Wednesday, December 3, 2008

  • ACE under review; IST explains why
  • 'Green computing statement' suggested
  • US honour for polymer physicist
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

ACE under review; IST explains why

Andrea Chappell, director of the Instructional Technologies and Multimedia Services group in Information Systems and Technology, reports on the Online Learning Environment Review Project

Over four years ago UW adopted ANGEL as the software for the UW learning management system that we call UW-ACE. During that time, tools for online learning have expanded. The explosion of Web 2.0 applications and in the use of mobile devices means there are new options for communication and participation, and for delivering course materials. We have seen marked increase in requests to capture and deliver audio and video as part of a course. As well, the learning management system (LMS) market has undergone significant change, including the merger of LMS market leaders Blackboard and WebCT , and the evolution of viable open system options such as Moodle and Sakai.

[Flashing angel]

Probably one of the worst lines in the history of flirtation surfaced in MathNews the other day, in a top-ten list headed "How to pick up a mathie":

"Somebody call UW-ACE; looks like they're missing an angel."

Since adopting ANGEL, the vendor has embedded new functionality, including syndication (RSS) and blogs, and UW has added third party tools, such as Wimba audio recordings and iClickers. Some professors and students at UW are content with what is available in UW-ACE, while others may have higher expectations of their online learning environment. While many universities in Ontario and across Canada are discontented with their LMS situation, UW is in a fairly favourable situation. As such, we are not necessarily looking for significant change, yet it seems an appropriate time to review our needs and determine our directions beyond the near horizon.

A project is underway with the following objectives:

• Review ANGEL's fit as UW's online course environment by assessing its performance and functionality for our future needs and against a broad scan of other possibilities.

• Involve the UW community in identifying the aspects they consider important for the online learning environment; use this to establish a basis for comparing and prioritizing features and characteristics.

• Renew and increase knowledge of tools that could be adopted for the online learning environment, including commercial LMS, open LMS, and collections of applications to augment or even replace an LMS.

• Recommend to UCIST a direction for determining the next learning environment, identifying a small set of promising learning environments for further investigation, if warranted.

• Based on UCIST feedback, further investigate the short list and bring forward a final recommendation to UCIST.

The project team plans to collect input from those who use UW-ACE for academic courses as well as from those who use it for continuing education programs, professional development teams, the Living Learning program, and so on. An input session for faculty members is taking place today. Participants for this session were selected to include all Faculties and various levels of experience in UW-ACE, to get as broad as possible a feedback swath. Other faculty members may provide input by email (chappell@ Student input mechanisms have not yet been determined, but we are working with undergraduate and graduate representatives on how to collect their feedback.

The feedback will drive what possibilities may be explored, such as lobbying for changes to ANGEL, recommending third party additions that can be integrated with ANGEL, or even investigating other LMS to determine their potential. While this review is seen as timely and responsible, a change in LMS is recognized as a serious undertaking, to be pursued only if demonstrable advantages are compelling!

The project team includes staff from IST, Distance and Continuing Education, the Library, and the Centre for Teaching Excellence, two faculty members, a graduate and undergraduate student, and other resource team members.

The project is scheduled to finish in May 2009, with reports to UCIST and to campus along the way. For more information, please see the project pages.

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'Green computing statement' suggested

Anne Grant of the faculty of environment and Lowell Williamson of applied health sciences describe the presentation they made at yesterday's WatITis conference

Our presentation is entitled “Green IT: Walking the Walk”. There is a lot of media buzz around environmentally responsible computing, and UW is hopping on board. During the presentation, we want people to consider their technology needs, if purchasing physical workstations and servers is needed, or could another avenue be explored such as virtual servers and storage. If there is a need to purchase computing equipment, the purchaser should consider energy efficient systems that follow Enerstar or EcoLogo standards. In addition, there are eco-conscious vendors; for example, Apple claims to have the greenest MacBook ever, a laptop that is highly recyclable, energy efficient and contains less chemical content.

We will also discuss the life cycle of a system and what to do with an old workstation. Workstations become obsolete in 2-3 years, and we typically purchase a new system. However, we are suggesting that users replace the computing components, rather than the entire system, or re-use elsewhere on campus. IT departments could work with central stores to implement a campus reuse strategy. In addition, we could have a forum to notify IT staff of available equipment. The Mapping, Analysis and Design department recently donated older lab workstations to the K-W Accessibility non-profit organization. Overall, we want to express that equipment can be re-used, before being recycled.

The amount of printing in student computing labs is another priority to identify and reduce printer output. Both AHS computing and MAD use 100% post recycled paper, do not print out error or notification pages and encourage electronic documentation and storage versus the traditional file folders.

Perhaps the biggest potential for green computing is user behaviour and energy consumption. There is a myth that turning off and on workstations is detrimental to the equipment. This is simply not true. Both AHS and ENV promote turning off workstations, and all student labs are set to either sleep or shut down at a certain hour to conserve energy.

We propose creating a green computing statement or agreement to be supported by the associate deans and directors of computing. This statement could potentially include:

  1. Taking an equipment inventory — determine current consumption.
  2. Examine virtual servers/workstations/storage (less hardware = less real estate = less cooling).
  3. Purchase energy smart (Apple Green computer; the Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool; the EcoLogo program).
  4. Educate users.
  5. Centralized services such as the exchange mail server for faculty and staff and mailservices for students (reducing number of servers in each faculty).
  6. Turning off equipment not in use.
  7. Equipment manufacturer for take back/buy back programs (Lenovo, Dell, Apple).
  8. Demand durable and longer life cycle systems (e.g. with Vista, it is estimated that half the systems in homes and offices do not meet the minimum requirements to run this operating system, and this translates into computers going to the landfill or recycled, and new workstations to purchase).
  9. Reduce by donating, recycling, reusing, replacing parts.

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US honour for polymer physicist

by John Morris, UW media relations

A UW physics professor who received a research excellence award in Ontario eight years ago has been elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society, a leading organization of physicists, including 60 Nobel laureates.

James Forrest, who heads the polymer physics group, was recognized for his forefront work in dynamics of confined polymers and polymer surfaces.

He will receive his fellowship certificate at a presentation during the spring meeting of the APS, to be held in Pittsburgh next March. In 2000, he received an Ontario Premier's Research Excellence Award for his promising investigation into the physics of and polymer thin films and surfaces. The fundamental research could lead to significant scientific advances in physics, chemistry, biology and even health sciences.

"It is very gratifying to receive this honour in Canada," Forrest said. "In our research here, we have to compete against much bigger research groups in the United States and in Europe, so it's wonderful to have our work achieve this much attention."

He added that while there's less research funding in Canada, there's more freedom to pursue anything of interest and branch out from an original idea.

Over the last few years, his research group has published a series of thought-provoking papers on polymers. Polymers are large molecules — macromolecules — composed of repeating structural units connected by chemical bonds. Widely known as plastics, polymers refer to a large class of natural and synthetic materials with diverse properties and purposes.

His team's last paper, published in Physical Review Letters in March, drew wide attention in the field. It was the team's fourth paper in the journal, a publication of the American Physical Society. "We attracted interest from people in other fields, such as chemical engineering and materials science," Forrest says. "I find it so interesting how this field crosses into so many other disciplines."

Another paper, published in Science Magazine in February, also fuelled interest in the research community. That paper showed how some solids behave like liquids on the nanoscale. The discovery was considered a major step forward in measuring polymer substances using nanoscale technology.

Nanoscale technology involves techniques used to manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometre (nm) equals one billionth of a metre. In comparison, one human hair is about 80,000 nm thick.

Forrest began his interest polymer films in 1995 while a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph. He then worked at Chalmers University in Sweden and the University of Sheffield in England, before coming to UW in 2000.

At Waterloo, he has built up a strong physics group, working out of a $2-million facility funded by the federal and provincial governments. The facility provides a wide variety of characterization techniques to study synthetic polymer and proteins in thin films or near surfaces and interfaces.


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Davis carols today

For the 17th year, UW's music department is holding a pre-Christmas concert in the Davis Centre great hall to take advantage of its unusual acoustics and big audience of passers-by. The event will run for about half an hour, starting at 12:00 noon today.

Music chair Ken Hull notes that two of the choirs based at Conrad Grebel University College — the Chamber Choir and Chapel Choir — will take part. "At the conclusion of the program," he writes, "we will include several traditional Christmas carols and invite audience participation."

Link of the day

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

When and where

Christmas luncheon buffet at University Club, December 1-23 (Monday-Friday), $19.25, reservations ext. 33801. Dinner buffet December 10 and 17, $36.95.

Holiday book sale at UW bookstore, South Campus Hall, through Thursday.

Federal-provincial conference simulation for high school students continues, arts buildings; plenary session 1:45 p.m., Theatre of the Arts.

International TA and professor relationships, workshop sponsored by Centre for Teaching Excellence, 11:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

‘Improving Your Financial Health’ seminar by Heather Cudmore, Catholic Family Counselling Centre, sponsored by Employee Assistance Program, 12:00, Davis Centre room 1302.

Alumni dinner in Hong Kong 6:30, Craigengower Cricket Club, speaker David Li (PhD 1995), China International Capital Corporation. Details.

Perimeter Institute presents Ben Schumacher, Kenyon College, “The Physics of Impossible Things”, 7:00, Waterloo Collegiate Institute, ticket information 519-883-4480.

Surplus sale of UW furnishings and equipment, Thursday 12:30 to 2:00 p.m., East Campus Hall.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “A Course Design Model That Works” Thursday 12:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

English Language Proficiency Examination Thursday 1:30, 3:00, 5:00 and 6:30, Physical Activities Complex. Details online; preparation sessions available Wednesday.

Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program information session Thursday 4:00, 295 Hagey Boulevard suite 240.

Centre for International Governance Innovation panel debate: “The World Food Crisis, Which Way Forward?” Thursday 7:30 p.m., 57 Erb Street West.

Fall term exams December 5 through 19. Details.

Philosophy colloquium: Shannon Dea, UW, “Synechism and Intersexuality,” Friday 3:30 p.m., Humanities room 334.

Winterfest, staff association family skating party Sunday 1:00 to 3:00, Columbia Icefield, free for association members and adult guests, children $9, registration closed.

Blood donor clinic December 8 and 9 (10:00 to 4:00), Student Life Centre, book appointments at turnkey desk or call 1-888-236-6283.

Social Innovation and Community Change one-day event with displays and panel discussions, co-sponsored by UW Social Innovation Generation, Monday 9:00 to 4:30, Centre for International Governance Innovation, 57 Erb Street West. Details.

Graduate Student Association semi-formal December 13, 6 p.m., South Campus Hall, Festival Room. Details.

Social work program application deadline for 2009 is December 15, 2008.

Ontario Ballet Theatre presents “The Nutcracker”, Monday, December 15, 7:00 p.m., and school performances Tuesday, 10:00 and 12:30, Humanities Theatre.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Finding Nemo: Advanced Techniques for Finding Web Resources” December 16, 3:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

Fee payment deadline for the winter term: December 17 (cheque, money order or fee arrangements), December 30 (bank transfer).

Christmas and New Year’s holidays: Tuesday, December 23, last working day at UW for 2008. First working day of 2009 is Monday, January 5. Winter term classes also begin January 5.

‘Language as a Complex Dynamic System’ event at Renison University College, January 8; guest speaker Diane Larsen-Freeman, University of Michigan; details e-mail jpwillia@

Social Innovation Generation project presents “Studio Earth”, with remarks by environmentalist Severn Suzuki, sessions on social finance, social technology, political advocacy, January 11, 12:30 to 5:00, Kitchener City Hall, registration $10, call ext. 38680.

Application deadline for September 2009 undergraduate admission is January 14 for Ontario secondary school students. General deadline, March 31. Exceptions include pharmacy (for January 2010) January 30; accounting and architecture, February 13; engineering and software March 2. Details.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Marketing and evaluation coordinator, Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, USG 8
• Business manager, Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, USG 9

Yesterday's Daily Bulletin