Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Blackboard Survival Tip #1a

Since I mentioned it yesterday, Liz Evans passed along a handy little utility for Mac OS X users who want to package zip archive content for use on Blackboard with the Document Unpackager building block. If you use the built-in zip facility in OS X, you'll get lots of invisible files (made visible) in your Blackboard course. To avoid a lot of manual cleanup, you should use a handy scripted droplet to make an archive file that has this invisible content stripped out. (You can do this other ways, but this is really easy for the Mac users.) Please see yesterday's post about the Document Unpackager building block if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Download the droplet for Mac OS X.
You can also retrieve a page of documentation prepared by Liz.

In short:
1) Name and organize your folder tree to match your desired hierarchy for content on Blackboard.
2) Drag-n-drop the folder onto the Packager script to make the "clean" zip file.
3) Load the content into a content area in Blackboard using the "Document Package" content type from the "Select" pull-down menu.

Read the rest of this post.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Blackboard Survival Tip #1

If you're an instructor who uses Blackboard to deliver large amounts of course material each term, ask your local Blackboard administrators if they have looked into the "Document Unpackager" Building Block (or something like it). If you are a Blackboard administrator, you'd better go look it up before you get asked about it. Thanks to the distance education group at Joliet Junior College for creating the "duh" tool that seems like it should have been there from the start.

From the catalog description:
The Document Unpackager allows you to upload a zip file containing folders and files to Blackboard. It is then unpackaged and course content items are created with the files attached. The directory structure within the zipfile is translated into folders within Blackboard. All content created by the Building Block is usable even if the Building Block is removed at a later time.

Blackboard can really turn off some power-users. One of the big complaints is its insistence on form-driven content creation processes. They're helpful for the less tech-savvy teachers, but a real drag once you're a seasoned pro. This is handy little tool, and a real winner to show to your faculty when you're doing that little "What's new in Blackboard" session.

Read the rest of this post.

Friday, November 26, 2004

For your Black Friday amusement

My brother and I are geeking out at the family homestead in the late late hours after Thanksgiving. Both of us have laptops out, sharing the wireless connection on the Airport hub, chatting about internet and computer junk while we surf. I just asked, "What makes the U2 iPod so special?" The answer, according to him, is that it comes with a $50 "gift certificate" toward the purchase of "The Complete U2" collection. Also, "It's black."

I already have my iPod, so this doesn't really concern me. With the holiday season upon us, and knowing that some of my faculty friends have asked me about iPods for their kids, let me tell you what I discovered on a quick trip to the Apple Store for Education.

The 20 GB iPod is about $269, and ships in 2-4 business days.
The 20 GB iPod U2 sells for $329, and ships in 1-3 weeks. Oh look, it also comes with a poster.

There's a mild irony here. After all, this is the Apple Store for education, so we presume that the audience is somewhat intelligent, or at least aspires to be.

To recap: for the extra $60, you get a $50 "gift certificate" that can only be redeemed toward the purchase of a $150 music anthology. Otherwise, you're out the $60, unless you consider the black and red design worth the premium. Oh, let's not forget that poster.

As my brother says: "We really need to talk to the people who go for this stuff. If we could figure out why they'd buy this, we could sell them pretty much anything we wanted to."

But Steve Jobs has already beaten us to that punch, hasn't he?

Read the rest of this post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Refining the iceberg model of I.T.

I gave a presentation to Tri-College (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore) library and I.T. staff two weeks ago titled "Puzzles within Puzzles: Managing Complexity in Information Technology." For that talk, I used a diagram that has appeared here before to launch into a couple of related topics. I've revised it to make it easier to read and to visually introduce the concept of the iceberg and the water line. Since I've been notified by a few people that they've used this diagram for other purposes, I'm posting the revised version here. I think the new one has more layers of information, but old and new are both available, depending on your preferences.

As with most models, this is an oversimplification of the real world environments it attempts to describe. Nevertheless, I think this can be useful to show some of the relationships between technology and higher education institutions that impact how I.T. organizations should weigh investments in web information systems.Keep in mind my assertion that the information age is still squarely in its industrial revolution. (We are just now figuring out the processes by which we will be able to mass-produce and distribute online data to meet a consumer demand for web content.) The diagram attempts to reveal observations about this change in the technology environment.
  1. Much of the growth in information technology for the last few years has been within the broad category of information management systems. These systems allow people with only minimal technical effort to generate and use massive databases of information over the web. (The product examples in bold are the ones used at Swarthmore.)
  2. These information management systems occupy a project space that is different from what higher education I.T. shops were engaged in for most of the web's first decade.
  3. Most technology systems beg for integration with other elements of the overall technology infrastructure. The pink arrows remind us that information must move horizontally and vertically across the layers shown. LDAP data about people not only populate scheduling and commerce systems, but they are also useful for defining permissions to alter content in a course management system or customize one's personal views on the campus portal. Images and documents in digital asset management systems are needed in course management systems. And portals? They need to integrate with everything. That's what they do.
  4. Interoperability is rarely provided by product vendors, which has made product integration a key aspect of project management. Home-grown enhancements not only require attention as they are being developed, but also every time upgrades are made in related systems.
  5. Interoperability generally yields a better user experience but adds significant resource demands on technology organizations. The question arises: "When it comes to elegance of the user experience, how good is good enough?"
  6. Enter the water line: The interest in technology projects has a lot to do with how aware various people and constituencies within your organization are of the technologies in question. Do they use them? Do they like them? How directly can they feel savings in time, ease of use, etc. that your solution delivers? Many senior leaders have a very high water line. How do you talk to them about investments that they may never use themselves and may not fully understand?
These are not the only questions one can come up with about the areas I've suggested. If this is, in fact, a useful model for thinking strategically about technology investments, it should hold up to all sorts of challenges and inquiries.

If you would like an hi-res version of the diagram, you can download a copy of the TIFF file.

Read the rest of this post.

Friday, November 19, 2004

ARTstor developments and debate continue

I'm not blessed with sufficient time (or factual certainty) to give a full-scale update on ARTstor news at the moment. After I've had a chance to do some fact-finding, I'll be sure to post more. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure this blog had links to the current information available relating to ARTstor.

In my previous ARTstor post, I mentioned plans under development at ARTstor for some increased interoperability, at least with respect to searching other collections from the ARTstor interface(s). I encourage anybody who is interested to review the slides from ARTstor CTO Bill Ying's October 26th presentation at the Digital Library Federation's (DLF) Fall meeting. The slides raise a lot of questions about details, but they serve well to outline the direction ARTstor is heading in.

Also, there's a vigorous discussion running on the Visual Resources Association's VRA-L listserv. I learned some things by participating in it. First, there are a lot of different perspectives that shape how people view ARTstor right now: size of institution, existing image collection resources, past experiences in communication with ARTstor, etc. Second, despite what I'd previously thought, I am hardly the most vocal or intense critic of ARTstor's strategy and interactions with the visual resources community.

Both technical and community relations responses are required to achieve greater success. I'm on the outskirts of this particular community, so I tend to focus on the technical side. But I think all the parties involved need better, more productive ways to build a constructive relationship for the future.

Read the rest of this post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

If only I'd known this about...

THE INTERNET, so many of my worst days of the last ten years might have been avoided. Or at least been easier to explain.

Read the rest of this post.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

New ARTstor plans are sounding better

In a presentation to the attendees at the National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education (NITLE) conference yesterday, ARTstor Executive Director James Schulman alluded to some new directions for the project that have me cautiously optimistic that we're going to get to a workable place.

My ARTstor critiques (rants?) about interoperability have been—by far— the most requested pages on this blog, so I assume that there's a critical mass out there who will want to know more information as it comes along.

There were two big news items for the visual resources community that I picked up from Schulman's presentation. First, ARTstor is working on a broader interoperability plan that involves expanded federated searching of other collections from the ARTstor interface. We'd already known from previous announcements that ARTstor was planning on exposing its meta-data to searching tools in other applications, which is good for researchers, but not a significant aide for the teaching and student study problems I've been focused on. The new indication is that they're working on API's that might allow other collection databases to expose their collections to a federated searching capability in ARTstor.

This is less than ideal: it will enforce the primacy of the ARTstor viewing tools and restrict choice for teachers about what tools they can use. I suspect that if the viewer stays good enough, we might have to grant ARTstor this point. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here. As Schulman suggested in his presentation, we can't let the great be the enemy of the good. It could be worse, after all. Without ARTstor we might soon all lose our choice anyway, but have Microsoft in the driver's seat instead.

The other big piece of news, though, was the Schulman described the inclusion of collection management tools into ARTstor as essentially "inevitible." If they're now developing a long-term strategy of building a soup-to-nuts (collection-buiding-to-classroom-display) application, the need for interoperability decreases for a good many institutions. Then your interoperability becomes a bigger strategy for re-using your public archives and legacy image systems.

The devil is in the details, of course, and we're still in the conceptual stages. Nevertheless, I came away from the meeting more optimistic that an acceptable course is being navigated. As I get more information, I'll pass it along here (and other places). If anybody else out there learns an interesting tidbit, please don't assume I already know it.

Related information

Read the rest of this post.