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By author: Jonathan Morgan-Leamon

TechFest 2011

April 5th, 2011

 

April 13th 11am to 4pm, Hollander Hall

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Replacing Lanfiles

Lanfiles, the service that among other things provides personal web pages for people at Williams, will be turned off in the beginning of December.  At 10 years old, it’s not only reaching an age where it has become difficult to support, but it’s also used by fewer and fewer people.  As a result, OIT is planning to retire it, and remove or relocate the web pages that it is currently serving. more...

In addition to serving web pages, Lanfiles also allows people to access their Hector, Helen, or Achilles file space from off-campus by FTP, and on campus it allows people to share files through their public.www folders.  A couple of months ago, we sent an email to everyone who had used the service in the past six months, asking how they were using it.  We compiled the responses, and have come up with a replacement service that will cover all of the needs that people have expressed.

  • The on-campus sharing of files is a service that will continue unchanged.  The Lanfiles service serves web pages from the files that are stored on peoples’ public.www sites.  When Lanfiles goes away the websites will no longer be available, but the public.www folders and the files they contain will not be moved or removed. Everyone’s public.www folder will remain, and the files they contain will continue to be accessible on campus.  In the future, the public folders for newly created accounts will be called “public” rather than “public.www” to reflect the fact that they’re no longer available on the web, but the folders themselves will continue.
  • Personal web pages will be available on a new server at the address people.williams.edu. This site runs a multi-user version of the popular lightweight content management system WordPress.  When you first login to people.williams.edu, a website will be created for you at the address people.williams.edu/~username.  You can then configure your site and upload your content through an online menu system, without the need to know any html or web development skills. This site can also be used if you need to transfer small and medium sized files to people off-campus. This service is available now, but still in the beta phase. There may be an occasional unannounced outage or change as we continue to work on it and incorporate feedback and requests.
  • Off-campus access to Hector, Helen and Achilles will be replaced by a web-based file management system at the address http://netstorage.williams.edu/NetStorage. Once you login to this site, you will be presented with a list of the files and folders available on your Hector, Helen or Achilles space, and the ability to upload, download, or rename files.
  • A few people had their old Lanfiles addresses permanently listed in scholarly publications or other places such that it was highly desirable that they be able to maintain their old websites at their old addresses.  For those people, we have a new server that will enable us to keep the old addresses intact, albeit without the convenience and ease of maintainability of the new WordPress system.
Screenshots of the WordPress administrative tools

We will be sending out notifications once more to people that we know have used Lanfiles recently asking if we can help with the migration. But in the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns please contact Jonathan Leamon at jleamon@williams.edu, or your Instructional Technology Specialist.

Glow

Blackboard is going away! Over the coming three semesters, OIT will be phasing out the use of Blackboard, our Course Management System of the past six years, in favor of a new system known here on campus as Glow.

As we evaluated the effectiveness of Blackboard, we found that there were reasons both for wanting to drop Blackboard, as well as for choosing to adopt Glow: Over the time that we’ve used Blackboard its licensing fees have grown exponentially and appear set to continue to rise.  At the same time, the Blackboard corporation recently released a major new version of Blackboard which would have required faculty and students to learn how to use a new system whether we made a switch or not.  Coupled with that, Glow itself provides faculty much greater flexibility to present information in ways that parallel the way they teach, and provides OIT programmers a more accessible environment to support customization and enhancement. In addition, the underlying technology is very popular with Williams’ peer institutions, providing an additional strong support community. more...

Screenshot of a course on Glow

Glow screenshot

The transition to Glow is scheduled to take three semesters, from Fall 2009 through Fall 2010, during which time Blackboard and Glow will both be accessible.

  • In Fall 2009, a dozen or so faculty have volunteered to be “alpha testers” of Glow. Blackboard will continue to operate, and most faculty and courses will still be hosted on Blackboard.
  • In Spring 2010, Glow will be in “open beta”: any faculty who would like to use Glow and get a jump on the new system will be welcome to.  Blackboard will continue to operate normally, and any faculty who choose can still host their courses on it.
  • In Fall 2010, Glow will be active.  All courses will be hosted on Glow.  No courses will be available on Blackboard, students will be unable to log in, and login by faculty will be by request only in order to retrieve past course information.
  • After Fall 2010, Blackboard will be turned off, but kept “on ice” for at least a year in order to ensure that no historical but still-needed course information is lost.

In terms of functionality, the new software will let users do everything they can currently do in Blackboard, however there are some differences in the way course materials can be presented.  Glow allows faculty to organize their material in a variety of different ways, including by week or by topic, and allows materials to be referenced in more than one location within their course.  For courses that have been taught in the past, materials can be exported from Blackboard and uploaded to Glow.  As a result of the difference in organizational structure, uploaded files will still need to be placed into the course manually.

Over the coming semester, OIT staff will offer introductory orientation sessions to the new system, and we invite you to participate.  You can find out more about Glow by contacting your ITech specialist or by using the online documentation where you’ll find a section on getting started with Glow, as well as a section on transitioning from Blackboard.

What is Instructional Technology?

It’s not your grandfather’s Instructional Technology.

The Office for Information Technology is organized into four branches: The Desktop Systems group focuses on personal computers and runs the Help Desk; the Admin Systems group focuses on the big, back-end databases that track grades, manage payrolls and so on; the Networks and Systems group focuses on the cabling, servers and services that connect the campus to the Internet, provide email and so forth; and the Instructional Technology group does… what exactly? more...

ITech at Williams is the group charged with helping faculty make good use of technology in teaching and research, but the broader field of Instructional Technology is an academic discipline in its own right, taught at over 130 graduate schools in the U.S. alone. In Instructional Technology: The Definition and Domains of the Field (1994), Seels and Richey defined Instructional Technology as “the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning,” the definition that was adopted by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). AECT narrowed its definition in 2004, pointing out that instructional technology is a more focused subset of educational technology, and stating that “Instructional technology refers to the concept, theory, and field that focus on facilitating learning through technology under conditions that are purposive and controlled.”

Even with the clarification made in 2004 though, it’s not immediately apparent how to translate these theoretical objectives into a practical program. Here at Williams, the goal is to take the historical trajectory of the department, make it intentional through the application of the principles of design and evaluation, and develop programs and technologies that support faculty and genuinely facilitate learning. As with most things that have their roots in technological innovation, the rate of change in instructional technology seems to be accelerating. Twenty years ago, instructional technology was little more than mimeograph machines and slide projectors- the pre-cursors to today’s electronic classrooms. While the electronic classroom is arguably still ITech’s most visible and widely used service, the emphasis today is placed as much on the “instructional” than on the “technology”. It’s oriented toward the services and collaborations- the verbs- rather than the machines and artifacts of technology, the nouns.

This orientation is reflected in the internal structure of the group. A little over a third of the group has the development and maintenance of the electronic classrooms and labs as their primary responsibility. Around another third of the group, the Instructional Technology Specialist team, is charged with working directly with faculty, both to understand how faculty are currently teaching and doing research and to help them leverage technical tools in more effective ways. As much as possible, members of this group have educational backgrounds and teaching experience that overlap with the disciplines they support. The last group supports both faculty and the rest of ITech, with project management and development skills, by collaborating on the development of applications and tools that further the pedagogical goals of the faculty.

Working together, ITech has as its mission to help faculty use the existing technologies of the classroom and the network more effectively. But going beyond the obvious examples of technology, the larger mission is to help faculty envision ways that intransigent problems , of teaching or within the discipline, can be re-envisioned and addressed.