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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

  • Three weeks to the fireworks
  • An update on online teaching
  • Polaris, a thing of the past
  • Feds comment on Palestine lecture
Chris Redmond

First patent on a ball point pen

Another Hallman gift marked today

A ceremony this morning will celebrate a "major gift" to UW from the man who already has his name on the west wing of Matthews Hall: local businessman Lyle S. Hallman.

Hallman's latest contribution to the university will help with construction of a new north wing, which is being identified as part of the Lyle S. Hallman Institute for Health Promotion.

Groundbreaking activities at the site will begin at 11 a.m.

Three weeks to the fireworks -- by Karyne Velez of the Canada Day committee

In just three weeks, the University of Waterloo will be hosting its 19th annual Canada Day celebrations. The party, on the afternoon and evening of Tuesday, July 1, will mark nearly two decades of community focused, family-oriented activities organized by volunteer UW students and staff.

[Canada Day button] This year's free event will feature an assortment of fun activities, such as interactive children's games, face painting, a water slide, an arts and crafts fair, delicious food, live musical performances, a spectacular fireworks display and a variety of other exciting attractions.

The Math Society will be hosting the ever-popular Children's Fun Fest, and the Engineering Society will be having their Children's Mini-Olympics with the Incredible Juice Machine.

A new feature that has been added to the celebrations for this year is the Canada Day Art Competition, open to surrounding elementary and secondary schools. This will be the first of its kind and offer additional opportunities to participate in the Canada Day festivities. The Canada Day Art Competition is an opportunity for UW to extend its philosophy of innovative and creative thought to the community, and recognize them for their artistic talents. The project also hopes to highlight the many young artists of the Kitchener-Waterloo area and support their artistic interests. The theme for the competition is Canada, and the goal is to create a printed or sculpted art piece that best expresses the spirit or essence of Canada and the Canadian spirit. All contestants will have their art work displayed on the field on Canada Day. The judging will be by vote, as people will be able to view all the art pieces and vote for the work they like best. Prizes will be awarded for first, second, and third place for the elementary and secondary school levels.

Activities on Canada Day will run from 2 to 11 p.m. on the fields north of Columbia Street. The fireworks will begin at exactly 10 p.m.

An update on online teaching

Online courses are getting to be a bigger and bigger part of UW's distance education program, faraway students are reminded in the new issue of the UW Correspondent newsletter.

[Looks like an iMac]

Don Kasta, director of distance and continuing education, confers with courseware developer Lois Goldsworthy. (Photo by Heung Lee)

"Almost five years ago Distance Education offered its first courses in an online format," writes Don Kasta, director of distance and continuing education. "For the coming academic year the number is 62 and there are more to come.

"UW is committed to this way of offering courses for a number of reasons." He cites some of them: "The application of technology offers significant improvements to the learning process. The ability of students to interact freely with others in their class provides opportunities for the exchange of ideas and for collaboration. This takes much of the distance9 out of distance learning.

"Additionally, the technologies available to us present the course material in a more effective way through the use of a variety of media. Instead of audio along with text on a page, the online material can be dynamic in nature, with animations where required, links to material on a variety of websites, and other exciting resources. It also makes it easier to keep the course up-to-date."

Kasta notes that the material prepared for some online courses in distance ed is finding its way into on-campus courses. "In some cases, the lectures in on-campus courses have been replaced by the CD-ROM prepared for the distance course, supplemented by in-class discussions.

"In other courses, the same kind of computer conferencing that is part of all our online courses has become a standard feature. Some instructors are finding that the quality of discussions online exceeds what is happening in the classroom."

He says most new distance courses being created or re-prepared will be in the online format. "It will take a number of years to move completely away from tapes-and-notes courses; it may be that we will always have a few. However, our goal is to convert as many courses as possible to the new format."

Kasta notes that his office now reports to Tom Carey, the associate vice-president (learning resources and innovation). "As that title implies, we are now part of an overall effort to improve the way teaching and learning happens both on campus and at a distance. We are also closely related to, and share some staff with, the Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3), another indication of the prominent role technology will be playing."

Polaris, a thing of the past -- by Bruce Campbell of engineering computing

On May 1, 2003, with no fanfare, the Waterloo Polaris system retired from service. In its heyday, Waterloo Polaris connected approximately 1,500 PCs across UW, running the Windows 95 operating system. The Windows 2000 based replacement system, Waterloo Nexus, has taken over and already grown to 2,000 PCs in all six faculties.

The history of Waterloo Polaris goes back to 1984 when systems design engineering professor Peter Roe oversaw the development of the DOS based Watstar network. Watstar, like its successor Polaris, made the essentially stand-alone Microsoft operating systems of the day manageable and secure. Today, userids/passwords, e-mail, and automated software distribution are taken for granted, but in the early days of PC networking, all of these functions had to be developed from scratch.

Developing computer systems from the ground up was very interesting work, and it attracted innovative people to what is now the engineering computing department. As the popularity of the PC grew, other faculties recognized the flexibility that the homegrown Watstar and Polaris systems offered, and the systems were adopted in arts, science, AHS and math. While some university campuses are still struggling today to provide a common student computing environment, UW has been doing this for close to two decades.

With the advent of Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system and Active Directory, many of the functions developed locally in the past are now available out of the box. Seeing hundreds of thousands of lines of code that comprised the Watstar/Polaris systems swept into irrelevance has, in some sense, been heart wrenching. But there is something more important than code that can be taken away from the Watstar/Polaris experience. It is the culture of creativity and collaboration that was born out of people working together toward a common goal.

Other notes today

The senate undergraduate council meets at 12 noon in Needles Hall room 304, with an agenda that includes a new program in "atmospheric and planetary science" in the faculty of science, replacing several existing streams.

A career development workshop on "Career Decision-Making" is scheduled for 2:30 today (details at the career services office).

And looking ahead to Friday . . . the 2 p.m. lecture by Lotfi Zadeh, creator of what's dubbed "fuzzy logic", will be held in Davis Centre room 1350, not in the Theatre of the Arts as previously announced.

Feds comment on Palestine lecture

As Palestine Week continues, a major -- and controversial -- lecture is scheduled for 7:00 tonight in the Theatre of the Arts. The speaker is Norman Finkelstein, whose book Image and Reality of the Palestinian Conflict "juxtaposes Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories against South African apartheid", according to his web site.

He's also the author of The Holocaust Industry, which produced an uproar when it was published in 2000.

He comes to UW sponsored by Students For Palestinian Rights. I wrote last week that I didn't know much about SFPR, and in response Alroy Fonseca, one of the organizers, explains that the organization "is a WPIRG action group that was formed in the fall of 2002. So far, the SFPR has put on a few lower-profile events."

Palestine Week is not quite low-profile. Today, information displays continue in the Student Life Centre, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then in the evening comes Finkelstein's lecture, under the title "Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace". Says an SFPR announcement: "Chapters has committed to selling books at the event. Furthermore, the CBC has confirmed it will be filming the event for a documentary."

The Federation of Students took the unusual step yesterday of issuing a news release to explain why it's helping to fund the lecture. (A committee decision to provide money was discussed Sunday at a meeting of students' council, which voted not to reverse the decision.)

Said yesterday's release: "The decision of the Feds to provide me of the financing requested has been met with some contention. . . . Some have suggested that providing money to fund a controversial guest speaker is tantamount to Fed support and even endorsement of the views of the presenter.

"The Federation of Students would disagree with this, and suggest that in this case, the only fundamental principles it would choose to champion, are those already expressed and encouraged in its own founding policies and guidelines. . . . We believe that as well as developing academically, the students of our campus should have forums in which to develop socially, politically, spiritually, and culturally. By providing opportunities to experience different ways of life and different sets of opinions, the Federation of Students can aid in this social and cultural development.

"The Federation of Students acknowledges that Dr. Finkelstein brings with him ideas and opinions on his lecture focus area and other topics that go against the status quo amongst his peers. This is by no means a negative thing. The ability to challenge, and stimulate meaningful debate, which Dr. Finkelstein clearly does, is essential not only to academics, but also to the advancement of human pursuits.

"Far from preaching hate, Dr. Finkelstein approaches the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from the framework, akin to Dr. Martin Luther King, that people should come together irrespective of the colour of their skin, their race, or their beliefs. Whether one agrees with his theory or not is up to the individual.

"By contributing funds for this event however, the Federation of Students feels that it is upholding its continued commitment to supporting diversity, while at the same time building unity. The Federation of Students encourages all to attend this lecture, and discuss its merits, its weaknesses, and perhaps create a pathway to the future -- for all great ideas have to have a start point."


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