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.

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.

Poster Printing

In striving to provide better large format printing for academic support, OIT recently purchased an Epson Stylus Pro 9900.  The new plotter (poster printer) provides accurate color representation while allowing us to monitor printing supplies and cost.  Use of this new plotter is available to faculty and students for conference poster printing and assigned class projects.

With the replacement of our old color HP plotter, the decision was made to transfer that plotter to Office Services for paid printing.  Soon departments and students will be able to print banners and posters to advertise their events or for their personal use.  Office Services expects this new lower cost service to be available in a few weeks and plan to make a general announcement at that time.

New Jesup 316 plotter in action

Jesup 316 plotter

W.I.T. 2009

If you ask somebody at OIT what WIT is, they’d probably tell you “it’s a summer technology internship for Williams students.” If you ask me, I’d tell you “it’s a bunch of multi-talented, diverse, and ambitious students who are rounded up at the end of the school year, locked up on the second floor of Jesup with no air-conditioning, and at the end of 10 weeks, they emerge with beautiful T-shirts and a dozen websites for faculty to play with.” I’d also tell you that for ten weeks I was part of a Family, a Playground and a School. That is what WIT really is to me- a Family, a Playground and a School.

On the first day, I reported to work at 9:00 in the morning where I met the other student interns. Some of the faces were new and some were quite familiar. However, there was a hint of strangeness that could not be ignored. I remember saying to myself, “This is whom I am going to be working with for the whole summer?” And if that wasn’t troubling enough, the air-conditioning did not work. I was always doubtful as to what sort of dynamics would be realized in the course of the program. I was doubtful as to how teams are going to relate, work and be productive. I was doubtful as to how prepared or cut out I was, for the projects that would be presented to us.

But then, before we got into the thick of things with web design and coding, we went through a two-week training period that cast away a lot of doubt. First, there was digital storytelling, and what an experience that was! In making digital stories, I was learning about new technology while exploring very personal aspects of my life at the same time. I had the rare opportunity to tell a personal story however I wanted to tell it, and at the same time, learn more about my fellow interns by sharing their stories. The Family was well on its way at this point in time.

Being a WIT intern this past summer was more of an eye-opening experience than a regular nine to five job. There was always something to look forward to learning every single day. I am now equipped with the necessary skills to work with HTML, CSS, PHP and can design a fully functional website from the ground up. However, it did take a while for me to get comfortable with the basics that would enable me to take up the projects. The training project surely played a big role in steering me in the right direction. Our student managers, Bret Scofield and Jeff Perlis, presented us with a project, which we were to work on individually or within groups. The amazing thing about the training project is that it created an avenue for us to learn about each other’s unique skills that would be applicable in the work setting. When I needed help I first consulted a fellow WIT Student then maybe an ITech (instructional technology) staff member. WIT, the school, taught me self-reliance, but most importantly, taught me to learn to rely on my colleagues.

They say work without play makes Jack a dull boy. We had game night to remedy that. Tuesday nights, the family got together and played strange board games, Wii sports, Rock Band, and Texas hold ’em, or occasionally jammed to the tune of Trevor Murphy’s (an ITech staff member) mandolin. Friday lunches were exceptional as well. Every week there was tasty food from a variety of local restaurants that we enjoyed with our sponsors, and the whole family. We also had a blast canoeing and mini-golfing. The rest of the time, we had each other, our sponsors, the ITech staff, our projects, the internet and YouTube.

The projects were interesting and fun to work on. There were times when we burned the midnight oil in the name of getting something to work. But even then, we had the backing of our fellow students, the student managers, and the ITech staff. At the end of it, we emerged with our beautiful WIT 2009 T-shirts and presented our projects to our sponsors and the Williams community. All in all, it was a great experience. From this summer, I derive a great sense of pride and fulfillment in my fellow interns, the WIT program, and myself.

-written with Azd Al-Kadasi ’12

For more information about the WIT program, visit the WIT site.

WordPress Makes Websites Easy

WordPress is a free, open source tool that OIT uses to publish and maintain websites and blogs, including the one you’re looking at right now. We’ve found it excellent for small scale websites such as College departments and organizations.

People like being able to update their site without having to know HTML, and being able to make their changes through a web interface – there’s no fussing with local copies and file transfers, nor worrying about files getting out of sync. Web developers (i.e. code monkeys like me) enjoy the well documented, easy to use API, and being able completely control the look and layout of the site. Another great feature of WordPress is that you don’t need a web developer to get an attractive and functional site – there are hundreds of beautiful, free, pre-built themes available that can radically change the way your site looks and behaves, without affecting the content. With a just few clicks and no coding at all, you can change your site between these skins:

Themes Screenshot

While WordPress has extensive support for blogging, having a blog on your WordPress site is completely optional. It works very well as a lightweight content management system for any type of website.

To get a better idea of what WordPress can do, you can visit Williams’ sites that were developed using it:

Some other cool WordPress features:

  • Statistics that can tell you about your site’s traffic & visitors
  • Photo galleries
  • Multi-level user permissions that can control who can edit what
  • Forum-like commenting with automatic spam filtering
  • Web forms

If you’d like to find out more about WordPress, contact your Instructional Technology Liaison.

Electronic Classroom Updates

With nearly 100% of classrooms now equipped with standard electronic presentation equipment, Instructional Technology/Media Services has embarked upon an aggressive program to refresh and upgrade existing equipment.

The heart of the presentation systems in all classrooms is the Extron System7 controller. This push button device is straightforward and simple to use. In the Spring we identified a number of these devices that, due to condition or age, were in need of replacement.

Ceiling mounted projectors see a lot of use during the school year. At any given time you may see PowerPoint presentations, web based resources, and videos displayed on the screen in classrooms all across campus. We identified projectors that were in need of replacement and installed newer brighter models.

In addition to replacing these components, we also worked with an outside audio visual contractor to completely refurbish the teaching stations/equipment racks in approximately 20 electronic classrooms. This process included checking lamp hours and filters on all projectors, improving cable management, simplifying audio amplification schemes, cleaning System7 controllers inside and out, and vacuuming teaching stations and equipment rack interiors. After this maintenance is completed, the entire system is then tested to assure proper function.

We hope that this scheme results in our classrooms continuing to be reliable places for presenting teaching materials. If you have any questions about this, or electronic classrooms in general please contact Media Services at x2112.

New classroom equipment to be deployed

Boxes of new classroom equipment

Steve Amann fixing a classroom projector

Steve Amann fixing a projector

Breathing New Life into Media

Did you ever read the book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson? It’s about a boy, Harold, who draws pretty much anything he needs with his trusty purple crayon.  For example, Harold ends up floating in the ocean during one of his adventures, so he whips out his purple crayon, draws himself a sailboat to climb into and sails away. Problem solved. How cool, right? What if we all had purple crayons that could solve problems that easily?

That concept of “what if” combined with a theoretical purple crayon has cropped up repeatedly in my work as an instructional technologist and media production specialist. Faculty, students and staff are wonderful at imagining a continuous supply of the what if’s, while digital technology, software and the web, have afforded us an amazingly diverse box of “crayons” and canvases to “draw” upon.

And I certainly would not classify the what if’s only as problems that need solving. They most often fall into the category of “How would I incorporate X into my class?” with X being something like:

  • collaborative writing/publishing via a wiki with mixed media content (images, audio, video)
  • multimedia narrative projects/visual histories
  • incorporating video clips into assignments and for peer review and commentary
  • student audio/video recording and editing (e.g. fieldwork, interviews, etc.)
  • blogs as presentation/publishing tools

The list is limited only by their imagination.

Work stations in Jesup 316 now have both a Mac and a PC sharing a monitor.

316 work station

Since returning to Williams late last semester as the Media Studios & Technologies Coordinator in the ITech group of OIT, I have consulted with faculty, students, and staff on multimedia production and support on campus, and more specifically, media scholarship in the curriculum.  I am very pleased to share with you now some of the physical and philosophical changes in supporting multimedia development that ITech is adopting in Jesup and the other Media Production Studio locations in an effort to better serve and educate the campus community.

As a stepping stone to OIT’s planned Center for Media Initiatives (CMI), part of the Sawyer/CMI building project, we are pleased to announce the creation of the Media Education Center (MEC) in Jesup 316. We envision the MEC as the primary destination for individual consultation or small group training and support for multimedia projects, digital video production, and media scholarship in the curriculum. Key to the MEC’s success will be our focus on providing some of the core services outlined in the mission statement for the future CMI:

  • Promoting the use of multimedia and technology in teaching and learning.
  • Providing multiple levels of support from solving basic problems to complex multimedia production.
  • Promoting faculty/faculty and faculty/student interaction and collaboration assisted by OIT Instructional Technologists as needed.
  • Provide facilities where students can collaborate on multimedia projects with Student Media Consultants and professional backup nearby.

The MEC is open for use weekdays, 9 AM – 5 PM. We are also staffing the MEC weekdays 10-12 in the mornings and 2-5 each afternoon. We encourage you to drop in during these staffed time slots with your media questions, problems, and ideas.

As the plan for the MEC developed, we also recognized the need to more precisely duplicate there the physical resources found in the other Media Production Studios.  If we imagine our community will come to the MEC to explore and learn, then we must outfit the Studios to produce in the same manner we teach, right?  Additionally, appreciating changes in the patterns and culture of media production methods gave us an opportunity to create media studios that provide a mix of traditional production workstation layouts interspersed with soft seating, laptop areas, and large screen collaborative spaces.  The emphasis on establishing creative and inviting environments, that are functional for individuals and groups interchangeably, remains our high priority.

Large display in Jesup 316 for teaching and collaborating

Collaboration station in Jesup 316

Notable tidbits about the Studios:

The Aquarium– (Jesup 101), is now officially named The Aquarium since that’s what everyone already calls it!  It has a mix of MAC and PC video editing stations, flatbed and slide scanners, and includes an open area with soft seating for laptop use. The Aquarium is only staffed in the evenings and on weekends when the MEC is closed. The timeslots for staffed hours are posted on the door and also linked on the MEC website.

The Cellar – (Jesup B03) – contains PC’s only. It includes a large screen collaborative station for group project work, or easy hook-up for laptops, peripherals (or even gaming consoles – user supplied!) and is intended to promote a more social computing atmosphere.

Jesup 204 – is a mix of high-end media production stations, both Mac & PC. It has a dedicated music composing/recording workstation, flatbed scanners and an open area with soft seating for laptops. Jesup 204 is intended as a quieter studio for more serious work.

We have also moved our dedicated Training Station for Lynda.com use to Jesup 204, recognizable by the bright yellow Lynda.com poster and icons. Lynda.com is gaining in popularity with our users as a one-stop, self-paced, video tutorial training site with offerings on just about any software you can name for media production and office productivity.

Other Studio locations include Spencer 216 (Art Studio building) and reservable Final Cut Pro editing suites in Dodd Annex and Jesup 316A.

To browse a listing of Media Production Studios and the MEC and related equipment, you can visit the OIT site.

To request an appointment with ITech professional staff to talk about media scholarship opportunities in teaching and learning, or other project ideas you may have, contact itech@williams.edu.

Please visit the Media Education Center (Jesup 316) soon! We would love to share our big box of crayons with you!

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.

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.

The Point & Click Show

After sitting Phil Remillard of Media Services & Dave Parks of Networks & Systems in front of a camera for an hour with no more instructions than to “just talk about OIT and crack as many jokes as you usually do,” we came up with the raw footage for the first episode of the Point & Click show. I hope you enjoy our impromptu comedy, which sneaks in a few interesting technology tidbits, including spam prevention, and fair use in copyright.

Computer Labs

Jesup:
101 – Media Studio, PC/Mac Lab
316 – Media Studio, PC/Mac Lab
204 – PC/Mac Lab w/ scanner
205 – PC computer classroom
207 – Mac computer classroom
B03 – PC/Mac Lab
’62 Center for Theater & Dance:
G81 PC/Mac Lab
Bronfman:
119 – PC Lab
Clark:
201 – PC/Mac Lab
Physics:
TPL 207 – PC Lab
Sawyer:
Downstairs – PC/Mac Lab
Schow:
027 – PC Instructional Room
Spencer Art:
216 – Media Studio, PC/Mac
Specialty Labs:
Bernhard Music Lab* (Mac Only)
Schow GIS Lab* (PC Only)
TCL 215 – Computer Science Lab (Mac Only)
North Academic Bldg Language Lab (PC/Mac)

*: access restricted to specific users

Lab locations on campus:

Campus map

Mount Greylock High

In our last edition, Dinny Taylor wrote about the various fates of older “trickle” computers- one of which is donation to local schools. In this edition, we’re briefly following up on one of those schools- Mt. Greylock Regional High. Many people are unaware of the depth of the relationship that the College has with this school. While children of Williams faculty and staff attend other schools in the region, Mt. Greylock is the primary public high school for Williamstown, and roughly 90 students at the school have a parent affiliated with Williams. As such, Williams has a vested interest in the quality of education provided, and has created the Williams Center at Mt. Greylock “to maximize the academic value the College can provide the school.”

I met with Kaatje White, the Coordinator of the Center, who told me about a variety of projects that Williams is involved with to achieve this goal. One is a year-long writing intensive English class taken by all 9th graders. Williams provides a trained student Writing Fellow for each section of the class, who critiques drafts and supports the class in various ways. Williams also has provided support for curriculum development and new texts for this class. This has allowed Mt. Greylock to focus its resources on keeping class sizes small.

The Center arranges and provides transportation for Williams students to tutor Greylock students, and brings Williams professors and special performances to the high school. Recently James McAllister spoke about Presidential Elections, and Ken Kuttner addressed an assembly on the economic crisis. Two dance workshops with the Jose Limon Dance Company were held in collaboration with the ’62 Center. In addition, Greylock students are invited to our campus for classes, science labs, library access, speakers, life drawing, and other opportunities which are rare to find in public high schools.

Williams also provides infrastructural support where it can. In addition to providing computers that the school could not otherwise afford, furniture left in Stetson and in other buildings has been donated to the school over the years.

For more information about the Williams Center at Mt. Greylock, visit http://mgrhs.org/ and select ‘Williams Center’ from the navigation on the left. To get involved, contact Kaatje White at kwhite@williams.edu.