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Wednesday, April 9, 2003

  • Accessible campus, but there's more to do
  • Speaker explains MIT innovation
  • FAUW annual meeting, and more
Chris Redmond

Running of the Rodents, today in Louisville

[Texture of metallic surface]

Artist and third-year student Carol Hudgins, seen showing one of her works to UW drama professor Andrew Houston, has transformed her experience of living with cancer into "a celebration and lament of/for the reproductive system, a reverie on good and bad cells, cancer (the greedy little cells), good and bad ovaries, health care and greed". An exhibition of her mixed-media work continues in the front gallery in East Campus Hall through April 25. An opening reception (4:30 to 7:00) and music and theatre performance (5:30) are scheduled today.

Accessible campus, but there's more to do

Work is under way to make the university -- not just the physical campus, but everything from web sites to curriculum delivery -- more accessible to people with disabilities.

And, as they say, it's not just a good idea, it's the law. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act, passed in 2001, requires action from universities and many other kinds of institutions, starting with publication of an Accessibility Plan by September 30 of this year.

Rose Padacz, director of the office for persons with disabilities, stresses that Waterloo can take pride in what has been done already, without the prodding of the new law, but there's more to come. "This is a time," says Padacz, "for UW to identify and showcase things that we are doing well to improve access for persons with disabilities on campus and as partners in community outreach initiatives.

"We are one of the most physically accessible campuses in Canada and one of the few who offer 24-hour access to on-campus attendant services. The library hosts a campus and community Adaptive Technology Centre. We provide academic accommodations and support services to over 900 students with a variety of disabilities -- one of the largest groups in the province. Our housing department has won awards for their cutting-edge designs in accessibility." In fact, Padacz gives credit to everyone from professors ("very supportive in providing appropriate academic accommodations") to the plant operations department, with its efforts to upgrade physical access to the campus.

But there's more to do. For example, all teaching buildings have ground-level entrances and elevators, but signs are difficult for people with low vision to see, and elevators don't have audible signals. Many web sites aren't accessible to people who rely on special browsers. And electronic access to course materials is still limited.

Says Padacz: "A campus accommodations committee is currently being formed from various constituents at UW (department heads, faculty, student representation and staff). One of the functions of this committee will be to act as consultants in the development and implementation of the Accessibility Plan.

"Also, the staff of the Office for Persons with Disabilities and our team of student Ambassadors are now acting as a campus Accessibility Advisory team. We continue to connect with departments on campus to determine ways that we can identify barriers and how we plan to remedy those barriers in the future, such as creating electronic versions of all documents to ensure access by all groups who use assistive technology, and increasing way-finding measures. We will also be posting links to sites containing universal design checklists on our web-site to heighten awareness of what constitutes a barrier-free learning environment for persons with all types of disabilities and learning styles."

We'll be hearing considerably more about this subject over the next few months -- especially after the disabilities office moves into a new, larger space on the first floor of Needles Hall some time in May.

Helicopter by landmark MIT dome

Five-foot robotic helicopter made by MIT engineers hovers beside the institution's landmark dome during a test flight in March 2002. Photo by Laura Wulf, MIT

Speaker explains MIT innovation

A speaker from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be on campus today to explain some of MIT's innovations in teaching, including the "open courseware" program that startled the educational world when MIT announced last year that it was putting its full curriculum onto the web -- free.

"Nothing of this scale has ever been attempted before," says the MIT OpenCourseWare web site.

Today's speaker on "Educational Technology and Institutional Change at MIT" will be Hal Abelson, who is professor of computer science and engineering at MIT and co-chair of its Council on Educational Technology. His talk starts at 12 noon in the Flex lab in the Dana Porter Library; people who want to attend are being asked to preregister. The event is part of the Learning Forward Colloquium series of UW's Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3).

"MIT is undergoing its most active period of educational change in thirty years," Abelson explains. "Much of this change is made possible by information technology, and it is being realized through programs such as MIT OpenCourseware and through research and education alliances with Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Cambridge University, Singapore, and others. These efforts are coordinated by MIT's Council on Educational Technology." In his talk, Abelson "will survey MIT's educational technology activities and the strategic direction behind them. The strategy emphasizes four themes: transforming the classroom experience to promote active learning; furthering the university's public mission by strengthening the intellectual commons; exploring new modes of inter-institutional collaboration made possible by Web services and other information technology; creating and supporting an extended university community."

The OpenCourseWare program, which is already offering course materials in fields from aeronautics to political science, began last September. At last count, MIT says, people from 202 countries were using some of the materials. The institution stresses that they're on their own: OCW is "not an MIT education" and no credentials are offered.

Also new at MIT

  • DSpace, "a durable electronic archive"

  • .LRN, "a web-based portal system for course management"
  • "The idea," the web site says, "is to make MIT course materials that are used in the teaching of almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects available on the Web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. MIT OCW will advance technology-enhanced education at MIT, and will serve as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age.

    "This venture continues the tradition at MIT, and in American higher education, of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought, and will help lead to fundamental changes in the way colleges and universities utilize the Web as a vehicle for education.

    "MIT OCW is intended as a publication of MIT course materials on the Web, and not as an interactive experience with MIT faculty. It provides the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education. The most fundamental cornerstone of the learning process at MIT is the interaction between faculty and students in the classroom, and among students themselves on campus.

    "Educators are encouraged to utilize the materials for curriculum development, and self-learners are encouraged to draw upon the materials for self-study or supplementary use. Therefore, course materials contained on the MIT OCW Web site may be used, copied, distributed, translated, and modified, but only for non-commercial educational purposes."

  • Fury behind the double cohort
  • Canadian universities enter the bond market
  • New name for the Université de Québec à Hull
  • University of Toronto faces budget cut
  • Tuberculosis tests at U of Guelph
  • CAUT launches review of academic freedom at Dalhousie
  • New York Times describes the programming contest
  • FAUW annual meeting, and more

    The annual general meeting of the UW faculty association will be held today at 2:30 in Physics room 145. Most of the key items on the agenda will be oral presentations -- a report from the president, Catherine Schryer; election results; a report from Len Guelke, chair of the academic freedom and tenure committee. The "other business" heading includes a discussion of "publishing course evaluations". Refreshments are promised.

    Ann Barrett, manager of the English language proficiency program, writes about the proficiency exam that had to be postponed because of last Friday's storm: "We re-scheduled the ELPE to Sunday night, and 327 students got the message (including 3 students who forgot to change their clocks and showed up one hour late.) In spite of my best efforts to get the word out, some students didn't listen to my voice mail, didn't read the Daily Bulletin, didn't ask at the SLC and didn't read the signs posted on the locked-up PAC. I have scheduled a special session of the exam for next Saturday, April 12, at 1:00 p.m. in PAS 2082. Students should email me or call me at ext. 2837 to tell me they're coming as space is limited."

    And revised arrangements are being made for students who missed class Friday in quite a number of courses. I've been asked to pass along news related to one of the biggest of those classes, Psychology 211, taught by Jerry Anglin: "The fourth term exam has been rescheduled for Monday, April 21, 12:30-1:20 in Arts Lecture Hall 116. Although this time will work out for most students, there will be some who may have a conflict. If you cannot take the exam at this time in most cases we will base your final grade in the course entirely on the first three term exams (with no penalty). However, if you cannot take the exam at this time, but would really like to take a version of the fourth exam to try to improve your grade, please contact one of the TAs as soon as possible and arrange to do a make-up exam."

    The annual Kitchener-Waterloo Arts Awards were presented on March 29, and among the winners in the "leading edge" (young artist) category are two people with close connections to UW. One is Jeremy Taylor, a student in English and cultural management, who has been much involved in improv drama on campus, and who directed "This Is a Play" for UW's drama department in Studio 180 a few weeks ago. The other is Emma Walker, a high school student in Kitchener who teaches children's classes for the UW-based Carousel Dance Centre and dances with the Carousel Dance Company.

    A workshop on course design, organized by the teaching resources and continuing education office, will be offered this morning, and again on the afternoon of April 15. . . . The bookstore and UW Shop are holding a sidewalk sale today and tomorrow in the South Campus Hall concourse. . . .

    Mo Jamshidi of the University of New Mexico, an authority on robotic automation and many related subjects, is on campus today to give two seminars on intelligent control for UW's department of systems design engineering. He'll speak at 10:30 on "Soft Computing" and at 2:30 on "Control of Large-Scale Complex Systems". Both talks are in Davis Centre room 1304.

    Dennis Raphael of York University, "perhaps Canada's best-known academic and advocate on risk factors, particularly income inequality", is also at UW today to give two talks. At 3:30 he'll speak on "The Politics of Population Health" in Environmental Studies room 221. Then at 7 p.m. he'll speak on "Government Policies as a Threat to Health", at the UW outpost at 70 King Street East in downtown Kitchener.

    Advance note: an event has been announced for Friday (10 a.m. in South Campus Hall) to celebrate "New Opportunities" research grants for 57 UW faculty members from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

    And . . . there's just one staff job listed in the weekly "Positions Available" bulletin from UW's human resources department. Currently wanted: "Customer Service Representative, co-operative education and career services, USG 4". More information is available on the HR web site.


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