"The Norris Situation"
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 23:04
She walked into IT expecting to fix a problem she had with her course management software.
What music professor Elizabeth Norris found were three people waiting for her and some man’s voice coming out of a speakerphone claiming to be from the Vermont State College system. Those waiting were Chief Technology Officer Mike Dente, Dean of Administration Wayne Hamilton, Chief Information Officer for the Vermont State Colleges Linda Hilton and the man on the speakerphone was Chief Technology Officer for the VSC Rick Blood.
A combination of ignorance and confusion has caused some issues with the IT department at Lyndon State College. Chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges Tim Donovan will be coming to LSC on April 26 to talk with the faculty about the VSC policy regarding data storage and how faculty should be using college-owned computers.
These issues are coming in conflict with how teachers want to teach.
One of those teachers, professor Norris, was recently found to be violating the VSC policy regarding how faculty should store students’ information such as their grades, student ID numbers and if they have a disability.
The VSC policy, which can be found at tinyurl.com/vscdata, lays out what is private data and how it should be stored.
Norris had a problem using Moodle, the school’s software for grading and other online class features.
“I have a doctorate in Music,” she said. “I am not a stupid woman. I can’t use Moodle and nobody’s hearing it. Nobody’s hearing those of us who aren’t using Moodle say ‘it is not user friendly.’”
Norris had a problem with the interface of Moodle. She attended all the workshops provided to the faculty on how to use Moodle.
There is a faculty member, electronic journalism arts professor Meghan Meachem, who knows how to use Moodle and has been assisting those with issues with it. Norris said she did not go to her because Meachem had her own work to do and was overloaded as it was.
The problem seemed to be specific to Norris because she showed her Moodle to other faculty and staff members who used it and she says her version looked much different than theirs.
“The grade book didn’t tally up and I couldn’t even read it because it was blue lettering on a blue background. I couldn’t read any of the grades,” she said. “If they want us to use a system it better work and it better work easily. I’m here to teach. I’m here to be with the students. I am here as an advisor. I don’t have six hours a day, literally, to sit and try to figure this out. I just don’t.”
Norris went online and found an easier program, Engrade, to use for her classes. Engrade is a free course management program that allows teachers to post grades and assignments for students to use. Engrade says it is FERPA, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, compliant so Norris felt that it was safe to use. Norris also told LSC President Steve Gold and Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Donna Dalton that she was using it, so she felt she had covered her bases.
Dalton says that Norris had talked to her about how happy she was that she found a site that worked for her, but did not ask her permission to use it.
“Don’t go to me,” said Dalton. “I know nothing about this stuff.”
Dalton admits that it did not occur to her that when Norris talked about Engrade it could have been violating the VSC policy. She also admits that she should have known the policy better herself.
“This is like many things where you know it in the abstract and then it is not until a situation comes up that you go ‘Oh my gosh.’”
A situation did come up last semester where two of professor Norris’ students had submitted assignments that appeared the same, so she suspected plagiarism. There was no plagiarism, but Engrade had made a mistake using one of its applications. It was later discovered that Engrade sent data to a third-party site, which could not be monitored by LSC.
“I didn’t know, honest to God I didn’t know, that there was a VSC policy that said ‘all third-party sites must be approved by whatever office of IT,’” Norris said.
Faculty and staff not knowing the policy has been one of the main issues IT has been dealing with.
“I’ve found that more people don’t realize they’re violating the policies than know what the policy is,” said Dente, LSC’s chief technology officer. “We are trying to educate the people. We are trying to explain to them (what the policy is).”
Dente says that simplicity and ease of use do not trump security, so those faculty members who have been violating the VSC policy, even if it makes their job easier, will have to stop.
Dente would not comment on what happened with Norris, but he did talk about a general scenario that was similar.