Friday, November 30, 2007

The Evolution of Second Life

It shouldn't surprise anyone that technology continues to evolve faster than we can keep up with it. However, as I was preparing for a faculty talk on Second Life, I was amazed at how sophisticated it's becoming.

For sure, the graphics are still not high quality, and the manipulation of objects is still clumsy, but the people using Second Life are becoming increasingly sophisticated on what they're able to do. Give credit to the Linden folks for creating an environment with substantial flexibility.

In the early days of SL, people were constructing buildings and environments as a way to re-create the real world. Witness schools like Princeton, MIT, and Vassar and their recreations of campus buildings, complete with the traditional chairs and lecture halls (if everyone hates lecture halls so much, why are so many of them being recreated in SL?).

Then, the galleries started taking off....first galleries that displayed "traditional" art. Vassar recreated the Sistine Chapel, which takes advantage of the ability to fly around the room in order to get a closeup view of Michaelangelo's work. Now, you are seeing installations that create "objects" that would never be possible in the real world. (

This week, I found some amazing things being done in the sciences. It's now possible to walk through hurricanes, view a recreation of a solar eclipse, view (and interact with) real time 3-d weather maps, and manipulate scientific equipment. The Science School ( is just one example of the work that's being done.

With all that being said, one of the best questions I got during the presentation had to do with all of the hype SL is receiving, with many stating that this is the magic bullet for solving all pedagogical problems. We have to remember that there is a long history of these magic bullets. Just like the introduction of the television, the VCR, the laser disc, the personal computer, and the world wide web, Second Life is one of many technologies that are available for teaching. One must decide if investing the significant time this type of tool will take will help accomplish or enhance teaching and/or learning goals.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Luna Insight

  • Got a demo of the next version of Luna Insight. Talk about nice. They've simplified the interface, made it more integrated, and added tons of features. One of the more impressive features is the ability to manipulate multiple images at once. Imagine having a pile of images on your screen from multiple sources (including Flickr), with the ability to zoom in on two images next to each other, overlay them, resize them, and then create a web link so that view of the images can be shared with others. Very cool.

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I often find the vendor area to be the most useful part of Educause. It's always good to talk face-to-face with sales reps and to find out what new things are being released. This year, there seems to be more vendors than ever before. I spent four hours on the exhibit hall floor yesterday and still haven't made it all the way through. (I have to keep in mind that as many vendors as there are at Educause, the InfoComm exhibit hall is about four times bigger.

Faronics (maker of DeepFreeze) - it's always easier to talk to a vendor when you already do business with them. ETS started using DeepFreeze this semester. I've always liked the balance of flexibility and control it provides. The sales guy says that a new version will be released in January that allows a "super list" to be created. When someone on that super list logs into the machine, they have complete control. There's no longer a need for an administrator to unfreeze a computer before making changes. It'll be automatic. Faronics has also released a version of DeepFreeze that supports Leopard.

I also learned about another product called "PowerSave." It's a very intricate program designed to cut energy use on computers. If the computer has no activity for a certain amount of time, it shuts itself down. The decision to shut down is more involved than whether or not there is keyboard or mouse action. It also looks to see whether programs are running, and an array of other actions.

  • I saw Dell's new tablet. It'll be released on December 11. It's not much lighter than my Toshiba. However, the most interesting thing about it is that you won't need a special stylus. You can use any hard device (similar to most PDAs). Surprisingly, most tablets require the special stylus.
  • Saw a product called DyKnow, that provides a nice software solution to screen sharing for computer classrooms. One interesting feature is that it allows the instructor to completely black out the students' computer screen. Unfortunately, there's no Mac version. I emphasized repeatedly that without a Mac version, we're not interested. (I was thinking about the VCRC and ways we can update that facility.)
  • Respondus allows faculty to create quiz questions off-line and upload them into the course management system, including Moodle. The interface is much more intuitive than Moodle or Blackboard.
  • Lots of consulting/help desk services for open source software, especially Moodle and Sakai. One outfit (I don't recall the name) provides 24/7 first line support for Moodle for about $35K per year. They say that it's expensive, but cheaper than what a full-time support person would be.
More later.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Educause Day 2

(I attended a preconference session yesterday that was so bad, I'm not going to spend the time to summarize it. I did get some very useful materials that will help ETS in its planning. The materials, however, had nothing to do with the topic that had been advertised. --ok, maybe with some extreme stretching....)

The opening session featured Doris Kearns Goodwin. The first time I heard her speak was on Ken Burns' Baseball documentary on PBS. I'd heard of her because of her writings, most notably her biography of Lincoln Johnson. Her speech here at Educause was about leadership qualities. Her most current work is on the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Her speech outlined some of the qualities of Abraham Lincoln that made him one of the best U.S. Presidents and how his leadership held the U.S. together during the Civil War.

  • A capacity to listen to different points of view. Lincoln encouraged dissenting opinions, and his cabinet knew that there would not be retribution for them being outspoken. He wanted to hear dissenting opinions, yet also realized that consensus could be paralyzing.
  • An ability to learn on the job. Lincoln admitted when he made mistakes. He felt that failures don't hurt us, it's the inability to learn from those failures that are most hurtful.
  • A willingness to share credit. Lincoln felt you can accomplish anything if you don't worry about who gets the credit.
"The path to success is wide enough for more than one person to walk it abreast."

  • A willingness to accept blame for subordinates.
Early on in the Civil War, one of Lincoln's cabinet was called to the Capitol to testify about why the troops were getting such shoddy supplies. Congress was blaming the problems on the Cabinet member. Lincoln took the blame for the failure, stating that he had made decisions in the early days of the war, when everything that was so chaotic, that had led to the shoddy supplies.
  • An understanding of one's own weaknesses. Lincoln had a temper, but felt that anger would not be helpful in getting through the Civil War. When he was angry, he would write a letter to a member of his Cabinet, but never give it to him. He was able to redirect his anger into the letter, and then use it as a way to talk to his Cabinet without his temper.
"Letting resentment fester is poison."

  • A strength to adhere to his goals. At the end of his first term, the war was not going well for the Union and Lincoln was starting to lose popular support. His party told him that he would not win the election unless he gave up his stance on abolishing slavery in the hopes of pulling the South back into the Union. Lincoln refused, and a few weeks later Atlanta fell, considered to be the turning point of the Civil War.
  • Leaders have to be able to relax and renew. Although Lincoln was in the throes of leading the country through the Civil War, Lincoln still spent hours with his friends and was a frequent visitor to the theatre. He had a great sense of humor and always had stories to tell his Cabinet.
"Upon hearing someone call him two-faced, Lincoln responded, 'If I'm two-faced, I surely would not have picked this one."

  • Refusal to hide from adversity. Even though Lincoln was getting criticized for continuing the Civil War, he still made sure he met with as many people as possible. He frequently visited the troops on the front line.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

ETS Initiatives

I've submitted several requests for funding this week. I don't know where they'll fall in our priority list but the list includes:

1. Computers in classrooms (funded for this year only so far)

CET has strongly recommended to the Provost the installation of computers and appropriate lecterns in the existing electronic classrooms on campus. The project was proposed by CET as a four-year implementation plan with year one being partially funded by CET innovation grant funds. $198,000 is needed to fund years two through four ($66,000 per year). It is desirable to complete the project in fewer than three years.

2. Technology support for events

There is growing demand for technology for those areas on campus that serve as prime locations for high-level events. While permanently installed technology is being addressed in the classrooms, there is a need for permanent technology in additional spaces on campus in order to provide more professional service for events held in these locations. $125,000 is necessary to address issues in the Alumnae House, Sage Concert Hall, Cutter/Ziskind Dining Room, JMG Auditorium and Weinstein Auditorium. One additional staff position in ETS is proposed to handle the evening and weekend requests.

3. Computer Resources for the Arts

While technology infrastructure to support teaching and learning has increased dramatically across campus, the arts have not been funded adequately to keep up with the rest of campus. Theatre, dance, and music faculty do not have resources to teach their classes using the latest technology so essential for graduates pursuing careers in their majors. Hillyer technology was state-of-the-art when the building was renovated, but there is not money to continue to keep equipment current. Already, computer equipment has started to reach its end-of-life.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Charging For Services

Typically, Smith departments do not charge each other for services. Below is a specific list of services we do and do not charge for.

Charging Allowed

Student hours
Video conferencing for those not directly affiliated with Smith College

Charging Not Allowed

ISDN costs for organizations interviewing Smith faculty, staff, and students
Labor for duplication

About This Blog

The purpose of this blog is twofold: 1) to give me some experience with blogs and 2) document some of the decisions and policies we've been formulating. Feel free to comment, or add to my postings.