Archive for January, 2010

Student attendance metering: present signin.xls and perspectives


We are working on replacing the old attendance meter which is still down:

As you will remember, we have been recording attendance last term and made this data available to you on our new  network share: H:\llc\people\Sign_In_Sheet.xls. To summarize your students attendance, you can filter this data, using standard excel features.


New this term: To help you with this, we added an hard-coded MS-Excel auto-filter (see down-arrows in column headers): filter by course language, then number, then teacher, then the student in question , to summarize during assessment.


We expanded the data validation, so that we get the computer help us processing the data (sort, filter, search…).


Per your request, we added the course number, section and teacher columns to the sign-in sheet (to be manually updated at every term start – a poor man’s integration into the campus information system which had better not be done even by central services, but rather only purchased by them):

Individual teachers can use the built-in filters to drill down to their classes/students for advising/grading.

Individual student can be tracked, together with their time spent in the LLC:

Students enter in the green columns, mostly having to access only built-in shortcuts and selection boxes, while the other columns get updated completely automatically.

To enable students inputting their information directly, we have hacked together a dual screen system in the LLC entrance area. 


We will also use this dual screen system for improving other LLC services, by hooking  into central services. We will ask students with less than clear requests (“My professor wants me to do my homework here, where is it?”) to load their syllabus from blackboard and share their screen with the lab assistant, to assist with (not solve: that would need library resources, meaning professional library catalogue, library professional staff and library professional network and procedures) locating movies and other assigned learning materials.


For the attendance meter, this means: students can enter this information themselves; lab assistants still supervise, and collect the student ID to double check and prevent the cheating that I was approached about to fix with the prior system: signing in for friends, especially with passwords separate from university-wide passwords which there is no reason to keep secret.


Please note that this home-brew spreadsheet-based system is still severely limited in its functionality.


We could POSSIBLY (this would need setup and coordination with various central offices) automate this more, given time for the initial investment.


I have experimented with hooking into the swipe card system. However, students would have to be asked to swipe out also. For other reporting purposes, I have already managed to retrieve this data in this form:


I have experimented with recording log-in (but no log-off) data on the LLC computers (another hack) in a centrally available spreadsheet, in this format:

I have inquired about using Microsoft’s SCCM (a generic software management application not meant for monitoring learning or language learning): We could gather statistics on two LLC-specific programs: the SANAKO media player and the webbrowser.exe (both, however, are likely, but not required to be used for language learning if a student prefers to do the learning in other applications). Neither would record actual files being opened.

All of these approaches, while preventing the most blatant cheating, still would not record actual language learning activity. They do not prevent students from spending their time in the LLC doing unrelated activities (like browsing sports news or playing online games)
while they can do their assigned Blackboard and Quia homework from the convenience of their residence.

It is the professional systems that have been programmed with the resources from of revenue of literally thousands of campus-wide installations that can record these language learning activities.

The Sanako language lab software contains a webbrowser.exe which can not only be remote controlled by the teacher, but also be configured to allow only browsing certain (partial) urls or disallow browsing certain urls. it is also possible to apply different policies in different situations. this facility, while part of the package your purchased with the lab, has not been set up as of yet.


It would require developing policies and implementing them. E.g. one could during non-class use of the LLC only allow browsing publisher websites, including, and  and (a radical approach).


One could also explicitly preventing certain websites, like Facebook (this would be more effective during face-to-face session in the LLC).

Then there are the facilities within your textbook websites (Quia) and within your course management (Blackboard, keywords for free tools being: Course Statistics, Statistics Tracking with activity_accumulator, Performance Dashboard, Early Warning System Rules, Adaptive Release rules for content, project ASTRO which is an acronym for Advanced System Tracking and Reporting Online), or as an add-on (Provost Pulse).

With the impetus being on ubiquity these days, it will have to be seen whether there are tools for Blackboard or Quia that can help enforcing that students use specific computers (maybe via IP address of computer?).

Beyond these solutions, there is an entire research area for, and software market revolving around, student retention management which also covers attendance tracking. Notable players include Hobsons EMT® Retain and Starfish Early-alert (which is run by a former Blackboard VP and can be integrated with Blackboard student data system as a building block).


I suggest we invest our limited local resources into finding better ways to integrate and train on these existing central facilities that provide information on learning (which we then can use to refine our teaching). Given current circumstances, I would recommend exploring the tracking systems in Quia and Blackboard (not restricted to being used on the LLC computers) and tracking learning outcomes (like student language recordings which the LLC can help with – not as much with the digital recording technology which is being commoditized, but rather with providing a language learning shared/collaborative/meeintg space).


Video Library: Scheduling for Reserve Desk and Viewings

Lab staff instruction for editing the video-reserves spreadsheet H:\LLC\scheduling\video-reserves&mh441b-showing\video-reserves.xls:

  1. Lab supervisors build the spreadsheet for the reserve desk and viewing: video-reserves-reservedonthisday-unfold-schedule-viewing.wmv, video-reserves-viewing-selecting-timeslots&venues.wmv
  2. Lab assistants read the spreadsheet and handle the actual media (i.e. update the reserve desk and show the videos): video-reserves-reservedonthisday-filter-viewing-or-reserve.wmv

Quia Online Exercises

Here are examples from the Treffpunkt Deutsch Quia Website. Quia Treffpunkt Deutsch is organized in chapters which you can select from the dropdown navigation control on the left. As you see on the following page, each chapter contains 3 different types of exercises, organized in sections.

If you click on a section header, you will see a list of exercises:

Here is an example of an exercise, assigned as “A[rbeitsbuch=work book], K[apitel=chapter]9: A9[=chapter-number, again]-1[=exercise-number]”.

The letters and numbers from the assignment repeat in the exercise, see this screenshot:


You can also hover your mouse over the info button in the upper left corner to get a summary of this information:

Also note the link to the corresponding preparatory web page which opens in a new window (Problems getting the window to open? the popup-blocker of your web browser may be the root? instead of simply clicking on the link, try CTRL-clicking, on the link as well as the browser information bar, if it comes up). It is crucial to read/review the corresponding preparatory web page first.

It is not necessary to get everything 100% correct. It is not even a good use of your time to redo the exercise until you get everything 100% correct. Especially if you try speeding up this tedious task by doing the first round mechanically to get at the automated feedback answers, then doing the second round mechanically by pasting them in. That is why I have my Quia course “Options” set to “Calculate cumulative scores based on students’ first attempt” and to Ignore student results after the 1st attempt.

Therefore, you will see that you have only 1 “Attempt remaining” for each exercise. You will also, unless individually told otherwise, only have to do the exercises that are “Assigned” (consult legend at bottom of page).

Rather use the valuable error feedback to go back to the Structures and try to learn and bring any remaining questions to class  – it is highly likely that fellow students have the same problems, especially if they have the same native tongue. That is also the reason why I review your submission before class – not to mark you down, but to see from your problems help what to spend valuable class time one.

Also, the exercises are integrated into the progression of the course (including your ability to do partner work with others during class meetings). That is why you will not be able to submit exercises long after when they were due:

For reviewing, we will use other materials.

Finally, consult the Help which is linked in the top menu:

How to prevent accidental deletion of files

Hard drives tend to fail occasionally. We recommend working with the institution-provided personal network shares which are regularly backed up by IT.

However, backups can only ever be run so often (normally overnight), and if you create a file during the day and accidentally delete it, there is no Windows Recycle Bin like functionality for network shares.

I am not making recommendations, especially not to bypass institutionally provided services, but I have worked with these additional (free and MS-backed) tools to extend these services:

1. Microsoft Synctoy 2.1: You can create folder pairs (between local and network drives and portable drives). You can have these folder pairs synchronized on the click of a button. This implies that this is not tool does not completely automate synchronization, but you could e.g. do this every morning and evening when you start/stop working. You will have to wait for the synchronization to finish. You could work on the local drive during the day – being able to benefit form the existence of the Recucle bin – and synchronize with your personal network drive at night.

2. Microsoft Live Mesh Beta: You can sign up with a Windows Live ID and designate a folder on your (multiple) PC(s) to be synchronized via a web folder. This happens automatically. Space is limited (5GB?).

3. There are also some settings in MS-Word you may want to consider, which you can access by clicking the Office button / Word options / Advanced:

I always have a backup file created on save (in the same folder) and do not allow background saves which helps against file corruptions. I have not tested working with the option of keeping local copies of network share files.

Be aware that you are on your own with this, and that your mileage may vary.

Blackboard: Rolling over courses between terms

In your old course, go to CONTROL PANEL > COURSE COPY”.

Choose: “Copy Course Materials into an Existing Course” (assuming your new course shell has been created for you by your IT admin).

Click button:“Browse” and in the opening window, choose your existing current course, by the  term identifier:

Check all items you want to copy. What is safest to avoid errors? Everything, except enrollments?

Click “Submit”/“OK” until done.

The course copy operation will be queued up, and you will be notified when the operation is finished.

Then go to your new course. This operation also copied the content items, including the content management system items.

Sanako Lab300 Oral-exam-question-response-recording-cycle

A 6-minute screen-cast explaining the sanako-lab300-oral-exam-question-response-recording-cycle.wmv

Please consult the transcript for a table of contents:



Here we are administering an oral exam. we are going to play pre-recorded teacher-questions to multiple students, we are going to record their responses and, at the end, we are going to collect their recordings in a batch:


for this, we have all seats where a student is present added to group a, and have set the program source for group a to media file


we monitor the situation on the student computers by accessing menu: other / thumbnail of group, 

the screen sharing is slow here, has been improved somewhat by installing more memory, the crowded screen situation has also been improved by installing a secondary monitor, use it for viewing the thumbnail window


in the group a pane, we use the button: duo launch, and ok the dialogue, to open th estudent recorder on the student computers


in the section:media source, button: file open, we access our pre-recorded question file


in the meantime, the duo has launched on the student computers – as you can see in the classroom layout from the squares on the student seats, as well as on the mosaic thumbnail screens


we double-click on a single thumbnail to demo to the students on the screen projector how to adjust the volume


we click button:transfer to play the volume test file to the students

we have the students record their name at the end of the sound test, to check all recorders, and to be able to identify the speaker in the actual exam file (which will be saved with only the student number in lab 300)

we stop the button:transfer and go to menu:test:response recording

in the pane:”response recording”, in section:”collect”, we click button:”start”

we save the recording in a subdirectory with a meaningful name of our choice

we ok the dialogue that informs us of the response recording

in the window:mosaic, the encoding activity window briefly flashes on the student screens

we browse to the student collect folder, where all subdirectories are saved

we check the folder visibly for the right number (use select all), size or duration of audio files –

it would be even safer, even though more time consuming, to open all the test recordings with audacity, especially on a slow computer, and check the volume graph – open audacity and drag and drop all files onto it


the soundtest is a complete recording cycle. Simply repeat for the actual exam, but

first  close the pane:response recording, to go back to your pane:group,

in section:program transfer, click button:group control, click icon:file/new, to flush the prior test out of the student recorders,

in the dialogue:”save changes”, click no

and this time load the actual exam audio file

once the sound check is done, we could use button:lock for the students to prevent them from interfering with the computers during the exam

Renaming Outlook Calendars

2010/01/06 5 comments

Calendaring is still an underutilized data source, but sharing of and collaboration on calendars are picking up.

If you find yourself juggling more and more calendars of your own and others that are shared with you, you will want to organize your calendars by naming them.

In MS-Outlook, however, you may find that the renaming option is grayed out and disabled when trying to rename your Calendar:  .

To work around this issue, do this:

  1. Download the Exchange 2003 Information Store Viewer to your computer., unpack Mdbvu32.exe (CAUTION: THIS IS A POWERFUL UTILIITY THAT CAN ALTER YOUR DATA IN MANY WAYS, INCLUDING DELETING IT. HANDLE WITH CARE!).
  2. Create an Outlook profile that can connect to the problem mailbox.[If you work on your own mailbox, you can skip this].
  3. Run Mdbvu32.exe. Select the following three options and click OK: MAPI_FORCE_DOWNLOAD, MAPI_EXPLICIT_PROFILE, MAPI_NEW_SESSION
  4. Make sure that the profile you have created in Step 2 [or your default profile] is selected. Click OK.
  5. Click MDB -> OpenMessageStore.
  6. Make sure the problem mailbox is selected and click Open.
  7. Click MDB -> Open Root Folder.
  8. Double-click “IPM_SUBTREE” in the left list (if for some reason you don’t see this double click each entry in the top/left until you get a folder list.)
  9. Double-click the Calendar.
  10. Click the “Call Function” button.
  11. Click the “SetProps” button.
  12. Make sure the “PR_Display_Name” is selected from the PropID list. Change its name to <whatever> in the textbox below and click the ”Add” button. You will see that the change action is added to the list. Click the “Call” button on the right-top corner to apply the change.
  13. 4. Click Close until you drop out of the windows, then close the MDBVU utility and OK to the logoff. From: To:
  14. You may need to close and reopen Outlook to refresh the folder name.
  15. And voilà:

I just verified this to work on MS-Outlook 2007 against MS-Exchange 2007 (and assume it to work on stand-alone PST files also), and added the screenshots to clarify this. My thanks go to user traval and MS for the heavy lifting (although I wish MS would make my lifting still easier).