Students paying big bucks in penalties for sharing music files

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is serving 'pre-warning' litigation letters to thousands of students on college and university campuses. These letters are served to campus IT departments, which in turn are obligated to deliver them to students. They indicate that the computer at a specified internet address has been serving up copyrighted materials illegally. If that internet address is assigned to you, you're on the hook. The letters warn that a civil law suit will follow. Students, however, have an option to settle in advance at a discounted rate, often for several thousand dollars. (Read more)

Regardless of what you think of the tactic or the music industry, they mean business. If you are using a music file sharing software and you're sharing those files with others, you are vulnerable. PSU does not condone or support file sharing. It is wrong and illegal.

Please stop! In addition to the RIAA, Congress is starting to get involved, too. If the practice continues, higher ed institutions may be required to exert controls around specific types of traffic on our network. That will have consequences for legitimate file sharing and traffic as well.

You have alternatives! Use your iTunes for music streaming. Go to or another free music service. Share your CDs. But stop grabbing and sharing music for free with file sharing programs!

If you don't, you may pay dearly.

Schools outsource email to Google Apps

"40 ,000 [Arizona State] Students Leap to Google Apps"

"Initially offering new e-mail accounts based on Google's Gmail service (but retaining the "" domain) on an opt-in basis, [CIO] Sannier and his team found that students were making the switch at the rate of around 300 per hour. Today, more than 40,000 ASU students and faculty have made the switch, and he expects to shut down the University's in-house mail servers near the end of this term." (

Aquinas College outsourced student and employee email to Google.

What does this mean for PSU? Nothing yet, but as we look at how we spend our valuable technology resources and time, it begs the question of whether we should continue to provide what is fast becoming a commodity service on the web.

There are no easy answers. Google may not provide you the level of service and support you get from ITS staff now, particularly when it comes to retrieving lost emails or important backups. Then again, we all deal with that reality anyway as we use our ISP providers for personal email. Does this change the liability of the University in regard to maintaining records? New laws are emerging that might indicate otherwise.

The core question is this: what is the value of a PSU-provided email, for students and employees? And what does it cost in terms of servers, licensing, and staff time and effort?

Regardless, we need to watch how these new ventures fare.

Trade in Microsoft Office for Google Apps?

An interesting trend is emerging in how basic computer software is delivered. Google has introduced new programs--Google Apps--for word processing and spreadsheets. These new programs are designed to work with several other online Google applications; email, calendars, web documents and photo management. All are types of software we've traditionally installed on our personal computers. Google is offering them as an online service. Your computer doesn't host anything, it connects you to a Google-hosted space of your own.


This piece was written in Google Docs, an online word processing program. It has all the basic formatting, editing and proofing tools, yet it's a lot less sophisticated than the ubiquitous Microsoft Word. And while I've been weaned, trained and reliant on Word for almost two decades, this is an interesting challenge to my habitual self.


Google Apps is 'software as a service.' You don't buy the software as you would with Microsoft Office, you connect to Google's applications online. You save your documents on Google servers. You'll never have to upgrade the software, Google takes care of all that. You just use the application. Log in and write. The same with spreadsheets. The interface is designed with an emphasis on simplicity.


Documents created with Google Apps are sharable. Simply invite others via an email link to join in. The document can be open by several users simultaneously so they can collaborate in its development. That alone is worth the cost of admission.


Ah, but it's free.


This is a shift from software delivery of yore. We used to install and host software on our personal computers. Microsoft was the most common application with their Office suite of products. Veteran users of these products--Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook--have come to rely heavily on them.


Yet here comes Google with their free apps. Software as a service. They want to entice you to use their services. For Google, everything is about getting us to use their search function.


Here are some significant differences in using Google apps.


  1. The applications are only available online. You have to have an Internet connection to access them.
  2. You store your documents (and ideas) on Google servers.
  3. The applications are far less sophisticated than those in Microsoft Office.

For many of us, those trade-offs are too high a price to pay. We prefer to keep our documents on our computers and local servers. Yet Google is playing to a new generation for which instant messaging, mySpace and web-based applications are second nature. They're innate googlers.


The question for mature and sage users of Office: Would we change our personal computer paradigm?


  • Would we buck the Microsoft empire to go with the emerging Google empire?
  • Will we continue to pay a hefty annual sum to Microsoft so that all of our employees can use Microsoft Office?
  • And, the question I hear most, would we store our precious and confidential documents on Google servers?

Ask your own questions. Anyone can google 'Google Apps' and start the process by signing up for a personalized Google account.


I'm thinking about what I want to say to new PSU students at orientation this spring. Many ask about computers and software to buy. I think the best advice is to get a good laptop and hold off the purchase Microsoft Office. Rather, sign up for a Google account. Unless they're writing super-sensitive, personal documents, storage of their work on Google servers isn't an issue. A student could keep all their materials online. Man, would they be dialed in. Drop in at any computer connected to internet and access all their documents.


If I was 18, that's what I'd be thinking.


Your thoughts?

Wireless in the Classroom: Asset or Distraction?

Like most colleges and universities, PSU has spent the last several years expanding wireless access to the network across our campus. Except for the residence halls, where population density precludes good wireless service, we've installed wireless in most public and academic buildings. You want to connect, we're usually there for you.

Faculty are raising concerns, however, about the distraction of wireless in the classroom. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Distractions in the Wireless Classroom, cited the example of one observer…

"[we] were intrigued by the tapping of the laptop keys as students appeared to be taking copious notes. As we looked over their shoulders from our back-row seats, we found instead they were on Facebook, Dave Matthews Band Web sites, instant-messaging friends, and e-mailing fellow classmates." <>

While laptops make for better note-taking and in-class exercises, their connection to the vast media, communication and information of the internet poses somewhat of a challenge to an instructor who is trying to get your focus on a specific topic. After all, that is why you're paying tuition.

Frankly, laptops are not the biggest problem. It's cell phones that are changing the nature of the classroom. Imagine the distraction to an instructor when the cell phones go off or vibrations send reverberations through the class. Think of what it does to your focus, then multiply it for the classroom.

I'm not sure there is a simple answer here. For some instructors, those who are more facilitators than information disseminators, student connectivity to the internet poses a wealth of opportunities for in-class discussion, research and analysis. But pity the lecturer, the old-style of class delivery where they are the vessel and you are the receptacle. That tends to lend itself to surfing. Regardless, if you don't respect some basic guidelines of class manners, more and more you'll see syllabus components that prohibit ANY laptops in the classroom. That would be a shame.

I write with a certain sense of authority on the matter. I have my smartphone with me all day. I get text messages from colleagues who want my attention right away. I am always on-call. If someone raises an issue, I quickly get on the internet and get more information. And, if I'm bored and less-than-engaged in a meeting, I check my email. I admit, I'm addicted to my connectivity.

I've found, however, that this type of behavior is perceived as rude and insensitive to those around me. I don't like it when others do it in my meetings.

I also dislike what this constant connectivity is doing to our culture in general. Spend time in an airport, look around at the mall. Everywhere people congregate, they are yakking it up on cell phones, oblivious to those around them. We are fast losing our sensibilities and courtesies in public areas.

There was a time when public phones were in booths. They were designed to help you talk in privacy. Maybe we should create booths for cell phone users.

Regardless, and more to my original point, turn off the signal and stash your phone while you're in class. Use your laptop wisely. It's your money, it's your education. Be courteous.

Penny for your thoughts...

Students, Technology & Trends

A recent study (2004) by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) shared some key findings about undergrads and information technology.1


  • Nearly all (97.5%) students surveyed owned a computer. More than two-thirds of those computers were one year old or less, and most were laptops. In spite of these numbers, most of the students never brought their laptops to class. They cited heft and theft as key reasons.
  • On average, students spend 23 hours a week online. Guys spend more time online than girls. Engineers and business majors more than others. They prefer broadband connections, and only 10% depend on dial-up access.
  • While students use text messaging and other more immediate forms of communication, 83% preferred email as the official means of communication from their schools.
  • Three quarters of the students surveyed used course management systems (like our WebCT), most several times a week. More than 75% prefer at least moderate to extensive use of technology for their coursework.
  • Most students (70%) use computers for downloading music or social networking (Facebook or mySpace).
  • Use of blogs, podcasts and other forms of new media tend to be used by less. While the use of blogs, podcasts and other forms of new media have grown significantly, they are not used by a majority of students.
  • Respondents ranked convenience as the “single most important benefit of IT in their academic experience.”
  • When asked about their priorities, first year students wanted “more network speed and access to music!” Seniors wanted “more computer labs and IT training.”
  • While a majority of students who make up the ‘net generation’ are fluent and highly adaptive to technology, there remains “an important minority of undergraduates do not appear enamored of IT, and some even appear to avoid it.”

These findings are consistent with our experience at PSU. Nearly all have computers, but demand for our computer labs is at an all-time high. Since we serve a rural region, we probably have more students dependent on dial-up internet access.


Students communicate freely through (Facebook, text messaging, cell phones), but still respond well official emails. They appreciate online services. If surveys or polls are provocative, they respond in significant numbers on myPlymouth. They tend to download music until they are warned that they might be caught. Some chase technology, some could care less. There remain some who are overwhelmed and intimidated.


Students are no longer using phones in the residence halls. Nearly all have cell phones and in spite of 500 free long distance minutes per month, less than 15% are using them. This has significant implications for our campus and how we communicate with students.


What does this mean for us? Some questions for thought.


  1. How do you communicate with students?
  2. How should PSU communicate with students? (in other words, what is the most effective means to reach them?)
  3. If there was a pandemic and students were prohibited from being on campus, how prepared are you to conduct your class online?
  4. How does technology enhance what you do?
  5. How does technology undermine or burden what you do?
  6. What area of technology would you like to learn in the next year?

Our students live in an online you?










One of the greater challenges in the classroom today is bridging the widening gap to students who are more connected than any generation in history. Students are using technologies that many faculty and instructors do not use, much less understand. While the work of faculty is demanding enough, failure to understand these dynamics may place them at a severe disadvantage.

Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, recently stated that the greatest challenge we face in higher education is the explosive evolution of technologies juxtaposed to stagnant pedagogy.

More and more, our students navigate within a real and virtual world of vast amounts of information, media and stimuli. Some of it is very real, such as blogs from war zones, and other parts are more surreal, like gamers. But more than anything else, they are the generation of online social networking. While we sit back and observe, maybe pass judgment on the folly of it all, they are running in information circles around us. They communicate and network like most of us have never known.

Most students have social networking web pages. Maybe on, maybe on If you want to get to know them, this is where they hang out. Avoid a critical eye; use a listening eye. To know these places and how interaction works is to gain understanding of your students. While some are getting press on irresponsible postings, there is a far greater story about how youth today are presenting themselves, their interests and their skills online. These sophomoric beginnings will evolve to emerging electronic portfolios.

I know. Our two daughters, 17 and 13, and all their friends, live for this. They take pictures, post them online, write and chat with others. They record videos, edit and integrate with sound and special effects, then post to and link to their pages. As parents, we emphasize safety and etiquette, and share stories about how some people make big mistakes, but mostly we allow them their rites of passage.

These tools and skills will become increasingly important as they enter a complex, networked employment world.

How can you use this information to reach out in new ways, to incorporate some of your coursework into an online experience? First, spend some time online. Get into Facebook and find your way to Plymouth University. Look up some of your students. You might even ask them for their facebook addressees.

You might want to create your own page in A few of your colleagues are already there. Check out this one:

You don't need to be a convert, but if you know your students better, this information can be useful in connecting with them in class and helping them better understand the material you teach.

You can also use some of the more dynamic tools in WebCT to strike up some conversations in ways you never dreamed.

I'm not saying whether this is good or bad. In fact, there are elements of both in this new world. I am saying, however, that any tendency to shrug this off as a passing fad is to miss a key ingredient in understanding students of today. They are the employees of tomorrow. Those who will be successful will be those who exploit their online networking and community.


Key Under the Flower Pot


One of the most prominent threats to our networks and the sensitive data transmitted comes from legitimate users …us! Strong passwords are the most important cog in our security plan. We have access to many systems and sensitive information to do our jobs. However, many of us have never changed our passwords. For those who have, many use the names of pets, sons and daughters, or other words associated with our lives. Some use the word ‘password’ within their password. And others keep their passwords taped under their keyboard or on a piece of paper in their drawer. That’s like putting a key under the flower pot outside the front door of Fort Knox.


While these are all very logical, personal coping mechanisms, these are often the cause of security breaches. Any miscreant intent upon hacking into, say, the student information system, would look up a number of employee names, find their birth dates, scoop some information on immediate family members and pets, and then get down to business. It probably wouldn’t take long to find a match with some of the password cracking tools available. At that point, they might have access to sensitive data, grades, or worse, maybe pilfer private identity information.


Responsibility for security rests with all of us. To help alleviate the need for multiple PSU passwords, ITS has developed a single sign-on feature to myPlymouth. With one username and password, you can sign in to Banner, WebCT and many other internal sources of information. In the future, we’ll build more into that single sign on, making your life easier, but requiring us to be ever more vigilant in our methods of password management.


The most important thing you can do to heighten our security is to change your password routinely. Every three months is good practice, or at least once a year. Use passwords that include letters and numbers. Avoid names or common words that someone could guess. If you must write them down, avoid writing them next to the associated usernames. Protect them like you would your money and credit cards. Better still, confine them to memory.

And if you do have any keys under the flower pot, lose 'em.

PSU Directories

There’s been a lot of reaction to the new PSU print directory. I was involved in the decision not to include employees in this year's directory. Here’s some of the background.

The central issue is this: The print directory is a cumbersome process to produce. Not so much for student listings, but employees. It is driven by a publication deadline, designed to get this to campus as soon as possible after the start of the semester. This deadline generates the need to have all employee listings by the end of August. That may seem easy, but it’s far more challenging and time consuming than it looks. First, not everyone is on campus during the month of August when this information is needed. Second, we are hiring a lot of people right up to, and beyond, September. As a result, the employee directory is an incomplete snapshot of who is here at the end of August. And even then, titles and roles change, so a large percentage of the employee listings are incomplete or inaccurate. When the print directories arrive, and throughout the year, we weather a storm of complaints about the directory.

Over the summer, our folks in ITS spent a lot of time developing and making improvements to the search function in myPlymouth. In fact, our web portal is one of the finest I know. myPlymouth is the envy of a lot of schools. When our folks go to industry conferences, colleagues from other schools are ravenous to hear how we do it. They waive registration fees for many of our people just so they’ll come and talk. I could not be more proud to oversee such a fine information system and the talented individuals who put it together.

Given those two factors, I advocated for a shift from print to online directories. This was presented to the President’s Cabinet last spring, at which time they responded that the print directory was still needed. To alleviate a no-win situation on the employee directory, I made the call to place the emphasis on the online directories and rolling out the new voice activated directory. And acknowledging that there are many who still need a print version, we made that available for anyone to print.

Since the directory was delivered, here’s some of the feedback we’ve received. Thanks to the many of you who delivered this feedback in tactful ways. 😉

The print version used to have titles attached to each individual. The online look up function does not include them. People would like that back.

Response: This provokes a bit of humorous history. Several years ago, the print directory had many employees listed with their official titles in the Banner system. Yet they were truncated to something like 8 characters. We had many ‘admin ass’ who were none too pleased. Thus began a laborious, annual process to get the data from Banner and go through and edit them. This added to HR’s burden and duress in August. However, because we know this is important to you, we’ll be looking for ways to get that info into the online directory.

Many people simply prefer the tactile print booklet. It’s always there, even when you log off or power down. It’s very easy grab and look up.

Response: Touche'. Which is why it is still printed. But we want your employee data to be as accurate as possible. A printed insert is available in myPlymouth. It’s only as accurate as the point in time which it was produced.

The advantage of the online version is accuracy, currency and darn near 24/7 availability. And when you leave the office, and the print version, you can access directory information from home or elsewhere.

The online version is pretty good for individual look ups. Nice improvements over the summer. But hey, can you speed it up? If you search by department, you can go get coffee before it is completed.

Response: Thanks, and we’ll be working to speed it up.

Who the heck made this decision without seeking input from users?

Response: That would be me. And this is where you can comment and give me some feedback. I simply ask that you let things settle a bit and spend some time using the two new systems. Dial 3333, call a colleague. Try it. Spend some time in myPlymouth. This is and will continue to be where more and more information is stored.

We are committed to making these new systems work for you. Please understand that we cannot simply add new functions online without letting go of some old processes. That is and will continue to be my mantra.

That said, we will compile the feedback received this year and consolidate it into recommendations for next year's issue.

This is unfair to the trades people. They often don't have ready access to computers. They keep a print directory with them and use it often.

Response: That is why we created an alternative print copy. I know it’s an extra step to get and print it, but it’s there for you to get and place within your print version. Also, try the 3333 voice activated directory.

So that’s how this whole thing transpired. If you have comments or feedback, please let me know in here. Use the link for LEAVE A REPLY at the top and bottom of this page. We’re listening.

Finally, as with most evolutions in technology, we need to try and adapt. I simply ask that you give these new systems a try.

Thanks for reading.


Spam, it's getting worse again

Email…what a wonderful tool running amok. Much of our work today is based in email. When you find, however, that your inbox is cluttered with spam and unsolicited intrusions, you start to wonder if it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

Most of the mail on the internet today is spam. We protect you from most of it. Not all. You have tools at your disposal to block more. Unfortunately, the more you tighten your filters, the more good emails get caught in the nets. (sigh) Thus we are losing confidence in a communication means that used to be very reliable.

In spite of our approaches, new types of spam keep coming through. A year or so ago, we were dealing with multitudes of smut and offers to enlarge. We installed new software to filter that out. Then we had credit card and eBay scams, phishing ploys enticing us to update our accounts and offer up our access codes to financial data. Currently, we’re fending off stock deals, masked by randomly generated names and subject headings.

Consider this from a recent Computer World article:

Computer security analysts who fight spam face the same thankless task as goalkeepers: They don’t get much credit for the unsolicited e-mail they stop, only demerits for the ones that get through. But those few messages that wriggle past increasingly sophisticated filters constitute the greatest threats on the Internet. The sheer volume of spam threatens to bring the Internet to a crisis point. The amount of all e-mail traffic that is spam has recently risen to 85%, according to the Messaging Anti-Abuse Work Group in San Francisco….

Who knows the precise percentage, but those numbers are consistent with our experience.

Fighting spam is difficult in an academic environment. We value academic freedom and are committed to free exchange of ideas. Rarely do we block access to information, and only when it poses a threat to our network.

Yet if the spammers continue to have their way, they may force us to develop new strategies for communicating and messaging. It might mean that we change to another means of messaging. It almost certainly requires resources and ITS time and effort.

Set your own spam filter at This is a free service to the PSU community. Outlook users can also set a second filter under the Tools menu.

ITS will continue to keep pace with developments in the anti-spam industry. We know this is important to all of us.

Should PSU Host Blogs?

There’s been a good debate about whether or not PSU should support blogs. Who among you think this is important for PSU to invest in and support?

Blogs, or web logs, are used more and more for individuals and organizations to publish material to the web quickly and easily. Any individual can set up a blog and write until their heart's content. They can publish their thoughts to the world and with no editor, filter or moderation. If they have good ideas and can write effectively, others take notice. They may also establish a feed from your site. That means every time you post something on your blog, it is pulled to their attention.

Like so many new aspects of the web, water seeks its own level. If you are good, people take notice and your hit count increases. Some may get their 15 minutes of fame. For most, it simply brings the satisfaction of writing and publishing.

Some PSU classes use blogs. Students are required to set up a blog and post materials there as part of assignments. Some students who are less extroverted in the classroom can be more effective communicators in writing. (and vica versa)

Over the past year, PSU has been hosting a small blog server in a pilot study. Several departments have signed on to use them, along with a few individuals. The very blog you're reading now is sitting on that server. Yet we cannot continue to expand its use without investing in more equipment.

With that background, here is the issue. Should PSU host a blog site for individuals or not? Should we invest PSU resources in the hardware to host blogs in the PSU domain? It might cost around $7-8,000, plus someone’s time to maintain and upgrade it in the future. Or should we use and encourage blogs, but use any one of the many blog sites free and easy to anyone on the web. There are two camps of thought.

Camp One: PSU should not only support, but encourage blog use. We are an academic community where free exchange of ideas and thoughts is fundamental to our mission. By encouraging the use of blogs, we can bring more attention to PSU. In a Google Economy, this is muscle. It could also be a marketing boon. $7-8k in cost is nothing considering the larger cost of technologies on campus. PSU can and should invest in this rapidly expanding means of communication. It is core to what we do. Also, by hosting the blog site at PSU, we do not require students sign up for web services outside of our control.

Camp Two: PSU should encourage and support blog use for anyone interested, but why invest in hardware and support when blogs are a commodity readily and easily available on the web? Anyone can sign up for a free blog by establishing a username, password and verification of age. (, for an example) There is nothing overly personal or sensitive in that information. (If you don’t want to give your real birthdate, don’t.) There would be no cost to PSU and the same functionality would exist. Besides, given the rapid pace of change around web applications, we might want to wait this out and see if it’s a fad or a true wave of the future.

I’ve simplified the debate to this core issue. There are pros and cons to each. The crux question to you is whether or not you feel this is important to what we do at PSU? The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) engaged in this debate in their September 2006 meeting. Their recommendation was that PSU should support and host blogs.

It will be presented as a budget priority for next year. It will compete with other priorities for new funding.

What do you think? Do blogs matter to you and if so, should we host or post elsewhere? I’d love to hear from others in the campus community.
(ITS’ers and blog aficionados, let’s give others a chance to chime in first)