I Can’t See It

In handling the hundreds of help requests concomitant to rolling out a new version of Blackboard and beginning a new semester, a typical sub-thread running through the support requests is “I can’t see the documents, or discussion post, or content area…”

There may be several reasons.  Let’s take them in order of importance, items 1 & 2 from the student perspective, 3 & 4 from the instructor’s perspective.

1.  I can’t get into Blackboard at all, and my teacher has emailed me saying I have to…

Those who cannot login at all must set a new password in Palomar eServices.  To do so, DO NOT login to eServices.  Rather, go to the eServices portal page and click the link on the right of the page “Forgot my Student ID# or password.”  Follow the on-screen directions to set a new password.  You should be able to use your 9-digit student ID number, and this new password, to login to Blackboard right away.

2.  I get logged in OK, but I cannot access my class.  It is listed in the My Classes area,but it says “unavailable.”  What do I do?

Contact your instructor.  If you know your course is supposed to be using Blackboard,but your course is unavailable, you instructor must make it available.  Remember, not all courses use Blackboard, but if your instructor has contacted you via email or in class and has told you to access Blackboard, and you can’t, then she has simply forgotten to make the course available to you.

3.  I have created a content area in my Blackboard course called “Handouts” (or whatever), and it is certainly there, I can see it just fine, but my students report that they cannot see it.  Why not?

When you originally created the content area in Blackboard, you had the option of making the entire content area Available to Users.

Unless you click the little check box next to “Available to Users” it will not be.  This makes sense because you will want to populate the content area with items, file links, URLs and other content before you release it for consumption.  You may forget, however, to make it available to your students. Therefore, always test the appearance of your course with Edit mode turned off so that you can see it pretty much how your students will see it.  (The Edit Mode switch is in the upper right of your screen ).  To really see the course through your students’ eyes, login to Blackbaord with your “faux” student account (using your 9-digit EMPLID as your username and your eServices password as your password).  You will notice in this view that you do not have a control panel and cannot do things you can do in the course as an instructor.

Another clue to you that a content area is not available to students is the little symbol next to it when Edit mode is on:  .

To make a content area visible, click the drop-down control next to it and select “Show Link.”

It is really simple, but easy to overlook.

4.  My students report they cannot open my documents.  Why not?

If all of your students are reporting this, or when you login with your faux student account you also cannot open them, then contact us right away via our web site.  If, however, only some students are reporting problems, it is probably a) a browser issue; b) the lack of the appropriate plugin or viewer; or c) the file format you have used.  To solve these problems:

a:  Be sure to use only certified or compatible browser when accessing Blackboard.  The matrix of certified/compatible Blackboard browsers and operating systems can be found in our Knowledge Base article on the topic.  We always keep this one up to date.  It may be that the browser you are using works just fine for most things, but if you are having problems viewing certain content the first thing to try is to be sure you are using a compatible or, better, a certified browser.

b:  The Downloads section of our help system contains links to common plugins and helper programs used in many Blackboard courses, and if you cannot view a video, for example, and do not have the Flash player plugin, install it and all should be well.

c:  Instructors should be aware, however, that not all students own Word or PowerPoint, and installing the free Microsoft Viewers and file converters is beyond the technology comfort level of many students.  As a best practice, you should save documents as PDF files before linking to them in Blackboard.  The free Adobe Reader is on virtually every computer in the world, Mac or PC, and this guarantees that your document will be readable by all of your students.

Tech Camp Agenda

Summer Tech Camp, August 3-6We will be conducting our annual summer tech camp August 3-6.  Don’t bother signing up because it is fully subscribed.  (Sorry).  It is still over 5 weeks away, but I thought I would review the tentative agenda we have pretty much agreed on so that attendees, and perhaps those planning similar events at other schools, will have some insight into what we are doing.

Our inspiration for tech camp this year is the TED talks concept.  If you are not familiar with ted.com, rush to that web site without delay to be exposed to the best and brightest people in the world in the fields of technology, entertainment and design (T. E. D.).  These “fields” are interpreted very broadly, so that many scientists (and after all, what science does not embrace technology), philosophers (or perhaps “thinkers” is the better modern term), philanthropists, even politicians,are included.  What TED does is give people 18 minutes (or less,or on rare occasions somewhat more) to present their best ideas.  The presentations are fun, dynamic, often enthralling, always enlightening, and sometimes profound.  What they share in common is the use of projected images, video and dynamic speech to present ideas or tell great stories.

In tech camp, therefore, our goal will be to create a 10-15 minute presentation–no more, sorry, professional talkers–just like a TED talk where professors will take a concept they want to present to their students and develop it using technology tools.  Here are the rules for the talk.  It must:

  • Use PowerPoint as a presentation tool
  • Include pictures and other graphics
  • Include PowerPoint animations
  • Have an embedded video (think YouTube) or a Google Earth tour
  • Include a self-produced video (we will be using Flip video cameras)
  • Include a chart or charts illustrating data points, if appropriate, or SmartArt illustrating a concept, or both
  • Have an accompanying illustrated handout created in Word and saved as a PDF
  • Have a Blackboard component containing the teaching materials developed during the talk
  • Not to exceed 15 minutes

Four days sounds like a lot to dedicate to the development of a 15 minute talk, but when you understand that you must also learn various technology tools along the way, and describing it as I have above, it sounds more like a challenge.  We hope it will also be fun and interesting.  Most of all, we hope what you learn, and what you develop, will translate into a great learning experience for your students.

My colleague Dr. Haydn Davis will be contacting all participants sometime over the next month to clue them all in directly and provide more details, but for those who just can’t wait, I have sketched out the order of events below.

Preliminaries

First and foremost you must decide on the topic of your presentation BEFORE tech camp begins.  Put on your thinking caps.  Is there a difficult concept you teach that needs an in depth explication?  Or is there something you are keenly interested in and would like to communicate in a dynamic way?  Whatever you wish to present on, you must come pre-armed with your concepts.

You will also need accounts with the following web services:

  • YouTube
  • MS Live, with an MS Live SkyDrive
  • Jing/screencast.com
  • Twitter

Day 1 (Aug. 3)

On Day 1 we will show a couple of brief TED talks, and then present one of our own that will become the basis of our workshop activities over the four days of camp.  Throughout camp we will be asking you to Tweet spontaneously (this will be managed by Tweetmaster D – of our staff).  We will also be asking participants to blog about their camp experiences in a camp blog.  Don’t worry, this will all be explained when you get here.  Rest assured there will be prizes for best Tweet and best blog entry each day.

We will launch into activities by first covering computer basic basics.  Yes, you heard me.  It is often the most basic concepts about file management, keyboard shortcuts, saving and manipulating files, and keeping track of URLs that cause us the most difficulties.  So we will take the time to cover these briefly.  We will be using Windows 7 and be saving materials to USB flash drives (we are going to give you one) and SkyDrives.

We also want you to know about the Palomar resources available to you.  So Chris Norcross will guide you in access to your:

  • Blackboard site
  • Web space
  • SkyDrive
  • Media respositories

During lunch each day (the camp will be catered), after eating, we will have a lunchtime presentation.  On day 1 there will be two brief ones.  One on Twitter, by Tweetmaster D, and one on Evernote–a browser-based note taking program–by Chris Norcross.

The afternoon of day 1 will be given over to instruction in web search technology and resources, the idea being that you will be doing research for your presentations on the web.  We will cover:

  • Google search – sites, images, news, maps, videos
  • Google blog search
  • Google Book Search
  • Library (our own library) journal database searches and links
  • Google data inspector
  • WolframAlpha – a powerful, scientific search tool unlike anything you have used

To close day one we will devote time to learning how to use Jing and screencast.com to capture images and videos.  We will also do a quick demo of SnagIt, a super powered screen capture tool.

At the end of each day there will be valuable technology giveaways relevant to the topics taught that day.  I don’t want to reveal at this time the exact prizes, but you will be pleased.  On day four we will base the giveaways on best presentations.

As with all worthwhile academic enterprises, there will be homework assignments.

Day 2 (Aug. 4)

Still with me?  Day 2 will be given over to instruction on how to use PowerPoint and how to use the Flip video cameras.  Even if you are an old PowerPoint hand, there will be something new for you here because we will be using the Office 2010 version of PowerPoint, with many new, slick features.  The first brief session will be dedicated to PowerPoint basics and familiarizing ourselves with the new 2010 features, the second will emphasize animation and video embedding.  I will conduct the PowerPoint sessions.

Using Flip video cameras is great fun.  David will conduct the Flip workshop.  At lunch on day 2 Haydn will be presenting on Using YouTube.  At the close of the day we will ask you to record a video introduction to your presentation.

Homework will be to complete gathering all materials for your presentation.

Day 3 (Aug. 5)

On day 3 we will concentrate on the accouterments of your presentation.  I will present a one-hour workshop on Word 2010, with emphasis on producing your presentation handout.  A well formatted, illustrated handout will be our goal, saved as a PDF document in order to upload it to Blackboard.

The rest of day 3 will be given over to using Blackboard itself, and particularly using Blackboard in the context of the presentation you will be building.  During lunch Haydn will be presenting on “Cool Blackboard Features of which you were unaware.”  However unlikely it seems that the words “cool” and “Blackboard” could be used in the same sentence, Haydn promises to surprise us.

Day 4 (Aug. 6)

Day 4 is presentation day.  We will begin with a couple of demos on PowerPoint techniques and a session of using Camtasia, a screen video program that is amazing.  We will then split up for an hour-and-a-half into one of three tracks:

  1. Independent work with staff assistance in order to finish work on your presentations
  2. Hands-on Camtasia work, for those who wish to make a screen video out of their presentation
  3. Hands-on Google Earth work, for those who wish to include Google Earth assets in their presentation, or are just curious about this great program and have finished up work on the presentation.

During lunch on day 4, I will give a quick demo of some of the great features of Google Earth.

Finally, on the afternoon of day 4 we will ask for 6 presentations from workshop attendees.  As they are presented, we will make Camtasia movies out of them, for later use in Blackboard.  Prizes will be given for the two best presentations with additional prizes in other categories.

That’s pretty much it.  It should be a fun and full four days.  Watch your inboxes because Haydn will be contacting you soon.

A Paperless Environment

Paper iconWhile conducting faculty/staff interviews over the last few weeks in anticipation of an updated Technology Master Plan at our college, we asked users the following question:

Would you support a goal of creating a paperless environment at Palomar College, if it meant that you would not have access to printers and would have to rely on electronic versions of all documents?

The answers ranged from an enthusiastic “Absolutely” from those who recognized the value of conservation, green initiatives, and return on tech investments already made, to an equally enthusiastic–one might almost say threatening–“Absolutely NOT.”

Some opponents were simply scared by the notion and could not imagine doing business any other way than by using reams upon reams of paper and barrels of expensive toner.  Others were more thoughtful and pointed out that there are some documents and processes for which we do not have an adequate paperless correlative yet, like large-form plotter output or various legal documents that must, by law, be kept on file in physical locations.  Obviously there are answers for these objections, but at least they are good reasons.  (My favorite response was a guarded ‘Yes’ followed by, ‘As long as I can go on printing to meet my own needs’).

What is surprising about the question is that it found support of the enthusiastic variety (i.e., not counting those who hedged) among about 40% of respondents.  It is still the minority view,but a significant minority.

Faculty members particularly who also hold down full-time jobs noted that many companies have already made the move to the paperless environment.  Where money matters,commercial interests are already acting.  We have the technology in place to make a paperless environment a reality (that is, after we deploy some sort of electronic signature system, which we have so far failed to do) and, from our survey results I would say there is growing support for the idea, so where do we go from here?

I say take a gradualist approach, attacking the problem where it is easiest first.  And where might that be?  In the committee meeting.  Our college–and I suspect all colleges–have far too many committee meetings.  The organizers of the meeting usually distribute the documents to be discussed electronically, but with instructions to print the documents and bring them along.  When you arrive at the meeting, you find that the organizer has also printed a copy for everyone, to assist those who have forgotten to print them.  Usually only small parts of documents receive any significant discussion, and after the meeting, all those copies usually end up being filed (a delay in the journey to the shredder) or directly discarded.  Why not start here implementing a paperless environment.  If the organizational culture embraces paperless, it can start in a key area, like committee meetings, and spread to others.

While the academic arena would seem to be more problematic, with a significant number of students at our level not having access to computers at home, still, I think we could achieve a paperless environment even in the world of classroom instruction with the proper implementations of technologies that are already in place and paid for.

Something to think about for earth day.

Tech Planning at Palomar College – AT Techs Part 2

This is a continuation of my interview with the Academic Technology Systems Administrators about technology planning at Palomar College.  In this part we focus on some rubber meets the road issues like paperless environments, AV technologies, telephony, and lots of other issues.  The written response of the technicians is provided in the post below, and the audio of an interview with them follows the post.

Additional Questions for ATRC Staff

1.  Would you support a goal of creating a paperless environment at Palomar College, if it meant that you would not have access to printers and would have to rely on electronic versions of all documents?

Chris:  Yes, I fully support creating a paperless environment at Palomar College.

Shay:  Yes I would support a paperless environment.

Dave:  Absolutely not.  On occasion printed materials are necessary; certainly the frequency and scope of printing can be reduced, but paper handouts will always be needed in some numbers.

2.  Would you support conversion of desktop computers to laptops for all full-time faculty members and many key staff members?

Chris:  Assuming that the laptops are of comparable in speed to the desktop computers they are replacing, I would support this conversion.

Shay:  I would support the conversion for faculty if every classroom could be properly wired to allow the use of the laptops for instructional purposes.

Dave:  Yes.  Current technology makes a typical laptop able to do all needed chores for virtually all employees; portability would be a tremendous benefit to the average faculty member.

3.  Would you support purchase of messaging and other academic software to move Palomar applications to a mobile smart phone environment?

Chris:  I would support purchasing of messaging and other software only if a pilot project were completed or if the cost is minimal.

Shay:  Yes I would support purchasing technology to support mobile device access.

Dave:  Yes.  Palomar needs to make resources more available via mobile devices to meet student desires.

4.  Would you support purchase of installation of newer AV technologies like short throw projectors onto smart boards or large screen LCD monitors in place of digital projectors and screens?

Chris:  If the cost of replacing digital projectors and screens is reasonable I would support this idea. At this time, I feel that it would be prohibitively expensive.

Shay:  Yes I would support purchase of better classroom AV technologies.

Dave:  No.  Classrooms on campus could certainly all be equip with built-in data projectors and screens, which would give better visual display than short-throw portable projectors or LCD screens ever would.  However, the data projector systems need to be better managed and maintained.

5.  What AV equipment should Palomar provide that it is not currently providing?

Chris:  Blu-ray players and touch screen tablet computers.

Shay:  Smart board or touch screen input systems for classrooms. A campus wide lecture capture system.

Dave:  Palomar does not need to provide a wider range of AV equipment,but does need to more consistently implement and manage the equipment they currently offer.

6.  Would the use of document cameras with built-in processors able to browse the web and display PowerPoint presentations be an adequate substitute for classroom computers?

Chris:  I think the likelihood of new technologies that require a classroom computer would make the use of “smart” document cameras less appealing.

Shay:  Only if said devices could keep up with future web technologies.

Dave:  No.  Very few classroom environments are used exclusively for presenting PowerPoint presentations,and the average “web browser” built into a projector are incapable of meeting the wide range of web site requirements that are typically used in class.

7.  Would “thin client” technology be an adequate replacement for full desktop computers in various student and staff areas where the vast majority, if not all, work is web-based?

Chris:  Thin clients could be very cost effective if used in certain areas, such as public use labs.

Shay:  Yes. Using virtual machine technology with thin clients could meet the needs of the average user.

Dave:  In most cases, thin-client workstations would make perfect replacements for many desktops currently in use.  Library database access machines, enrollment office desk stations, most academic computer lab machines, these could all be served by thin-clients rather than dedicated machines.

8.  Should the college increase the number of digital camcorders and audio recorders available for faculty checkout?

Chris:  There should be enough camcorders and audio recorders so that faculty have access to one when they need them.

Shay:  No. The college should invest in a campus wide capture system with central control.

Dave:  Only if there are actually times in which the current numbers have been insufficient to meet needs.

9.  How important is achieving 100% wireless coverage for Internet Access across the San Marcos campus?

Chris:  100% wireless coverage across the San Marcos campus is very important.

Shay:  To save costs going into the future wireless access campus wide is a must.

Dave:  Wireless Internet access across not only the San Marcos campus but ALL Palomar campuses is of vital importance.

10.  Would you support purchase of a self-paced training system, like lynda.com, for all faculty and staff members?  Should students be included in the purchase?

Chris:  Self-paced training, such as lynda.com, would be very useful to faculty and staff members. If the training covers topics that are useful to students completing their studies I would support that as well.

Shay:  Yes, self-paced training should be purchased for faculty, staff and students.

Dave:  No, and no.  The sorts of training materials available on lynda.com teach whole applications, but do not address specific uses to which employees will be completing.  It would be far better to invest in customized training materials and workshops to teach employees not just tools, but how to use these tools to do specific tasks required of them by their jobs at Palomar.

11.  Would you support abandoning Microsoft Office products in favor of web-based “cloud storage” products like Google Docs?

Chris:  The web-based products like Google Docs can be used for most purposes. There are certain things that stand-alone software does better.

Shay:  No. Although cloud based programs can meet some needs they cannot meet all needs. They should be used in conjunction with each other.

Dave:  As the next generation of MS Office products supports “cloud storage”, this is a poor question.  However, I am far more comfortable using commercial products which we can reasonable expect to keep using, rather than abandon them in favor of free products which may or may not work at any given time, and could be discontinued by the provider without any warning should they so desire.

12.  Would you support deployment of a non-proprietary email system, like Gmail, rather than the current proprietary Microsoft Exchange system used by the college?

Chris:  Yes I would support moving to an email system such as Gmail. Many organization have switched to Google apps with success.

Shay:  Yes. A cloud based system would allow users better uptime and access to their e-mail. This would also allow alumni and emeritus faculty to keep their e-mail address.

Dave:  Yes and no.  I feel the technologies offered via the Exchange Server system extend usefully beyond just email, in ways which Gmail would not support fully.  However, I do know that Palomar could be taking advantage of Microsoft-hosted, Palomar-branded Exchange-based email service for free, really begging the question of why this was not done years ago.

13.  Would you support purchase of a “coursecast” system that would allow any faculty members to record their lectures for simultaneous broadcast and archive them for future playback?

Chris:  A coursecast system would be very useful and I would support the purchase of one.

Shay:  Yes. A campus wide lecture capture system would only benefit students learning options.

Dave:  No, in my experience the technical requirements of an “on-demand” course-cast system are too great for a typical faculty member to deal with on their own, and the limitations of a “pre-scheduled” course-cast system are too great to be at all useful.  Without dedicating a significant staff and large amount of equipment to such a project, it would be better left undone.

14.  Would you support further reduction in physical holdings in the library in favor of more electronic holdings?

Chris:  Assuming that the electronic holdings are easy to access and use I would support that.

Shay:  Yes, as long as the digital copies can be accessed easily on a variety of devices.

Dave:  Provided that the electronic holdings would be paired with the tools to allow ANY patron to still use those new materials as easily and conveniently as a book (as in, without needing to have a computer at their home), then yes.

15.  Are you aware of an existing plan, or do you have a plan to restore the data on your work computer when the hard drive fails?

Chris:  I backup all data to an extra hard drive and can restore from that drive if needed.

Shay:  I am not aware of a district plan to restore data on individual computers but I do my own backup of my system.

Dave:  I am vaguely aware of the organized backup schemes used by many employees, but have opted for my own independent backup strategy for my files using third-party products connecting up to cloud computing technologies.

16.  Are you aware of Palomar College policies for data security, privacy of data, intellectual property rights, or copyright compliance?  If not, how would it be best to train faculty and staff in these policies?

Chris:  I am aware of some policies. It would be useful if all of these policies were combined into one document or site and made available to everyone.

Shay:  I am not aware of the policies in place currently. Mandatory training on these policies would be the best way to inform all employees of these policies.

Dave:  To the best of my knowledge, Palomar does not have any intellectual property rights or copyright compliance policies on record.  I have some vague knowledge of the Telecommunications use policy at Palomar, which in part deals with data privacy.

17.  Have you seen a technology used at another college that you would like to see deployed at Palomar?

Chris:  None that I can think of.

Shay:  A card access system to secured areas of the campus.

Dave:  Credit-card based pay-for-print systems appeal, as our current system works on a cash-only basis.

18.  Would you support the idea of a “technology access index,” whereby the college would commit to funding student computer access based on some commitment to publicly available access hours based on FTES or some other student population number?

Chris:  Yes, that sounds like a good way of gauging the “access” that a student has to a computer.

Shay:  Yes. I’d also like to see a push to help students find access to or purchase computers for use off campus.

Dave:  This idea is too vague as presented for me to put forward any opinion.  I would need more information on how such funding would be calculated.

19.  Would you support purchase of a “search appliance” that would make it possible to search the Palomar intranet?

Chris:  Yes, I would support the purchase of a “search appliance” because it will make locating information and documents easier.

Shay:  Yes. It is getting harder to find electronic documents on the system.

Dave:  I do not see how such an appliance would end up superior to simply doing a Google search restricted to the Palomar.edu site, so… no.

20.  Do you feel student “technology competency” is high enough, or should there be basic instruction in this for some students based on an assessment test?

Chris:  I am in favor of assessing students “technology competency” as long as the correct skills/abilities are assessed.

Shay:  Palomar already offers many computer skill classes in various departments. Students should be guided to these classes to help them succeed in a digital world.

Dave:  Our students have inconsistent competency, looked at across the spectrum of students.  Therefore, of course some need basic instruction in technology basics, while some do not.  Palomar should make such instruction available, but certainly never require it for all students.

21.  Should governance of the use of technology by the college be improved?  If so, how?

Chris:  I do not advocate governing the “use” of technology but I would like to see more governance of the selection, evaluation, and purchase of technology.

Shay:  Yes. There needs to be one governing body responsible for developing policies and reviewing them as technology changes over time. They should also be focused on the goals of the district when choosing the use of any technology.

Dave:  Yes.  As stated above, the decisions to fund improvements to current technology or to acquire new technology needs to be connected via metrics to needs which are not being properly met.

Here is the audio of my interview with the AT systems administrators.  It expands upon their written answers above.  In this interview we get down and dirty with specific issues, rather than more general questions.  Play time = 47:26.

Additional Questions for ATRC Staff

1.  Would you support a goal of creating a paperless environment at Palomar College, if it meant that you would not have access to printers and would have to rely on electronic versions of all documents?

Chris:  Yes, I fully support creating a paperless environment at Palomar College.

Shay:  Yes I would support a paperless environment.

Dave:  Absolutely not.  On occasion printed materials are necessary; certainly the frequency and scope of printing can be reduced, but paper handouts will always be needed in some numbers.

2.  Would you support conversion of desktop computers to laptops for all full-time faculty members and many key staff members?

Chris:  Assuming that the laptops are of comparable in speed to the desktop computers they are replacing, I would support this conversion.

Shay:  I would support the conversion for faculty if every classroom could be properly wired to allow the use of the laptops for instructional purposes.

Dave:  Yes.  Current technology makes a typical laptop able to do all needed chores for virtually all employees; portability would be a tremendous benefit to the average faculty member.

3.  Would you support purchase of messaging and other academic software to move Palomar applications to a mobile smart phone environment?

Chris:  I would support purchasing of messaging and other software only if a pilot project were completed or if the cost is minimal.

Shay:  Yes I would support purchasing technology to support mobile device access.

Dave:  Yes.  Palomar needs to make resources more available via mobile devices to meet student desires.

4.  Would you support purchase of installation of newer AV technologies like short throw projectors onto smart boards or large screen LCD monitors in place of digital projectors and screens?

Chris:  If the cost of replacing digital projectors and screens is reasonable I would support this idea. At this time, I feel that it would be prohibitively expensive.

Shay:  Yes I would support purchase of better classroom AV technologies.

Dave:  No.  Classrooms on campus could certainly all be equip with built-in data projectors and screens, which would give better visual display than short-throw portable projectors or LCD screens ever would.  However, the data projector systems need to be better managed and maintained.

5.  What AV equipment should Palomar provide that it is not currently providing?

Chris:  Blu-ray players and touch screen tablet computers.

Shay:  Smart board or touch screen input systems for classrooms. A campus wide lecture capture system.

Dave:  Palomar does not need to provide a wider range of AV equipment, but does need to more consistently implement and manage the equipment they currently offer.

6.  Would the use of document cameras with built-in processors able to browse the web and display PowerPoint presentations be an adequate substitute for classroom computers?

Chris:  I think the likelihood of new technologies that require a classroom computer would make the use of “smart” document cameras less appealing.

Shay:  Only if said devices could keep up with future web technologies.

Dave:  No.  Very few classroom environments are used exclusively for presenting PowerPoint presentations, and the average “web browser” built into a projector are incapable of meeting the wide range of web site requirements that are typically used in class.

7.  Would “thin client” technology be an adequate replacement for full desktop computers in various student and staff areas where the vast majority, if not all, work is web-based?

Chris:  Thin clients could be very cost effective if used in certain areas, such as public use labs.

Shay:  Yes. Using virtual machine technology with thin clients could meet the needs of the average user.

Dave:  In most cases, thin-client workstations would make perfect replacements for many desktops currently in use.  Library database access machines, enrollment office desk stations, most academic computer lab machines, these could all be served by thin-clients rather than dedicated machines.

8.  Should the college increase the number of digital camcorders and audio recorders available for faculty checkout?

Chris:  There should be enough camcorders and audio recorders so that faculty have access to one when they need them.

Shay:  No. The college should invest in a campus wide capture system with central control.

Dave:  Only if there are actually times in which the current numbers have been insufficient to meet needs.


9.  How important is achieving 100% wireless coverage for Internet Access across the San Marcos campus?

Chris:  100% wireless coverage across the San Marcos campus is very important.

Shay:  To save costs going into the future wireless access campus wide is a must.

Dave:  Wireless Internet access across not only the San Marcos campus but ALL Palomar campuses is of vital importance.

10.  Would you support purchase of a self-paced training system, like lynda.com, for all faculty and staff members?  Should students be included in the purchase?

Chris:  Self-paced training, such as lynda.com, would be very useful to faculty and staff members. If the training covers topics that are useful to students completing their studies I would support that as well.

Shay:  Yes, self-paced training should be purchased for faculty, staff and students.

Dave:  No, and no.  The sorts of training materials available on lynda.com teach whole applications, but do not address specific uses to which employees will be completing.  It would be far better to invest in customized training materials and workshops to teach employees not just tools, but how to use these tools to do specific tasks required of them by their jobs at Palomar.

11.  Would you support abandoning Microsoft Office products in favor of web-based “cloud storage” products like Google Docs?

Chris:  The web-based products like Google Docs can be used for most purposes. There are certain things that stand-alone software does better.

Shay:  No. Although cloud based programs can meet some needs they cannot meet all needs. They should be used in conjunction with each other.

Dave:  As the next generation of MS Office products supports “cloud storage”, this is a poor question.  However, I am far more comfortable using commercial products which we can reasonable expect to keep using, rather than abandon them in favor of free products which may or may not work at any given time, and could be discontinued by the provider without any warning should they so desire.


12.  Would you support deployment of a non-proprietary email system, like Gmail, rather than the current proprietary Microsoft Exchange system used by the college?

Chris:  Yes I would support moving to an email system such as Gmail. Many organization have switched to Google apps with success.

Shay:  Yes. A cloud based system would allow users better uptime and access to their e-mail. This would also allow alumni and emeritus faculty to keep their e-mail address.

Dave:  Yes and no.  I feel the technologies offered via the Exchange Server system extend usefully beyond just email, in ways which Gmail would not support fully.  However, I do know that Palomar could be taking advantage of Microsoft-hosted, Palomar-branded Exchange-based email service for free, really begging the question of why this was not done years ago.

13.  Would you support purchase of a “coursecast” system that would allow any faculty members to record their lectures for simultaneous broadcast and archive them for future playback?

Chris:  A coursecast system would be very useful and I would support the purchase of one.

Shay:  Yes. A campus wide lecture capture system would only benefit students learning options.

Dave:  No, in my experience the technical requirements of an “on-demand” course-cast system are too great for a typical faculty member to deal with on their own, and the limitations of a “pre-scheduled” course-cast system are too great to be at all useful.  Without dedicating a significant staff and large amount of equipment to such a project, it would be better left undone.

14.  Would you support further reduction in physical holdings in the library in favor of more electronic holdings?

Chris:  Assuming that the electronic holdings are easy to access and use I would support that.

Shay:  Yes, as long as the digital copies can be accessed easily on a variety of devices.

Dave:  Provided that the electronic holdings would be paired with the tools to allow ANY patron to still use those new materials as easily and conveniently as a book (as in, without needing to have a computer at their home), then yes.


15.  Are you aware of an existing plan, or do you have a plan to restore the data on your work computer when the hard drive fails?

Chris:  I backup all data to an extra hard drive and can restore from that drive if needed.

Shay:  I am not aware of a district plan to restore data on individual computers but I do my own backup of my system.

Dave:  I am vaguely aware of the organized backup schemes used by many employees, but have opted for my own independent backup strategy for my files using third-party products connecting up to cloud computing technologies.

16.  Are you aware of Palomar College policies for data security, privacy of data, intellectual property rights, or copyright compliance?  If not, how would it be best to train faculty and staff in these policies?

Chris:  I am aware of some policies. It would be useful if all of these policies were combined into one document or site and made available to everyone.

Shay:  I am not aware of the policies in place currently. Mandatory training on these policies would be the best way to inform all employees of these policies.

Dave:  To the best of my knowledge, Palomar does not have any intellectual property rights or copyright compliance policies on record.  I have some vague knowledge of the Telecommunications use policy at Palomar, which in part deals with data privacy.

17.  Have you seen a technology used at another college that you would like to see deployed at Palomar?

Chris:  None that I can think of.

Shay:  A card access system to secured areas of the campus.

Dave:  Credit-card based pay-for-print systems appeal, as our current system works on a cash-only basis.

18.  Would you support the idea of a “technology access index,” whereby the college would commit to funding student computer access based on some commitment to publicly available access hours based on FTES or some other student population number?

Chris:  Yes, that sounds like a good way of gauging the “access” that a student has to a computer.

Shay:  Yes. I’d also like to see a push to help students find access to or purchase computers for use off campus.

Dave:  This idea is too vague as presented for me to put forward any opinion.  I would need more information on how such funding would be calculated.

19.  Would you support purchase of a “search appliance” that would make it possible to search the Palomar intranet?

Chris:  Yes, I would support the purchase of a “search appliance” because it will make locating information and documents easier.

Shay:  Yes. It is getting harder to find electronic documents on the system.

Dave:  I do not see how such an appliance would end up superior to simply doing a Google search restricted to the Palomar.edu site, so… no.

20.  Do you feel student “technology competency” is high enough, or should there be basic instruction in this for some students based on an assessment test?

Chris:  I am in favor of assessing students “technology competency” as long as the correct skills/abilities are assessed.

Shay:  Palomar already offers many computer skill classes in various departments. Students should be guided to these classes to help them succeed in a digital world.

Dave:  Our students have inconsistent competency, looked at across the spectrum of students.  Therefore, of course some need basic instruction in technology basics, while some do not.  Palomar should make such instruction available, but certainly never require it for all students.

21.  Should governance of the use of technology by the college be improved?  If so, how?

Chris:  I do not advocate governing the “use” of technology but I would like to see more governance of the selection, evaluation, and purchase of technology.

Shay:  Yes. There needs to be one governing body responsible for developing policies and reviewing them as technology changes over time. They should also be focused on the goals of the district when choosing the use of any technology.

Dave:  Yes.  As stated above, the decisions to fund improvements to current technology or to acquire new technology needs to be connected via metrics to needs which are not being properly met.

Broadband Adoption Rates and College Classes

In scanning the Pew Internet home page I noticed that “…John B. Horrigan, formerly of Pew Internet and now at the Federal Communications Commission, finds that 78% of adults in the U.S. are internet users and 65% of adults have home broadband access.”  Pew puts no spin on the story at all, but the FCC report itself [PDF] definitely sees the glass as 1/3 empty, not 2/3 full.  The federal government apparently sees it as their job, and this, to me is wholly admirable, in driving adoption rates.  Interestingly, they divide the non-adopters into four groups:

1.  “Digitally Distant.”  (Read, hopeless).  Who “…make up 28 percent of non-adopters, do not see the point of being online…(median age is 63)…”  In other words, a lost cause.

2.  “Digitally Uncomfortable.”  Who “…make up 20 percent of non-adopters…Nearly all of the Digitally Uncomfortable have computers,but they lack the skills to use them and have tepid attitudes toward the Internet. This group reports all three barriers: affordability,digital literacy, and relevance.”  In other words, not a lost cause but no one knows what percentage of this group will move online and what percentage will eventually become “distant.”  Presumably when the federal government/private enterprise partnership builds out the infrastructure to all households, this group will split and migrate to other categories.

3.  “Digital Hopefuls.”  A great positive spin term for those south of the old term “digital divide.”  This group …”make up 22 percent of non-adopters, like the idea of being online but lack the resources for access.”

4.  “Near Converts.”  (The term revealing the religious fervor in which Internet Access is held by the current leadership).  This group “…make up 30 percent of non-adopters, have the strongest tendencies toward getting broadband. They have high rates of computer ownership, positive attitudes about the Internet. Many are dial-up or “not-at-home” users, and affordability is the leading reason for non-adoption among this group. They are relatively youthful compared with other non-adopters, with a median age of 45.”  If you are 45 being called “youthful” is nearly as positive a spin as “near convert,” and probably nearly as much a stretch.

It is interesting to see how the FCC regards the non-adopting population, from hopeless/aged to nearly converted/young.

Does it matter?  Yes.  I am in favor of universal Internet adoption because I believe in freedom.  The more access to unfettered information, the more likelihood that freedom will prevail.  Contra the view of many that Internet access breeds social isolation, I think it produces the opposite:  stronger social groups without mass homogenization.  Sort of a social colloidal solution.

Since there will never be total adoption, and as of now 1/3 of potential students do not have home broadband access, I urge our college to keep these statistics in mind when developing class curricula and printing the class schedule.  We try our best to make computer resources available to students, but I know in our labs (the largest on campus) we persistently have lines of students waiting to use computers.  If we doubled the number, we might still have lines during prime times.  I think class descriptions and the schedule itself should specify if access to computer resources are required to successfully complete the class so that “non-adopters” (to use the FCC term) have the information they need to assess whether they can succeed in the class.  Some sort of icon in the class schedule could meet this need.  I also think a similar approach should be taken to accessibility standards.  If a class requires video consumption online, but the videos are not web captioned, the schedule ought to indicate this face.  I favor the adoption of technology by all, in fact encourage its subsidization, but think at the same time we ought to do more to inform non-adopters–for whatever reason–what to expect when they take a class.

How to Create Links to Journal Databases

This post will be pretty Palomar College specific, but may help instructors from other schools with general concepts.

As instructors develop course materials for students, they almost always find that there are supplemental documents that they want their students to read.  These are usually articles published in various journals.  A traditional approach has been to Xerox these articles and hand them out in class.  This has a couple of problems: 1,,) except for cases of spontaneous need, this is a copyright violation; and 2) it is expensive to Xerox so many documents.  Unfortunately this practice has been ported over to the electronic world of Blackboard, where professors may scan in the documents and place PDF versions of them in their Blackboard courses for student consumption.  This is even more a clear copyright violation and, in most cases, unnecessary.

There is an easier way.

Palomar College maintains subscriptions to various electronic journal databases that contain thousands of articles from all sorts of journals.  Our librarians, in concert with professors, have chosen the databases that contain the most useful journals for student research in a community college.  It is possible, and indeed a best practice, rather than creating handouts for students or illegally scanning documents for upload to Blackboard to create links from within Blackboard to the articles you wish your students to read.  If the student wishes to print the article, so that she can have a hard copy, she can.  It is all legal because the college has paid the license fee that allows permission to print.  There are three main journal database vendors with whom the college has contracted: EBSCO, JSTOR and PROQUEST.  We also have various Gale Group databases, but links to Gale resources will not work for off-campus students.

Here is how to create links to those journals from within Blackboard that will work for both on-campus and off-campus students.

The Databases

Access the college’s journal databases through the Library’s database web page: http://www.palomar.edu/library/OnlineDatabases/databases.htm

Note that the databases are usually identified by vendor, either by being followed by an indicator like (EBSCO) or  (ProQuest), or simply by name, like JSTOR.  These are the major research journal databases we will discuss here.  There are several others that the techniques discussed here will work with, and we will mention them below.

When one accesses these databases from on-campus, it is simply a matter of clicking a link and accessing the database home page.  From off-campus, however, the user must supply his/her Palomar College credentials (username and password) before gaining access to the database.  This is because the databases monitor incoming web traffic, and traffic that comes from the range of valid Palomar College IP addresses is permitted through unchallenged.  From off-campus the database access must be routed through what is called a proxy server in order to let the database web servers know that this is a valid Palomar College inquiry, and not just some random attempt by an anonymous web user to access freely access for-pay information.  The proxy server tells the database server that this is a valid Palomar inquiry, provided that the user can provide valid Palomar credentials, i.e., the user’s Palomar College username and password.  For students this is their eServices/Blackboard username and password.  For faculty members this is their Palomar College email username and password.

Each of the journal databases mentioned above, EBSCO, JSTOR and ProQuest, have a slightly different terminology for the link that identifies the permanent location of an article, known as a permalink in blogging parlance.  EBSCO calls theirs a “Persistent Link,” JSTOR calls theirs a “Stable Link,” and ProQuest omits the adjective and just calls it a link.  If you are interested in the particulars of how to find these links from each of these vendors, see my lengthier article here.

The point is, once you have obtained the permalink, or PURL, as they used to be called (persistent-URL), for it to work for off-campus students at Palomar College it must be prefixed with the address of the Proxy server, along with an argument that identifies the specific article.  Like this:

http://prozy.palomar.edu/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/462559

This seems complicated, but really isn’t.  The key is in remembering to use the proxy prefix each time you create a link.  Watch this brief (2:55) screen video for a How-To on easily doing this:

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If you have followed the tips in this little video, it will be easy for you to create links to the supplemental articles you wish your students to read.  To learn how to make external links in Blackboard, see the same article referenced above.   Using this technique will enable your students–they are free to email the articles to themselves, print them, copy and paste from them, etc.; it will also save your departments duplication budgets; and protect the District and yourselves from potential copyright violations.

This article is my contribution to our monthly podcast roll-up, so here is my audio contribution on this topic as well.