Playing with Technology

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke
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April 16, 2014
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function wpd3_4451_0 () {var margin = {top: 20, right: 20, bottom: 120, left: 40}, width = 700 - margin.left - margin.right, height = 500 - - margin.bottom; var x0 = d3.scale.ordinal() .rangeRoundBands([0, width], .1); var x1 = d3.scale.ordinal(); var y = d3.scale.linear() .range([height, 0]); var color = d3.scale.ordinal() .range(["#eeeeee", "#404040", "#93cddd", "#215968", "#d7e4bd", "#4f6228"]); var xAxis = d3.svg.axis() .scale(x0) .orient("bottom"); var yAxis = d3.svg.axis() .scale(y) .orient("left") .tickFormat(d3.format(".2s")); var svg =".wpd3-4451-0").append("svg") .attr("width", width + margin.left + margin.right) .attr("height", height + + margin.bottom) .append("g") .attr("transform", "translate(" + margin.left + "," + + ")"); d3.tsv("", function(error, data) { var allocationNames = d3.keys(data[0]).filter(function(key) { return key !== "Category"; }); data.forEach(function(d) { d.allocations = { return {name: name, value: +d[name]}; }); }); x0.domain( { return d.Category; })); x1.domain(allocationNames).rangeRoundBands([0, x0.rangeBand()]); y.domain([0, d3.max(data, function(d) { return d3.max(d.allocations, function(d) { return d.value; }); })]); svg.append("g") .attr("class", "x axis") .attr("transform", "translate(0," + height + ")") .call(xAxis) .selectAll("text") .style("text-anchor", "end") .attr("dx", "-.8em") .attr("dy", ".15em") .attr("transform", function(d) { return "rotate(-65)" }); svg.append("g") .attr("class", "y axis") .call(yAxis) .append("text") .attr("transform", "rotate(-90)") .attr("y", 6) .attr("dy", ".71em") .style("text-anchor", "end") .text("$"); var state = svg.selectAll(".state") .data(data) .enter().append("g") .attr("class", "g") .attr("transform", function(d) { return "translate(" + x0(d.Category) + ",0)"; }); state.selectAll("rect") .data(function(d) { return d.allocations; }) .enter().append("rect") .attr("width", x1.rangeBand()) .attr("x", function(d) { return x1(; }) .attr("y", function(d) { return y(d.value); }) .attr("height", function(d) { return height - y(d.value); }) .style("fill", function(d) { return color(; }); var legend = svg.selectAll(".legend") .data(allocationNames.slice().reverse()) .enter().append("g") .attr("class", "legend") .attr("transform", function(d, i) { return "translate(20," + i * 20 + ")"; }); legend.append("text") .attr("x", width - margin.right - 275) .attr("y", 9) .attr("dy", ".35em") .style("text-anchor", "start") .text(function(d) { return d; }); legend.append("rect") .attr("x", width - margin.right - 300 ) .attr("width", 18) .attr("height", 18) .style("fill", color); });}; wpd3_4451_0();This is the data on Campus Council allocations of the student activity fee for the past three years. I wanted to see how easy/hard it would be to replicate what I had done in Excel using D3. It turned out to be quite a challenge. I’m not sure I would have gotten this without the examples. The library seems very useful and worth some further exploration.
Sept. 20, 2013
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Educational Technology will be getting a couple of new toys for faculty and students to explore. The first is a CubeX Duo 3D printer. This 3D printer will allow faculty and students to print items up to 10″ x 10″ x 9″ in two colors using ABS and PLA plastics. We hope to have the printer on campus by fall break so that our STAs can become familiar with the software and the device.As 3D printing becomes more affordable we thought it was important to provide a way for faculty and students to learn about 3D printers and the software used to create 3D objects. We also want to provide a more convenient way for Physics and Studio Art to obtain 3D models. The current practice is to send the files to an external site for printing which introduces a two week delay into the research students are doing.The second item we will be purchasing is a DJI Phantom Vision quadcopter. With the donation of Fern Valley to the College and its use in our field laboratory classes in Geology, Biology and Environmental Studies, we thought providing those classes with a way to film, map, and document the Valley could prove interesting. The copter may also be useful for the project as it would allow the project to capture arial imagery for inclusion in the project. The campus videographer is also extremely excited at the prospect of shooting arial footage of our beautiful campus.
Sept. 13, 2012
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I’ve been playing around with adding support for different color styles to the Genesis Treacle theme. This is in anticipation of changing up the design of The Pedestal Group site. The Pedestal Group is using an older version of the theme I use on this site. The older version is not based on Genesis and so I wanted to see if it would be fairly easy to modify Genesis Treacle to visually match the design of The Pedestal Group. This process caused me to update the images used in Genesis Treacle and create PSD templates that make it easy to generate color variations of the base theme. This version is based on the colors used to paint the old CITO office which will serve as the new home of Instructional Technology and I’ve called it Plum.I’m making use of genesis-style-selector introduced in version 1.8 of Genesis. One simply has to add add_theme_support( 'genesis-style-selector', array( 'treacle-plum' => 'Plum' ) ); to functions.php. Then you add .treacle-plum <selector> to the style.css file for each selector that needs to have its color altered. It really took no time at all to do this part. Most of the time is spent in redoing all the graphic elements.
Aug. 29, 2012
No audio available for this episode
Breathe. Take a long breath. That’s what you do when you’re faced with a Moodle issue that has your phone ringing off the hook with confused faculty on the other end. Let’s spell out what the issue was and how it got fixed.A few weeks ago a faculty member noticed that there were extra people displaying in the Participants list of all their courses. Seems like not a big deal maybe the automatic course creation scripts had a minor issue and when rosters got updated things would be alright. Well, it turns out that the role assignments for the course were correct and didn’t match what was displaying in the Participants block. OK, so turn of the Participants block and stop displaying students and faculty on the course descriptions. Search for the issue and find nothing relevant. Make some posts on and the CLAMP Moodle Exchange and wait.The thread got no action. Maybe the title wasn’t clear enough or maybe nobody had any more clue how to fix it than we did. The CLAMP folks make some suggestions to check for system-wide role assignments and a couple other things. Check everything that the CLAMP people suggest and everything looks fine. Bob Puffer suggests some queries to run against the database. We run: SELECT a.*, u.username FROM mdl_role_assignments a JOIN mdl_context con on = a.contextid JOIN mdl_user u on = a.userid WHERE con.contextlevel = 50 AND con.instanceid = yourcourseid and it doesn’t return any of these phantom users. It just returns the people that should be enrolled.We notice that the 63 (yeah 63 phantom users) all have some connection to the Music courses in the system. Some Music faculty are displaying as Faculty participants in all classes and some students enrolled in Music courses are displaying as student participants in all courses. Our systems admin looks at the code that generates the code to display participants, students in the gradebook, and users in the course description. He notes that all the code does something with contexts but we don’t know what that could have to do with anything.Our system admin tries deleting all the Music course from our test clone of the production box. We check a few courses and the Participant lists and gradebook look fine. We don’t think to check anything else and decide to contact the chair of the Music department to ask if any Music faculty are actually using Moodle. Only one Music faculty member has put any content into a course and so we help her backup and export everything and then proceed to delete all the Music courses.Since there isn’t an easy way to remove a bunch of courses at once, or because we don’t really know all the ins and outs of Moodle, we move all the Music courses into their own category and then delete the category. Do this deletes all the courses and the Participants lists look fine. The phone continues to ring but now faculty are saying that they see all courses in the system in their My Moodle list. What? We check a few user and sure enough all courses now show for all users in their My Moodle page. We scratch our heads (we should have tried logging in as one of the phantoms on the test).At this point a member of the Math department drops by my office and says she is getting a strange error when she tries to update a quiz that had previously been working. I login and take a look and sure enough I get the same error “context () in print_context_name!”. This is the first error we have ever gotten while working on this issue (going on a month). So now we head over to with the error in hand and do a search and what do you know pops up. Hey, this talks about paths (something else the system admin was mumbling about) and the quiz issue. They suggest trying to create a fixcontexts.php that contains: require_once('config.php'); require_login(); build_context_path(true, true); echo 'Done'; We try this on the test box and things look to be normal. We check the Participant lists, gradebook, and login as some of the phantom users. Everything looks fine and so we run the fix on the production server and everything is as it should be. The phone is silent.I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to have realized that all the strange issues we were seeing were related to contexts. In hindsight it is easy to see that having contexts messed up could affect all the areas where we were seeing problems, but we never got any error messages and wouldn’t have if we hadn’t moved the Music courses to their own category (creating a new context) and then deleted them, which caused the context of the Math professors quiz to get screwed up.TL;DR If you see strange issues and no errors then rebuild the contexts!
July 2, 2012
No audio available for this episode
Simple and brilliant! Declaration of Internet FreedomWe stand for a free and open Internet.We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.Via techdirt.
May 8, 2012
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Now that we have a number of faculty switching their course management out of Moodle and into WordPress, there are a couple of tasks that need tools to be identified. The two big ones are file sharing and grading. There are a couple of options to monitor for file sharing: Dropbox and Google Drive. There are a number of faculty using each and probably a number that use both. It may come down to personal preference as to which one works best for a given faculty member. There are a number of plugins for WordPress that allow for some amount of integration. As of now, there are not any obvious ways to do similar things for Google Drive.For online grades I am checking out Engrade and LearnBoost. These seem to be fairly feature rich and easy to use. Again, I don’t know if there can be one perfect gradebook software package. A package that is flexible enough to meet every faculty members grading scheme is usually too confusing to get setup. At the same time the simple packages usually are missing features desired by a number of faculty. I’ll try to have a few faculty use each and see what kind of feedback they give.I’m also interested in having a few faculty try Learning Catalytics as a classroom response/personal response system. We currently use Turning Technologies TurningPoint audience response system, but have not tried their ResponseWare solution. This may be another option to investigate.
March 22, 2012
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My previous post made mention of the astronomical cost of an education at a liberal arts institution. I estimated that in a few years we would be able to support at most 75 such schools. Based on data presented in For Have-Nots, the Rockier Road to a College Degree Increases the Appeal of Alternatives it would seem that my estimate is WAY too high. In the article they present data indicating that there are about 4.35 million 18-year-olds. The number of these students that expressed an interest in small colleges is reported to be 0.05% or 2,175. If we look at the number interested in private colleges and universities the pool expands to 8,700. Using the 8,700 figure for students private institutions are trying to attract and 75 for the number of such institutions would mean an incoming class of 116 per institution. My experience indicates that most private institutions are trying to attract classes of around 500 students. This would mean that there is a demand for about 20 such institutions. Data from the Chronicle would seem to indicate that there are certainly more than 20 such institutions and could be 40 times that number. So how are liberal arts institutions dealing with this? Are most even aware of what I perceive as a pending collapse? Or have the numbers always looked like this and if so is there something different about the numbers today than in the past?
March 12, 2012
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This past week I was finally able to attend a hangout hosted by Bryan Alexander. The topic of discussion was MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and open education. If you are not familiar with MOOCs then you might want to look at a few examples: Udacity and DS106. The participants in the hangout came from a variety of institutions and backgrounds and had a very lively discussion.I believe that I got the ball rolling by stating that I thought MOOCs pose a real threat to all colleges and universities but are a particular threat to liberal arts institutions. There are a couple of reasons for why I think MOOCs should be of greater concern to liberal arts institutions. The first is that they potentially represent an extremely low-cost options for obtaining skills. Note that I purposefully did not say education. I am not sure that participants are getting an education because I come from a liberal arts background and see an education as something more than learning how to do things. However, I am not sure that the general public sees the same distinction and thus the threat posed by MOOCs and similar endeavors.A second threat is that they for the most part seem to ignore things like class standing, grades, and other educational benchmarks. They are OPEN and this is also something I think presents a particular threat to liberal arts institutions. Liberal arts institutions represent the Ivory Tower to many and of late it seems to me that the general populace is not sure they want an Ivory Tower locking away education.I think both of these threats are exacerbated by the incredibly high cost of obtaining an education at a liberal arts institution. Wooster is charging $47,600.00 and the top ranked liberal arts college, Williams, is charging $54,560. Compare these figures to the median household income in the US which the Census reports to be about $50,000. Even when you figure in financial aid these prices will probably represent 50% of household income. How can this model continue to be viable? I’m not sure it can and I think MOOCs and other open educational resources will hasten the death of this model.I think I said that in 10-15 years we would see the collapse of large numbers of liberal arts colleges, unless they can adapt. Sure there will be a few of the very prestigious institutions that survive and continue to serve the 1% of the population that can afford to attend. I’m not sure what will determine which institutions survive, but I am pretty certain we will not need more than 50 or so (maybe 75) liberal arts colleges with the traditional model. So to survive the other institutions will have to adopt a different model. One possibility is for them to develop a symbiotic relationship with open education resources. In such a relationship the faculty member is not responsible for delivering the content, that is handled through open educational resources. The faculty member is then responsible for developing challenging interactive activities and projects and for leading engaging discussions. I would imagine that such faculty would be asked to carry a load of 5-6 classes a semester or to average 11 classes a year. This would allow the institution to reduce the number of faculty and thus reduce overall costs.The question is whether such an institution can still retain the soul of a liberal arts institution? Update: In thinking further about what role the faculty would play, I think they would be the ones to provide context. I am not sure that OERs and MOOCs are great at providing a context for what a student is learning. Yesterday, while talking to a faculty member, I happened to visit Khan Academy and was presented with what seemed like hundreds of videos on Algebra. I sampled a few and most jumped right into the mechanics of the issue (factoring, solving an inequality, etc.). To me they were missing the why, the context. I don’t claim to have viewed every OER that is out there so I am sure some provide a context, but I would guess most do not. So I think successful faculty members will be the ones who can adapt to providing a rich context for the material being presented in OERs and I think liberal arts faculty are in the best position to adapt.Thanks to Matt Gardzina for pointing out Barry Mills’ 2011 Convocation Address which touches on a number of the ideas floating around in this post.
March 12, 2012
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Digital Scholarship and Open Access Publishing are two trends that have been emerging for several years, and at this point have probably arrived. The advent of platforms such as Blogger and WordPress have made it extremely easy for faculty to share their research and “publish”. I like tools such as these because they are free and very easy to learn and put the control in the hands of the faculty member. Of course there are thorny issues about how such self-published work should figure into the tenure decision. I’m sure many institutions are developing policies to help their faculty understand how blogging, tweeting, etc. figure into the tenure process and hopefully Wooster is one of them.Being very interested in this issue, I was happy to see a session on Digital Scholarship and Interactive Publishing at the NMC conference held this past June. It turns out the session was not what I expected. This session focused on the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. This is the set of tools used to create magazines such as Martha Stewart’s Living for the iPad. I was a little disappointed but then I remembered that Instructional Technology had been asked to find a method for creating digital abstracts for the Independent Study projects completed by Wooster Seniors.You can get a sense of how the suite is being used in education by taking a look at a post on Adobe’s site about Case Western Reserve University. Wendy was at the session and demonstrated a prototype for a scientific journal. The demonstration included interactive animations of one of the author’s experiments and video clips of the author explaining or demonstrating aspects of the article in more detail. It was a very interesting example of what exactly could be done with the digital publishing suite. The downside is that it requires students to use Illustrator which is not something most of our students have been trained to use and of which we only have about 20 licenses for on campus. In addition, it might require the college to use Adobe’s service for delivering the final products.Fast forward to April and Apple’s announcement of iBooks Author. This is again a proprietary format and delivery system, but it is so much easier to use than Adobe’s digital publishing suite. Students also have much more access to iBooks Author since it is free to download and about 40-50% of students have some form of Apple computer. iBooks Author also has the ability to export to formats other than iBook format. While it is not perfect, I see it as a better solution for Wooster at this time.This also seemed to be the view of a group of faculty and staff that attended a brown bag lunch in April on the state of digital publishing. The group considered Adobe’s solution to be too complicated for a first time user and thought significant training would be required. In contrast they thought someone could create a simple iBook in under an hour, but also noted that users were locked in to the templates supplied with iBooks Author. At least one faculty member left saying they will have two or three of their IS students create iBooks as part of their IS experience this spring.I would say that there still isn’t a killer app for digital publishing, but developers are getting closer.
Sept. 19, 2011
I’m not sure why but I haven’t really had the urge to post (as evidenced by the absence of more than a year). It’s not that I don’t have things to write about or say. I think I’ve just had other things that I felt were more important. Anyway, I’m going to try and work through my backlog of notes from SXSW, NMC, NERCOMP, and some other things.In March of this year I attended SXSW and tried to focus on presentations and panels with a higher ed focus. The first event and by far the most interesting was Using Twitter to Improve College Student Engagement by Rey Junco.You can listen to his presentation jQuery(document).ready(function($) { $('#wp_mep_1').mediaelementplayer({ m:1</p><p> ,features: ['playpause','current','progress','duration','volume','tracks','fullscreen'] ,audioWidth:400,audioHeight:30 }); }); or view the slides Using Twitter to Improve College Student Engagement: Rey Junco SxSWi ’11 View more presentations from Rey Junco The gist of Dr. Junco’s presentation was that students were more engaged, as long as it was clear that Twitter was an important aspect of the class. Dr. Junco presented the findings of a study conducted with colleagues to substantiate this statement. The study had faculty use Twitter for announcements, to have students organize study groups, to have students ask the professor questions, and discuss a class reading. The class had a twitter account and each student had an account. Ning was used as a control. The stats gathered from pre- and post-engagement surveys indicate that the students felt more engaged and actually were more engaged. Also of interest was the fact that the Twitter group had a .5 higher mean GPA.Interestingly, in a larger class of 300 with no control and where students self-selected to use Twitter, were not encouraged, and where the instructor never really used Twitter or the class hashtag, the students claimed to feel more engaged but showed no statistical evidence of being more engaged.The take aways for me were: Faculty should be interacting with students on Twitter. Course content must be integrated with Twitter for engagement to be increased. Faculty should encourage students to use Twitter to collaborate. As with any technology, if the faculty member isn’t invested in using it then there is a very good chance that the technology will not benefit the students or help meet the learning goals.

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