Over the past six months there have been a number of changes in Moodle. Faculty, staff and students will notice a more streamlined, easier to use version now that IT has completed the move to version 2 of Moodle. In addition, the company that hosts the campus’ copy of Moodle, Baltimore-based Moodlerooms, was recently bought out by Blackboard, the largest commercial vendor of Learning Management Systems software, but campus members should not notice any changes from that transition.
At Gettysburg College Moodle supports Academic courses, administrative offices, social organizations, and campus wide public forums. It provides a way to inform, keep in touch, and share ideas outside of formal meetings. It is, indeed, a key tool for the entire campus community. Sharon Birch, Instructional Designer in the Instructional Technology and Training Department of IT, is the person who implements the designs for the look and functionality of Gettysburg’s implementation of Moodle and provides training and support for campus users. In the summer of 2012 she tested Version 2of Moodle in order to guarantee that it will run smoothly on our system with no loss of courses or files. There was also a six month testing and verification program to make sure that the transition to version 2 would be as smooth as possible. The testing included Data Systems personnel who insured that the Peoplesoft to Moodle integration will work as expected.
According to Sharon and Eric Remy, Director of ITT, the upgrade went smoothly. Even though version 2 is a significant improvement to version 1 and took Moodle.org three years to complete, most of the improvements are in the background of its operation. The look and feel of the campus version of Moodle is basically the same as it has been. The net effect to users will be more in the nature of adjustments than that of requiring extensive retraining. All existing courses and files were preserved and are available to authorized persons. The menus have moved and some menus may be longer than those in version 1. On the other hand, many of the actions still exist and are, in fact, more cohesive. New tools augment existing tools and the number of options to perform an action have, in many cases, been reduced or streamlined. For example instead of four separate drop boxes there are 2. Instead of two discussion forum options there is only one. Version 2 is more intuitive and functionally smoother than its predecessor.
Moodlerooms provides the College with a modified version of Moodle, off campus storage for files and data security. At the moment it appears that the purchase of Moodlerooms represents Blackboard’s expansion into the open source services area of e-Learning software. ITT Director Eric Remy stated that, at present, the relationship with Moodlerooms has remained unchanged. Also, since Moodle is open source, the College has the option of moving to other service support companies. IT has a policy of conducting a full review of its service contracts every three years or sooner, if the need arises.
Clif Presser, Associate Professor of Computer Science, specializes in the interdisciplinary field of Scientific Visualization. This is a field designed to graphically illustrate scientific data. It provides scientists and others with a tool for understanding, illustrating, and gleaning insight from data related to their work. Visualizations compress megabytes of data into one, easily understandable illustration. It makes it possible to understand the sense of large masses data in a short period of time. However, to be successful, the visual image must convey the essence of the study for which the data was collected. The website located at this link has examples of several 2-D visualizations. These examples enable a viewer to quickly see and understand the goal of the underlying scientific investigations.
Because he sensed the power and importance of visualization, Clif offered a course on Scientific Visualization in the Spring Semesters of 2002 and 2004. These courses attracted Computer Science majors as well as students from other disciplines. Additionally, Clif joined with his colleague, Todd Neller, Chair of Computer Science, to provide a 3-D visualization to aid in determining an optimal strategy for the simple dice game called Pig. Their joint paper was published in 2004, with follow up papers in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
Since 2004, Clif has introduced many of the ideas behind scientific visualization into regularly scheduled courses and also in independent study projects. His research interests have moved in the direction of generating visualizations that have dynamic 3-D content. By stepping up visualizations to three dimensions, it is possible to assess more complex relationships. The dynamic component allows the user to interact with the data and view it from different perspectives. It also allows them to observe the effects of changes in the data during real time such as one would see when viewing a motion picture. Recent changes in web technology have made it possible to construct dynamic visualizations using the hosting network’s web server. By using web tools based on the XML data description language, changes in the data are processed by the network’s web server and immediately shown in the viewer’s browser regardless of whether it is a small hand held mobile device or a powerful super computer. No additional programs or separate apps are needed on the viewer’s machine. Most contemporary web browsers are capable of processing this type of dynamic content.
In order to illustrate the principles of 3-D web content to his students, Clif often uses the idea of programming interactive 3-D games for web browsers. The picture to the left of this article illustrates a three dimensional version of the game “Ricochet Robots”. The object of the game is to send instructions to one of four “robots”.to move either up, down, left, or right through a maze of obstacles. When the robot hits an obstacle, another robot, or a wall, it must stop and await a new instruction. The game is finished when all four robots reach their assigned destinations. Students need to design tools for viewing the playing region from different directions and to send instructions for moving the robots. These tools are similar to those needed for constructing visualizations with dynamic 3-D content. Thus, Clif is using a game playing environment to teach important principles of scientific visualization while at the same time generating student enthusiasm for important applications and research areas for computer science.
In May of 2012, Andrew Myers graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Information Systems. One of his instructors was John Whitehouse, Data Architect in the Data Systems Department of IT and Adjunct Instructor at Penn State, Harrisburg Campus. Andrew had taken courses in Java Programming, and Distributed Systems from John. While discussing post-graduation plans with Andrew, John mentioned that there was an opening for a network applications programmer at Gettysburg and suggested that he check out the position on the College Website. Andrew knew Gettysburg College well. He had attended several of the College’s Civil War Institutes starting while he was still a student in high school. He also has friends who have attended Gettysburg. He particularly liked the fact that the position in Data Systems offered him a broader spectrum of responsibilities. Furthermore, there are more opportunities for growth within those responsibilities than was the case with the jobs that he was currently considering. He applied for the position, was selected to be interviewed and was hired shortly after graduation from PSU. In addition to learning the ropes of his new position, Andrew is working on the closing stages of the Community Concerns Form project to be included within the CMS.
Prior to attending Penn State Harrisburg, Andrew has spent twenty years in retail store management for Radio Shack and Barnes & Noble. Immediately after high school, he had enrolled in Penn State as a History major, but shortly found that he was not really ready for college life. He decided to take some time off and that resulted in a successful management career. While working in the retail field, he became interested in computers and web development. He developed some websites for various, mainly non-profit, organizations. He found that he enjoyed the challenge and creativity offered by this type of activity. When the opportunity arose for him to go back to college, he decided to use it to study information systems, an area that incorporates both business and computer science. He, obviously, did well in his chosen major.
Andrew lives in Etters, PA with his wife Heidi and shares the commute to Gettysburg with his fellow network applications programmer, Nathan Keiter. As would be expected of one who was involved with Barnes & Noble store management for 12 years, Andrew enjoys reading. His first love is history, but really is very eclectic in his choice of books. He even, occasionally, enjoys looking at children’s books. While he uses a Nook, he still likes the smell and feel of the printed page. He was born and raised in the town of Mountain Top near the Poconos. He enjoys the out-of-doors and outdoor activities.
Please welcome Andrew to Gettysburg when you see him on campus. IT is pleased that Andrew has chosen to join our campus family.