Support Nightmare

There was an interesting question the other day about a student claiming CE/Vista lost the draft a student wrote. The administrator, Michael Scalero, wanted to know how we “administrators recover or assist users in gaining access to the content that the students (or instructors) have saved”. Part of my response was,

Besides, CE/Vista isn’t designed for administrators to assist users. Administrator roles are just to manage availability, access, and settings. It just happens that by having the ability to enroll our account(s) we can go into a section and see what the users see in many cases.

This got me thinking…. There is no official support role at the section context in CE/Vista. At best administrators can place users they control into the section to replicate the issue which can only act like other normal users. The normal roles are designer, instructor, student, auditor, and teaching assistant. Because a support role was never created, there are not any built-in useful tools for diagnosing and addressing problems the users may encounter. Instead all that work happens by those with access to the database. A couple years ago Georgia Tech gave a presentation on the support panel they created for T-Square which was designed for helping them overcome common issues in Sakai.

In CE/Vista,administrators have to rely on self-reporting (usually unreliable) or taking over accounts to see what legitimately they should be able to know to help solve problems. For example:

A student reports he could not see a section in the class list. An administrator’s verification is to check the enrollment in either the section or user views, but there is very little confidence this means anything. The student could have hidden the class, the start-end time could have briefly blipped, etc.

Step one of problem solving is identifying the problem. When there are dozens of potential problems without any way of narrowing down the field, administrators will rightly desire more access to the system’s nooks and crannies to see what is really happening. Because it doesn’t exist in the web pages served, they look at the data stored on the web and database servers to better understand. (Really, though something like Coradiant might help here by going back to see the HTML the server delivered to the student.)

“With great power comes responsibility.” Administrators are already very powerful and can do really scary things. The ability to act as any user? Would need to be kept in a log so employees who abuse this power can be terminated quickly and easily. Even the ability to see anything other users can see could be horrible if poorly implemented.

A former boss had a difficult time with a faculty member who often accused this boss of reading the faculty’s email. The evidence was emails the faculty member didn’t remember reading had been marked as read. The huge assumptions were: 1) the faculty member would remember having read it, 2) the only people capable are this boss and the faculty member, and 3) there were not automated rules to mark the email as read. All this because someone mentioned to the faculty member the people in IT would be able to read email. Imagine the ire if faculty thought administrators could do things as them in the learning management system….