Don't call me WebCT!

I received an email (as did all WebCT administrators and support personnel) from Michael Chasen, the CEO of Blackboard.

It now appears that WebCT has a much shorter lifespan than one might have originally thought -- at least as a name.

In the next release, you will see new names for the WebCT products. As part of our commitment to fostering a greater shared community of practice, Campus Edition and Vista will become part of the Blackboard Academic Suite line-up. The new product names will be:

The Blackboard Learning SystemTM - Vista Enterprise License
The Blackboard Learning SystemTM - CE Enterprise Ltd License (formerly the Institution License)
The Blackboard Learning SystemTM - CE Basic License (formerly the Focus License)

They show that these name changes will come effective with future Application Pack upgrades...this would mean we will be running Blackboard Campus Edition 6 or BbCE6.

...stay tuned...

This space for rent?

In a New York Times article, reporter David Joachim wrote that the CBS network has arranged to have advertising printed for their fall season onto 35 million eggs. Each egg will have the trademark CBS logo, the name of an upcoming fall season show, and a silly egg-related pun.

The eggs are created by EggFusion, who have special technology to engrave the markings onto the eggs instead of using inks. Mr. Joachim also noted that the ability lies to track eggs well enough in their delivery to stores that they can target ads to specific zip codes.

You will need a [free] subscription to to read the article in its entirety, or you can read a shorter version of the story from CBS News.

Being in central NH, I haven't seen these, nor do I expect to anytime soon, but this idea has legs and will only become more popular and ubiquitous with your everyday egg purchase...I can't wait until they start printing coupons on them...

AP Photo (click to enlarge)

ads, advertising, cbs, eggfusion, eggs, new york times

WebCT Application Packs: Boiling Frogs?

One of my colleagues attended the 2006 IMPACT conference, the annual WebCT users meeting in Chicago. He posted a great outline of the opening keynote that Blackboard Chairman Matthew Pittinsky and CEO Michael Chasen gave.

While there were many points made, the one that I think stuck with me the most was the following

...As a side note, they currently plan two means by which clients will be able to migrate to the ultimate end product. One is the gradual conversion over time through the use of Application Packs which will evolve and reshape the existing system. The other option is to wait a take a single leap into the new system...

This, if they can pull it off, is a very clever move. Many WebCT institutions will be taking the Blackboard-WebCT buyout as an opportunity to investigate other LMS solutions -- namely ones of the open-source variety. It now sounds like blindly upgrading through the Application Packs will ultimately transform their LMS environment into something very close to the future BlackCT product -- making it more difficult to leap to an open-source solution (or even consider one).

I haven't seen yet if the Application Packs will be mandatory upgrades or if they will be in parallel with the others (i.e., Service Packs). Certainly I would hope the latter. We may ultimately choose to go down this road, but I would like to make that choice, thank you very much.

If you are confused by the boiling frogs remark, I was surprised (well, not really) to find a reference on wikipedia.

webct, blackboard, impact, boiling frogs

WebCT CE 6 and the Yahoo Toolbar (Access problems)

WebCT Campus Edition 6 does not behave very well when the browser you are using has a popup blocker running. Most all browsers today have a popup blocker feature, and you can have a popup blocker installed on your machine AND use WebCT CE 6, but it really seems to be the blockers that come with the 'toolbars' that cause the largest problems.

What kind of problems? Usually they are the kind of problems where at the moment they are trying to do something that requires the popup (like opening the File Browser or creating a message for discussion/email), they will receive a message like 'you have no access or permissions' when all reason suggests that they should.

Toolbars, for those who do not know, are those extra rows of buttons and pictures you may find near (usually directly below) the Address bar in you browser (see example below). There are many of them, but the most popular from my experience appear to by those distributed by Google and Yahoo. For most of you, especially those who have the Yahoo toolbar, you will have absolutely no recollection as to how that 'got there.' Oftentimes it piggybacks on another application or update you DID intend to install.


The most noteworthy offender is Macromedia (or is it Adobe) Flash Player. It is a free download that has [relatively] frequent updates. Each update, if you are not careful, will install the toolbar. Of course if you do not have it already, then you do not receive a second. However, if you have deleted the toolbar program (easy to do), the next update can again put it back.

I use -- and enjoy having -- the Google toolbar. However, the popup blockers always start 'on.' I turn them off, and leave the Internet Explorer one on. I then add the WebCT site (actually I add '*' where the institution is yours) as a trusted site.

browsers, webct, campus edition 6, toolbars, popup blockers

Welcome to ApEx, rookie!

ApEx is short for Oracle Application Express . It originally cut its teeth as HTML-DB (note the current logo still possesses the old monicker) -- and it is up to me to learn it. ApEx logo?

So what you [hopefully] will witness over the coming weeks and months is an account of my experiences -- both good and bad (hopefully more of the former).

So why is that so special?
Because I really have no DBA experience, and do not have much more than a basic understanding of databases, SQL, and DB philosophy. Since we implemented WebCT Campus Edition (CE) 6, I have been able to do some tinkering on the database to get a feel for how they work.

So why me?
If that ain't the $64,000 question...
Seriously, I am not wihtout my abilities, and though we have two very talented Oracle trained DBAs, if we as an MIS team put anything more on their shoulders, their respective floors would collapse and, well, at least their A/C problems would be solved.

I have a knack for learning quickly and I have a great team to help me when I get stuck. (You've been warned!!!)

oracle, application express, ApEx, HTML-DB

So why are you writing?
While ApEx is truly designed to help you create secure web-based databases without knowing too much about the databases themselves, I imagine many who have mastered it have that knowledge. The documentation on Oracle's web site is great and I know will help, but I will likely still have very basic questions that others may clearly have the answers for. Perhaps the next yokel who comes around starting from scratch will be able to learn a little from my work.

Look out for future posts!

WebCT: The 6 day work week (Part II)

My original posting on this topic has received a lot of attention from many in our ITS department, which has then encouraged more refinement on two fronts.

1) Work a little more indepth with the WebCT login information (more than just April), and
2) Perform similar studies with other Plymouth State University online resources.

I could not do much to accompish #1, as our reports that achive login numbers only extended about a week before April, and our 'standard' usage does not apply after Finals week of the Spring Term -- about three weeks after April -- so I was only able to add about a month to the month I already had. However a deeper study into each day does provid more insight.

For #2, I collaborated with Zach, our portal administrator, to perform an analysis on the most similar statistic he had -- number of logins in a given hour (remember, the WebCT metric is number of people logged in every ten minutes.) Though the statistics themselves were not identical, they do reflect the same thing, overall use and activity. Actually, these would be the same if you assume that all WebCT sessions last less than an hour, and no one enters WebCT more than once per portal login...its clearly a stretch, but also an indicator that they are similar.

Results (each graph has two lines per day...potal logins and WebCT active sessions).

Overall Trends

Not surprising (though comforting to verify), the usage trend between WebCT and our portal (MyPlymouth) were vary similar, as can be seen from the graph. Each day has a level of significant inactivity from 2:00-3:00AM hour until 6:00AM. After that, activity increases for the day time and stays active for the remainder of the day -- including well into the evening. Portal logins are quite a bit higher in number (these graph are plotted on two vertical axes), and even though the measurements are not the same, this is to be expected as the portal itself serves many more purposes. WebCT trends - each day
All 7 days

Weekdays vs. Weeekends

Clearly, as a traditional academic institution, one would expect that usage numbers are higher during the week, and these to hold true. Remembering that from 2:00-6:00AM are identical regardles of day, what's noteable here between the weekdays and the weekends is how rapidly activity increases immediately after 6:00AM. Also, note another interesting trend...the after dinner check-in. Each day (even on Friday), there is a peak of activity in the evenings after a clear dip during dinnertime. This appears to me more pronounced in WebCT usage, suggesting a higher percentage of WebCT use in the portal at that time.

Saturday vs. Sunday

This might be the most useful comparison. When a picture says a thousand words, then I don't have to type as much. Needless to say, this graph is highly responsible to a potential shift in our ITS weekly downtime window to Saturday. Also, again like the after dinner check-in during the week, the WeCT use is at a higher level with respect ot other times during Sunday evenings. Saturday-Sunday usage
Sat(blk) & Sun(red)

Friday vs. Sunday

This might be the most insteresting comparison, and the one the ultimately spawned this study. My original argument was that the additional activity on Sunday meant that WebCT worked a six day work week. In most repsects, this is still true, but you could also make the argument that the online academic week begins at noon on Sunday, and ends at noon Friday -- the new five day week? Fridays and Sundays
Fri(prpl) & Sun(red)

The Hawaiian Punch Board Game

Among the many weekends that I found myself playing with the toys and games in my grandma's house, one of my (and my brother's) favorites was a game called "The Hawaiian Punch" board Game. While this game lacks the cache of more traditional board games, I can assure you that to a nine-year old, this game rocked. I recently found one in a collectibles shop in West-Leb.

Hawaiian Punch Board Game
Sweet Box Art!

The game is a classic (© 1978), and would easily rank in a top five of my favorite childhood board games. (Off hand, and in no particular order, Careers, Life, Mad Magazine, and Outburst also come to mind.)

To play, you need a gamepiece. Enter the first great nuance...your gamepiece is a pineapple molded from clay! (The mold itself is shaped like a can of HP). The movement of the game is straight-forward...spin the wheel and move accordingly...that is, until you land on a space with a color that matches your opponent.
Hawaiian Punch Board Game Pieces
Gamepiece, Mold, and 'Punchy'

Enter the second great nuance...the payback. In Monopoly, when you land on someone else's space, you pay with your money. In HP, you pay with your clay. Every player has a masher shaped like Punchy, the HP mascot. Said opponent gets one free whack at your poor clay pineapple to smash it into as flat and nasty a piece as possible. Pure violence. The catch? You get one shot. Miss, and too bad -- wait till next time. Interestingly enough, that's the only penalty until we reach the third great nuance...size check.

There are spaces scattered on the board called size check. No matter how flat and nasty your gamepiece is, you can use it unless you land on one of these spaces. If your squahed remnants of a pineapple fail to fit wholly within the space, you have to reform and lose a good number of spaces.

Reach the end and win, but this game is not about winning, its about the journey...

Hawaiian Punch Board Game Size Check
'experienced' gamepiece &
Size Check

On one final note, I completely forgot how awesome the box and board art was with this game. Just look at the style used in this large board section.

...old school fun. Thanks, Grandma.

Hawaiian Punch Board Game Art

Hawaiian Punch, Hawaiin Punch board game, board games, games, punchy

Tracking Flights in 3D with Google Earth

I often like to track flights of friends. I'm a map freak, and just think its cool that you can get quasi-realtime flight information. Also being a map freak, I also love Google Earth. Now, with the help of you can track your flights in 3D with Google Earth.

There are two things I have noticed as being inconvenient about this service
1) It is very difficult to use this service to find a random active flight. You really should know flight information before you continue to fboweb.
2) The list of flight carriers is large and includes company names that need to be used instead of their parent companies. (For example, Trans World Express and Trans World Air both are listed and you need to know which one to choose even if the carrier mentions the other).

Tracking in 3D

  1. Just install Google Earth on your local computer
  2. Point your browser at
  3. I have found that the flight track form is the way to start, but do not enter anything will not work.
  4. Click the Track button
  5. On the page that follows, click the 'airline' radio button
  6. Complete the form by picking the carrier and typing the flight number (optional, but recommended to save copious time)
  7. When the result hits, click the Track in 3D button. Google Earth opens on its own, but you may need to do some navigation.

WebCT: The 6 day work week

Since our WebCT upgrade to Campus Edition 6, I have been looking for ways to learn more about our campus' usage of the software. Without even diving into the deep end, I have found something quite interesting when observing one of the simplest statistics -- session activity.

Using the new WebCT CE6 feature -- Who's Online -- the administrator can get the number of how many users in the institution are logged into WebCT at any given time. Upon tracking this number, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

  • WebCT works 6 days a week (Sunday - Friday)
  • Sundays are at just just as important as Fridays
To look at the first point, take a look at this first picture. It shows quite easily that the activity during an average Sunday is significant, and comparable to the other weekdays, though still a little lighter than Monday through Thursday. April 06 Session Counts
Click image for better view

But notice how Sundays and Fridays looked in April. The following graphs show the daily activity for each of the Sundays and Fridays in April 2006. The left ends of the graphs represent 12:00AM, and the right ends represent 11:59PM, as each line denotes one day's activity from beginning to end.

April 06 Fridays April 06 Sundays
Click above images to enlarge

Note how Fridays get off to a quick start, but by mid-afternoon, session activity falls off much faster than on other weekdays. By comparison, Sundays get off to a slower start, but by 9:00 PM, WebCT is about as active as any other time of the week -- and just as active (if not more) as any Friday.

Does this mean that Sundays are more important than Fridays? I think you can make a strong case. At the very least it's similar. More may be made of this, but for now, let this serve as 'food for thought' as we begin to investigate the possibility of expanding our WebCT support into the library as part of our new learning commons. Sundays should not be ignored!