Duke ITAC - June 24, 2010 Minutes

ITAC Meeting Minutes
June 24, 2010, 4:00-5:30
Allen Board Room
  • Announcements and Meeting Minutes
  • Past and present innovations in education and learning (Lynne O'Brien)
  • ImageNow/Graduate Admissions update (Jo Rae Wright, Cynthia Robertson, Thomas Steffen, Kathy Pfeiffer, Wayne Thompson)
  • GPS-based bus tracking system (Matt Ball)



Past and present innovations in education and learning (Lynne O'Brien)


Lynne began by discussing the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) Showcase held this April, which included discussions about trends in technology adoption and use among educators.  Looking at the word cloud for CIT Showcase topics, Lynne found it interesting that some of the biggest topics were not necessarily intrinsically tied to technology.  According to Lynne, Showcase attendess are very interested in “active learning”, which can be aided by technology but is just as often free of technological influence

One presentation that Lynne felt embodied the ideas coming out of this year’s Showcase came from Barbara Lau with the Duke Human Rights Center and Center for Documentary Studies.  Barbara’s students recently contributed descriptions and photos to Durham landmarks on Google Maps, followed by audio narrations, as assignments for Barbara’s course. The exercises forced students to think critically about presenting information with limited time and space, while simultaneously contributing something to the community.

A discussion followed regarding a student’s right to opt out of publishing their work on the web.  Lynne’s experience has been that educators are sensitive to this concern, and generally offer alternatives to students who do not feel comfortable with global publishing of their coursework.

According to Lynne, another popular topic at the CIT Showcase was the use of the open source blogging platform WordPress as a web publishing tool.  Duke hosted 135 WordPress sites in 2010, many of which were course sites.  Lynne explained that CIT is working with OIT to make WordPress available for groups.

Multimedia production/use and geospatial tools were also billed as hot topics at this year’s Showcase.  Lynne noted that 1800 faculty and students checked out video equipment for 480 courses in 77 subjects this year at Duke, with an 80% increase from last year in the use of video for assignments.  Web 2.0 and cloud tools are also popular; Lynne described a Neuroscience course where students teamed up to populate lacking Wikipedia pages on relevant topics, allowing students to get feedback from a global audience over the course of the project.  Projects including Google Maps, Google Earth, and Sketchup are also becoming quite common.   She also observed that assessment is becoming more important to success in a course than test scores, as rubrics, e-portfolios, and projects have become more important in recent years, as educators seek to offer assignments that will provide a lasting benefit to the student or community.

Technology deemed to be cooling down in recent semesters include VoiceThread, Twitter, SecondLife, iPods, and Tablet laptops.  Though each of these things is used in one setting or another, explained Lynne, none of these tools has appeared to take a strong hold in classroom exercises.  Newer technology, such as e-readers, iPads, and mobile applications are being monitored by the CIT, but it is still very early to evaluate the full potential of these tools in a university setting.

Other topics discussed at the CIT Showcase include environmental sustainability in education via reduced paper consumption, as well as alternative course models such as DukeEngage projects and hybrid or online courses.  Lynne mentioned that 37 faculty members participated in the Faculty Fellows program this spring.

Lynne then opened the floor to questions.  Tracy Futhey asked if science and engineering/lab courses appeared to reflect the same trends observed in arts and sciences.  Lynne responded that the Biology Department has 14 faculty members examining this question, and noted that the Chemistry Department has been leveraging multimedia tools in creating short learning videos for students.  Furthermore, courses involving a lot of equation or proof work are starting to offer tablet workflows so that students can follow the work of the instructor.

John Board asked Lynne if she could characterize the changes in demands over the last few years.  Lynne responded that the greatest challenge of today seems to be matching the right program with the individual amid an explosion of tools available for each purpose.  She also noted that integration between systems sometimes creates problems, as integration with Blackboard is a common request.

For more on the CIT and Showcase, Lynne encouraged the ITAC members to visit http://cit.duke.edu.



ImageNow/Graduate Admissions update (Jo Rae Wright, Cynthia Robertson, Thomas Steffen, Kathy Pfeiffer, Wayne Thompson)


Jo Rae Wright explained that moving to a paperless admissions system has been one of her primary goals since being named dean of the Graduate School.  Last year’s implementation of the paperless admissions system has proven largely successful, with a few issues identified by faculty as needing improvement.

To address these issues, Jo Rae collaborated with Student Information Services & Systems (SISS) to brainstorm solutions to problems identified in focus group sessions.  She then turned the floor over to Kathy Pfeiffer to discuss the resulting modifications to ImageNow, a component of the graduate admissions system that manages documents associated with a candidate’s application.

Kathy outlined some complications that resulted from expanding the Graduate School’s use of ImageNow (which previously stored only student records) to include application-related documents such as letters of recommendation.  Some faculty accustomed to seeing a simpler web interface found it unnecessarily complicated to access a particular document.  Conclusions from focus group sessions included a perceived lack of integration between PeopleSoft/STORM and related utilities such as Duke Applicant Lookup and Entry (or DALE, a front-end to PeopleSoft) and ImageNow.  Members of the focus group expressed a desire to view their students in a simple list format and access the related documents for each without excessive navigation between systems.  Kathy provided a brief overview of the SISS/Graduate School response to this request, and introduced Wayne Thompson to demonstrate interface changes for the group.

Wayne begain by showing a new link in STORM called “Admissions Center”, which provides a stepping model for entering applicant information, pre-populating data wherever possible.  Since interface requests among users varied wildly, the new layout is customizable and will persist across sessions so that each user will come back to the layout that he or she previously designated.  This interface can be broken into tabs or laid out all in one place, depending on user preference, and will export the data in the specified format.

Preliminary feedback from the council included the need to carefully establish use of terms such as “plan” or “degree”, whose meanings are often not consistent among groups on campus.  Wayne agreed with the need for this discussion to ensure that the Admissions Center can effectively solicit the desired information.

Continuing with the demonstration, Wayne then showed a side menu in the Admissions Center called “Available Documents” that provides the user one-click access to documents related to an application such as an admissions letter, master award letter, and official recommendation.  There is also a space for miscellaneous documents.

A discussion ensured regarding the format in which ImageNow data is stored, and whether these documents could be viewed as text rather than a rendered document.  If Optical Character Recognition (OCR) were employed in storing files in ImageNow, for example, it would be possible to access or download this information directly from PeopleSoft rather than through a web service via PeopleSoft.

Wayne then showed a simple, efficient way for DGSs and DGSAs to be able to enter admit decisions.  A utility for adding notes on an application decision led to an observation by Terry Oas that FERPA regulations allowing students to subpoena application records should be considered in the policy decisions surrounding the usage of the notes utility.

The group thanked Wayne for demonstrating the Admissions Center utility and expressed pleasure with the interface changes, observing that making documents available in PeopleSoft has significantly improved the workflow for those involved in graduate admissions.

Tracy Futhey then asked Kathy for any words of wisdom she might have regarding how to re-think our processes for development and evaluation of services.  Kathy explained that allowing power users to drive the development of a service often results in a final product that is alienating to casual users.  She credited Tom Steffen with putting together a diverse focus group in order to avoid repeating this scenario.  When Terry asked if she had any advice for putting such a group together, Kathy commented that Tom has repeatedly stressed the importance of including users who responded unfavorably to the initial implementation.   Jo Rae added that personally asking faculty to participate in such a group has seemed to boost response rates and compensate for the problem they have observed with self-selection by more technically savvy users, resulting in a group that more accurately represents the user base.



GPS-based bus tracking system (Matt Ball)

John Board introduced recent Duke graduate Matt Ball who has been working on a student project aimed to create a low-cost GPS bus tracking system.

Matt began his presentation by naming other students who contributed to the development of this project: Clark Sha, Andrew Brown, James Mullaly, William Tsai, and Yang Su.  He also thanked the council for inviting him to speak, and encouraged anyone interested in getting involved with the project to get in touch with him.

According to Matt, DuTrack has now been six months in development.  Although originally designed to serve those riding the busses, Matt noted, DuTrack has also shown potential as an administrative aid to improve vehicle management.

Matt described the project lifecycle thus far, bringing DuTrack to its current setup using OpenDMTP on pre-paid cellular phones to talk to a modified OpenGTS back end.  After settling on a device location for optimal signal strength, the team began working on a public user interface at http://dutrack.com/ along with a dispatch tool to assign busses and their on-board GPS-enabled cellular phones to a specific route. Matt demonstrated this tool, explaining that the team was working to reduce the number of clicks required to assign a bus/tracker to its proper route.  Though the public website is already live, the team hopes to have the remaining 13 GPS devices installed and the site fully operative by August 9th.

The council had a few questions for Matt about the project.

DSG representative Mark Elstein asked if there was any way to see the history of a bus’ position; Matt said currently not.  DSG representative Michael Ansel suggested that making such information public could likely create more problems than it’s worth.

Matt continued with cost information.  Total costs for the first year of this project are under $5800, with subsequent years costing $3600 each for continued operation of the 30 tracking devices, a fraction of the cost of industry alternatives.  Future work for Matt and his team includes further UI development as well as working on arrival prediction and mobile development.

In closing, Matt thanked many supporters of the project, including Peter Murphy, Joe Honeycutt, and Sam Veraldi from Duke Parking and Transportation Services, Jeremy Bandini and Bart Lawyer from OIT, and John Board.

Matt’s blog on DuTrack can be found at http://weakorbit.com/pnotes or under ‘DuTrack’ on http://wiki.duke.edu.