Announcements in our Student Portal

When MyPCC was first introduced at Portland Community College, I would grab emails that came out to staff to post in our new student portal. The typical practice back then was for staff to send emails out to all other staff about something pertinent to students. Of course these messages were never seen by their true target. Hopefully some staff shared these with students in some way — perhaps posting on a wall or announcing something in class.

The days of me searching for news to post faded quickly. The college soon learned that students do indeed pay attention to announcements posted in the student portal (MyPCC). How did we know this? At the time we didn’t have any real statistics but we did have stories.

A faculty member thanked me for posting a poetry reading. He was very thankful because the reading had more than 70 students attend. This was a very impressive turn out.

We would also regularly get staff members posting an opportunity for students. For example, a job posting. Soon after we’d receive a request to remove the announcement due to the large response.

With success came the flood. I no longer had to search for announcements, everyone wanted one. Now we had to structure the communication. We did (that is a separate story), and while not perfect, our practices and governance are still in place.

We also now have better statistics on views of our announcements. Here are total views for a recent set of announcements:

  • 7,500 views: Grades Available Tues. 3/26
  • 12,000 views: Update on police investigation in the news
  • 6,500 views: Course evaluations online until 3/17
  • 2,500 views: Message from the President: Budget forums set
  • 5,900 views: Desire2Learn Outage and Storage Issues – 1/29/13 (only up for 2 full days)
  • 1,500 views: Weather Alert: All classes and events cancelled until noon today (only up 1 day and available prominently elsewhere on the PCC website)

Here is what a typical month looks like showing pageviews which equate to a view of an announcement:

Graphic showing views of announcement in MyPCC, the Portland Community College student portal, with daily totals ranging from 1,000 to 7,000

Our audience is aware and paying attention to what we say. While MyPCC isn’t the only way we reach our students it is a primary channel.

Oaxaca Team Building Fun

Takeoff, a group launch of balloonsThe college sent me to Oaxaca to learn about the culture and bring this back to Portland. Rather than buy small gifts for my work team, I shared a bit of Oaxaca in the form of drink, food and fun. This afternoon we enjoyed watermelon flavored water, conchas (a Mexican sweet bread), and fun with globos.

Globos is Spanish for balloons. At the Zócalo in Oaxaca there are globos vendors selling all kinds of balloons but for our activity the long tubular balloons were the stars. I’ve been told two different Spanish names for these toys: globos salchicha and globos cohete. While they may look sausage-like, for our purposes — and the way the kids used them in the Zócalo — globos cohete (or rocket balloons) seems more fitting.

I’ll be sharing more stories with the group but this bit of culture made for a fun team building break this afternoon.

Google Ngram Viewer

The Transfer of GoogleLike the rest of the world I’ve been playing around with Google’s Book Ngram Viewer. I can’t say I found anything truly unique in my playtime searching with Ngram that others haven’t already reported, but I was able to find a nice short story while searching for “google.”

In this case Google is the nickname given to an infant by a caring burglar in “The Transfer of Google” by E. J. Rath from Everybody’s Magazine in the January 1908 edition. Google is found home alone one evening by a nurturing burglar. The relationship between these two needy souls has each fulfilling a need in the other’s life. What makes one feel better than to be cared for by a loving person (regardless of their status) or to care for someone in need? (Okay, maybe I read too much into the story but it is cute and worth a few minutes of your time to read.)

Much like the burglar searching for treasures, our searches for information have their own Google. Sometimes too much time can be spent and I too can end up feeling like our besieged burglar, knowing I need to move on or, as the burglar states,

Well, I can’t waste no more time with Google.

But you just can’t let them go.

Twitter Use and KFC

Interesting conversation here on demographics of Twitter users. Everyone had their favorite “study” to reference.

One question was use of Twitter amongst the younger crowd. There are many new reports on an upswing in use over just a year ago. This contrasts the theory that Twitter is a place for older West Coast programming types.

KFC apparently agrees that usage is up amongst college age students. They are offering a healthy scholarship to one deserving tweeting student.

The contest is going well if #KFCScholar hashtag usage is a valid indicator. Alas, some are using the opportunity to bash KFC and others are playing with them by running another competition.

I choose to stay publicly neutral on the KFC front, but it looks like everyone is having fun. We’ll see if this healthy offering of student support gives KFC warm hearts or heartburn.

In the end it will be nice to know a deserving student is getting much needed support.

Facebook Allows Removal of Page Creator

It appears that you can now remove any admin, even the creator, from Facebook pages. We were running into an issue with this but it seems that in the last few days this restriction disappeared and any admin could be removed.
I’m curious if some accounts saw this change previously. Strangely I’m not finding a lot of info on the release of this change.

Facebook appears to now allow the removal of any admin, even the creator, from Facebook Pages. Every admin now has a “Remove Admin” link below their name.

In the last few days this creator conundrum seems to have disappeared. I’m curious if some accounts saw this change previously or if this is newly available for all pages.

Based on the large number of ongoing discussions on this topic, there will be many people happy to see this Facebook update.

Accepting Reality: Terms of Service Agreements

TeamSnap Term of Service Agreement
TeamSnap Term of Service Agreement

Refreshing to see a site that accepts the reality that few, if any, users will ever read the lengthy terms of service. TeamSnap makes this clear if you read the small text below the Create New Team button.

Even though I probably won’t read them, by clicking this button I agree to the TeamSnap Terms of Service anyway.

They maintain this realistic viewpoint and casual tone in the TeamSnap privacy policy when referring to their promise not to share information with anyone.

The only exception to this might be if we’re required to share your information with law enforcement. Or maybe if there was some cataclysmic global event like an asteroid strike and we thought it might help. But short of that, your information is 100% confidential. In fact, we’d be inclined to lay down our lives to protect your information (or at least just lay down, like for a nap).

It is easy to be casual and fun when you have a product that serves its purpose well. In managing a soccer team, TeamSnap has proven to be simple to use and effective. Apparently there are many types of groups using the TeamSnap service beyond sports teams. Alas, no rock-paper-scissors teams yet.

SunGardHE Summit 2009: Luminis 5 Architecture

This session presented the technical architecture and demonstrations for Luminis 5. In my eyes Luminis 5 is a product architected so differently from Luminis 4 that it almost represents a new product. Asked about release dates, the product technical architect deferred to the product manager who relayed the planned beta at the end of 2009 without a firm general release date in 2010.

The architecture is very framework based with all the Java and other keywords thrown in. The development environment is more agile with regular builds and ongoing unit and performance testing. Keywords and architectural strategies:

  • Spring Framework
  • Hibernate object relationship management
  • Decoupled presentation objects to permit support for a variety of presentation layers (e.g., Liferay portal, Oracle portal, uPortal)
  • Terracotta cluster management
  • CAS
  • Separate administration node to remove administrative load from user facing nodes
  • No email and calendar delivered with Luminis 5
  • OpenLDAP
  • Apache JackRabbit CMS for portal content management
  • Apache CXF (a standards-based messaging tool) — may not keep as Spring could provide this functionality
  • Flex for some channel content (primarily administrative channels, Flex XML not exposed)
  • Clustering taken care of by baseline Luminis 5, no longer our responsibility. Probably still want load balancer but Luminis 5 may mean it need not support SSL termination or sticky sessions as sessions will persist across notes.
  • Inter-portlet communication (action in one channel results in update in another channel)
  • IDM support (UDC supported solutions)
  • Fine-grained Access Controls rewritten with Flex interface
  • CPIP deprecated (although GCF and Secret Store still use non-exposed CPIP libraries migrated into GCF)

With the new Luminis 5 framework and TerraCotta cluster management, configman can be deprecated and settings modifications can be pushed to all portal notes without the need for a restart. The demo showed live changes in the admin node equivalent to a configman setting that immediately took affect in the user nodes.

The development team is performing regular performance testing to watch for performance trends as Luminis 5 evolves.

Discussing future migrations to Luminis 5, there was discussion of an ETL (Extract, Translate, Load) based migration model. This would include extracts to XML, translation and then load to the new systems. This methodology would be a vast improvement over the migration model clients are still suffering when going from Luminis III to Luminis 4.

Group and Course Tools are replaced by Community. Accessing a My Communities tab presents a series of channels making up a community. Selecting a group in a separate channel updates a collection of other channels such as community photos, music and other content. Asked about migrating Luminis 4 groups the answer came back that “we haven’t, but we can.”

SunGardHE Summit 2009: Luminis Opening Session

Joshua presented the Luminis opening session which was a high-level overview of why to use Luminis and where it is headed. He started by highlighting Luminis use at a few colleges to share the possibilities of implementing portal technology at an institution. The key idea I took from this was a possible new analytic to measure. One school measures the percent of students loggin into their portal after the students receive their admissions info (which includes instructions to log in for the first time). This is a measurement that I think would be valuable for us as well. Not only if they log in after being given instructions, but how long before they do. Is it immediate, a week later, longer?

He also shared the product roadmap which contained no surprises. The one note contrary to the published product roadmap was a note that we may see some Luminis 5 components prior to the planned release date. This is in alignment with the promise CEO Ron Lang made in his address regarding getting functionality to customers sooner. It will be interesting to see how this plays out given the vast differences between Luminis 4 and 5.

In this opening session we didn’t see many details but here are some random notes.

  • Post Luminis 4.2 release supporting Red Hat Linux AS 4.* and Oracle 11G
  • Luminis 5
    • Banner channels rewritten
    • Collaboration and community functionality will see academic and non-academic environments
    • Acceleration of functionality time to market
    • Introduction of AJAX and FLEX interfaces

After the session I went and found the Luminis Developers’ Lounge. It is nice to see that we have a true room again after the fabricated room of last year.

In a discussion with the Luminis Technical Architect we learned more details of Luminis 5 which sound promising. One concern though is that it will be such a new product that I worry about out of the box stability and new growing pains. They are obviously working now in a new development environment that should result in better product releases than we’ve seen in the past.

Confirmation received that email and calendar will no longer be delivered as part of Luminis. Existing Sun licenses will be migrated to Sun directly. Email and calendar integration will be expanded to include Sun, Microsoft, Google and — later — Zimbra.

The portal framework is obviously focused on Liferay but they believe support will be available for other frameworks (e.g., Oracle Portal, uPortal) based upon their new architecture. Liferay though is the primary Luminis 5 target.

More technical info to come in the Luminis 5 Architecture session.

SunGardHE Summit 2009: Opening Session

In a much more subdued opening than recent years SunGardHE Summit kicked off at noon Sunday. With respect to the current economic situation we were not exposed to the glitzy, overdone opening of Las Vegas two years ago or the musically rocking start in Anaheim last year.

The showmanship this year was left to Ron Lang, the “high energy” new CEO of SunGardHE. This “student” came out on skateboard with sunglasses and backpack. His speech set the tone we’ve been hearing from our SunGardHE contacts regarding a streamlined company with services focused on the customer. They will consolidate resources such as our account reps and services contacts so we always know who to contact. From what we’ve seen this consolidation is still a work in progress.

Lang also spoke of products moving from massive singular releases to incremental releases that promise to get tools into customer’s hands sooner. Of course I’m curious how that will play out in the vastly re-architected Luminis 5.

The highlight, of course, was the keynote speaker, Maya Angelou. She received a standing ovation as she was escorted to the stage and the awaiting table and chair. The focus of her talk to us was the rainbow in the clouds we can be in the lives of those we touch. She highlighted the rainbows she has been blessed by in her life with stories, readings and song. She spoke with a strength that contrasted the frailty coming with age.

Being a rainbow in the clouds expresses the impact she has had on all of us. A wonderful start for the conference.