Thursday, November 30, 2006
We get occasional requests from faculty and students to provide a learning community. In response to that I've been doing a little research around software we could use to provide the infrastructure.
I've been watching my resident teenager use MySpace, so I was looking for something with similar features, but even cooler. (Cool is important when you are living with a teenager). It would need to be able to host multiple communities, so we would have a space for faculty lounges, administrative blogs, student groups, study groups, etc. We have a lot of faculty who do neat things online or in your other lives, so I'd like to have a way for people to let us know what else you are doing and how it intersects with your teaching life. What I have found is ELGG.
ELGG has a free space at www.elgg.net (and information at www.elgg.org). I joined and set up a community called CCCOnline Faculty. If you go join ELGG to try it out please join that community also. This is open space software, so if we really want to use it we will probably install it on our own servers, so we have a more private/controlled space. For now though, I am interested in opinions other than my own. What do you think both for yourselves and for students?
(Side note re why not to simply do this in Vista -- 1) Not a recommended use of the software, they don't really expect course shells with more than 5,000 users. 2) When Vista is down, this would still be up, improving communication. 3) Different purpose usually means different software because the features we want are different. 4) user control -- which we can't give in Vista.)
On a completely different note-- several of you read the article in the Chronicle on adjunct faculty (http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2006/11/2006112901c/careers.html). I also read that article and followed the link to the AAUP article on "contingent faculty". Many years ago CCA used a two tiered adjunct faculty system that assumed many adjuncts had a strong and long-term relationship with the college. I was a part of that and appreciated the additional committment the college made to those adjuncts. CCCOnline does not have the ability to write longer term contracts at this point, but we do talk about possibilities and understand the benefits both sides of the equation would receive. It's not a conversation that is moving forward particularly swiftly, but at least it has begun.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
This is the update from David for Tonight's Vista Maintenance
Nov. 30, Thursday Morning 12AM - 2AM
This maintenance will affect WebCT Vista courses only (CE courses are not affected). The WebCT Vista Courses will not be accesible from 12 AM (midnight)- 2 AM (MT) on Thursday morning November 30.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Registration for the spring semester has begun and I'd like to ask all of you to encourage your students to register early and register often. This semester it has been particularly easy to concentrate on the challenges we've all had to manage around the various technologies, both Banner and Vista and forget that we are still doing well what we always do well -- helping students meet the learning outcomes for all of their courses and p[repare for their future.
Today after Ateam I sat down and looked at a summary of the semester to help myself put problems into perspective.
- We began a day late to ensure a more complete student load.
- The first week had the same problems as usual -- lost UserID's and PIN's -- but twice as many as usual because everyone had a new ID and PIN. It took a week to respond to all student calls as opposed to the usual 2 to 3 days.
- Stuck threads began causing slowdowns mid-October, shortly after the start of fall 2. Slowdowns were intermittant.
- Vista was down Oct. 22 for the failed attempt to install App Pack 1 and Service pack 1.
- BB added 2 nodes to our installation on Nov. 3 to solve the stuck thread problem.
- Vista was very slow Nov. 13-15 due to runaway query. Active monitoring has "solved" this problem.
- Vista down Thanksgiving am 12:00-4:00 and the 28th 2:00 to 4:00 am for installs.
You the faculty, the design team, and the training and support group have done a wonderful job of moving courses, learning the new software, and making sure the students are able to meet the learning outcomes. I don't think we can give Vista the "A" grade I'd give all of you, but certainly not an "F" either.
At this point in the semester it's important to help our students end on a positive note (most of them anyway) and to encourage them to register for the spring semester, not just for cynical financial reasons, but because you really do do a better job teaching than most other programs. And at a lower overall cost to boot!
I'd like to pass on the note Donna Welschmeyer sent to the accounting faculty, because I thought she said it all better than I can:
Hi everyone. At A-Team this morning, we had a brief discussion about Vista and a tendency for Vista-bashing. While we continue to work through some issues with both the Vista software and the hardware serving it, overall the move to Vista has worked well. Approximately 80 percent of the problems we had early on were related to the same issue we always have: students didn’t know their login information (obviously not related to Vista).
We were reminded this morning that even though we may get frustrated with the system from time to time, it IS, after all, technology. We need to be sure we have backup plans in place for technology that may fail or be slow, just as we always had backup plans for those days in the face-to-face classroom when the VCR didn’t work. Most important, we should be very careful how we discuss the “problem” areas of Vista with students. We had email from a student today (not an accounting student, thankfully), served up as a “petition” and saying that she, her fellow classmates, AND HER INSTRUCTOR all hated Vista and thought that we should not use it at all.
I cringed at the thought that we might have instructors out there who are taking part in Vista-bashing conversations with students instead of providing a positive, supportive, and encouraging environment for students.
I share this with you NOT because I have concerns about how any of you are handling Vista oddities, but more as a thank-you for what I’ve always seen as competent, professional delivery of your courses and interactions with your students. The old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is so true, and I’m forever grateful that you all are SO easy to work with!
Thanks! Hope the remainder of your semester goes smoothly. In the next few days you will be seeing information about a NEW process for submitting grades, so just be aware that the process will change and we won’t be using Web4Faculty for grade submission.
We hope the process for student ordering of textbooks using their financial aid that John describes below will be easier for everyone, even the students. :^)
As some of you may have heard, Linda Freund will be retiring at the end of November. We will miss her very much here at CCCOnline and wish her the very best in the future (and, of course, she is always welcome to come back anytime J).
With her retirement, we will be changing the way we process financial aid orders slightly. Where students in previous semesters used the Voucher, students wishing to use FA to purchase materials for their CCCOnline delivered courses for Spring will need to contact MBS directly at 1-800-325-3252 and identify themselves as taking a CCCOnline delivered course. MBS will take the order and place a “Hold” on it. Then, MBS will e-mail CCCOnline for confirmation of the student’s FA award (John, Roxanne and Randy will be receiving these e-mails and tracking them). CCCOnline will forward the request to the student’s home college who will verify the student’s FA award. Once verification is received, CCCOnline will contact MBS and they will contact the student and ship the materials.
Student’s who have questions about pending orders, or who need to make changes to their orders can simply contact MBS through the 800#. We hope this new process will improve the accuracy of orders by allowing student’s to contact the bookstore directly (taking CCCOnline out of that part of the loop should remove one step from the old process) but still ensure that only students with verified FA awards receive materials.
We will be advertising the 800# on our web site this Thursday, November 30. If you have any questions or concerns about this process, please feel free to contact me.
Thanks for your support!
John H Schmahl
Here's a note from David Chatham, Dean of Academic Technology:
Blackboard has confirmed that the functional index is causing the Instructor comment field to display incorrectly for students. The data is not lost and, as many have pointed out, if the student enters the assignment they can see the correct instructor comments. Blackboard would like to remove the functional index patch tonight to restore the proper functionality of the student view on Instructor comments. I believe that is the prudent thing to do at this time. It would avoid further confusion for students and instructors viewing the comments. BB plans to continue working on this on the QA server for us. Once it is resolved, we can look at re-applying it late at night.
I have heard some concern about whether this would adversely affect the performance of the server to undo this functional index. At this time, I don't believe we can demonstrate that this change gave us a performance boost. It's purpose was to control SQL queries that were eating up processor resources. This can also be managed by constant monitoring by Vista hosting. The run away away SQL hasn't been "acting up" since November 15. Performance is also affected by the number of users on the system at one time, and I am not sure the level of activity has completely returned today from what is was prior to last week.
I will put up a notice for all users that the server will have maintenance tonight from 2 AM to 4 AM MT (Tuesday)
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I just filled up your email boxes, for which I humbly appologize. I thought I turned off the email forward from this blog, but obviously did not.
I've gotten so many good comments re the Late work policies posts that I finally decided to just post them in the comment section to the original post, so please go take a look at them there.
Al Turner is running an experiment for us -- Al was my textbook faculty for strict no late work rules (and yet I never had a student complain - so if you want to go the very strict route please talk to Al about how to handle that so students still think you are the kindest instructor they ever had.) This semester he is going to waive that policy and try the other end of the spectrum -- recommended due dates, but nothing firm until the week before the term ends. (And no, I didn't even suggest this. :^)) Al, we expect to hear from you next spring.
From a pedagogical perspective I think the half-back option provided by Bill Kiele is awesome. Anything that talks students into reviewing and reviewing again will be good for learning and retention. A long time ago I used to let students correct exams and re-write essays for extra credit -- at some point I stopped, now I think I will have to revive that pracitice.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I am hearing from quite a few of you regarding late work policies. Karen commented that she doesn;t ask learners to give a reason for late work when it is less than a week. After that she imposes a penalty. Kevin extends deadlines during holidays as a part of active and empathetic course management. He also leaves the dropbox open for an extra 2 days automatically -- although he doesn't advertise that fact.
This semester of course most of you teaching in Vista are being very relaxed about deadlines.
Thanks for the feedback!
Monday, November 20, 2006
I began thinking about late work policies while reading the syllabi my high school daughter brought home this fall, many of which included policies which were simply unworkable. Shortly after that I read a post on Liz Kleinfield's revision-spiral blog discussing Liz's thoughts regarding her late work policy http://revisionspiral.blog-city.com/rethinking_my_late_work_policy.htm
We have late work policies that run the entire gamut from "No late work ever" to "whenever you want to get it in as long as the semester hasn't been over for more than 3 months." My own person late work policy tended towards a fairly relaxed "I do accept late work, however you need to let me know when you will be able to get the work in. I do not accept work which has missed a deadline that you set. If the deadline you set falls in a busy period for me grading may be substantially delayed." I felt like learners who set their own deadlines (preferrably while feeling guilty for missing a deadline) were more careful to meet the next deadline and less likely to ask to have it moved a second time.
I tend to feel that we have adult learners in most of our classes who do have very busy and complex lives. Flexibility on our part tends to make the semesters run more smoothly and help keep the learning experiences positive. Most students appear to try very hard to meet all deadlines. On the other hand, our lives are equally complex and careful planning and adherance to schedules is the only way we can assure our students prompt feedback. I try to remind my students of that and let them know that if they help me I will in turn help them.
An interesting variation on the no late work policy is the "only if scheduled in advance" policy. This one appears to me to be particularly problematic, since it is at the root of many faculty/learner complaints. It can be hard to decide what sorts of problems qualify for late work and whether or not the learner can have known about the problem in advance. Say their mother goes into the hospital for surgery - they may have known, but possibly hadn't figured out how much it would disrupt their life. Did you really want them to schedule late work on the theory they might be late? And would you have told this student "No way" if faced with a question in class ahead of time?
Common advice for helping students meet deadlines is to break large projects up into smaller bites through the creative use of deadlines (this is good anti-plagiarism advice also) and to avoid deadlines during times when you know learners will be busy (Thanksgiving). Many of our math faculty drop one of the exams when calculating the final grade, thus allowing learners to miss an exam if needed. From the perspective of the dean, I like all of these suggestions.
Last, there is the fairness to all learners issue. If you let someone turn work in late how does that affect the learner who turned in a less than perfect paper, but got it in on time? My experience has been that late assignments tend to be of lower quality than timely assignments, but that is really just begging the question, not responding to it. It is important to remember that learning is not a zero sum game, so raising one person's learning, doesn't lower another. And as long as you are not grading on a curve it doesn't change their grade either.
If you have a creative and successful late work policy go ahead and post it in the comment section of this post so we can all see it.
I had hoped to have actual news for all of you teaching in Vista this semester, but I really don't. The rogue querie has been quiet for 4 days now. BB is in the process of testing a functional index (no, I don't knwo what that is really. :^)) to improve performance. We may apply that fix in the next couple of days.
Plan B is to shut down and restart the system whenever the querie brings everything to a halt. That process will take about an hour. Of course shutting the system down kicks everyone out and causes loss of data. In order to avoid data loss please be sure you save any long projects (for example, compose long emails or discussion posts inyour word processing software and copy and paste to Vista.) So far the only way we have to warn people of an impending shut down is to email them externally. That will not be particularly useful, so the real warning will be the very slow system response time.
The best solution still appears to be the upgrade to application pack 1 and service pack 1. Unfortunately the time estimate for that upgrade has increased to a minimum of 48 hours, so we do not plan to do that until after the semester has ended.
Are you all having a good time yet?
Friday, November 17, 2006
Sandra Phillips not only teaches Art Appreciation and Art History, she provides the experience for the public through the Sandra Phillips Gallery on Santa Fe. She was kind enough to share a link to a recent review of the current show at her gallery.
The Sandra Phillips Gallery
Westword Art Review
Having seen the show, the review really undercuts the impact! If you get the chance, go!
We have decided to not decide on a Thanksgiving day upgrade to application pack 1 and service pack 1. Turns out we have to install the fix to the upgrade tool before we do the upgrade and that takes 30 hours, putting our total estimated downtime at 47 hours. The recommendation from BB changed between conference calls in a 30 minute period today -- that also makes us very nervous.
So.. the downside is that no one knows what is causing the rogue code that is eating up system ram to run. The only solution we have to that issue at this time is a complete system re-boot. That means if we slow down again we will be down long enough to perform the re-boot.
The upside is, no scheduled downtime and we won't have to deal with the known issues in application pack 1.
We have more calls scheduled for next week. I will continue to pass on information as I have it.
Thanks to everyone for your patience and hard work this semester!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
We are tossing around the idea of trying the upgrade (application pack 1 and service pack 1, currently scheduled for Dec. 20th) again on Thanksgiving day. Nothing is decided yet and we would prefer to not do that, but this is a head's up for all of you. Upgrading would mean that Vista would be inaccessable from 11:00 Wednesday night through around 4:00 Thanksgiving afternoon. Our traffic typically drops by about 50% on Thanksgiving, making it the lowest impact day to choose between now and the end of the semester.
I've also asked BB hosting to seriously consider whether or not they can handle our increase in load for the spring term. More news when they get back to me on that.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
In an earlier post on this blog I sent over the allowable grading symbols. Developmental faculty should note the change for them to S/A, S/B, etc.
If any of you need to submit grades for some students before classes end, please send those grades to Roxanne Manske as usual. Also, no change in the incomplete policy -- Roxanne will need a copy of the completed for for all I grades issues.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Vista is now working normally, according to the Hosting and Support Team. They have and I have run a couple of tests on section creation, and it is back to normal responsiveness.
They still need to provide me with reasons for the problems that were occurring. So far, no one has suggested that it was the number of students or any other user activity. I know there has been some speculation on this today, and I am sure we are all wondering what is causing this. It is natural to fill in the blanks when no one is providing a complete answer yet. One of the nodes in particular was so unresponsive, they had to power it down and bring it back up. As to causes, we are still waiting for them to determine that. Let me know if there are any further issues.
Ever UpwardThe Sloan Consortium released a new report today highlighting continued growth in online education. There are no signs that enrollment in online programs will plateau, according to the report, titled Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006 (http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/index.asp). Students, especially older ones, are still attracted to the convenience of completing their degrees over the Internet. The report, based on a survey of 2,200 colleges, found that nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course in the fall of 2005, up from 2.3 million the previous year. Even the rate of increase is going up, the report says. And a good majority of chief academic officers believe the quality of online education is equal or superior to the quality of traditional instruction. --Dan Carnevale
The full re-start scheduled for Saturday morning (1:00 to 3:00 am) did not occur as planned, that may have contributed to yesterday's issues.
Once again, we have conference calls scheduled with BB staff to discuss the ongoing problems. I should have some usage and performance statistics to pass on to you for the past month shortly. We have also asked BB to gather those performance statistics for the coming month and for the first two weeks of December.
In a nut shell, we appear to have concurrency rates of around 10%, when national averages are more like 3 to 5%. That means we are very heavy users of the application. (not bad, but interesting.) FRCC appears to have concurrency rates back down in the 3 to 5% range and they are the only college which has moved all of it's LMS operations to Vista. That would seem to imply that when everyone has moved all online, hybrid, and web-enanced courses to Vista we will be back down in the more normal range and our forecasts for purposes of hardware sizing may be more accurate. :^) (I'm looking hard for a bright side here folks, so help me out.)
We also have scheduled the update to the system (application pack 1 and Service pack 1) for December 20th. That means Vista will be unavailable for all of December 20th, probably until 8:00 am December 21st.
I believe that day should be low impact for everyone except CCA faculty. I appologize to CCA - we were afraid to schedule any later than that as we wanted to have time to test the upgrade before Christmas break.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Here is a note from David Chatham. We will continue to update. Best, Alice
From David Chatham
The Login page on CCCOnline's Vista server is not functioning. We were setting up the student survey this morning and got an error. We are working with Black Board support to get it back to normal. I apologize for this break in your access to Vista.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
It was more than a little creepy as far as I was concerned and I am not sure it would stop any really determined cheaters. I think I still fall into the group of people who would use pedagogy as a way to deter cheaters (ie designing assignments for group work, written assignments with many steps, etc.)
I'd love feedback from you on how critical this issue is and how you would choose to solve it.
In the 2006 legislative session, a bill was passed, SB06-144, directing higher education institutions to study the need for and cost of providing health insurance benefits to instructors. In addition to health insurance, other topics related to the terms and conditions of employment for instructors were discussed during the various stages of testimony on this bill. As a result, the Colorado Community College System has developed a survey as a tool for collecting information regarding the employment of instructors across the community college system.
In order to effectively analyze this issue and prepare an adequate report for the general assembly, we need your help in completing our on-line survey. The survey data will also be a valuable tool for the administration of CCCS, which will allow for informed decision making regarding the employment terms and conditions of instructors, valuable and significant contributors to assisting CCCS achieve its educational mission.
Please complete the survey on-line no later than November 15, 2006 at the following link on the Colorado Community College System web page: www.cccs.edu/InstructorSurvey
The final report will be available on-line at www.cccs.edu to anyone who is interested in the compiled results from this survey. Thank you for your time and effort in responding to this survey.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to send an e-mail to CCCS.Instructors@cccs.edu.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Time on assessments, assignments, discussion posts advanced by two hours after the Thursday upgrade on nodes. I began getting email that the time was wrong on Saturday from one Math instructor. When I checked my email early Sunday morning, it seemed that the time was okay on Vista. I asked the instructor from Saturday's note to check and he responded it was now okay.
I heard from another CCCOnline instructor that it was off early Monday morning. I checked and others also checked her course and could not see the time as wrong, yet I have screen shots showing that indeed the time was off on Monday 5 AM in her course.
I heard again yesterday afternoon that the time was wrong, off two hours, from PPCC. In this case, the instructor took screen shots also of the issue, then logged out and back in and the time corrected itself. He also sent screen shots of this.
Fall-out on this has been some disagreement between instructors and students as to when their assignments / posts, etc were actually submitted, if they had the misfortune to do so close to the time it was to close.
As far as I can tell, the situation resolves itself but it has caused confusion in a few cases. A ticket was submitted to make BB aware of the issue so that we can prevent it during any other maintenance session.
Please just be aware of a possible issue when you talk with your students.
Monday, November 06, 2006
In the box:
- delivering courses through a commercial course management system
- courses as silos
- utilizing publishers for the majority of course content
- social authoring software for course delivery and creation
- content aggregated from a variety of sources
Forgot to ask you at the end of yesterday's post -- can anyone who looks at elgg.org and elgg.net let me know if you think faculty and students would use something like this as a student union sort of space. We'd probably move the faculty lounges there, the blogs, etc.
And don't forget to look/post on the faculty wiki -- www.facultywiki.ccconline.org.
From last week:
I'm hanging out in Portland at the WCET conference. I thought I'd bring you the conference highlights via blog.
Today's opening keynote speaker was Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia and all things wiki. He was an enthusiastic and fascinating speaker. I recommend you visit some of the wiki initiatves such as www.wikia.com. Wikia is a wiki housing discussion groups and information on a huge variety of subjects. It's not meant to be another wikipedia, but an area for a different type of discussion and writing. I visited the economics portal -- there is a lot of information there and much that would be of use and interest to students. (But, you are right Paul, not a lot under Chemistry. Economics on the other hand, has lots of stuff.)
If you haven't visisted www.wikibooks.com, that's another interesting web site -- the goal is to replace the textbook with free, open-source wiki-books. As many of you know we are looking for solutions to the high cost and frequent updates of the traditional textbooks -- this site might give you an additional source for information for your students.
From wikipedia I wandered over to a session on the national repository for Online Courses. This is another initiative CCCOnline has joined. You can see some of their content on www.hippocampus.org; there is more available from within the community that I can give you access to. NROC is another group looking at the social authoring model for course content development.
More updates as the week goes on....
I ended the conference with several sessions on Social Software. One by Terry Anderson of Athabasca University and Chris Lott from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, was particularly exciting. Chris's wiki from the conference is available at http://community.uaf.edu/~cde/wiki/WCET06/HomePage.
Chris particiapted in two presentations, both can be reached from the WCET link on the left hand navigation bar. The links on the page lead to interesting reading material and to examples of the use of wiki's in the classroom.
Terry passed on links to social software such as elgg.org, which I think may be an option for us to use as a social site for our students and faculty. An example of that can be seen at http://me2u.athabascau.ca/. https://www.umanitoba.ca/virtuallearningcommons/ is an example of a wiki as a social space for students and faculty.
Rhonda Epper moderated a session from several publishers on their current thoughts regarding how to provide content for the future. There was a lot of discussion around our own digital content initiative as well as some publsher bashing. :^) It is clear that faculty expect the method of providing content to change, but no one is sure how to manage that change.
More thoughts soon.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
In the tradition of prior Faculty Features in the Teaching Tips Newsletters, I asked Peter if he would like to update his bio. Here it is :).
Dr. Peter Jeschofnig
I am a professor of science at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, where I teach mainly chemistry and physics. Prior to starting my teaching career in 1988, I spent many years as an international exploration geologist in Africa and the Middle East. I have been teaching physics for CCCOnline since 2002, and during 2003-04 I taught my CCCOnline classes from Windhoek, Namibia while on sabbatical as a Fulbright professor at the University of Namibia.
As a strong believer in hands-on education, every summer I take students on rainforest ecology or marine biology field courses to Central or South America. In the past we have studied rainforest ecology in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Honduras plus marine biology in Belize, Honduras, and the Galapagos Islands.
My degrees include a B.S. and M.A in geology/anthropology, an M.A. in science education and a Ph.D. from Colorado State University. In 1995, I was named CMC's professor of the year, and in 2000 TELECOOP's distance educator of the year. I spent my 1995/96 sabbatical as a Fulbright professor at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.
My wife, Linda, was a CPA, and taught marketing and management courses as an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College for 17 years before recently retiring. She now runs a successful e-commerce business.
In a few minutes you'll see the blog post for November's featured faculty, Dr. Peter Jeschofnig.
The faculty feature was one of the former sections of the monthly faculty newsletter, and it will be released through the CCCOnline Faculty News blog.
By moving to some new communication tools, we hope to provide shorter pieces of information more frequently, provide an archive so you can more easily retrieve data, and allow timely updates and faculty contributions of knowledge throught the wiki.
So we have two blogs and a wiki: CCCOnline Faculty News, CCCOnline Faculty Source (Instructional Resources),and the CCCOnline Faculty Wiki. If you find yourself wondering how to keep track of mutliple sources, we've had the same conversation here. If you bookmark this blog,it contains all the links to the others (scroll down to the Links section of this blog).
We welcome feedback on your new tools --
Best to each of you,
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Academic Technology Dean David Chatham has this information to share:
In an effort to improve Vista operations, we have requested that Vista Hosting utilize an eight hour window (Thu Night-Fri Morning: Nov. 3, Friday 12 AM - 8 AM) to add more application nodes to the CCCS configuration.
This means that students and faculty will not be able to access the Vista server during that time. It is possible that the server will be available before 8 AM, but a splash page will be in place until the server is back online. The new configuration will deal with some of the slowness we have experienced lately.
Other maintenance changes include a weekly restart of our servers every Friday night-Saturday morning, 1 AM to 3 AM. This will mean that users will not be able to access Vista during this period every week.
Associate Academic Dean