Technology news for UMD faculty, staff and
February 2013 Archives
Classroom Exams Taken Online in Moodle
We have been receiving an increasing number of requests to have students take a test online in Moodle while in the classroom. In nearly all classroom cases, this will work without issue. The exceptions are our large lecture hall environments.
Wireless access in the large halls has been designed for normal Internet access. "Normal" means not everyone is actively accessing a web site, email or some other Internet service at the same time. When students are taking an online test, whether in Moodle or some other system, many more people are accessing an Internet service at the same time. In order for this to work, the density of wireless access points in the hall needs to be increased, and this increased density requires a change in the design of how the wireless access points communicate with each other.
This kind of work has been done in some of our large lecture halls, but many still need to be upgraded. ITSS is planning for this work, but in the short term we suggest you contact us if you are planning on doing online testing to make sure the hall you are in can accommodate this.
Other considerations include:
students have laptops or other mobile devices with them
battery charge is sufficient to make it through the exam
Please contact Bruce Reeves (email@example.com) if you are planning an online test in a lecture hall.
You won't have far to go to find someone with a strong opinion about email. Email speeds communications, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Certainly I don't want to return to the days of paper memos. I like being able to send out an email quickly and get responses efficiently. However, the speed of email also means that our mailboxes get clogged up with lots of email. Anything I don't want to see, I consider to be spam, no matter how well-meaning the sender.
Here are a few articles on email etiquette I found out on the web. Please take a few minutes to read one or two of these. Then think about your own email practices and consider modifications that you find appropriate.
Mobile accessibility generally refers to making Web sites and applications accessible to people with disabilities when they are using mobile devices. Traditional Web accessibility and its best practices are influencing mobile design and can result in universality.
Accessibility's Impact on Mobile
Traditional Web accessibility solutions are contributing to solving the types of problems that mobile experiences. Things such as on-screen keyboards and magnification have been staples in accessibility since the eighties. As Matt May, an accessibility evangelist, said in a video interview:
...what we've learned over decades of dealing with these issues in the field of accessibility is that the things that were needs for people with disabilities are now wants for lots of other people.
Many fundamental accessibility best practices apply to mobile interfaces and content. For instance, text and images need to meet relevant requirements for sufficient color contrast, screens need to be laid out in a way that permits intuitive navigation, and controls need to respond to multiple modalities of input.
Users of mobile devices and people with disabilities experience similar barriers when interacting with Web content. For example, mobile phone users will have a hard time if a Web site's navigation requires the use of a mouse...
They recommend addressing mobile and disability accessibility at the same time:
Following these two guidelines makes your Web content more accessible to everyone regardless of situation, environment, or device. Designing to the guidelines together, instead of separately, can make the process more efficient.
This all comes down to designing for the largest possible audience regardless of disability or ability and is known as universal design. It is an inclusive approach to design that honors human diversity. Matt May's "Wanted: Mobile Dev with 40 Years Experience" presentation slides detail its seven principles:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
Size and Space for Approach and Use
Universality and the Curb Cut Effect
Taking the lessons learned from accessibility and bringing them into the mobile space can contribute to universality and result in an "Electronic Curb Cut Effect." A multitude of benefits for other people can occur when developing technology products and services with accessibility in mind just as curb cuts for wheelchairs also help people with strollers, shopping carts, and wheeled luggage.
Severity of Problems
However, curb cuts weren't put in for people with strollers, shopping carts, and wheeled luggage. They were put in for people with wheelchairs, because the of the severity of problems and consequences. People with disabilities have a moral, legal, and ethical right to access, which enables them as Matt May said in the video "to live a life unfettered.":
...you can solve people's problems by making things a little easier for them in their environment.
That carries over to everyone but it benefits people with disabilities most because you're integrating that problem. You realize if they can't do what they need to be doing they are actually being blocked from something. So it is more than a convenience. It is enabling someone to live a life unfettered.
Chisholm, Wendy and May, Matt. Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications That Reach Everyone, O'Reilly Media, 2008.
PeopleSoft Sign In Page will Change on February 24th
The sign in page for PeopleSoft Campus Solutions/Human Resources (CS/HR) and financial systems will be changed on February 24, 2013 to match the University of Minnesota's new M Key sign in page. The change will be made during the PeopleSoft weekly maintenance window (Sunday, from 6 a.m. to noon), during which the systems are regularly unavailable, so users should not experience additional service disruptions.
ITSS staff completed two major infrastructure improvements on January 5. On this Saturday, which coincided with OIT outages also planned for that weekend, we brought down most of our servers in order to do a major upgrade to our network. At the same time, we made improvements to our virtual server infrastructure in order to respond to problems that we experienced on December 19.
Both of these changes were very successful, and we expect that these changes will prevent a recurrence of problems that caused outages on December 19 and August 22. Both of these outages were traced back to errors in vendor-supplied software, but they were very frustrating nonetheless.
Setting aside the first Saturday in January was a very successful strategy for us to make these types of major changes with minimal impact. We anticipate taking similar action on January 4, 2014.
ITSS has hired Chuck Bosell and Kevin Wu as our two new managers. They started in their new roles on February 18.
Chuck will lead and direct the telecommunications, data network, data center, server rooms, and classroom technology staff and functions for ITSS. He will also sponsor and assist the student supervision team. Chuck has had a long career at ITSS, but he has also worked for UMD Facilities Management and for Telecommunications Services at UMTC.
Kevin will lead and direct the application development and system administration staff and functions for ITSS. Kevin joined our staff just this past August as an application developer. Prior to coming to UMD, he worked at Banker's Toolbox in Austin, Texas, Beijing HuiyuanJiaXun High Technology Corporation, and Beijing Suntech Software Engineering Corporation, these last two in Beijing, China.
Chuck and Kevin will be replacing two long-time managers, Steve Patterson who retired in early January, and Dan Burrows, who will be retiring in early summer. Steve and Dan have each been with UMD for over 30 years. We are most proud of their many accomplishments and wish them happy and productive years in retirement.
A new Statistical Analysis System (SAS) users group has been formed in the Duluth-Superior area. SAS is the industry leading software for analytics, data visualization, data management, and many other data related issues. SAS supports local user groups in providing educational opportunities through speaker, webinars, training workshops, and conferences. Users groups offer participants a variety of networking benefits including increased efficiency and productivity through increased exposure to new coding techniques, analysis techniques, and SAS applications between group members as well as with other SAS users and software professionals.
The Twin Ports Area SAS Users group meets bimonthly in a casual forum to discuss and share topics ranging from specific programming issues to better utilization of SAS software. We will periodically invite experts from SAS to lead seminars on a broad range of topics. Our current membership is comprised of SAS users from academia, health research, and business in and around the Duluth (MN) -Superior (WI) area. The group welcomes anyone interested in learning more about the our organization or interested in membership to contact us.
The next meeting will be held March 28th at noon at Essentia's Institute of Rural Health, 421 North 6th Avenue East, the former Daugherty Hardware Building. Use the Southwest Atrium entrance, and then go to the second floor. Topics for this meeting will include:
Saving and loading session variables between different procedure, for example saving models from variable selection methods and loading those models into other procedures
Using DOS commands with Pipe to access folder information
Twenty-two faculty members will be embarking on a new format for Tech Camp - a 10 week, online experience based on the standards for a two credit class. This means they will be devoting approximately five hours a week to Tech Camp.
All of the Tech Camp participants are developing one or more online courses to be taught during the 2013-2014 academic year.
Tech Camp runs from February 11, 2013 to April 28, 2013.
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