Thursday, July 11, 2013

A 360TB disc that holds data for more than 1 million years?

A 360TB disc that holds data for more than 1 million years? | Crave - CNET
A very interesting development for storing massive amounts of data. Very long term preservation is problematic: will the human or non-human being who discovers it a million years from now have the device to read this data?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Power to the user!

As demand for the use of technology at SPH continues to grow, we're finding it increasingly difficult to meet 100% of that demand. This is why we're making a deliberate effort to put powerful yet easy to use tools in the hands of our customers - you - so that you do not have to be dependent on the availability of SPH staff.
Examples include: high-definition videoconferencing systems, which are almost as easy to use as a telephone; a lecture capture system (Camtasia Relay) that requires pressing an on-screen button at the beginning and end of a recording, with all the rest happening auto-magically in the background; small, digital, HD cameras (Flipcam-style), available for checkout, as a response to the growing number of requests for recording meetings, interviews, class presentations, etc. We hope to continue and expand that trend by adding new tools as they become available.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SPOCs - the next big thing?

While the MOOC hoopla has yet to abate, a new term has been coined: Small Private Online Courses, or SPOCs. Well, if that is the "next big thing", I have fantastic news for you: SPH has been far ahead in implementing and perfecting SPOCs - we've been doing this for years. While our online courses are not always small (some reaching 40 students), they are tiny compared to the tens of thousands of students some of the MOOCs are attracting. However, they offer students much more attention from faculty and GSIs (with some students reporting getting more individualized attention in online courses than in residential ones), they generate tuition for the School, and they are for credit. Perhaps it is time for us to toot our horn a bit and tell the rest of the world that they are just catching up to us? :-)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Better way to videoconference

SPH is part of a pilot trying out a very innovative service called BlueJeans. This service lives in the "cloud" so no investment in hardware or software is required - only paying the subscription fee. It is very simple to use and allows connecting multiple parties in a videoconferencing session, regardless (well, almost) of the devices they are using. One party in the session may be using a room-based videoconferencing system (e.g. Lifesize, Tandberg, Polycom), while others may be connecting via Skype, Google Talk, from phones, or simply via a web browser. Up to 20 connections can be accommodated that way, although BlueJeans uses the public Internet, so audio and video quality will deteriorate, the more connections there are.
It is very simple to use, requiring that a session be setup by the administrator, and participants will receive easy-to-use instructions on connecting to the session. There is no cost associated with this.
The trial period will end on April 30, after which we hope we will become party to the campus-wide license of this very useful service.
If you are interested in trying it out, contact or

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reusable Learning Object (RLO)

The Informatics team at SPH has been actively supporting a new initiative, aimed at developing Reusable Learning Objects (RLO). Those self-contained instructional modules consist of three parts:
  1. Introduction
  2. Content (lecture)
  3. Assessment
RLO's are short (15-20 minutes) and based in specific APHA competencies that the students are expected to master. See this example.
As part of a broader initiative to nurture instructional innovation at SPH, we are currently helping a handful of SPH faculty develop these multimedia objects. While this initially means additional work, and imposition of certain instructional rigor, we believe that it will result in significant time savings in the future ("reusable" is the keyword here), as well as in more effective and focused teaching.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Qualtrics migration this summer

Since its introduction at SPH three years ago (or was it four?), the survey-making tool Qualtrics has proved quite popular at our School, with 289 user accounts in the SPH "brand" as of today. The license for this tools has been renewed every year, with some degree of uncertainty as to its future at UM, but it appears now that it is here to stay. Therefore, in an effort to fully integrate it into the UM "IT ecosystem", and make it even easier to use, we will be migrating this summer to a single sign-on. This means that you will no longer need a separate user name and password for Qualtrics, but will be able to use your UM uniqname and password to log in. This "migration" is expected to be really easy and painless for people with Qualtrics accounts. Details and instructions will be coming in May.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

MOOCs: hype over substance

It is very difficult to avoid exposure to the hype surrounding MOOCs. Whenever it pops up into my field of vision (at least once a day now), I yawn. I've been there before. A couple of decades ago it was the educational programming on interactive CD-ROMs that was supposed to revolutionize education and make teachers obsolete. Who needs teachers when disks filled with slick multimedia would lead a learner through the material at an individualized pace and path, and conduct assessments? 
A decade later major universities and publishing houses were racing (to great fanfare) to build "virtual campuses" and provide online education to the masses of eager but remote students. Those campuses quietly folded a few years later.
Then came the super-hyped Second Life and virtual 3D worlds. Again, some universities were building entire campuses in that new medium, and some early adopters were holding classes. The media declared "brick and mortar" campuses on the way out.
In between there was MIT's Open Courseware, which also created a media feeding frenzy and was expected to change education. In short, examples abound.
I'm waiting for this most recent hype to reach the "Peak of Inflated Expectations", which it hasn't yet, and then slide quietly into the "Trough of Disillusionment" (per Gartner's well known "hype cycle").
Don't get me wrong: technology changes the way education is delivered and consumed, but it changes it in evolutionary and incremental, rather than disruptive manner. Distance learning and "teaching factories" like the MOOCs will find a permanent place in the higher education landscape, but they will not completely change education, as some expect. 
Here at the University of Michigan we had another record enrollment of undergraduate students this year - so "brick-and-mortar" is not exactly in death throes. At the School of Public Health, where I work, we have embraced distance learning years ago, but with a model very different from MOOCs: relatively small (up to 50 students), "high-touch" online classes, where the students get as much (or more) individualized attention from instructors as their peers in residential courses. 
I'm glad that MOOCs exist, because it's good that we experiment and learn from that experimentation, but I'm extremely skeptical of them being a "game changer" and re-shaping higher education. 
For one thing, nothing is really "free". These massive courses may be free to consume (now), but they are not free to produce. The professor and the support staff still have to get paid. Do we expect that American students will continue to go heavily into debt in order to subsidize "free" education for the rest of the world? Or will we go with a Google model and pay for these courses with advertisements? 
There are universities which have been in continuous operation for 800 years, surviving various technological and social revolutions, including the Industrial Revolution, and even the Bolshevik revolution.. They adapted and will continue to do so, long after the CD-ROMs, and 3D virtual worlds, and MOOCs will have been declared fads and we all move on to another hype du jour.