Supported

(This is an post I wrote back in November but didn’t publish…. Until now. Have fun!)

Mitigated speech gets a lot of use by people trying not to offend. All too often, people who have been hurt because of mitigated speech question what isn’t being told as though the omission or gaps are intentionally deceptive.

What are or are not supported browsers came up again. The trick here is the mitigated speech used with the levels of support. I assume the intent is clarity.

  • Certified – supported with complete testing done.
  • Compatible – supported with some testing done.
  • Provisional – supported with some testing done before official release.

Certified is taken as supported by all parties. Compatible and Provisional are interpreted as not supported because the complete testing has yet to be done. I think Blackboard’s intent was to mark them as supported but qualify how customers might encounter issues due to not fully testing. This means Blackboard is interested in learning about the problems encountered in order to address them.

At least that is my interpolation. Mmmmmm the Kool-Aid is good.

Linux Adventure Part 2

Linux Adventure Part 1Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

So far into the story, I tried repairing Windows Vista which failed to actually give me a working entry into the operating system. The Linux Live CDs were non-committed forays into Knoppix, CentOS, and Ubuntu. All failed to turn on the wireless. An ethernet cord would have gotten me online.

So I was stuck with pretty much a brick.

My next step was to venture out to the store and buy a hard drive. The Ubuntu CD included an installer, so I used it to install a local copy. Continued research revealed my problem probably was the fact my computer came with a Broadcom 4312 card. (My brother said my problem was trying use wireless with Linux.)

Without an ethernet connection, I ended up installing Linux STA drivers from source by downloading them and transferring them by FTP.  No good. Multiple times. I never got it to recognize them. Other options called for installing a firmware update on the wireless card. The idea of a firmware update to the wireless card making me stuck on Linux worries me.

Thankfully I got home to where I have ethernet cords. By this point, I had so completely hosed things, so I reinstalled Ubuntu to start over fresh. Now seeing the Internet through the LAN, Ubuntu offered me “restricted” hardware drivers. The b43 set didn’t do anything. The STA set did enable the Wireless option. Even dhclient referenced eth2! However, the wifi status light doesn’t turn on when I enable wireless. Ugh. So the drivers work better but not enough to get it working.

Also, (based on the time stamp of the file I was able to find in a backup of the problem laptop) I haven’t connected a computer to my home network since February, so I didn’t remember what was the password for the network. Finding which computer or external drive contained the information took a few hours. Yay for backups.

Linux Adventure Part 1Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

Tracking Specific File Use

CE/Vista Reports and Tracking displays summaries of activity. If an instructor seeks to know who clicked on a specific file, then Reports and Tracking falls down on the job.

Course Instructor can produce a report of the raw tracking data. However, access to the role falls under the Administration tab so people running the system need to make a user specifically to enroll themselves at the course level to get the reports. (Annoying.)

Instead the administrators for my campuses pass up to my level of support requests to generate reports. For providing these I have SQL to produce a report. This example is for users who clicked on a specific file. Anything in bold is what the SQL composer will need to alter.

set lines 200 pages 9999
col user format a20
col action format a32
col pagename format a80

clear breaks computes
break on User skip 1
compute count of Action on User

select tp.user_name "User",ta.name "Action",
      to_char(tua.event_time,'MM/DD/RR HH24:MI:SS') "Time",
      NVL(tpg.name,'--') "PageName"
  from trk_person tp, trk_action ta, trk_user_action tua,
      trk_page tpg, learning_context lc
  where tp.id = tua.trk_person_id
    and ta.id = tua.trk_action_id
    and tua.trk_page_id = tpg.id (+)
    and tua.trk_learning_context_id = lc.id
    and lc.id = 1234567890
    and tpg.name like '%filename.doc%'
  order by tp.user_name,tua.event_time
/

Output

  • User aka tp.user_name – This is the student’s account.
  • Action aka ta.name – This is an artifact of the original script. You might drop it as meaningless from this report.
  • Time aka tua.event_time – Day and time the action took place.
  • PageName aka tpg.name – Confirmation of the file name. Keep if using like in a select on this.

Considerations

I use the learning context id (lc.id aka learning_context.id) because in my multi-institution environment, the same name of a section could be used in many places. This id ensures I data from multiple sections.

The tricky part is identifying the file name. HTML files generally will show up as the name of in the title tag (hope the instructor never updates it). Office documents generally will show as the file name. Here are a couple approaches to determining how to use tpg.name (aka trk_page.name).

  1. Look at the file in the user interface.
  2. Run the report without limiting results to any tpg.name. Identify out of the results the name you wish to search and use: tpg.name = ‘page name

Most tracked actions do have a page name. However, some actions do not. This SQL is designed to print a “–” in those cases.

The Twitter Timesink

Glenn asked: “What is it about Twitter that makes it more of a time sink than Facebook?”

I consider a time sink something where I invest a high value of time for boring and poor value.

My contacts mostly duplicate in Twitter what they provide in Facebook. The time I spend reading Twitter posts I’ve already read in Facebook is a waste of my time. My Twitter contacts respond about a 1/5th as much as Facebook users (it used to be higher in Twitter). So I get more out of Facebook.

Twitter Replies suck. The Replies system makes it look like my contacts reply much more to me than others which I find highly unlikely. More likely the Replies implementation stifles conversation by requiring either everyone to be public or to allow all the participants to follow each other for there to be one conversation. Instead its many different (sometimes hidden) duplicate conversations. Facebook comments are attached to the status update so following a conversation is significantly easier.

Twitter Apps suck. Last Friday, I looked at Facebook Connect for AIR. My complaint about it was my interactions with Facebook would be as limited as Twitter. The promise of Twitter apps is to do more than the Twitter.com web UI provides. Many just provide easier ways to do the same thing: see your Twitter timeline. Others let you see quantification of your usage. Facebook apps by contrast provide access to content not within Facebook, so more of the web because part of my Facebook access so I can actually do more.

Except Socialthing and Tweetdeck. They are exemplary implementations of Twitter Apps. They extend the functionality of just Twitter by itself and are primary reasons I kept at it for so long. Socialthing unofficially died a while ago and official stoppage of support was announced last week while I wasn’t using it. Tweetdeck probably will stick around for a while.

Twitter lacks granular privacy. In Twitter, either you are private or public or ban specific users. I’m torn between public and not. So I opted for private with sneezypb where I mostly subscribe to friends. My other account, ezrasf, was where I subscribed to Blackboard community members, educational technologists, etc. Facebook could improve some in privacy as well. Compared to Twitter, Facebook makes a great attempt at granular privacy. Plurk, another microblogging / status update site, represents the privacy  Holy Grail for me. It allows for making specific posts public, private, available to groups, or individuals.

LC Oddities

IMS XML for Blackboard Vista 8:

Say Division1 exists. We want to create Group1 inside Division1. Ignore that Division1 already exists and write XML to create it again. Create Group1 with relationship tag info for Division1.

Starting with Group1 doesn’t work unless command-line overrides starting learning context to be Division instead of Group.

Luminis XML for Blackboard Vista 8:

Starting with Group1 fine because divisions are unsupported.

Don’t ever use Luminis XML as a model for IMS. Ever!

LMS Security

This morning there was a flurry of effort to locate an article called “Hacking WebCT.” My coworker was able to locate it. We were disappointed. 

The main points of the article were:

  1. Lazy administrators make compromising user accounts easy.
  2. Lazy instructors make getting questions for assessments easy.

These apply to any LMS. So, here is some advice to counter the issues raised in this article.

 

Accounts

Default passwords are the bane of any system. Make users change them. (Yes, this increases support tickets.) This usually comes about because the administrators did not integrate the LMS authentication with LDAP, Kerberos, or CAS  which allows for central management of accounts. Central management of accounts means fewer accounts are likely to sit around with easily guessed intially imposed credentials. 

Linking many services together also raises the exposure should one account account me compromised. Enforce decently strong passwords. Too strong and frequently changed password will encourage users to employ means of remembering passwords which defeat the point. Passwords probably should not ever be just birthdays.

Not sure what advice to provide about the potential of a student installing a keylogger on a computer in a classroom?

 

Assessment Cheating

A long availability period (like a week) provides opportunities for enterprising students to exploit the issues with passwords to see and research questions in advance. Instead, a quiz with a short availability period like an hour means less time to go look at the other account, record the questions, research them, then go back into the proper account and take the assessment.

Instructors should use custome questions. Students can obtain questionss provided by publishers in ePacks or with textbooks from previous students, the same textbooks the instructor received, or even web sites online which sell the information. 

High stakes testing ensures students are looking to cheat. When the value of questions is high, these easier methods than knowing the material ensures a war between students and instructors over cheating. Of course, lowering the value of the questions increases the workload of the instructor. 
🙁

Better CE/Vista Web Server Log

Some support tickets are more easily solved by knowing both user behavior and environment. An often helpful piece of information is what web browser they used. To add this, shut down the cluster, edit /VISTA_HOME/config/config.xml to include the cs(User-Agent), and start the cluster. This line will need to appear for every node. At startup, the nodes will download a new copy of the file.

<elf-fields>date time time-taken c-ip x-weblogic.servlet.logging.ELFWebCTSession sc-status cs-method cs-uri-stem cs-uri-query bytes cs(User-Agent) x-weblogic.servlet.logging.E LFWebCTExtras</elf-fields>

Command:
cp config.xml config.xml.bak
sed -s s/bytes x-/bytes cs(User-Agent) x-/g config.xml.bak > config.xml

Probably this could be edited in the Weblogic 9.2 console. I haven’t looked yet.

Bb Suggestions

WebCT used a suggestion form to collect product improvement ideas from the various users (instructors, instructional technologists, administrators, etc.). I’m not sure if the switch to opening enhancement request support tickets under Blackboard was something new to improve the support model overall or just a change for former WebCT customers as support integrated. Interestingly, Blackboard recently returned to the suggestion form.

So… Send in your feature requests. I am too busy working on getting the bugs fixed to work on new features.

Most Wired Teacher

“Who is the most wired teacher at your college?” (A Wired Way to Rate Professors—and to Connect Teachers)

Although the university runs workshops on how to use Blackboard, many professors are reluctant, or too busy, to sit through training sessions. Most would prefer to ask a colleague down the hall for help, said Mr. Fritz.

Professional support is too intimidating, cold, careless. Support fixes the problems of others who created problems for themselves:

  • choices made in software to use
  • configuration choices
  • mistakes logic in processing

The concept of identifying the professors who most use the system is a good one. We already track the amount of activity per college or university in the University System of Georgia. The amount of data (think hundreds of millions of rows across several several tables)  would make singling out the professors a very long running query. Doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Just don’t think it is something we would do with Vista 3. We probably could with Vista 8 which uses a clean database.

I’d like to see two numbers:

  1. Number of actions by the professor
  2. Number of actions by the all classes the professor teaches

Ah, well, there are lots of other reports which need to be done. Many more important than this one. 

Some questions from the article: “Will colleges begin to use technology to help them measure teaching? And should they?” At present, to create such reports, IT staff with database reporting or web server skills are needed. Alternatively, additonal applications like Blackboard Outcomes System can provide the data. The real problem is the reliability and validity of the data. Can it really be trusted to make important decisions like which programs or employees are effective.