously, this project cannot be done by information specialists (IMS and CAS IT Office) alone. It must be done in collaboration with the data users, (eg, internal assessment, OCS, OADAA, OVCR, etc.), information specialists (IMS, CAS IT office) and the management (DO, OC, OUR, OVCAA, Budget, Accounting, etc.).

As a proposal, the following offices are proposed to be members of the project team:

1.IMS – Management and CRS Team
3.CAS IT Office
4.Dean’s Office
6.Internal Assessment
7.Student Council
8.Department Chairs
10.Administrative Officer (considering that faculty items assignment is maintained by AO)
13.Budget Office
14.Accounting Office
15.Legal Office
16. Personnel Office

Obviously, every proposal has to end with what good will it do to everyone, besides addressing the issues raised above. No, a faculty database is not a reaction. It is a proactive proposal. Besides addressing the issues of faculty loading information requirements and internal assessment data problems, a faculty database can allow planners (college and departments) to assess with better data how they performed in the past, and see trends, relate it with particular events in their organizations, and make actions based on reasonable and evidence-based forecasts of the future.

For the financial managers, a faculty database will allow them to know in near-realtime how much they will have to spend due to the loading decisions and course assignments of these unit heads. Thus, control mechanisms can be implemented, and will be based on reliable information. Everyone will easily know if an inappropriate assignment of faculty or opening of a course has happened because the database will show how and when it happened, who made the decision, and how it can be stopped.

While this information initiative can be easily criticized as a systematic attack to academic freedom and rights to privacy, I dare say it is not. It is an eye-opening and open source (in the social sense of the term) strategy to make everyone know who makes the decisions, what the situation is, and what those limitations are. How do we make sure it is not? All offices are invited to be members of the project team and given the chance to participate. Their concerns and inputs will be taken into consideration. If they don’t participate, then they have given up their rights – a showcase of irresponsibility – and thus have no right to complain.

If a faculty member would not want to share his or her information with the University, I would dare ask that why then does that faculty member share more confidential information with social networking sites? Sure, you don’t share faculty loading data or career history (or don’t you?), but you actually share more personal information by sharing your pictures and activities.

Or do you avoid your social responsibility by hiding from public’s call for their needs?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Units to UPM: What’s in FOSS for us?

Another work in progress.

I am supposed to have a long introduction for this one, but I decided to remove the management perspective and get right into the opportunities FOSS offers to educational institutions.
  1. Economy
  2. Security
  3. Ethical behavior (Intellectual property)
  4. Innovation
  5. Community
Economy is the most common reason for adopting open source software. While not all open source software are free, most of them are. And when we get FOSS, we do not just get the application for free. Most of the time, we also get updates to it for free.

In our University when we do not have a lot of funds for IT, FOSS really is a sensible option.

Security is an issue in information management that has finally (and thankfully) getting its breakthrough. Not a lot of people here at UP Manila care about security (Yes, the security guards are included in this issue, but not only them.) when it comes to computing, but that relaxed attitude poses great risk to administrators and other IT users.

Security is not only about hacking or cracking, or about protecting your computer from theft. Security includes protection of your data from observation, inappropriate copying or corruption. Among these three, we usually neglect the third. We have to remember that data lost is almost the same (or even worse than) data copied.

Open source software, particularly community-driven software, have better security processes than those created by few programmers. This is because the source code (the original, human-readable set of instructions and rules) is viewed by many contributors.

Ethical behavior refers to the use of legal software (in appropriate use, of course). Software piracy and buying pirated software are unethical behavior. No matter what you say your purpose is, the end does not justify the mean of getting pirated software. Let us not compromise the University’s credibility by using pirated software.

Getting free and open source software releases you from this ethical dilemma. Further, you relieve yourself of worries of pirated software which may either be broken or have malicious software embedded into it.

Innovation refers to the creative juices the FOSS community offers for your real needs. Because FOSS software development is driven by its community of users, FOSS has the tendency to better address the need of its immediate community.

Take note of the term ‘immediate.’ This is the operative word here. In today’s global context, community is always the whole World Wide Web. FOSS, in order to be really responsive, has to cater to particular communities.

And in UP Manila, there is such an opportunity. If you need a particular type of application, the IMS and the CAS IT Office are there to listen to what you need and see what they can help with to satisfy your IT needs.

Community refers to the unique community-driven and community-based approach among most FOSS. Take a look at all Linux OS distributions, the OpenOffice.Org, FreeMind and other popular FOSS applications. What drives them? It’s not simply being free, but in being community-based.

As mentioned in Innovation, FOSS is community-driven. This results not only to innovation but also in instilling a spirit of unity among the users. People get to share what they know about certain applications, how to do certain things in more efficient and more effective ways, and share issues that may or may not be related to their disciplines or personal lives. Proprietary software does not do that (Notice they almost always use the ‘i’ or ‘my’?).

Need help? You can either read the manual, or ask the community! There is a forum for almost all open source software out there, listening to requests for help and feedback to improve the software.

FOSS follows closely the motto of UP (Honor and Excellence) as well as the functions of UP faculty (Teaching, Research, Extension). Adopting FOSS in our software usage is analogous to freeing ourselves from the chains of economic and intellectual bonds set by proprietary software.

As for me, I just love to learn something new and use what I learned to use in helping my college do what it needs to do without fear of cost or usage limitations.

Typed in OpenOffice.Org 3.2.0 in Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx.Units to UPM: What’s in FOSS for us?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What is needed to implement the open source policy at UPM

This is a work in progress.

I think (this is based only on my conversation with numerous faculty and administrative staff) the main reason open source software and the UP Manila's policy of adopting open document formats (Chancellor's Memorandum No. RLA 2010-067, Subject: Protecting the University from Copyright Infringement) does not push is the lack of awareness and adequate appreciation about the issues (open source software, copyright, legal, etc.) and the software (eg, Linux, Ubuntu, or LibreOffice, etc.).

I cannot imagine that someone will say that the reason is financial - almost all open source applications are free. So long as you have internet connection - and UP Manila has one - you can get free software.

Neither is it technical. Before, open source software websites were restricted, like SourceForge.Net, but not now. You can download the office suite from that website, you can download Ubuntu and other Linux distributions from their respective websites. And their manner of installation is straightforward. Thanks to the FOSS community.

Neither is there lack of adequate software for our common use. Documents, presentations or spreadsheets, or even database? You have Desktop publication and layouting? We have Scribus. Chat? We have Pidgin or Empathy. Browser? We have Firefox, Opera, Chrome and others (available in Windows and Linux). Photo or image manipulation? We have GIMP (comparable to Adobe Photoshop). Video editing? We have OpenMovie Editor or OpenShot Video Editor (just to name a few). These named applications are just a few of what are available out there.

True, there are customized software which we purchase which will not work in Linux. The software company decided that they would create the software for the operating system currently used by most people - and this same philosophy is the reason viruses in Microsoft applications and Windows environments continue to proliferate. But that is why the FOSS community exists. Tell them what you need.

The Computer Science program of the College of Arts and Sciences has been designing (planning, writing, implementing, etc.) applications and systems for many UP Manila units for years now - this was reported in the 2009 UP Manila Information System Strategic Planning Workshop. The CRS (Okay, it's not perfect. But not one system is perfect, because the software is limited by the users' way of using the software, not to mention its intended use.) for example, is one product of BS CompSci students, and it is now used by the University. They also made various applications for the PGH. All a UP Manila constituent needs to do is ask.

(Yes, the FOSS outputs are driven by the need of its community - profit is a far second, third or even fourth priority.)

How about format interoperability? Well, since open source programmers recognize that they are a small portion as compared to the whole information system users community - who is basically, the whole world - their software almost always has an option to produce the output in common file formats. For example, can save a file using the Open Document format or using Microsoft Word's file format (.doc). Another example is that VLC media player (yes, VLC is an open source software) can play almost any type of media format - be it .mp4, .mpg or .mov, among others.

The whole information community (worldwide) also recognizes the need to use open and international standards (hence, the Open Document format requirement in the Chancellor's memo). This means we will see more applications (open source or otherwise) complying with interoperability requirements for their users.

Any other reason for an organization's difficulty with implementing its FOSS policy? I cannot think of any. I have heard a lot of complaints, though, on the lack of training or knowledge about FOSS.

(I have my response to this, but I will hold it for now, in the interest of encouraging people to get into the idea of learning to use open source software.)

Just to be clear: There are some parts of the FOSS community who consider themselves elite by having unique and advanced knowledge of FOSS, and so distinguishes themselves (technocrats) by forcing new users go through the difficult path of self-learning (and frustration). This, however, is not the philosophy of open source. The idea behind open source is sharing - making things such as information and knowledge available - not hoarding them.

So I go to this very short conclusion: As the University wishes to implement an open source software policy (That is, it prioritizes open source software over proprietary ones, whenever possible; and it adopts open document formats and standards.), it should focus on doing two things: Operationalize and Enable.
  1. Operationalize its various legalese policies - lagyan ng ngipin (o pangil?)
  2. Make these operational procedures, policies and controls known - Communicate actively.
  3. Equip and enable the people so that the policies will make sense to implement - through training and collaboration. FOSS@UPM is a good starting point, but people have to know both the how and the why, not just the what.
  4. Monitor and implement control mechanisms (reiteration of Number 1).
I know. These are not so wisdom-requiring ideas. I have actually just heard them mentioned by wiser people (You know who you are.). But implementing these ideas require not just a few people who know what needs to be done. They need help in implementing them.