Log in more safely

Starting today you’ll see a new log-in screen when you go to the web-based version of Wayne Connect. This is part of a long-term project to unify the log-in screens of all of Wayne’s major services, Blackboard, Academica, and Wayne Connect. Although there are esthetic (and ‘branding’) advantages, the main reason is to help all WSU users make sure they are on the right page for logging in. This is crucial because of the innumerable phishing attempts we seem to be getting these days, all of which encourage us to log in to fake WSU pages.
You don’t actually need to do anything different. The log in process is identical—put in your AccessID and password as before. But if you’re worried, look to see that the address bar in your browser is green, it says https, and that there’s a padlock symbol visible. These are the signals that you are actually connecting to Wayne State, and not a sketchy phishing site in Lower Slobbovia.
Here’s what to look for:

Chrome Log-in


Another advantage to this system is that our security office will be able to recognize hacking attempts more easily and will be able to recognize when people have forgotten their passwords and therefore help them in a secure fashion.

The new log-in screen now shows up when you go to Academica and Wayne Connect, and will be phased in for Blackboard and other systems shortly.

Blackboard is getting more mobile

Blackboard has released the free version of their mobile app. Previously it came with a small charge, but the latest version is free for all WSU faculty, staff and students. It’s available for both major platforms, iOS and Android, in the usual places (iTunes App Store and Google Play Store). Your students can use it to check their grades and assignments, view documents and web links, and create discussion and blog posts. Instructors can also post announcements (handy if you’re snowed in or forgot to mention something in class), create and edit assignments (although not grade them), email your class or create new discussions.

To get it, just go to the relevant store and search for Blackboard Mobile Learn. Once it’s installed, open it and log in using your normal Wayne State credentials (yes, it’s safe–it goes directly to Blackboard).

Some FAQ’s about what you can do with it are here

TRC Team wins award–time to check them out!


Many of us are familiar with the TRC (the Technology Resource Center) located on the ground floor of Purdy-Kresge Library). There you can find the folks behind Bbadmin, the guys who keep the classroom computers up to date and other library technology and teaching experts.

This past year Geralyn Stephens, Associate Clinical Professor in Education, spent part of her TRC Fellowship developing a whole series of Blackboard materials—course templates and standardized modules, and helped set up a peer-to-peer Online Teaching Network and real-time virtual and face-to-face help options. As a result of this activity the TRC won an award from Blackboard Corporation, the Blackboard Catalyst Award for Faculty Development. Geralyn, Cindy Sulad (Associate Director of the TRC), and the rest of the TRC will be honored at the international BbWorld® user conference, to be held in July in Las Vegas.
In the words of Ray Henderson,  Chief Technology Officer and President of Academic Platforms at Blackboard:

“Catalyst Award winners represent some of today’s finest examples of leveraging technology to improve the education experience. Each winner has established best-in-field approaches in critical areas including online learning, course development, school communication and mobile education. We congratulate the winners on their vision and their excellent work, and we celebrate this accomplishment with them.”

So, why not pay them a visit. They’re open 9-5, Monday to Friday and are always happy to see drop-ins. Or make an appointment. Or visit their website: http://www.trc.wayne.edu/


The TRC Team outside McGregor
The TRC Team outside Purdy-Kresge





International Conference on Online Learning–Streamed Live at Wayne

The annual Sloan-C conference on online learning will be streamed live to the Purdy/Kresge room 150 next week, and you are cordially invited to come and watch some or all of the talks.

The conference is taking place at Walt Disney World, but a number of the talks are being screened. Here is a link to the entire set of talks (with live links to the abstracts):


Not all of the sessions will be streamed at Wayne. Here is a graphic listing which lists all the talks we’ll be making available. Note that Wayne State’s own Sangeetha Gopalakrishnan is giving a talk Friday morning at 10:40 AM:

Sloan Conference Program

Online education is sad and lonely. Say what?

Thursday’s New York Times had an article about how online courses only attract lonely geeks who have no social lives. Or something. Perhaps I exaggerate a little.
Anyway, the libertarian blog Hit and Run skewers the article, and so do the comments.
Warning–there is very little control over the language in comments on the Reason blog and it may contain language that is not safe for work or the sensible of spirit.

Hit and Run

Blackboard is About to Change

Over the weekend of May 12-13 Blackboard will be unavailable for an extended period (roughly 7 PM Saturday to around 2 PM Sunday) while we upgrade it from 9.0 to 9.1. It’s important that you know this is happening because when you open Blackboard after that it will look really different. Don’t be alarmed, though. Pretty much everything you need is in the same place as it always was, just a different color and a cleaner look:

New Blackboard Look
View of the announcements page of my (just completed) American Dialects Course.

But under the hood, it will look behave quite differently. Almost everything will require fewer clicks. For example, adding items to a content area involves a single click and you can add not only files but YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare links, which play directly inside Blackboard. You can add textbook information which connects directly to the publisher’s website, simply by typing or pasting in the ISBN number. Here’s how you insert YouTube videos:

Add YouTube
Screen showing how you choose YouTube videos
A set of YouTube videos after searching for ‘SR-71’

And here’s what the textbook facility looks like:

Textbook Display
Inserting your textbook information by typing in the ISBN number


There is now provision for wikis, which are gradable, and, for those who need them, you can establish grading rubrics which can be called up when grading an assignment.
The grade book is much easier to navigate, and you can color-code grades (by, say, percentage or some other criterion). Smartviews have been enhanced as well.
You can temporarily view the site as a student views it.
The Visual Text Box Editor now has many more buttons for inserting stuff (videos, audio files, as well as an equation editor). But, for many of us, the biggest advantage is that you can paste directly from a Word file without losing any of the formatting. Here’s the ‘Create Item’ form:

New Textbox Editor for 'Create Item'
For those interested in foreign languages, Blackboard can be set to display in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, and two varieties of Chinese.
You can learn more by looking at the newly installed 9.1 tab on your Blackboard page. I also recommend you attend some of the training sessions being offered at OTL over the next couple of weeks and additionally spread throughout the summer. Here is a list of those already planned:
Tuesday, May 1, 2:45-4:15PM 238 P/K Library
Thursday, May 3 3:15-4:45 PM 150 P/K Library
Friday, May 4 9:30-11:00 AM 238 P/K Library

Wednesday, May 9 1:00-3:00 PM 150 P/K Library

Friday, May 11 1:00-2:00 PM Webinar (Archived)

Monday, May 14 10:00-12:00 PM 150 P/K Library
Thursday, May 17 2:00-4:00 PM 150 P/K Library
Tuesday, May 22 9:30-11:30 AM 150 P/K Library
Friday, May 25 11:00-12:00 PM Webinar (Archived)


You can register for them through Pipeline, and watch for announcements of more, some elsewhere on both the Main and Medical campuses over the next couple of months.

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Those of you familiar with British sitcoms might be aware of the show The IT Crowd, about an IT support office for a huge but mysterious company. Their catchphrase is the title of this blog. The reason I’m bringing this up is that C&IT is going to do just that this coming Sunday. Everything you know and love will go away from midnight Saturday night till 10 AM Sunday morning, and this blog is intended to provide a sense of why this is being done and what effects it will have.

As you might imagine, C&IT has hundreds of servers, running Pipeline, Blackboard, Banner and even each other. The last bit is because much of the C&IT infrastructure runs on virtual machines rather than having one operating system per machine, and there is also complex load balancing going on. When there are thousands of people visiting Blackboard at the same time a ‘traffic cop’ assigns them to different routes to the basic Blackboard files.
Consequently, the electrical power demands of these hundreds of units are very large, and require  a very elaborate system to assure continuous power. The system includes an enormous battery back-up system, and beyond that, a natural gas-powered generator to power the entire building independently when power problems occur. All this is necessary to deal with the vagaries of electrical supply in the city of Detroit, especially during the peak-demand summer months.

The electricity comes into the primary room to the un-interruptable power supply (UPS) system and is then routed to power distribution units (PDU’s) where the power is transformed from 480 volts to 208 volts before being distributed through panels that are similar to the circuit breaker panels in your basement. Over the years the number of servers has increased, and it’s time to rewire the PDU’s  in order to make sure that servers are connected redundantly to the PDU’s and subsequently the breakers. But, as you know if you’ve ever thought about doing this at home, you need to shut off the entire power supply before you touch anything. So, early on Sunday morning (specifically 12:01 AM) we’ll start shutting down all the computers. Because they are all interconnected, this is a complex and slow process. Then the electrical guys will do the rewiring, and finally we’ll turn it all back on again, which is again, a very slow and careful process. This is why we’re allocating ten hours for the complete change. It’s possible it will take less time, but just to be sure, we’re being very cautious.

So, everything you normally use (Blackboard, Pipeline, Banner, Wayne Connect email…) will be turned off between midnight and 10 AM Sunday morning. We’re hoping, because the university is closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day, that this will not be too disruptive.

Combatting Plagiarism–an In-depth and very interesting Chronicle Article

It’s worth plowing through not only this long article, but also many of the comments. All of the issues relating to plagiarism detection software such as SafeAssign are discussed, and there are some very interesting ideas also.

The article is only available for a limited time:

Software Catches (and Also Helps) Young Plagiarists

Bonus: article on where students most frequently copy:

THE Journal

Blackboard Mobile Pilot for Winter 2010

Blackboard has developed a mobile version that will run on smartphones. Of course, given politics and business rivalries and so on, their version currently runs only on iPhones, Blackberries and Droids (so not on my current smartphone, a Palm Pre). They have released a free version and Wayne has decided to experiment with it in the Winter semester. If you have a Sprint Droid or BlackBerry you can download the Blackboard Mobile Learn app for free and connect to blackboard.wayne.edu over the Sprint network, or you can use an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad over wi-fi (but not over the phone network). This may seem rather restrictive, but that’s how the free version works. Blackboard has made a fuller version available, but at this point C&IT is just piloting the free version, as they want to gauge the level of interest in the whole idea.
I should add that, from the faculty point of view, the features that come with the mobile version are somewhat limited, but the students have been asking for it. Your students will be able to see their grades, and both you and your students can read and participate in discussion boards, blogs, journals and read announcements. They can also see any media you have uploaded—video or audio, for example. But faculty can’t, for example, enter grades, or look at assignments that have been handed in.
To play with it, download the Blackboard app for free from the iPhone App Store, BlackBerry App World or the Android Marketplace. After that you simply log in to Blackboard with your AccessId and password.
C&IT will be interested in whether this catches on, particularly with students. Students asked for it before C&IT had even considered it, because they found it in the App Store, but the very high cost has given us pause, which is why C&IT is experimenting with the free version, despite its limitations. Send me your thoughts, or tell bbadmin about it.

Educause Online at WSU

Educause Conference Live Streaming Oct. 13-15 at TRC

Educause Online @ WSU

Join your colleagues for interesting discussions, presentations, and conversation about IT in higher education. WSU will be broadcasting select live sessions from the annual Educause Conference. Sessions will be shown at the Technology Resource Center inside the Purdy/Kresge Library. To register, log in to Pipeline and click the link on the announcement about the conference.