Cost savings, solutions mark EDUCAUSE show

The 2008 EDUCAUSE conference in Orlando was dominated by vendors pitching new ways to cut costs on college campuses and technology officials discussing solutions to ongoing problems such as illegal file sharing and laying out how universities can create more energy-thrifty IT departments.

Although the conference–which drew more than 7,000 educators–was complete with complimentary meals and computer banks armed with fast internet connections, the economy’s downward spiral was evident in the exhibit hall. Only a few ed-tech companies unveiled their latest classroom technologies. Most vendors focused on strategies for cutting short-term and long-term costs for colleges and universities facing the prospect of major budget cuts in the next year.

New features for online courses also were popular as higher-education officials try to help students save money by cutting down on transportation costs. 

At an EDUCAUSE discussion forum Oct. 29, technology department heads detailed their perpetual battles against campus-based illegal file sharing and the added burden of hundreds of "takedown" notices issued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) warning colleges that their students might end up in court.

Jean Boland, vice president of technology services at Morrisville State College in New York, said her school first received "takedown" notices in March 2003, and the college responded by shutting students out of the campus network if they were found in violation of copyright laws.

The students were allowed back on the network once all infringing material was removed from their dormitory computers, said Boland, who added that students were shown a DVD issued by the RIAA explaining what kind of file sharing was considered illegal.

"We were trying to get proactive and get the message out to students," she said.

Still, students continued to share files illegally, and the RIAA warnings came in at a pace of about 1,000 a year, Boland said. 

"It didn’t matter how hard we tried," she said. "Nothing worked, and everything was out of our control."

While Morrisville students should have heeded professors’ warnings, Boland said the fines were a "tremendous financial hardship for our students … and there were very serious side effects."

The mother of a Morrisville student told Boland that the student had to drop out of school to pay the fine levied by the RIAA.

Morrisville officials sought a technical solution to the downloading problem when the school bought Audible Magic, an electronic media management system designed to stop peer-to-peer file sharing of music, movies, or computer software.

Boland said the number of RIAA warnings dropped dramatically after using the software.

One of several point-counterpoint forums at this year’s conference was titled, "The Community Source Model: Promise or Peril for Higher Ed?" Brad Wheeler, vice president for IT services at Indiana University, and Adrian Sannier, a technology officer and professor at Arizona State University, discussed the pros and cons of colleges using commercial software prevalent in the corporate world.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution," Wheeler said. "Not everything should be licensed commercially, and not everything should be built in pure open-source model."

Sannier said it would be cost- and time-efficient for universities to use software that has proven effective in corporations. Tweaking commercial software to fit the needs of higher education, he said, would save IT staff from sitting through tedious meetings, planning out every little detail required to build a customized system. 

"I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the software we can develop as a community can substantially match our business any better than the commercial way," Sannier said.

IT officials also addressed saving money through the gradual "greening" of an IT department.

At a forum discussion with chief information officers and campus administrators, Wendell C. Brase, vice chancellor for administrative and business services at the University of California Irvine, said tech officials should know their college’s carbon footprint, promote more energy-efficient ways to cool servers, and cut energy usage in laboratories that generally use the majority of a campus’s electricity.

Brase stressed that green policies should not be isolated to campus IT departments. At UC Irvine, he predicted, student housing would increase dramatically in the coming years, cutting down on the number of students who commute to class every day.

"This is the greenest thing a college or university can do," he said.

Cooling computer servers also is an enormous cost for every large university, Brase said. Researchers and IT managers are discovering new ways to cool down servers without setting the air conditioning to its lowest temperatures. Brase said servers work efficiently at 90 degrees, several degrees higher than most IT officials had believed.

Building a roof over the server area in a lab building, Brase said, would block off the rest of the room and limit the square footage that needed to be cooled. Universities also can pump outside air into the server room, avoiding air conditioning altogether.

News from the exhibit hall

Alcatel-Lucent demonstrated a bevy of security features, including wireless cameras, panic alarms, and alerts that are sent across the entire campus community–even to off-campus students. And while Alcatel-Lucent also can help make a college campus mobile–using wireless 802.11n audio, data, and video conferencing technologies with application sharing–the company also is committed to sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies, officials said. Alcatel Lucent claims its products use up to 50 percent less power than competitors’ solutions, featuring lowered cooling requirements and reducing energy-intensive power backup requirements.

ANGEL Learning unveiled new tools at this year’s conference, including Secure Browser 2.0, which ensures the security of a proctored testing environment by locking down students’ access to the internet and their ability to launch other applications or communicate with peers using ANGEL Learning Management System messaging tools while taking an assessment. The new secure browser–which could meet schools’ needs to ensure the integrity of testing for online students, thanks to a new federal law–comes with assessment time limits and options for question-at-a-time delivery, randomized question delivery, and randomized answer delivery.

Datatel Inc. introduced the Datatel Gradebook, showing conference attendees an expanded toolset that would benefit any classroom or lecture hall. Gradebook’s functions allow educators to spend more time evaluating student progress, tracking grades over a long period of time. The program also allows students to view their grades and see any instructor feedback given on homework assignments, quizzes, and exams as soon as grades are submitted online.

Jenzabar announced that its new learning management system works with the open-source course management system Moodle. Students and faculty will benefit from a single point of access to eLearning and online self-service, and school IT administrators will have access to automatic uploads of user accounts, courses, and student enrollment lists from the college’s administrative system, the company said.

The new Lenovo Thinkpad X301 notebook is ideal for schools focused on "greening" IT departments, Lenovo said. The Thinkpad X301, which has been recognized for its environmental friendliness, reportedly uses 25 percent less power compared with its predecessors. All Thinkpad models come with a spill-resistant keyboard, a fingerprint reader, round-the-clock service and support, and an industry-leading warranty.

NetSupport released NetSupport School 10.01, the latest version of its software for managing computer use in a classroom or lab setting. Student thumbnails allow an instructor to maintain a full view of all classroom computers, mouse over any image for a real-time "zoom," see active web sites and applications on each computer, and identify students’ print jobs. Instructors also can take control of a student’s machine.

Procera Networks’ DPI network-management platform includes LiveView, a module that displays Datastream Recognition Definition Language (DRDL) and enables university IT administrators to see all network traffic simultaneously. Administrators can also target a specific connection in real time. This allows network managers to help users–including students and faculty–within seconds or minutes of network problems surfacing, Procera said. The company’s platform also features tools for traffic shaping and filtering, helping IT departments avoid network congestion. Procera announced last month that a Tier-1 mobile operator selected its award-winning PacketLogic PL10000 platform to optimize its network performance, reduce infrastructure costs and create new services for its mobile broadband customers.

Qwizdom’s student remotes create an interactive classroom that allows for responses to multiple questions and displays instantaneous feedback, letting students know if they got the questions right or wrong. The instructor is notified when classroom responses are complete, and he or she can cover the subject material more in-depth or move on to the next topic, depending on how many students answered correctly. The remotes align with whiteboard devices and pen and tablet interfaces, Quizdom said.

Samsung announced that audio capabilities would be added to its line of document cameras. The new feature will be available through a simple download. The document cameras–which already have a video function–will now allow educators to record and posts lectures to web sites or create podcasts for students to download and listen to outside of class. The video and audio functions also can be used to record faculty presentations and meetings. Samsung’s document cameras can be connected with any electronic whiteboard on the market, the company says. 

SchoolDude showed its ITAMDirect hosted solution for streamlining IT asset management, which allows administrators to monitor classrooms and plan for daily, weekly, and monthly lessons. ITAMDirect’s features include alerts for missing IT assets and software license agreement violations. The program can be especially useful as school budgets tighten, SchoolDude said. Company officials say schools can save 25 percent on organization license renewals and reduce audits on IT assets by 50 percent annually by using the software.

SSPS Inc., a predictive analytics technologies company, can help colleges and universities recruit, assess, and retain students, provide for more informed academic advisors, and raise more money from alumni, the company said. SSPS helps colleges capture and analyze alumni attitudes and values, providing more information to target graduates for money that could grow a campus’s endowment. Student advisors can better identify a path for students, too, as SSPS programs provide more background on students’ strengths and weaknesses.

For colleges and universities struggling to determine how much money they have for upcoming projects, TeamDynamix has introduced a web-based project and portfolio manager solution designed to help higher-education officials as they make tough decisions with dwindling budgets. TeamDynamix’s project and portfolio manager can help present a clear picture of what is fiscally feasible in coming months and years, the company said, as campus committees and other decision makers determine their institution’s most pressing projects.

Camtasia Relay, from TechSmith, lets college students stop, rewind, and review lectures that prove crucial for homework and quiz and test preparation. The lecture-capture software–which uses a single central server and doesn’t require lecturers to be technology experts–allows students to watch and listen to classroom lectures from their dorm laptop or their mobile device instead of relying on hand-written notes that can be sloppy and incomplete. For college faculty, recording a lecture takes only a few clicks of the mouse. Camtasia Relay runs on PCs, Windows servers, Macs, and other networks and comes with eMail notifications and a variety of publishing options.

Turning Technologies’ personal response system, ResponseWare, gives instructors the ability to analyze student answers efficiently, helping to craft lesson plans and adjust to class questions on the fly. Using the handheld ResponseWare clickers, students can immediately respond to teachers’ questions in class, giving educators real-time information that can show how some students–or an entire class–struggle to grasp a lecture or concept. ResponseWare has a presentation mode for more interactive lessons and options for starting in-class team competitions, where students answer questions and see results right away.

Wimba has a full menu of options for a more technologically integrated classroom, including virtual office hours for college faculty. Instead of relying on one- or two-hour windows to meet with students once a week, college professors–using Wimba’s suite of services–can conduct office hours online, chatting with several students at once and answering questions without rushing through a short in-person appointment. Wimba unveiled the virtual office-hour program after a recent study showed that only 15 percent of college students meet with professors outside the classroom. Wimba also announced that its software for facilitating online video, text, voice, and application sharing now works with the open-source course management system Moodle.