Academic Computing position available at Evergreen

A position has been opened at Evergreen within the Academic Computing workgroup at Evergreen.  This position is a senior system administrator, supporting the Computer Science curriculum, and providing infrastructure administration and oversight for all the computer classooms for the college.  It’s a fabulous workgroup and a position that has incredible opportunities for growth and evolution.  I invite all that are interested in working in dynamic workgroup and a fantastic institution!

For more information, visit the college HR website listing.

Canvas LMS Selected

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges has just completed a exhaustive RFP process to find a replacement for Angel, their current Learning Management System (LMS) which is slated to be unsupported by 2014.  The successful vendor selected was Instructure Inc., the providers of the newest LMS on the market called Canvas.  This is an open source project, built on the Ruby on Rails framework.  It is a vastly cleaner and simpler to use system that received high usability ratings from the faculty who participated in vendor testing over the course of the past few months.

What is happening with the other state schools?  In my conversations with colleagues across the other state four year institutions, it is clear that they are all looking carefully at this product as a replacement of their current systems that range from Moodle to Sakai, to Blackboard.  The State Board is currently in contract negotiations with Instructure to agree on a contract and costs, and are allowing for the other Washington institutions to be on the contract if they choose.  Everyone is watching closely to see how this all develops to potentially take advantage of the opportunity to tag on to the contract.

What does this mean for Evergreen?  Since 2006, Evergreen has self hosted their own LMS (Moodle) on a bit of a shoestring.  If the Instructure contract made sense and Evergreen decided to move to the new platform, it would be a big change for the institution.  If Evergreen decided to participate, a vastly updated suite of built-in functionality would be available including student eportfolios, teleconferencing, improved student assessment functions and accessibility tools.  Sticky problems of Moodle such as the inability to make course sites public and elegantly embedding media files (to name just two), would be resolved.  This would be an enormous leap in functionality to a highly extensible tool with a modern, flexible user-interface.  It would also be a change (which can be difficult) and faculty would need to be trained and brought up to speed along with their colleagues across the state.  Ultimately, migrating to Canvas will come down to cost and whether the faculty and institution believed that there is value to moving away from Moodle.

Check it out for yourself.. As contract negotiations at the state level trundle along, I highly recommend that anyone interested in this topic to go to the Instructure website and create a temporary demo account.  You will then be able to poke around and see what it looks like and how it works.  If you do any experimentation, please send me an email or post a comment below as you develop thoughts, questions, etc.. I truly would love to hear them.


ESRI’s new business analyst online

ESRI the makers of ArcGIS just made available to Evergreen Business Analyst and Business Analyst Online, which is a very interesting exploration into the integration of GIS and business analytics.  At first glance it is a way to look at standard datasets through a geographic lens.  You can add data points, buffer or travel times and then run reports from a number of integrated data sets not least of which includes current US Census data.  Create report ready customized maps, conduct market analysis based on a host of socioeconomic information.  They are starting to improve the ability to run queries and analyses from the cloud which rivals some of the more CPU intensive processes that GIS is (in)famous for.  Check out some of the demos which give an idea of what this system is built to do.  You can also try a free trial.  Evergreen students and faculty of course can, through a global account, use the application as part of the state GIS consortium.  Send me an email if you are interested and I can get you started..

Want to try something interesting, try the Get the Scoop on Any Area in the U.S. from the front page of BAO and type in your zipcode and check out the information about your home zip.  whoa.

How to attach a document to an assignment in Moodle 2

Want to use a pre-written set of instructions for an assignment or attach guidelines to a forum without having to write it over and over again int the instructions?  wnceduonline published the video below in youtube as an illustration of how you can attach a file to an assignment in Moodle 2.0 (not just link  it), which is a little tricky given the new file structure.  Give it a look and try it out, it actually works pretty well.

Managing your files in Moodle 2.0

file pickerFile behavior in Moodle 2.0 is different that previous versions.  The differences were summed up nicely by folks in a recent moodle developer forum and I’ll try and summarize that here:

Files are connected to resources and activities,  For instance, if you add a resource to your course (for example in your course you click on Add a Resource and choose File), the file you upload belongs to that resource.  If you put an image in the feedback to a multiple-choice question, that file belongs to the multiple choice question.  If you embed a photo in a forum post, the photo belongs to that forum post.  Delete those resources, and the file gets removed along with it.  This is fundamentally different from the Moodle 1.9 days where files and resources  that you added to your site were discretely separate.

Faculty own the files in their courses and these can be available across courses.  Because of the clear ownership of files, then at a conceptual level, there could be a lot of duplication (for example if you have the same 150 page Artificial Acetabular Reconstruction document as a resource in every course.).  However, Moodle does something magic behind the scenes so that file is only stored once on the server, and faculty can access them from different course sites that they are managing.

The thing about My private files is that it is it is completely private to you. It is just a staging area where you can put files, so that wherever you go to add files for real, then those files are easy to get at in the file-picker. However (if you are a teacher) students will never get a file that comes from your ‘My private files’ area. They would only get the files that you have added to a course as a resource.

This is the first salvo on file management, I’ll try and add more later, but for now, check out this article from the help docs for some alternate explanations that might be better articulated than this particular post.

Feedback activity now part of Moodle 2.0

A really useful third party module that was written for moodle is now part of the core Moodle 2.0 installation.  This activity is a really great way to build and deploy quick surveys for your students.  The activity allows a variety of inputs types like text or numeric fields, multiple choice, radio buttons and the like.  The survey’s are easy to build and you can make the results visible to the students or not.

type of feedbackTo add a feedback activity, start editing your course and in the block you want to put the activity, add a new feedback activity.  From the Add question to activity page you can add a variety of questions to pose to your students.  You can set a timeframe for them to take it, make it so their answers are anonymous and also allow for multiple submissions.

Play with it some, I think faculty will find it a very useful addition to Moodle in enabling a quick way to develop a response feedback loop with their students.  Linked below is more information on how to use this activity, and if I get a few minutes I’ll post a quick webcast on how to create a quick feedback activity for your students.’s current documentation on the Feedback Module

Staff Challenge Results

The Challenge:  The Consultant Trac ticket challenge was issued at the staff meeting on February 2.  The challenge, the most *Valid* tickets submitted by a consultant by the end of the quarter wins a free lunch with me (I know, how exciting). Careful and scrupulous review of the data show a clear jump in the number of tickets issued (and resolved – thank you Techcons) as it appeared that many were clearly on the lookout for technical shortcomings in the Center.

Figure 1

General Results: In general there was a considerable increase in ticket activity from when the challenge was offered (middle of week 5), as can be seen in Figure 1. One cannot help to surmise that even given the occasional sandbag (see link at the bottom) by and large the Computer Center was the beneficiary of a heightened sense of vigilance regarding the state of the facility.

More to the point it appeared that Dylan and Ian went head to head on tickets from the get go.  By week 7, ticket rates went back to historic norms.  It is unclear at this point if this standard distribution was a result of pure exhaustion on the part of the consultants or because there just were no more problems or issues to be squeezed out of the Center – IOW everything was working perfectly.

Figure 2

Individual Results: It would appear that, after close review of the tickets and the elimination of one clearly invalid ticket, Dylan and Ian ended up in a  dead heat for first place (Figure 2).

That said, Ian and Dylan and I will be heading out to lunch in the near future whenever it is convenient for them.  Arrangements will be made.  Thanks to all for a considerable net increase in proactive work and keeping the place working smoothly and happy week 10 of the quarter.

Ticket Sandbag

Wylio great site for creating blog posts using creative commons images

This is The Republic of Nauru. All of © 2008 Tatiana Gerus | more info (via: Wylio)

Since today is Independence day in Nauru, I thought I’d use the occasion to demonstrate a really nifty site for capturing free imagery and posting it in a blog post. This is using the site, and from this site one can peruse all the creative commons imagery that are available in Flickr and free to use. You can then resize and place the image, and it creates the HTML code for you to copy and paste into your posting. In this case, I grabbed a lovely image of Nauru and it created all the placement code to put into my post. I think this is a pretty nifty tool for doing quick and attributed postings.

Project planning and prioritization.

I participated in a session on strategic planning and IT projects/prioritizations, which highlighted the way larger and more formal institutions are going about wrestling with prioritizing IT needs with limited budgets/resources.  There were more stories of steering committees, management committees, budget groups and formal chains of group decision making than you can even believe or want to be a part of.  The benefit that I see that Evergreen has for it is a lack of structure which would (does) enable us to create models that work outside of administrative boundaries and are for the most part voluntary.

Another grain of wisdom in this discussion is that, aside from core infra-structural needs, projects are filtered through constituent groups and prioritized by these groups.  IT does not make prioritization, it only helps constituent groups understand the scope of the request (e.g.,that project will probably take 150 development hours).  That way 2 things happen.  1, IT is not the one defining what gets done first, this should be an institutional desision.  2, Constituent groups and/or college senior staff have ownership and an understanding of IT priorities and initiatives and forces more engagement with these decisions which can have a great affect on the institution.  As an ancillary benefit, they or their staff might be less likely to go outside of the process (we’ll just buy something outside of IT) because they need to be as accountable for the process as they expect their colleagues to be accountable. We should be thinking now how we want to make sure this process is a functional one when/if resources pick up and/or we loose key individuals that will make us wish we had a decent prioritization process in place.

Building a community around IT

One session this morning centered around a group of reps from different institutions that  were relaying their experiences in providing a core IT support environment in higher ed.  There were definitely some common themes that were pervasive, most of which revolved around strategies for building a community.  Things that might be useful to bring home to the mother ship (AKA Evergreen) would be proactive outreach to constituencies that might have concerns, questions or issues around IT but we are not hearing from them because nobody’s asking them questions directly.
Client Services things to consider as important in rebuilding trust and accountability.  Look for the problems, seek out the festering sores.  Do not work with blinders on that reinforces the misconception that if i don’t hear any rumbling then  everyone must be happy.  Also, that commonly over-spouted concept – Transparency – communicate all the things we are doing at any given time.  Be proactive about meeting with groups to let them know what the priorities are.  We need to move away from a climate of “fear of reprisal”, this does nothing to further trust and functionality.