22 August 2006

CLRC Printing - update

Still no working solution in place...

Despite optimism on the CLRC printing quotas, we have been unable to implement a robust solution to the quota business requirement (each Communication student is allowed 20 free pages every two days). What has been implemented takes up far too much time and resources to keep it operating, with many “exceptions” that have to be dealt with manually always arising.

Until an effective solution can be implemented, we are proposing that the CLRC goes on the University-standard student printing regime, where students pay the same for printing wherever they print on campus.

Technical advice

We've asked for some help to keep the media facilities going.

Barry Lambert has agreed to work with the Division to look over the existing media facilities and provide us with advice on what needs to be done to ensure their continued usefulness to the Division.

Jim Wise, the senior technical officer at the ABC here in Canberra, initially suggested Barry for the job. Barry has a long history of working at the ABC and elsewhere in television, including OB and studio design and construction (and reconstruction!). Barry is currently working with the ABC on studio construction in Parliament House, and spent some time here at the Senior Technical Officer in the Instructional Media Centre.

Ten year vision

We need to inform ourselves of emerging trends in the professions we teach to make sure we have the facilities in place to teach them.

The Division’s IT & Infrastructure Committee has established a working group under Brett Butler as the Chair to get some ideas from the Division about what their requirements for media facilities and services will be over the next ten years, to inform the Division’s planning on how best to use its resources.

The group is having a meeting on Friday 1 September 2006 at 2.30pm in 9C25 if anyone cares to attend.

Student email

Should the University still provide students with email?

The University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) decided at its meeting on Thursday 17 August 2006 to press ahead with the investigation of giving up hosting email for students. Instead, students will be asked to supply their email address on enrolment much as they supply postal and residential addresses and contact phone numbers now (which they should keep up to date through OSIS).

During a recent activity in the Division where students were asked to supply a contact email address, over 75% of 200+ participants nominated a non-UC student email address. Anecdotal evidence suggest many students don’t use their UC student email address, and of course when students leave they lose the address anyway, so can’t be contacted via their UC student email address for any follow-up communication.

It is expected that students who don’t have email addresses will be encouraged to set one up with any one of a number of free services like GMail, Yahoo! or Hotmail.

Students who check their email on campus might also find they are using up their traffic cost quota where before when the University provided the email account traffic was free. A working party is to be established to address this and other issues that might arise, and to consult widely with stakeholders to inform progress on the proposal.

Removal of CE websites from Search

Some changes have unintended consequences...

With the makeover of the University website to the new outward-looking approach came another change that was only recently discovered. It appears that UCOnline unilaterally made the decision to stop indexing the comedu websites that hadn’t been migrated to the Web Content Management System. Inflect, the TSU site, and uctv are not coming up in searches using the University’s Panoptic Search engine.

The issue has been raised with UCOnline through the Director of ICT Services, and by the time you read this the sites should be restored in the search, and won’t be removed until they are migrated to the Web CMS (if ever: sites like Inflect will probably never be hosted by ICT Services so the Division will be required to host them as long as they are required to be hosted. Same goes for some of the more dynamic content in the TSU website and uctv.).

Enterprise Collaboration Software

After four years of discussions, some progress on an Enterprise Collaboration Environment.

At its meeting on Thursday 17 August 2006 the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) endorsed the recommendations of an Acumen Alliance consultancy report that concluded that Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server are the best functional fit for the University to support email, calendaring, contact lists, task lists and file sharing as an enterprise-wide system for staff.

UIMSC has established a working group consisting of the IT Managers of the Academic Divisions and some ICT personnel to prepare an implementation plan.

The Division of Communication and Education has been using Exchange for email for a number of years now, so the transition from a Divisional-supported email system to a University-provided system should not be too problematic and require little adjustment if any for most staff in the Division. Existing Outlook and Entourage users should experience no differences after some settings are adjusted.

The movement of the calendar from the Oracle system to Exchange will require more work especially with staff training and support for those staff who don’t currently use a Calendar, or don’t use Microsoft Outlook or Entourage as their email client. In the longer term to move to Exchange Calendar across the campus should provide a much more integrated system for managing scheduling and communication than the current environment allows.

Implementation and use of the Sharepoint document sharing system is an unknown quantity at the moment since it is a completely new system for the Division. Certainly an ongoing commitment to training and support within the Division will be required if document sharing is to be used actively and appropriately in the Division.

The email and address list stage of the project at least should be in place by the end of this year.

08 August 2006

Blackboard Patent

It's amazing what the US Patent Office (and IP Australia) will patent these days.

Blackboard Inc., owners of the Blackboard and WebCT Learning Management Systems, has been issued a patent by the US patent office “for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods. The patent covers core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.” [http://www.blackboard.com/company/press/release.aspx?id=887622]. A corresponding patent has been issued in Australia, among other places, and patents are pending in a number of other territories. MyClasses, Drupal, Moodle, and Sakai are examples of LMSs that the Division uses or has expressed an interest in using which may infringe Blackboard’s patent.

With the University currently in the process of reviewing its LMS options, it may be constrained in its choice of systems by the Blackboard patent. Blackboard has already filed a Patent Infringement Notice with one of its competitors, Desire2Learn, and may pursue its rights against other LMS developers both commercial and open source.

In the past patents like the Blackboard one issued by the US Patent Office have been overturned on appeal, especially where “prior art” exists. BlackBoard CEO, Michael Chasen, is himself quoted as saying “We [Blackboard] certainly did not invent e-learning or course management systems.” [http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?topic=8], so it is unlikely that the patent will stand. In the meantime, though, it may complicate the University’s procedures in updating its current WebCT LMS.


Why can't you log on when visiting another another educational institution?

eduroam, or Education Roaming, is a system for allowing education users visiting other educational institutions to log on to the local computer network using their username and password from their home institution. eduroam is available in Australia, most European countries and Taiwan. Dr Robert Fitzgerald from the Division’s School of Education and Community Studies raised the issue of whether the University of Canberra is a participant in the scheme, but it appears no-one has asked before.

eduroam Australia is managed by AARNET, Australia’s Research and Academic Network, and has a wireless focus, allowing users from participating institutions to access each others’ wireless infrastructure with their home credentials. In the ACT, the Australian Catholic University, the Australian National University, CSIRO’s Division of Forestry, and AARNET itself all provide eduroamers with access to their networks.

Executive should ask the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) to investigate whether the University of Canberra should join the scheme.

Colour Printing in the Division

Colour printing is becoming increasingly common, but can we afford to offer the service in the Division?

Depending on the printer and other variables, colour printing costs upwards of 15 cents per A4 page for toners, compared with 1 to 3 cents for black. Options for colour printing in the Division are limited to a few printers purchased to satisfy specific requirements, and one with Alan Nicol that can be used on a cost recovery basis by staff in the Division with requirements for colour printing. The Curriculum Resources Centre has colour photocopying and printing, but there is no mechanism in place to charge for printing so colour printing is not available to staff. Tourism has a colour MFD with rights to print in colour managed by the section.

Alan’s colour printer is out of warranty and should be replaced, although when he leaves at the end of this year the Division will need to decide what if anything to do to support colour printing beyond the end of the year.

Mechanisms to manage colour printing effectively do exist, but implementing them in our environment (Divisional and University) may be resource-intensive. With the Executive’s approval, the Technical Services Unit will investigate options for providing colour printing to the Division on a manageable basis with the printing costs to be borne by individual Schools or Centres, or by the Division.

Microteaching rooms bookings

Trying to organise appropriate access to Divisional resources

Students and staff in a number of units have been using the Microteaching rooms in Building 5 for many years for recording presentations and interviews. In 2004/5 the rooms were upgraded using funds from the DEST Infrastructure Grant for the National Institute of Language Learning (NILL) with better quality video and audio recording equipment, SmartBoard electronic whiteboards and video projectors.

School of Education and Community Studies students recording presentations and interviews for assessable work are the most frequent users of the rooms. School of Languages and International Education staff and students also book the rooms for presentation work in regular tutorials, although it is unclear whether they use the video and sound recording capabilities and other specialist facilities in the rooms. The SmartBoards in these rooms are used also in the Information Technology and Education unit to familiarise prospective teachers with the sort of equipment they will have available to them in classrooms when they graduate.

Student bookings are managed through the use of booking sheets in the anteroom outside the Microteaching rooms. The rooms are also included in the University timetable system as Divisional rooms, and can be booked through Syllabus+.

Recently the rooms were block-booked through Syllabus+ for the ACT Department of Education and Training to conduct interviews with prospective teachers. Students who had booked the rooms for video recording using the booking sheets were unable to use the spaces and emergency arrangements had to be made elsewhere in the Division to accommodate their requirements. Also some tutorials are booked into these rooms on a regular basis, but the facilities are not used during the tutorial much if at all. While the rooms are occupied by tutorials, students wanting to use them for their assessments can’t get in, increasing the pressure on the use of the rooms (towards the due date for assignments it is often impossible for some students to make a booking in the rooms at all).

With the increasing pressure on the use of the specialist facilities of the rooms, bookings for the rooms should be removed from Syllabus+ and only used for the specialised purposes for which they were designed.