E-campus in Taiwan: securing education networks

Kang Ning Junior College of Medical Care and Management is computerising administrative processes with an emphasis on security, says Grace Min-Ju Ching, CIO and Peter Jing-Lian Ye, Director of the Computer Centre. Report: Gerald Wang.

E-Campus in TaiwanKang Ning was founded by Cardinal Paul Yu Pin in 1968 as a vocational school for nursing; it was upgraded and reformed to a junior college in 1996 with recognition from the Ministry of Education. Since then, six departments have been established in addition to nursing: early childhood care and education, international business, business administration, information management, visual communications and applied foreign languages.

?Nowadays we are no longer a nursing college, and basically we have two categories of courses which are nursing and administrations,? explains Grace Min-Ju Ching, CIO, Kang-Ning Junior College of Medical Care and Management. ?Currently, we have around 100 teachers and 70 supporting staff, with about 3000 students.?

Rationale of computerisation

The primary reason for this academic diversification is the global tendency of informational revolution. In the education sector, most schools and institutions are actively promoting electronic campuses.

Kang Ning has a couple of drivers to construct the e-campus system. For example, the school needed such a system to digitise their teaching process. For administration of the campus, the deployment of the e-campus system has been accomplished and the system is undergoing successive maintenance. In the meantime, the school is planning for the computerisation of supporting functions like HR and accounting.

?The driver for this is very simple ? we want to improve the efficiency of administration as well as the quality of services delivered to students. For instance, the academic result functionality embedded in the teaching system allows us to provide feedback to students and parents promptly; it enables teachers to strengthen their guidance to students who didn?t perform well,? adds Ching.

All these form part of the campus? administration system. This system can help enhance the quality of teaching by enabling teachers to share their teaching resources on the school network.

Scale of the programme

Kang Ning plans to eventually computerise all the teaching and administrative processes of the college. They established the learning system and human resource management system in the next stage of the programme. All the staff members and students will be included into the system and benefit from it.
?It is hard to give an exact figure on how much we have budgeted for this computerisation effort,? explains Ching. ?Since there are many individual projects of different scales involved in this broader initiative. These scales in terms of investment for each project which ranges from several hundred thousand to millions.?

Every single project is budgeted separately. ?Since the scale of our initiative of computerising the campus is immense, we are not able to complete it within one year. We are working on several different programmes now,? adds Ching.

The entire initiative is a progressive project. Kang Ning needs tens of millions to provide a software and hardware infrastructure for the e-campus ? it costs NT$5 million (US$ 150,602) to just set up a computer room. The school now
has sufficient computer laboratories for its students.

Improved efficiency

Peter Jing-Lian Ye, Director of Computer Centre of the college shares, ?I think the most evident achievement is a simplified and clear workflow. It?s apparent that the operational efficiency of our colleagues has been improved. The second benefit is the diminished human cost, since lots of tasks which previously would require manual work are now automated. What would require three people can now be settled with only one staff member.?

For example, every month, Kang Ning has to make settlement of teachers? salary based on the hours worked. Previously it would require two weeks of operation, and this is expected to be reduced to two or three days when the system has been completed. Another example is the processing of students? academic results at the end of each semester. This task used to take two to three weeks? time, now Kang Ning can deliver the result transcripts to parents. The operational efficiency has been
drastically improved.

Access & security

The internet is pervasive and highly developed in Taiwan, so the college?s teachers, students and partners are able to access the educational and administrative resources outside the school network with an internet connection and proper
authentication.

?We will set different levels of authorisation for different users. After the first phase of the project, all the information is transmitted over the network, thus we stress on how to securely transfer the information over the network once the infrastructure has been set up,? notes Ye. ?It is still a challenge how to conveniently but securely transfer the files over the internet. My biggest concern among all these problems is still security. I think the concern of security can only be resolved by technology.?

Security is an absolute priority of the system, because most of the data stored in the computer system and network are personal and sensitive, something which Kang Ning cannot afford to let the security be breached on the internet.

Kang Ning values the importance of security during transmission; that is how to ensure a reinforced encryption scheme under which data can be securely transmitted to the receiver without being retrieved by any third party. The college have dedicated lots of effort on this during the creation of the system. Currently Kang Ning is using SSL to encrypt the messages transmitted.

Kang Ning has run tests for more than half a year. The college needed a product which could allow good integration and interaction of firewall, IDP and other software. When the college first started this evaluation process, the IT administrators compared similar products from several vendors. Kang Ning found this product trustworthy for the reliability and stability it demonstrated during our real-time test. In addition, the campus received significant support from the vendor during the maintenance and their trustworthiness in executing the contract is respected by the administrators.

When the school considered products from other vendors, the vendors were required to run real time
test on Kang Ning?s system for at least one month. The test influences the entire operation thus the college was quite prudent.

When selecting vendors to work with for a particular project, the first criterion is that it has to be professional. Before signing the contract, the campus needs to verify the accreditation of the vendors it was going to work with. The second one is the agility for various occasions. Lots of engineers are not agile enough, so Kang Ning has to put a lot of
emphasis on this.

The deployment of VPN enables the school to put lots of services and information on line without worries, which the college has hesitated to do in the past.

Maintenance

To ensure the effectiveness of the system after its deployment, the IT administrators needed to make sure first that they can have prompt system update once any change happens to the environment.

Secondly the IT administrators needed to constantly monitor the traffic and performance of the running system. Although the system has been tested by the administrators for more than six months, there might still be problems which require more time to emerge. Therefore, to guarantee the stability of the system, Kang Ning will be continuously monitoring around the clock. The product comes with very useful reporting tools which make it easier to make adjustments.

Communication & Sharing

In addition to resources, the e-campus administration system is closely related to workflow. The tendency is to have a handy system which is also secure. Kang Ning has to make sure that the workflow is smooth; it needs to take care of the working habits of the school?s staff. The IT administrators needed to make their colleagues understand the importance of security. This requires some dedicated efforts in communication.

?We don?t have any problem of internal communication at Kang Ning,? asserts Ye. ?Instead, how to be flexible in dealing with system instability was a big challenge for us. We had to teach everyone to deal with emergencies by increasing their familiarity of the products. In terms of architecture of the system, we need to prohibit similar products.?

Because of the similarity between workflows exercised, Kang Ning doesn?t have any big problem in sharing information and experience between different schools in Taiwan. The only difference is the culture; each school has its own campus culture.

The IT administrators had to customise the processes and workflow according to different cultures. Technology-wise, while setting up a system, Kang Ning will take the standard solutions of the industry as a benchmark; it doesn?t need to invest more but evaluating the changes in the industry and decide on the projects to implement according to this and its budget.

Looking ahead

In the next few years Kang Ning needs to strengthen the communication of resources and materials between various departments of the school, notes Ching.

?About the exterior of the campus, we will have to boost the capacity of the infrastructure as the campus population increases. And the protection against virus, previously we put emphasis on individual defence,? shares Ching. ?However the fact is, after several years of evolution, most of the viruses and worms are in the network, if we can destroy them before they enter the computers, the impact will be much smaller.?

Moreover, Kang Ning needs to have to continuously add functionalities to the system for the eventuality of constructing a comprehensive e-campus. There is a need to secured the entire administration system. Educating people affected by the project is another important aspect that we are putting effort to.

These years the college has been actively promoting the computerisation of campus administration. So far it has achieved some success especially in the area of security. It is also vigorously educating its students on secure use of technology.

Taiwan?s Ministry of Education is actively leading the computerisation initiatives of institutions of higher education. Meanwhile, Taipei?s Municipal government is also doing its part very well with the city wide wireless network that has been set up. The school network will benefit much from this broader infrastructure.

?Our school is just one of many schools in Taiwan which are reforming well in the age of informational revolution,? concludes Ching.

Source: PSTM Magazine, June-July Issue 2007

2 responses to “E-campus in Taiwan: securing education networks

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