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Friday, February 1, 2013



  • A LEARNing experience
  • Career View Mirror launches today
  • Waterloo's role in local tech boom discussed
  • Performance appraisal season begins
  • And now in no particular order, these things


  • Editor:
  • Brandon Sweet
  • Communications and Public Affairs


A LEARNing experience

Once upon a time, the only way to get assignment details from your professor was by furiously scribbling down instructions written on a transparency slapped on the bright, hot surface of an overhead projector, and the preferred method of submitting an assignment was by slipping a hard copy underneath the locked door of your professor's office before staggering back to bed to recover from the all-nighter you had just pulled. When I was in fourth year, one of my profs asked us to "upload" soft copies of our essays to a "bulletin board" on the course's "web page" and we nearly burned him as a witch.

But time makes fools of us all, and with this week's 65-hour (and counting) outage of Waterloo LEARN, students and instructors alike suddenly found themselves in a bygone age, disconnected from their course materials and unable to submit their assignments to the learning management system the university adopted in 2011 as a replacement for the erstwhile UW-ACE.

The outage began affecting users around 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29, and has continued in fits and starts ever since.

The source of the problem can be found in the cloud, which, rather than having a silver lining, seems to be sheened in a vapour of fail. According to reports from Information Systems & Technology, Desire2Learn (D2L), the company behind Waterloo LEARN, ran into trouble during a planned data storage infrastructure upgrade when problems arose thanks to incompatible technologies introduced during the data migration. D2L was moving the University of Waterloo's—and several other institutions's—online content over to a new storage technology at one of its cloud data centres when the problems occurred. Universities whose content had not yet been migrated were unaffected, as were those schools whose data had been completely migrated to the new storage technology.

Complaints about errors and slow run times began trickling, and then flooding in on social media as students and instructors encountered difficulties Tuesday, and affected institutions, including Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of New Brunswick began providing updates on the service interruption. Early estimates provided by D2L about repair times proved overly optimistic as hours stretched into days.

IST has been posting regular notices on their Waterloo LEARN service notice board and their own site as information becomes available from D2L, and the university's Twitter account constantly updated its followers with news, what there was of it.

John Baker, president and CEO of Desire2Learn, also posted a message to affected institutions, indicating that D2L is "working around the clock utilizing every available resource including those of our partners to drive resolution to this problem."

Memos sent by IST to faculty deans and a message sent to all students by Vice-President, Academic & Provost Geoff McBoyle yesterday have outlined the impact of the outage on users and offered suggestions for ways forward.

"We recommend you email your students to inform them of how their assignments, midterms, and other course activities will be affected, if at all, by the technical problems," says the memo from IST, which is intended to be cascaded to instructors by the faculty deans. "It will be up to each instructor to assess how much impact the loss of the system has had on their own course activities, and respond accordingly."

Instructions for emailing students and sending them files are on the Waterloo LEARN Help page. The Registrar's Office has also been alerted to the possibility of impacts on midterm scheduling.

"Instructors have been advised to use email to let you know if your assignments, midterms, and other course activities are impacted by the technical problems, and to communicate a contingency plan and/or materials, making reasonable accommodations where appropriate," the provost wrote in his message to students. "These accommodations will vary from course to course, depending upon the impact the loss of the system has had on activities." The provost also thanked students for their patience and understanding during the service outage.

An update sent out around 9:22 p.m. last night from D2L indicated that they had confirmed the source of the problem and had found the solution, which involved moving the University of Waterloo's data, as well as data for nearly a quarter of their customers, from behind the "data virtualization device" that was causing the problem.

As of the date of this publication, the system is still down, and D2L has promised another update on the situation soon.


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An illustration of a car's side view mirror with the caption "your future is closer than it appears."
Career View Mirror launches today

The Career View Mirror career exploration tool, developed jointly by the Centre for Career Action and the Faculty of Science, launches today.

The Career View Mirror is designed to enable current science students to benefit from the advice and experience of Waterloo science alumni. Using the tool, students will be able to better explore their career options and gain valuable insight into a wide range of occupations. Students will be able to engage with the information they find on each alumni profile by rating the "career fit", saving information to a summary page, and adding their own notes and observations.

The Centre for Career Action intends to develop similar tools for other faculties based on the success of the initial project.


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Waterloo's role in local tech boom discussed

A presentation that includes the University of Waterloo's role in creating a high-tech community in Waterloo Region will be delivered Monday, February 4, at a meeting of the Kitchener Waterloo Kitchener Waterloo Linux User Group.

"A grassRoots History of the Early Hi-tech Community in KW" will be presented by Kevin Stumpf and promises to be anecdotal history of the early technological community in KW from 1920 to 1990.

"Imagine a workforce with a collective experience of several generations working in hi-tech?" reads the talk's abstract. "Bear in mind too that this workforce isn’t just techies. It includes everyone – clerical, administrators, and investors – all who have been exposed to growing hi-tech business since birth. Companies grow and shrink, come and go, but people remain so there is good news for KW, as well as communities anywhere that have incubated hi-tech companies."

The talk and ensuing discussion will take place on Monday, February 4 at St. John's Kitchener on 94 Victoria Street North in Kitchener.

"It is a cogent, albeit non-scientific, argument explaining why hi-tech has flourished and why it will continue to flourish. Of all the hi-tech companies rooted in KW we will listen to stories about 6 of them plus the University of Waterloo," writes Stumpf.

And if that weren't enough to pique your interest, Stumpf notes that "among other unusual information, you'll walk away finally knowing why that ex-CIA agent was in Kitchener in 1979."

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Performance appraisal season begins

"Staff Performance Appraisal season is now upon us," says a memo to staff from Human Resources, "and you share the responsibility with your manager to review, document and discuss your performance for 2012." 

The memo notes that there have been no changes to the standard performance evaluation forms for the 2012 review, and points staff members to the Performance Management website that is available to both parties in the review process and contains all the necessary forms, guides, and tips for achieving "an effective performance review."

The annual review "should include a meaningful discussion highlighting your accomplishments aligned to desired goals," the memo continues.

"Appraisals are a two way conversation and this is a good time for you to identify your areas of success, areas that you would like to work on improving, interest of future career opportunities and further development."

Reviews should take place between February 1 and March 8, and managers have from February 22 to March 15 to enter the staff performance rating into myHRinfo. The deadline for submitting completed hard copy performance evaluations to Human Resources is March 22. The memo encourages staff members to check with their managers to confirm departmental timelines, which often vary within the overall deadlines.

Any staff member with questions can discuss with their manager or HR Advisor.


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And now in no particular order, these things

A Town Hall meeting with President & Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur and Vice-President, Academic & Provost Geoff McBoyle has been scheduled for Tuesday, February 12 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Humanities Theatre. As always, members of the university community are encouraged to submit their questions via email, from the floor, and on Twitter by sending them to @uWaterlooLIVE or by using the hashtag #uwth. The hashtag can also be used to follow @uWaterlooLIVE's tweets from the meeting, as well as the tweets written by those who are attending the meeting or watching the webcast.

The Imaginus poster sale will take place in the Student Life Centre's Great Hall from Monday, February 4 to Wednesday, February 6, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. on February 6).

A local committee of DeafBlind Ontario Services whose members include uWaterloo staff and alumni, is holding a fundraiser called ‘Dining in the Dark' at the Westmount Golf and Country Club on February 28. The event is being billed as an "extraordinary culinary adventure" that involves enjoying a dinner while blindfolded. The purpose of the event is to raise money for local residences where those who are deafblind reside. Raffles, a silent auction, and live entertainment will be featured. Tickets can be bought online.


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The Return of LEARN

Optimistic messages from Information Systems & Technology (IST) say that Waterloo LEARN "appears to be performing normally." The full statement can be found on the LEARN help page.

Link of the day

Black History Month

Julia Stortz.
Remembering Julia Stortz

Julia Stortz (above), who began working at the University of Waterloo in May 1990, died on January 30. She started her career at the university as Alumni Records Clerk in Development and Alumni Affairs, and had most recently worked as Gift Processing/Financial Assistant.

Visitations will be held today from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the England Funeral Home in Mount Forest. The funeral service will be held at St. Mary of the Purification Roman Catholic Church in Mount Forest on Saturday, February 2, at 11:00 a.m.

When and where

Deadline for Distinguished Teacher Award nominations, Friday, February 1.

Knowledge Integration seminar: KI alumni panel, Friday February 1, 2:30 p.m., Environment 3 room 1408. Details.

Science and Technology in Society Collaboration and the Philosophy Department present Dr. Nancy Tuana, "Coupled Ethical-Epistemic Issues in the Climate Sciences," Friday, February 1, 3:30 p.m., HH 334. Details.

Imaginus Poster Sale, Monday, February 4 to Wednesday, February 6, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Student Life Centre Great Hall.

Senate Executive Council meeting, Monday, February 4, 3:30 p.m., NH 3004.

The KW Linux User Group presents "A grassRoots History of the Early Hi-tech Community in KW", Monday, February 4, St. John's Kitchen, 97 Victoria St. North, Kitchener. Details.

Board of Governors meeting, Tuesday, February 5, 1:30 p.m., EIT 3142.

Turkish Students Association presents Turkish Classes at UW, Tuesday, February 5, and Tuesdays thereafter, 5:00 p.m., RCH 106. Details.

MDEI Program Information Session, Wednesday, February 6, 12:00 p.m., Communitech Hub, P2P room. Details.

Noon Hour Concert series featuring the Crusell Trio, "Classical music on original instruments: No valves and not enough keys!" Wednesday, February 6, 12:30 p.m., Conrad Grebel University College Chapel.

UW Drama Department presents On Love, Wednesday, February 6 to Saturday, February 9, Hagey Hall 180.

Kitchener Public Library Ideas and Issues Lecture Series featuring Professor Gary Bruce, Department of History, "Displaying animals…and humans: The Berlin Zoo in German History," Wednesday, February 6, 12:00 p.m., Forest Heights Community Library, Kitchener.

Visiting Humphrey Professor in Feminist Philosophy talk featuring Anita M. Superson, University of Kentucky, “ The Right to Bodily Autonomy
and the Abortion Controversy”, Wednesday, February 6, 12:00 p.m., HH, 373. Details.

Deadline for Amit and Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student nominations, Friday, February 8.

History Speaker Series event featuring Lynne Taylor, associate professor, Waterloo, “In the Children's Best Interests”: Unaccompanied Children in Germany, 1945-1949. Friday, February 8, 2013 – 1:00 p.m., Hagey Hall 117.

FASS presents FASS for President, Thursday, February 7, 8:00 p.m., Friday, February 8, 7:00 p.m., Saturday, February 9, 7:00 p.m. All shows at the Humanities Theatre. Details.

Town Hall Meeting, Tuesday, February 12, 3:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

WISE Lecture Series featuring Dr. André Lucena, Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), "Brazil’s Energy Plans and Strategies: Challenges Related to Climate Change," Tuesday, February 19, 1:00 p.m., CPH 4333. Details.

PhD Oral Defences

Environment and Resource Studies. Suzanne von der Porten, "Collaborative Environmental Governance and Indigenous Governance: A Synthesis." Supervisor, Rob de Loe. On display in the Faculty of Environment, EV1 335. Oral defence Friday, EV2 1001.

Recreation and Leisure Studies. Hoffer Lee, "A Visitor Experience Scale: Historic Sites and Museums." Supervisor, Stephen Smith. On display in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, BMH 3110. Oral defence Tuesday, February 12, 3:30 p.m., BMH 3119.

Electrical & Computer Engineering. Mostafa Hassan, "Automatic Document Topic Identification Using Hierarchical Ontology Extracted from Human Background Knowledge." Supervisors, Fakhreddine Karray, Mohamed Kamel. On deposit in the Engineering Graduate Office, PHY 3004. Oral defence Wednesday, February 13, 10:00 a.m., EIT 3142.

Psychology. Shahnaz Koji, "Remembering Faces in Different Places: The Influence of Context on Face Memory." Supervisor, Myra Fernandes. On deposit in the Arts Graduate Office, PAS 2434. Oral defence Thursday, February 14, 10:00 a.m., PAS 3026.

Electrical & Computer Engineering. Rooholiah Samadzadeh Tarighat, "A Novel Buried-Emitter Photovoltaic Cell for High Efficiency Energy Conversion." Supervisor, Siva Sivoththaman. On deposit in the Engineering Graduate Office, PHY 3004. Oral defence Friday, February 15, 9:30 a.m., EIT 3142.

Electrical & Computer Engineering. Yuan Fang, "Monte Carlo Transport Methods for Semiconductor X-ray Imaging Detectors." Supervisor, Karim S. Karim. This thesis is restricted but on display in the Engineering Graduate Office, PHY 3004.  Oral defence Friday, February 15, 1:00 p.m., E5 4106-4128.


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