2015 Week 27 in review


Spent much of the week digging out of the hole caused by being out of the office for 10 days. Emails, voicemails, etc. Mostly caught up now. We’re planning the D2L upgrade from 10.3 to 10.4-or-10.5, which will kick in on August 24. It should be a smooth process, with D2L doing the heavy lifting, but we need to build the plan for what we need to test on our end, and to figure out what new features will be switched on. Looking forward to running current D2L versions – 10.3 is 2 years old, and many of the improvements we’ve seen at Fusion for the last couple of years have been unavailable to us.

We redesigned the D2L homepage to make it actually useful for students, rather than as a dumping ground for administrative links and announcements. Hopefully, students will find it more useful. Early feedback is mostly positive, with one helpful email “I HAVE THREE WORDS: IT F*CKING SUCKS” contribution from a student (but that was more than 3 words, so I’m not sure how to take it).

I’m working on a few proposals, and have put a lot of time into thinking about communities and networks at the UofC. Lots of things going on. An abstract representation is starting to form:

communities. kind of. more to come…



The SSL certificate for my site is about to expire. I’d planned to switch over to Let’s Encrypt (which had originally been scheduled to launch in time, but has now been pushed to September 2015 for general availability). I can’t justify the cost of renewing a wildcard certificate for a couple of months, so I’m temporarily pulling SSL from my site. Browsers seem to be OK with shifting back to HTTP: rather than HTTPS:, but Firefox seems crankier than it needs to be. Between proposing to deprecate HTTP and in being overly sensitive about SSL certificates, Firefox sure isn’t doing the non-corporate web any favours.

Redesigning the UCalgary D2L homepage

It seems like a small, unimportant thing, but the D2L homepage is probably the single most important web page for students. While they occasionally use the university website, and periodically use the my.ucalgary.ca portal (to sign up for courses and pay fees), D2L is where they spend a substantial chunk of their time as they work through their courses and programs. We’d launched D2L with a news-centric homepage, so that we could easily push notifications and support resources during the transition from Blackboard. It worked well for that, but became a dumping ground for accretion – links added, blurbs added, until it was a wall of text that everyone basically ignored.

So, we took a look at how students use D2L, and what they needed on the homepage. It’s their place, not The Institution’s, so it needs to be useful to students with a much higher priority than anyone else. The first thing students need is access to their courses. That used to be tucked into a small widget in the right sidebar. Now, it has the prime spot at the top of the main content area (where it should have been all along). Then, they need to be able to see what’s coming up – important dates on the calendar. Also, now right on the homepage. And they can enable it to show events from any of their courses as well (and then integrate it into their phones etc… through the iCal format). One thing that surprised us was the seemingly-trivial idea of having a weather widget on the homepage. Why on earth would that be needed? Clearly not necessary. But it can’t all be about need and necessity – sometimes it’s important to have a subtle reminder to go outside on a nice day (or a reminder to stay inside and study when it gets crappy outside).

I also made the decision to take many of the “Important Links” out – they were important to the people that wanted them there, but not necessarily to the students. We looked through the aggregated (and anonymized) web analytics to see which links had actually been used since January 1, 2015. Not many. So we made the call to remove several.

Also, we added a link to let students (and others) give feedback so we can hear complaints or suggestions and respond more quickly.

The Instructor-focused portions are not displayed to students – they don’t see the Instructor Resources or Grades Export sections because they’re not relevant. Students now get a pretty streamlined homepage (as it should have been from day 1), which should help them get to what they need, and to help keep organized throughout the semester.

It’s a collection of many small, seemingly trivial changes, but the overall redesign should make things much less painful for students.

D2L homepage, comparing old crappy version and awesome new version.
Left: the previous version, accreting things since launch in 2013. Right: Redesign with student needs given priority.

Access to Information denied

I filed a request under the Access to Information Act, for “All Information Available” – mostly, I was curious to see if my fraternization with Open Content Hippies or Open Source Radicals had placed me on any lists. I’d followed a link on Facebook (which I can’t find now, yay for no searchability in FB-land) with the link to the Government of Canada web page with the request process and form, and a note suggesting that the form would be disappearing soon.

So, I filled in a web form, gave them my credit card info (to pay for the processing fee), and 6 weeks later I get a boilerplate non-response in my mailbox. It states that there is either nothing on file about me, or there might (or might not) be something on file, but declaration of that fact (or non fact) would possibly (or not) fall under a possible exclusion from the Act due to possible relation to efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities. I would never want to thwart suppression of subversion1.

Here’s the response in full (with my address and file number redacted):


So. Either they don’t have anything on me. Or I’m being monitored closely to prevent suppression of subversion. Or something in between. Which can neither be confirmed nor denied.

  1. I assume they aren’t just declaring a REALLY strong preference for source code version management systems… []

2015 week 26 in review


Still on the road – attended and presented at D2L Fusion this week. It was really great to see team members presenting about what we’ve done at UCalgary to finish successfully migrating from Bb to D2L. I’m still going through my notes from the conference, and may post something after I get back into the office. Lots of interesting stuff. Lots of stuff we were able to learn as a result of being able to meet with several people in the company1.



Just wrapping up a couple of vacation days tacked onto the work trip to Orlando. Did some more Disney stuff. Battled crowds and heat and crowded heat. Starting the travel home after posting this.

  1. I wrote a kind of snarky, pointed, difficult email before the conference, and as a result we were able to meet with several people within the company that we likely wouldn’t have been able to talk to otherwise. we all learned a lot, and left the conference feeling much more confident in our relationship with the company. []

2015 week 25 in review


A quick post, as I’m holed up in Orlando with the family, currently in between InfoComm 2015 and D2L Fusion 2015 conferences. I’m here for 10 days, rather than commuting back to Calgary and then returning after the weekend. It’s apparently a bit of a heat wave. Awesome. 100˚F and 200% humidity. And crowds. But, this isn’t a bad office view:



Taking advantage of the break between conferences to do touristy Disney-type-things with the family.

Notes from InfoComm 2015

I was at InfoComm 2015 this week, touring some vendors that have been recommended by our AV consultants for the Taylor Institute construction project, The Sextant Group. This was my first time at InfoComm, and I was kind of stunned at the sheer size of the trade show – and at how many similar products exist, with variations and overalaps. It’s rare to see a product that is truly unique – and from what I saw, it comes down mostly to the overall experience and how people are able to actually use the tools, rather than the feature-list checkboxes. No surprise there. Sometimes, having the most features is not a good thing. It’s having the right features (and not having the others). Here are my rough-ish notes about some of the vendors and products that we visited.

Long(ish) post, more after the break…

Continue reading Notes from InfoComm 2015

2015 week 24 in review


  • We met with some of the folks in Campus Planning, to coordinate our summer research/documentation projects. I think we’ll have a really interesting and useful description of how instructors and students use (and would like to use) our learning spaces.
  • Met with our D2L account team, and we decided to stop using the LOR tool within D2L. We’ve tried to get adoption for the tool for almost 2 years now, and haven’t had success. It’s time to stop licensing that tool. We’re also objectively examining several of the other extra tools licensed in our environment, and may opt out of some more by the end of summer. These are taxpayer dollars, and we need to make sure we’re using what we pay for, and getting the most value out of each dollar spent on these tools.
  • We had a retirement party for our awesome-and-irreplaceable program administrator, who is leaving the university at the end of the month. We’re all going to miss MJ terribly, but are also pretty excited for her to be able to move on to the next set of adventures.
  • More prep for our upcoming D2L Fusion sessions. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share some of our experiences and tips in adopting a new LMS and migrating an entire campus. Also, we’ll be able to showcase the Student Signup Manager tool in the developer lab.
  • I was preparing for our D2L Fusion presentation and realized I lost a bunch of files from my dropbox folder. Thankfully, I had Time Machine backup on my home computer was able to go back to last year to recover the files I’ve been living with for the last two years. This file was going to be the background/context of our presentation, and I only had one print copy left and couldn’t find the electronic copy. Yikes. PSA: Back your stuff up, even if it’s in The Cloud.

On Campus



Edtech awesomeness

Other edtech-relatednesses



This was the first Week in Review powered by a script that automatically pulls faved RSS items and saved bookmarks from the last week and generates a markdown list to start the post. Didn’t wind up saving much (any?) time, but made the process much less painful. Will have to keep working on the script – some ideas for making it more useful.

Heading to Orlando next week for InfoComm 2015, then D2L Fusion 2015. Looking forward to trying out some of the gear we’re going to be putting into the new Taylor Institute building at InfoComm, and seeing the team present at Fusion. 10 days in Orlando may be a little much, though.

I managed to get out for what would have normally been an easy bike ride to Cochrane and back. I wound up kind of overdoing it, and was limping for a couple days afterwards. That’s not a good sign. Still, good to get back on the bike for an actual ride.

2015 week 23 in review

I’m working on a way to automate a bunch of this weekly review post – pulling in starred items from Fever, bookmarks saved to my Scuttle install, and maybe some faved tweets1. Not quite there yet, though. I’m hoping to use some time this week to work on crafting something that smushes this stuff together and generates Markdown code for the Read section below.


Lots of miscellaneous stuff – working on the EDU IT Plan, trying to get video hosting as a service on campus, and putting together the skeleton of the new EDU department portfolio website.

We’ve had mixed success with our new Davinci AIO 1.0 3D printer/scanner. It does some really nice prints and scans, but has been a bit flaky. We did print a full model of a heart, with hollow atria and aorta. Progress!

heart model



Finished the fire pit in our back yard, and had our first fire on the weekend. I could get used to that.

first fire

  1. maybe not – that could be pretty noisy []

2015 week 22 in review


Another super-busy week, with not much that would be interesting to anyone who isn’t me. But:

  • Worked with my fantastic team to start planning our presentations for D2L Fusion next month in Orlando.
  • Worked with my fantastic (and growing for the summer) team to plan the summer learning technology and spaces research agenda. I think we’ve got a really solid plan, and will be starting focus groups and interviews with instructors and students asap to find out what their needs are
  • Met with folks from the Taylor Institute building project, to find out how we can best fit the new Faculty Design Studio into the new digs. We’ve reserved one of the new project workrooms for it, and will need to tweak the furniture plan to accommodate things like giant 4K displays, scanners of various flavours, video cameras, etc…
  • The Provost team had a town hall gathering – lots of interesting things going on in the larger team (with props from the Vice Provost Teaching and Learning for the great conference we held recently). Also, the campus dining centre makes some great pizza.
  • Almost forgot! We finally unboxed our new 3D printer/scanner – an XYZPrinting DaVinci All In One 1.0. Very cool rig. We did a quick test print, then tried scanning something small. Then, we spent a few hours recalibrating the printing bed. Doh. We’ll figure that part out.

first scan


  • via Scott McLeod: Asking students to work in complete isolation – none of us work in isolation. why do we expect students to learn and be evaluated in isolation? Joe Bower, on Alberta’s K12 Provincial Achievement Tests.1
  • Phil Hill: Worth Considering: Students can have their own perspectives on edtech initiatives. You can’t say you’re a learner-centric institution if you don’t include the learners at the same table as instructors when planning major edtech initiatives. We do, and the student perspectives are consistently amazing. They come to the table as professionals, often more prepared for discussions than staff members are.
  • Brandon Grasley: How to become an edtech leader.  Some good points there. I’d argue it could be much simplified to:
    • Be an active member of the communities (there are many communities spread across a campus)
    • Care about what you’re doing
    • Care about what others are doing
    • Don’t try to run everything. The Community has to lead.
  • Michael Hart: Why Blogging Is Key to the Future of Higher Ed.  Go Gardner Campbell! Handing out bags of gold like they grow on trees or something.2
  • Rachel Woodward: University of Calgary researcher mixes comic books and academic thought. On Nick Sousanis, and his work on comics (and book Unflattening)
  • Jon Kruithof: What If… We Made the LMS Truly Modular? I’d love to be able to actually plug together the best of various smaller pieces. Best discussion platform. Best content management. Best feedback system. Best notifications. We spent a lot of time before our LMS RFP, trying to frame the whole modular-vs-monolithic argument. Monolithic won because it’s a) technically possible, b) possible to license, and c) supportable. For now.
  • Dan O’Reilly: Innovation key to new Taylor Institute building in Calgary. I had no idea the new building was such a feat of engineering. I mean, I know it’s an awesome design, and it’s going to be epic working in the space, but the level of design and craftsmanship going in at all levels is mindblowing.
  • David Weinberger: Reddit vs. CNN: My take. My take is not that Reddit or The Crowd is necessarily fantastic at this, but that CNN is mind-numbingly bad at it. They let clowns in front of the camera to ask stupid almost-questions because people will watch. And if they watch, advertisers will give CNN money. Advertising is making us stupid. Which segues perfectly into…
  • Audrey Watters: What Happened to Educational Television: The Story of ‘The Learning Channel’. What started as a noble experiment in using cutting edge technology have educational resources reach people in remote regions devolved into My Big Fat Boo Boo Little 600 Pound Gypsy Wedding Dress Commander marathons. Because the network had to chase advertising dollars. And advertising is making us stupid. Also, we desperately need to separate ownership of the networks from the content producers. Mass media is horribly vertically integrated, on top of being almost exclusively advertising-funded.
  • Jim Groom: Resignation. And The Reclaim Code. Frankly, I’m still kind of reeling from his announcement. After a decade of awesomeness at UMW, he’s walking away at the top of his game, to pivot and jump into Reclaim Hosting full time. That’s awesome, and takes some serious brass to make a jump like that.3 I know The Tim and Jim Show is going to continue to do amazing work, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. But, I’m reeling because Jim was basically my compass for “we can do innovative and unconventional things within higher ed” – a small shop transformed UMW, and cast ripples around the world. Edupunk. DS106. Domain of One’s Own. Some really great stuff came out of their little lab4 at a small college in basically-rural Virginia. And UMW will continue to do awesome things because the whole team is fantastic. I’m curious to see how Jim’s role shifts as he moves to The Periphery of Academia.


I’m working on putting a patio and firepit in the back yard. Making good progress, but I’ll be reasonably happy if I don’t see another brick or shovel or wheelbarrow for awhile. Almost time for s’mores…


  1. Sadly, The Boy is going to miss the last round of grade 6 standardized exams, because we’re dragging him to Orlando for 10 days while I go to 2 conferences. Life experiences trump standardized testing. Actually, not sadly. It’s already noticeable how his teachers are cramming in suddenly urgent topics as the exam dates approach. []
  2. only Gardner could get away with calling a blogging platform RAMPAGES!! []
  3. I jumped from Academia back in 1998, and spent a couple years building a Multimedia Learning Management System – on CD-ROM, even – before The DotCom Bubble Burst and I wound up back on campus. []
  4. in collaboration with a lot of people at a lot of other places, but UMW was definitely the epicenter of it all []

Why Is The University Still Here? | TechCrunch

New forms of online education like MOOCs lost both forms of primacy at once. By making them free, students had few incentives to not quit any time the course materials got boring or difficult. Without a physical presence, there weren’t the social peer effects of friends encouraging us to attend our classes on time, or shaming us about our poor performance.
These products often tried to emulate the feel of a course by forcing students to take them concurrently. The effect of that model, which Coursera particularly prioritized, appears on the surface to have been unsuccessful, while also reducing the convenience that should be the hallmark of online education.
Open education is absolutely needed – course materials should be distributed as widely as possible for as cheaply as possible. Knowledge deserves to be free. But that openness also makes it hard for these materials to gain primacy in the lives of their students when they are just sitting on the web like every other web page.

Source: Why Is The University Still Here? | TechCrunch