Monday, January 4, 2010

  • Replacement for UW-ACE is on the way
  • UW architects represent Canada in Venice
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Breathtakingly blue]

'Snow at sunrise' captured just before the holiday break by the digital camera of drama and speech communication student Reemah Khalid.

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Replacement for UW-ACE is on the way

by Andrea Chappell of information systems and technology

Sometime over the next couple of years UW will be required to replace Angel, the software that forms the basis of UW-ACE. Angel Learning Inc. was sold to Blackboard Inc., the purveyor of the Blackboard learning management system, in early summer 2009, and we have learned that Angel will disappear as a product, with some of its features being merged into Blackboard’s LMS. This LMS is sufficiently different from Angel that a move will be a significant change for UW-ACE users. A project to select a new LMS is underway.

We are well positioned for the move, and attractive options exist. A group of people representing Information Systems and Technologies, the Centre for Extended Learning (distance education), the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the library, and the faculty had already been reviewing UW-ACE. In April, before Blackboard’s acquisition of Angel, this team concluded that UW should continue to use Angel.

It was also recommended that UW augment UW-ACE with other tools for live interaction, and with better math tools. In particular, the project recommended that UW investigate a web conferencing and collaboration application, server storage, delivery of audio and video, integration of the library’s e-reserves called Atlas Ares into Angel, and integration with Maplesoft’s Maple TA. The integration of Atlas Ares is complete; the other add-ons are in various stages of review.

The LMS Selection Project team has identified important scenarios for the next LMS to support. The team also has a known list of candidates that includes two commercial products, Blackboard and Desire2Learn (a Kitchener-based company), and two open source products, Moodle and Sakai. A Request for Proposals may reveal other candidates.

In the 2010 winter term the project team will provide updates on the LMS Selection Project. The first phase of the project will conclude with a recommendation to the University Committee on Information Systems & Technology to pilot a very short list of learning management systems in order to finalize a selection.

While Blackboard has promised support of Angel until 2014, we are aware that as other institutions move away from Angel, its support may degrade. A critical element in any selection is the migration to the next LMS — how efficiently UW will be able to move courses from UW-ACE to the next LMS.

While the replacement process is underway, we continue to support and evolve our courses on UW-ACE. Use of Angel has grown from 200 courses in fall 2004 to about 1,250 this past fall. Taking into consideration combined sections and “held with” courses, upwards of 70% of courses are in UW-ACE. Instructors use UW-ACE in a variety of ways: to augment in-class sessions, to blend on-campus teaching with online components, or to teach fully online.

UW-ACE has an operations team comprised of staff from IST, Extended Learning, CTE, and the Library. UW-ACE Ops meets once a month to discuss directions, determine significant system settings, work on policies, and decide what communications should go to the user community.

Other current developments:

• An Angel upgrade (from V7.3 to V7.4) is planned for April 2010. This upgrade keeps us in an appropriate support window. There are few big changes, the most important of which is a requirement to move from what are called Quizzes to Assessments. All of the fully online courses have made this switch. We will provide support for other courses in the change by setting up training sessions next term.

• Angel officially supports two browsers, Internet Explorer 7 or 8, and Firefox 2 or 3. Others work for many functions; however a few activities, such as file uploads, do not work in non-supported browsers. We now have in place an upload blocker for non-supported browsers to prevent confusion and problems for drop-box uploads.

• A system check, performed as a person goes to the UW-ACE login page, makes sure that settings on the client system are appropriate for functions on UW-ACE. A message indicates what areas pass or fail, and points to a page to get any needed help.

• New this fall, the Library’s Atlas Ares e-reserves integration allows the instructor to embed a link to course e-reserves into the course, and allows the student to access them without another login required.

• Turnitin (plagiarism detection) and Wimba (voice recordings) can be used in UW-ACE without additional login. Marks are automatically loaded from Turnitin. The iClicker results can also be integrated into UW-ACE for marks purposes.

Here’s what happens with ACE as a new term starts:

• Class rosters are activated on the first day of classes, and student access to previous term classes is disabled.

• To use course materials in a new term offering, materials are copied into a new course instance created for that term. (Course materials refer to the course content that the instructor puts on the course site, but not the student results.)

• All course data, including student uploads and results, are retained in UW-ACE for 3 terms after the end of the course (the year in which a student can register a course appeal; also, the year in which most courses are re-offered).

• All course materials, including student data, are removed from UW-ACE three terms (one year) after the course has ended. Course materials (that is, the course content that the instructor puts on the course site, but not the student results) are archived outside of UW-ACE at the end of the course term of offer, and kept for three additional years. (While we retain the course material archive, because the software changes over that time, pulling this material back into UW-ACE cannot be guaranteed for the full three years.)

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UW architects represent Canada in Venice

The Canada Council for the Arts made it official just before the holidays with an announcement that that “Hylozoic Ground,” a project developed “in collaboration with” the UW School of Architecture, has been selected to represent Canada at the 2010 Venice Biennale in Architecture. The Biennale, which is the world’s most prestigious architectural exhibition, will take place in Venice from September through November 2010.

Three UW people are behind the project: architecture professor Philip Beesley; Andrew Hunter; curator of Render, the UW gallery; and Rob Gorbet, faculty member in electrical and computer engineering. The lead agency is PBAI, Beesley’s private architectural practice.

Says Gorbet: “Hylozoic Ground is an experimental responsive architectural environment which explores the changing relationship between buildings and their occupants, with a view towards creating a more empathic experience. Relying on a network of dozens of distributed embedded controllers, sensors, and hundreds of specialized, silent shape-memory alloy based actuators distributed among a crystalline meshwork manufactured from laser-cut acrylic, it creates an experience for occupants of the space which is variously described as everything from ‘gentle and soothing’ to ‘aggressive, creepy and anxiety-making’.

“In fact, one of the current directions of this work is to research coding languages for the investigation of emotion-correlated motion so that we can consider the design of the environment and its responses to the occupant, in order to intentionally modulate or induce specific emotional responses.”

He notes that a previous work in the series, Hylozoic Soil, was first exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2007 and later at Siggraph 2009, and won first prize at the international VIDA 11.0 competition in Madrid earlier this year. The related work Hylozoic Grove is permanently installed in the Ars Electronica Museum of the Future in Linz, Austria, and variations leading up to the Venice project are planned for Québec City and Mexico City. “A related project by Philip, Sargasso Field, is currently on display at the Copenhagen Climate Summit,” Gorbet said.

As described by the Canada Council in a news release, “Hylozoic Ground” is “a uniquely Canadian experimental architecture that explores qualities of contemporary wilderness. The project will transform the Canadian Pavilion in Venice with an immersive environment composed of a network of interactive mechanical fronds, filters and whiskers that senses and responds to its human occupants. Arrays of touch sensors and actuators create a breathing motion, intended to draw visitors into the shimmering depths of a forest of light. The project builds upon the interdisciplinary work of PBAI and collaborators, combining innovative research within architecture, engineering and sculpture. The exhibition is intended to tour a number of Canadian galleries following the installation in Venice.”

“Hylozoic Ground” was selected in consultation with an independent assessment committee which commented that “the project proposes to be a unique response to the Biennale, treating it as a speculative laboratory for architectural experimentation.”

The Canada Council for the Arts and Royal Architecture Institute of Canada are working together to provide financial support and assist with project oversight for Canada’s architectural representation in Venice.


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As the winter term begins

It's back to the office and back to the classroom today . . .

Link of the day

World Hypnotism Day

When and where

Feds Used Books, Student Life Centre, open Monday-Friday 8:30 to 5:30 this week, Saturday 9 to 5.

Music auditions today: Chapel choir 3:00 to 6:00, Conrad Grebel UC chapel. Stage band 6:00 to 9:00, Grebel great hall. Instrumental chamber ensembles 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., Grebel room 1302. Details.

UW senate executive committee 3:30, Needles Hall room 3004.

Engineering exchange students, welcome for new arrivals, Tuesday 11:30, Carl Pollock Hall room 3602.

University Choir first rehearsal Tuesday 7:00, Conrad Grebel UC great hall. No formal audition required. Details.

International student orientation Wednesday 12:00 to 3:00, Needles Hall room 1116. Details.

Weight Watchers at Work winter series begins Wednesday 12 noon, Humanities room 373; call ext. 32218 to register.

New student orientation Wednesday 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., Student Life Centre lower atrium.

Return-to-campus interviews for co-op students January 6-8, Tatham Centre.

Auditions for FASS 2010 January 6, 7, 8, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Hagey Hall room 119. Details.

Baden-Württemberg and Rhône-Alpes exchange programs information session Thursday 3:00, Needles Hall room 1116.

School of Pharmacy White Coat Ceremony welcoming new students, Thursday 5:00, Humanities Theatre.

Math business and accounting programs information session about the CFA, PRM and CFP designations, Thursday 5:30 p.m., Math and Computer room 4020.

Comedian Jon LaJoie at Humanities Theatre, Friday 7:30 p.m.

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