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Abstracts of ACUTA Articles Through-2004

ACUTA Journal - Volume 3, Number 4 - Winter 1999
Cutting the Wires: Wireless Research at Michigan Tech
by Mick McKellar

A group of technology experts from Michigan Technological University, including Paul Aho, Mike Poinke, and Dr. James S. Cross, formed the Wireless Research Consortium (WRC) in November 1996..
An earlier project already provided two-way data services tied to the university network to the K-12 schools through a cable provider. Wireless technologies came to mind when the WRC began looking at other means of providing similar connectivity.
BreezeCOM was chosen to provide hardware, and testing began in mid-August 1997. Project sites were selected by first identifying potential sites that were already communications "islands." Answering the right questions may help you to decide whether or not to go wireless. Three such questions are: 1. Is there a good reason to use wireless technology in a given situation? 2. Can the goal of connectivity be achieved using conventional means rather than wireless technology? 3. Are we choosing wireless technology because it's "cool" and "the in thing" or because it's best for the task at hand?

ACUTA Journal - Volume 4, Number 2 - Summer 2000
Called to Serve: The Conscripted Consultant
by Mick McKellar

The IT professional's job includes a variety of responsibilities and requires a diverse set of skills and knowledge that uniquely qualify him or her for a consultant-type position to people within and outside the department. From time to time, we may be inclined to describe our job as "a series of interruptions interrupted by a series of interruptions."
New users of technologies become "conscriptors," needing more attention over a longer period of time and in more detail than many early adopters. Faculty members tend to be extremely busy, discipline-focused people who have little time to learn new technologies. In many cases, they don't want to learn enough about the technologies to support themselves. They want dependable, simple tools that always work the same way every time. To desire this is understandable, to expect it may be unrealistic.
Like it or not, we are accessible and vulnerable to conscription. My recommendations for effective ways to deal with consultancy conscription include ideas such as learn to use the technology; start building a network; receive, review, and reroute; e-mail your advice; publish, don't perish; and only tell them once.
Be aware that new and wonderful technologies have hidden costs beyond the hardware, media, software, installation, bandwidth, and maintenance. They tax our time and tie us to our customers as consultant and guru.
ACUTA Journal - Volume 4, Number 4 - Winter 2000
Supporting Academic Services One-to-One
by Mick McKellar

Faculty members both want and need to make course materials available over the Internet and the campus intranet. To accommodate this need, a little over a year ago, we implemented WebCT at Michigan Technological University. Today, about 50 faculty members are regular users.
The implementation of WebCT at MTU illustrates the methods we used to put a human face on the system and support these technologies effectively for the faculty, who were both excited and confused by the possibilities.
Our efforts to encourage faculty members to use new technologies such as WebCT involve these steps: 1. Find faculty already doing what you want to help them do. 2. Demonstrate a new and more efficient way to do it. 3. Publicize the successes and how easily they were accomplished. 4. Document carefully and clearly how it was done. 5. Focus on course delivery.
Other steps that should be taken to ensure success involve skipping the manual-use the technology without looking at the user's guide. Chances are, this is what your users will do. You should know what kind of trouble they could get into when they do not use the manual. Other key ideas include learning the technology, talking about it, opening communications, and listening carefully to feedback.
Making new technologies more palatable to reluctant users requires a lot of one-to-one communication and homework. It requires putting on the shoes of the professor and walking a mile or two down the road of course development, even if that is not the focus of your support staff.

ACUTA Journal - Volume 5, Number 2 - Summer 2001
B2B and Directory Services: Opportunities and Challenges
by Todd C. Pickett and Mick McKellar

We're all familiar with directories. We use them everyday, the phone book, a catalog, your local TV Guide, and so on. They provide the means to find out what we want and need to know. The advent of computers expanded the need for and capabilities of directories beyond anything envisioned in the precomputer era.
Just when we were getting comfortable with the computer, enter the Internet. Suddenly, our computing environment consisted not only of our local machine and area network, but also of a diverse, nonhomogeneous ocean of possibilities. With this development, we've added three new terms to the language: intranet, extranet, and B2B.
When technical professionals hear the acronym B2B, they tend to hear the word extranet right along with it. The two are inseparable, unless you want to give the entire Internet access to all your private data. Although extranets provide quite a challenge to build and maintain, they also provide key infrastructure abstractions that allow for building the trust and data exchange relationships between institutions that facilitate B2B transactions.
Typically you would not use directory services if what you need is a general-purpose database. A relational database is more appropriate for transaction-based service with large numbers of updates. A directory service is not a file system. If you need to store huge objects, put them in file storage and create a pointer in your directory service to find the stored objects. Finally, you need to judge whether you really need the complexity and overhead of implementing and extranet to achieve your goals.

ACUTA Journal - Volume 6, Number4 - Winter 2002
Solo: Fifteen Steps to Help One Support Many
By Elwin W. McKellar

The following 15 guidelines and recommendations grew from my experience as the sole application support person for WebCT on the Michigan Tech campus.
1. Recognize and publish your limitations.
2. Make e-mail your front door.
3. Use a trouble-ticket system.
4. Ask faculty members what they want to accomplish online, and create courses with only the necessary tools to accomplish those goals.
5. Meet face-to-face and one-on-one for the first session.
6. Meet in your office.
7. Make sure that when users leave your office, they can go immediately to their offices, log in, and start to work on their courses.
8. Explain how to fix a problem.
9. Keep a library of mini-tutorials to cut and paste answers in future e-mail responses.
10. Put time aside to play with the software.
11. Build a course and enroll all faculty using your software in the course, not only to let them experience the software from the student perspective but also to provide a collaborative sharing and development area.
12. Feed them.
13. Encourage users to help each other, and facilitate building those relationships.
14. Know your user experts for peer referrals.
15. Remember triage—establish criteria for setting priorities, and stick to them.
I currently use this system to provide application support to 115 course designers (faculty, etc.) with 311 courses that service more than 6,000 students.
ACUTA Journal - Volume 7, Number 3 - Fall 2003
The TEACH Act and the IT Organization
By Elwin McKellar

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act, part of the Justice Reauthorization Bill, was signed into law by President Bush in November 2002. This new law is usually labeled the TEACH Act. Although it offers many benefits over the previous legislation, it carries stringent and specific regulations that apply to institutions, IT organizations within those institutions, and individual instructors who are using copyrighted material without permission from the copyright owner and without royalty payments.
Specifically, the TEACH Act requires reasonable use of technology to: limit access of copyrighted works to students currently enrolled in a class; limit access only for the time necessary to finish a class session; and prevent further copying and/or distribution of copyrighted works.
Specifically, the TEACH Act regulates use of copyrighted materials for distance education. Recent events have highlighted copyright protection of digital media, such as music and video files. The all- encompassing language of the new regulations sweeps a broad selection of materials into its bailiwick and includes much of the material instructors have used under the fair-use provisions of the copyright laws. The TEACH Act regulates these materials in the context of distance education, which it calls “mediated instructional activities.”
What to do? First, all accredited, nonprofit educational institutions that are taking advantage of the new privileges under the TEACH Act to distribute copyright-protected digital media for distance learning should review their copyright policies and, if necessary, bring them up to date. Second, consider the use of the TEACH Act as a new and important tool in your institutional copyright toolkit. The fair-use provisions of the copyright law have not been repealed and are still applicable in many situations. Third, consider establishing a planning and/or oversight committee to investigate and make targeted recommendations for meeting the requirements of the copyright provisions of the law. Finally, do whatever you can to increase campus awareness of the serious nature and the potential costs of copyright violations.