Monday, January 30, 2012

Academic Records and the Changing Education Model

I think, increasingly, what we will be buying from individual college and universities, is the credential, not the full learning experience that we associate with traditional college.  How we store records supporting the credential, and put those records together to indicate evidence of learning, may change in the not too distant future.

Imagine a space where you, as an individual, take some courses from MIT or Stanford, online, open and free.  You build your knowledge for knowledge sake.  There are two reasons we pursue knowledge:

  • personal growth
  • obtaining meaningful work that pays a salary that meets our lifestyle expectations

The open course-ware model works perfectly for personal growth.  But how does an employer know that you've assembled a body of knowledge that leads to you being a talented individual that is knowledgeable, capable, and hire-able?  Right now, degrees provide that university tattoo of knowledge.

Today, each university owns the academic records that make up that tattoo.  The student has to meet the requirements of that university to obtain the tattoo.

What if the world was different:
Each student owned their academic records, rather than the educational institution owning the records.
Students might hire a company that is an "academic records repository" or "academic records bank".
Some records in the repository are graded; some are not.
Some records may be combined to present a "Badge" of learning.  A Google search on the two words "learning" and "badge" show this growing concept.
Some records, graded and accredited, may be assembled into a traditional degree.
The student assembles a personal tattoo that is not defined by a university, but by the student.

What is the role of the university in this environment?  The university may offer some courses for credit and some as open (like Stanford is doing now).  The student may obtain the knowledge in either path.  One path, the credit path, achieves a higher standard of knowledge certification (i.e., grades).  So what the university is really providing is knowledge certification, not just a diploma that represents completion. 

What if I, as a student, can build knowledge from several sources, some certified, others open, and record that with the third-party academic records bank that is independent of any particular university?  The records bank doesn't certify, but provides the transcript of all the work, instead of the university transcript.  The university credit transcript would feed into the academic records bank, as well as open course work, technical certifications and whatever.  The employer would request knowledge verification from the academic records bank, not any one university.

The "Big Blue Button" idea of medical records could apply to student records.  But if institutions could send directly to the academic records bank, what would be the point of the "Big Blue Button"?  Perhaps to make a record withdraw to send to a potential employer.

We are now sending all academic records to the State of Michigan for storage in a state-wide database.  Perhaps certifications and other learning mechanisms could feed into that database.  So perhaps, down the road, the state will provide the academic records bank.

What does this do to the academic records we store on campus?  Is there any reason to keep years and years of campus history if we can store the records in a single centralized bank?

There is potential for a shift in where and how we store student academic history.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Steve Glowacki, Director Systems Engineering at OU, and I have had several interesting conversations since the holiday break.   Steve ended up doing trouble-shooting and problem resolution (with his team) over the break.    I thought I would interview Steve for this blog post.  This follows on to my earlier impacts post, as we talk about data and content, and the need to store ever-larger files.  Nothing is ever deleted, it seems.  What is back-up and disaster planning in this growing data environment?  We had a discussion about problems and tactics.

Steve, can you describe some of the challenges experienced over the break?
We noticed that the back-up amounts had basically quadrupled started just before the holiday.  We went from approximately 500GB differential per night to usually slightly more than 2TB per night.

Did you find out the source and stop it?
Finding the source wasn't terribly difficult but we couldn't stop it.  It was valid stuff to back-up.  There were a lot of changes going on.   Over the break, we allocated an additional 3 TB of storage to back-ups, which was everything that remained within the architecture, and added 10 additional LT04 tapes, which the system promptly consumed.  We placed an emergency order for 20 additional tapes while still on break.

What next steps did you take when you returned?
We started reviewing how to consolidate tape utilization for optimized tape utilization.  As tapes are written to, the tape is consumed or full.   Then as data ages off, portions of the tape are freed, but the physical tape is still consumed.  Out of 130+ tapes, a good portion have low percentage physical utilization.

What we are looking for now is a process or procedure that will consolidate the data in use, distributed across several tapes, to a single highly utilized tape.

The other thing we are looking at is migrating to a new complete new architecture for backups, restoration, disaster recovery and data de-duplication.

What are you looking at?
The architecture is based on VMWare / NetApp, so the backup environment needs to work very closely with that architecture.

So, a minute ago, you said you were trying to review something and said:

"In some obscure way you log into this thing and control backups, restorations, bare metal restores, or tape archiving....  The tech team is having discussions about how this all works."

Tell me more.
What I found funny was that it took two university engineers and a vendor sales engineer three days to find the compatibility list for tape libraries.  It is complicated.

What makes it complicated?
Tape is becoming very limited use.  

What should we be doing?
Remote site de-duplicated replication is one option.  The remote site may be here or the cloud.  Remote site is likely phase two.  Phase one is implementing solutions to work with the VMWare / NetApp architecture.  Phase two is the remote site capabilities.  The reason we are breaking it into two pieces is timing and procurement process.  De-duplication and how that is done technically is extremely important to consider.  

So several purchases have been made over the past couple days.
We purchased another shelf of high speed disks.  This will allow us to optimize server performance and through-put.  Looking at the total input/output per second across the two types of shelves we have, and made a decision to improve performance by going with smaller, faster disks for specific services.  For example, we have a virtual server which may have enhanced performance by being located on faster disks while the connected storage may be on slower disks.

A lot of analysis about what to put where...
It's an ongoing thing.  

And your second purchase?
Several software options driven by recent requests.  One request was video streaming, so one of the options is for turning on native shares for CIFS.   Another software request was for NFS, to allow for UNIX-based mounts.  This has the potential to additionally augment throughput.  Another is SnapVault, but it is just for swarming snapshots, and that takes us back to where we started this conversation.

Is your head spinning?
A bit.  It's my job, though.  A lot of conversations will be needed with the Network team too.