Friday, October 13, 2017

Introducing: Patti Palczewska

Patti is the new Educational Technology Specialist at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling. An alumnus of Lewis & Clark College of Arts and Sciences, Patti helps to partner with students, staff, and faculty to explore the use of technology in teaching and learning environments. She sits down to talk a little bit about her journey to the Lewis & Clark College IT department.


What attracted you to Lewis & Clark?
There is an amazing sense of community at Lewis & Clark that I haven’t really found elsewhere. Faculty work so closely with each student, and truly care for their academic growth, and I want to be able to be a part of promoting that growth for as long as I can.


The EdTech department takes a drone selfie.
(from left to right) Kelly Wainwright, Julio Appling,
Miranda Carney-Morris, Patti Palczewska, Justin Counts
  
What is your role at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School?
I work as the Educational Technology liaison at the graduate school. The EdTech department works with faculty, staff, and students to inform them of how emerging technology can be applied to their current curriculum, activities, job duties, or research. When it comes to systems and software that can be used in the classroom, I’m the one to come and chat with!

I am also the primary AV technician at the graduate school and am on call to resolve any classroom equipment emergencies.

What is your favorite everyday technology?
My smartphone. Being able to have a small computer in my hand from which I can check my emails, edit documents, make phone calls, manage my bank account… it makes things so easy. A smartphone makes so much available to us at our fingertips -- it’s no wonder more and more students have smartphones. Smartphones can seem like they would be mostly distracting in the classroom, but being able to bring a smartphone into a class activity allows students to participate in ways that weren’t really possible before.


Patti's cat, Cupcake, dressed up in a cute bow.
Your bio on the IT staff page says you have a cat named Cupcake. What made you choose the name?
We didn’t choose it, actually! She was a rescue and came with two names - Cupcake and Biscuit. I guess her original owners were hungry when they named her!


What technology do you see becoming really big in the future?
I think automation is really moving us in an interesting direction. It may take us a while to get there, but self-driving cars may change our roads forever, and possibly for the better. AI and automation are part of an exciting future I think we’re moving towards, but I also think we haven’t really fully explored and prepared for what that future could look like.


Patti Palczewska can be contacted at palczewskap@lclark.edu, or at 503-768-6195.
Her office is located in Rogers 403.

Monday, October 9, 2017

DuckDuckGo: tracker-free search (assuming you want that)

A little while ago I read about DuckDuckGo, the tracker-free search alternative to Google. While I could call myself a generally satisfied Google customer, I am not so satisfied that I'm not willing to look at a pro-privacy alternative, and DuckDuckGo stands firmly on the idea tracking—or any type of account or sign-in whatsoever—is not a necessary ingredient for a good search engine.

I decided I'd take the DuckDuckGo challenge myself. Rather than simply using it a few times, I opted to go full-bore, changing my browser's default search engine setting so that typing terms into my address bar generates a DuckDuckGo search rather than a Google search. As you might imagine, I've had several people sharing a screen with me ask "what's DuckDuckGo?" or, more commonly, "That's not Google!"

In addition to providing a private, ad-free search experience, a notable DuckDuckGo feature is its use of "bangs" to create shortcuts to searching specific sites or services directly from the DuckDuckGo search bar.  DuckDuckGo includes a number of preset bangs and also allows for user-created ones as well, enabling instant search for specific websites. For example, including "!g" before a search conducts an encrypted Google search, using Google's search engine and, unsurprisingly, about of half of my searches started with it. The reason, however, was not as straightforward as I expected.

I quickly found I typed searches into my browser less out of inquiry and more out of laziness. When I searched "Gallien Krueger bass amplifier," I already knew I wanted search results to include the Sweetwater or MusiciansFriend websites, the Gallien Krueger website, and maybe a couple reviews from major music publications. I was not actually searching but was rather requesting Google aggregate the things I expected to find.

Furthermore, when DuckDuckGo actually delivered me results I did not expect, more often than not my first impulse was to immediately type "!g" into the search bar and repeat the search. Google, after all, uses what it already knows about your past searching and browsing habits to tailor/improve/craft your search results specifically to you. I've had several instances where I searched for specific sites or organizations only to have their official site not show up in the first few results (or even at all). While that could be a possible flaw with DuckDuckGo, I also recognize that this often coincides with my typing the site name into my search bar rather than simply typing the web address and going straight there.

DuckDuckGo will deliver on its promise of a truly private, encrypted search, assuming that's what you actually want. On the occasions when I truly did not have a search result in mind before typing my query (recipes, general subject inquiries, etc.) I had no issue with DuckDuckGo's search results. I do recommend others give DuckDuckGo a try.

...assuming, of course, you are actually searching for something new.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Resource Lab Refresh

This summer we've refreshed Resource Lab equipment and software.  The updates include new 27" iMacs with retina screens that can handle 4k video editing, virtual reality development, and 3D modeling.   Software upgrades include the addition of the full Adobe Creative Suite on each machine. That means all of the computers have the most recent versions of Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, Lightroom--there are really too many to list, so check it out here.

Another excellent upgrade is the addition of a Lulzbot Taz 6 3D printer.  This printer will allow us to print a wider range of materials like magnetic plastic, circuit printing media, and industrial strength plastics.
Ain't she a beauty


LC community members are encouraged to try out the printer. Where to start? There are loads of free models available from sites like Thingiverse that you may download and print.  If you're worried about costs, don't be!  3D printing is deducted from your LC print balance.  The process to get your print is easier than you might think. Either visit the Resource Lab with a file in hand, or send a file with a print request to itservice@lclark.edu.  We'll help you prep and print the file, or let you know if it's just not something our printer can handle.

So that's what's new in the Rlab.  Don't forget we still have fabulous color printers available to create your academic posters and photo projects.  Give us a call at 503-768-7225 for more information.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Theme Quirks in Moodle 3.3

With a new software upgrade comes new features and functionality as well as unforeseen issues. We know many Moodle users prefer to use alternate themes (Administration > Edit Settings > Appearance > Force Theme) to customize the look and feel of their courses. Unfortunately, some of our non-responsive themes are not playing nice with upgrades.

For example, users have reported when adding users in Moodle 3.3 using the Nonzero theme, the “Enroll Users” window appears transparent.


While it may be difficult to see, the “Enroll users” function still works as normal. Be advised, however, that these design quirks may appear in other aspects of the theme, as well as in other older themes.

While ignoring some of these visual quirks is one option, you may also consider trying a different theme. The new “Boost” Theme features a clean design that maximizes screen space and includes dynamic navigation tools such as a left sidebar that may be toggled on or off.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Moodle 3.3 - New Location for Switch Role & Grades



Moodle 3.3 has new locations for Switch Roles and Grades 



Switch Roles is now located in the user menu which is located in the top right of the screen in most themes. This menu is not supported by older themes.














To view grades for the current course, use the Grades link in the Navigation menu. To see a list of all enrolled course gradebooks, use the Grades link in the User Menu.
Grades link in new Boost theme


Grades link in default Moodle theme
















Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Moodle Upgraded for 2017-18 Academic Year

Moodle will run 3.3 for the 2017-18 academic year. Below we've highlighted major changes and new features.


For all users

  • Dashboard includes a redesigned Course Overview block.  
    • Completed courses or those whose end date have passed appear in the ‘Past’ section.
    • Courses appear in the ‘In Progress’ section if the course start date is in the past and the current date is before the end date OR there is no end date. Keep in mind you may see several courses in this section as migrated courses initially will not have end dates - this is a new setting.
    • For courses to appear in the 'Future' section, the student must be enrolled in them even though the course start date is in the future.
    • Some of the new timeline tracking features will require teachers to set activity deadlines, expected completion dates, or “remind me to grade by” dates.
  • New messaging and notification options. Messages now support media filters for embedding images and video.
  • Improved support for Moodle Mobile app. See Moodle Mobile Features for complete details. Teachers may want to view tips for creating mobile friendly courses.

Teachers

  • Course Settings:
    • Courses can now have end dates. This is used to indicate when a course should appear in the ‘Past’ section of the Course Overview block.
    • The number of course sections can no longer be set in course settings. Add or delete sections directly from the course page. Weekly format includes an option to automatically add sections based on the start and end date of your course. This will prevent the orphaning of course content.
  • Assignments
    • Restrict assignment submissions to specific file types such as a Word (docx).
    • Expansion of individual or group overrides to assignments. Easily change or “override” deadlines or other assignment settings for individuals or groups.
    • Set ‘grade by’ reminder in assignments. Turn this on to see alerts on assignments to grade in the new course overview block.
    • Negative scores for rubrics.
  • Bulk edit activity completion settings in your courses and change default settings for new activities. Watch the activity completion enhancements screencast for a walkthrough.
  • Media player improvements including new default player, VideoJS. The Media players screencast describes new options for managing files including displaying thumbnails and adding captions. Drag and drop media files directly to course page or as a file resource.
  • New stealth mode allows teachers to make hidden content available. This is useful if you want to link to content or activities that don’t appear to students in the main page.
  • New theme option, Boost, is available for early adopters. It takes advantage of new icons and has an updated navigation scheme. We will work on updating the default theme to Boost over the 2017-18 academic year.
  • Lock discussion forums automatically after a period of inactivity.
  • Select for students in the choice activity.
  • Improvements to report charts.

See the following release notes for a complete list:
New Features for Moodle 3.3


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fingerprint Authentication is a Big Deal (at least for me it is)

I’ve been a smartphone user for close to a decade now. There are some conveniences—mobile internet, email, and camera, for example—I now take for granted. Other features, such as the ability to check my bank account balances via mobile app, have been available for a while, but slightly more cumbersome due to password authentication. Having to both recall and manually enter credentials to various services often outweighed the convenience and speed that was part of the selling point. While I understand the need for security, it did not make it any easier for me to quickly remember and enter the correct password for my banking app to check my balance while in line at the grocery store.


Utilizing a password manager has partly addressed this problem. I have used LastPass in my browser for a while now, though the LastPass mobile app had limitations—most notably, it did not auto-fill. While I could open the application, look up the password, copy it, and paste it into the field, that was several thumb taps and swipes away from the convenience I was looking for. For the bargain price of $12 a year, users gain the ability to auto-fill from LastPass on mobile. While that certainly made things easier, I still had to re-enter my master password at least once-a-day...which was approximately as often as I needed to log into mobile banking.


My recent mobile phone upgrade included a fingerprint scanner feature, allowing me to use my fingerprint as an authentication method instead of a numeric PIN or swipe codes to unlock my device. While I do still have to deal with the occasional “be sure your finger covers the entire scanner” error, unlocking and accessing my phone became quicker and easier. I was also pleased to discover not only could I unlock my phone using fingerprint, but I could also enable LastPass to accept my fingerprint authentication rather than the master password. Even better, however, was that most mobile banking apps allow the enabling of fingerprint access separate from my password manager. After I logged into my banking app and enabled fingerprint access, I had officially achieved the dream of one-touch secure access to information like my bank account balance, password manager, PayPal app, and other financial services.


An unexpected (but hardly surprising) consequence of my growing reliance on fingerprint authentication and password managers is I am now more impatient with manually keying in a password. I want (perhaps even expect) my computer to be as easy and quick to access as my phone and most websites, and it’s become a small, but notable irritation to momentarily return to manually entering a password.

Fingerprint scanners—like all security tools—are not infallible. Fingerprints can be copied faked, and physical changes to fingerprints may prevent access (I’ve scanned both my index fingers to be safe). In the end, I'm less concerned with these scenarios as I am with someone watching me type in my password or PIN. For me, fingerprint access provides an acceptably high level of security while also being much easier and faster than memorizing several passwords for several accounts.

...perhaps a USB fingerprint scanner is in my future?