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+ Wireless update

+ Student Response System

+ Tech Camp 9

+ Novell Server upgrade

+ Class Email Alias lists

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ITSS home : Info.tech.NEWS : February 2006

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Technology news for UMD faculty, staff and students

February 2006

Wireless update

During the January break period ITSS staff installed a new wireless networking system. Last semester all of our wireless hubs were 'thick', in that each one had an operating system and a wireless application running on them. This works fine for smaller wireless implementations, but UMD will eventually have about 300 wireless devices on campus. We currently have over 150 wireless devices, and it is already becoming hard to manage a network half the size of our full rollout.

A new technology available uses a centralized approach, where a central 'hub' manages up to 100 'thin' wireless devices. Although this description is an oversimplification, the operating system and application run on the centralized 'hub', and the radio devices are 'thin' in that they simply relay radio signals back to the hub. This scales well for large numbers of access points, since upgrading the hub upgrades all the radio devices.

Unfortunately, after the semester started and the wireless load began to grow we ran into some severe problems with connectivity. Some laptops dropped connectivity after being connected about 30 minutes. With the help of our vendor we were able to find and remove from the network a wireless device that was causing widespread interference. Removing this errant access point improved reliability considerably, however, some problems remain.

A recent visit by our vendor has narrowed the problem considerably, and the vendor is working on a solution as this article goes to press. We will work closely with the vendor to get the remaining problems resolved.

Student Response System update

Student Response Systems (SRS) are small handheld devices coupled with receiving hardware and presentation software. The system allows an instructor to present questions, usually via a computer projector, and collect student answers immediately during the lecture. The results can generally be manipulated and displayed and can be used to change the course of the lecture. Emerging literature on the use of this technology suggest that students are more engaged in learning in courses utilizing SRS.

In November of 2004, the University of Minnesota Duluth formed a committee of faculty and staff to explore the possibility of a standard solution for SRS. There had been at least four different products in use at the time. The number of interested faculty was increasing and the faculty who were already using the various systems planned to expand their use into more sections and classes. In some cases, students had purchased different types of handheld response units for different classes during a single semester. Given expected increase in use, consensus that the technology was useful in teaching and learning, and the notion that central support - only feasible for a single product - would improve usage, the ITSS Faculty Technology and Classroom Technology teams collaborated to try to set a standard, and pick one product.

The first order of business was to determine what other schools were doing. In the second half of 2004, only one vendor was offering a radio-frequency product. This technology is much more robust than the older infrared technology that all vendors had been offering previously. Some universities made the decision to use the one vendor that offered this new technology, mainly because they were the only immediate option. Other vendors were only a few months behind the first to offer radio frequency, though, so this decision may have been hasty. In many other cases, universities had chosen a vendor based on association with textbook providers, complimentary hardware pricing, or similar one-dimensional reasons. The team could not find an example of another institution developing a reasonably complex rationale to answer the complex question of which product to choose.

The committee developed a rough draft of the standard at the first meeting. Because the committee was composed of faculty who had been using the technology in the classroom and information technology professionals who supported teaching and classroom technology, there was ample brainstorming about known and anticipated issues. Not knowing the precise landscape of possible product solutions, the group decided to categorize the standard into a two-tiered hierarchy of "requirements" and "preferences." By the second meeting, the group had reached consensus on a standard. The next step in the process was to find suitable vendors. The project leader called all known vendors to determine how closely they conformed to the standard, and reported findings to the committee. This process resulted in three vendors that met most of the standard and five that were rejected because they fell short of the standard in at least two significant categories among the "requirements." With the vendors chosen, the next step was to allow the committee to assess each of the three products.

The committee was able to reach consensus on a single product from Turning Technologies, which became the standard during Fall Semester 2005. During Fall 2005, 5 faculty taught 7 classes including 1164 unique students. During Spring 2006, we will have 14 faculty teaching 18 classes including 1655 unique students. About 100 clickers were sold back to the
Bookstore at the end of Fall 2005, and we have determined that about 415 students who used a clicker during Fall will also need one this Spring. Over the course of Fall 2005 and Spring 2006, a total of 2489 "unique" students will have used this technology (or about 25% of all UMD students). There also a test kit available for checkout. Please contact Jason Davis (mailto:jdavis@d.umn.edu) if you are interested in further information, or view the web resources for using "clickers" at UMD: http://www.d.umn.edu/itss/classroom/srs.html

Tech Camp 9

In January 2006, 20 faculty members attended the ninth Tech Camp at UMD. This special, seven-day program for faculty combines learning about pedagogy, technology tools, and learning styles with work time. Faculty campers each came to camp with a project in mind, and they used the work time to make progress on their projects. Tech Camp 9 was a success for all.

Through our Tech Camp program, ITSS has helped over 180 faculty members to incorporate technology tools into their teaching. As a result, students are introduced to technology tools that can enhance their learning. For more information about this program, see http://www.d.umn.edu/itss/etrg/techcamp/

Novell Office Server update

ITSS has converted a number of departments to the new Novell Office Server, and hopes to convert the rest of departments in the next few months. The new "server" is cluster of systems to provide better performance, and more redundancy. Currently, a failure on the Office Server could potentially affect all customers. The new server cluster will allow services (like files and printing) to keep working, even if there were a problem with one or more of the servers in the cluster. The new server will also support an upgraded Novell operating system, allowing us to provide additional services.

ITSS will be contacting departments during the next several weeks to schedule moves.

Novell services /itss/novell/

facultEtools: Class Email Alias lists

Class email lists, also called class alias lists, allow instructors to send email to a single address which is expanded to go to every student who is registered for the class.

For security reasons, only people with a UMD faculty or staff account can access the alias request page which is found on the UMD Technology Resources for Faculty and Staff page: http://www.d.umn.edu/itss/facstaff/ . You will need to use your email login name and password to authenticate to this page. Once you have authenticated, please view the FAQ's for further information on how to use class email aliases.

You can also request password protected web folders for course documents at the same time you request a class email alias.

If you have never requested a class alias before and would like further information, send email to aliasmgr@d.umn.edu. As always, students who register for the class are automatically added to the list within a day or two, and students who drop the class are removed.

If you have questions about a facultEtool or would like to set up a meeting to discuss using one of the tools that we feature, please contact Shelly McCauley Jugovich (x6862) or Bruce Reeves (x6831)

Other facultEtools: http://www.d.umn.edu/itss/facstaff/WebServices.html

info.tech.News is published monthly during the academic year by ITSS. An email digest is also sent to all users subscribed to the infotech.announce, UMD.business.announce and studenttech.announce. The goal is to distribute information useful to the daily routines of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus community in conjunction with computer and telephone technologies. Comments or suggestions may be sent to the editor at: sbradt@d.umn.edu.