Email Woes

The last few days have seen some challenges with campus email. The main symptom was delayed delivery of inbound email caused by a massive increase in the volume of email we were receiving, including “pharmaceutical” spam.

First, I want to thank the community for their patience as ITS staff worked to identify and mitigate the problems. Second, I want to thank all the ITS staff who have been pulling out all the stops to resolve the issues.

But I also wanted to take this opportunity to delve a bit deeper, especially for those who experienced an increase in the number of spam messages they received over the last day or two.

Email might seem like a basic, simple tool, but behind the scenes is an extremely complex infrastructure, only partially managed by the University. This infrastructure includes routing technology, load balancing, and spam detection, among other things.

Spam detection is especially interesting; if you set detection as being too sensitive, you risk false positives and miss real email. Set it to be less sensitive, and we all receive way more spam than we would ever want. Staff are constantly working with anti-spam vendors and tweaking settings to find the right balance.

Unfortunately, however, the whole thing is not simply agnostic. The world is filled with “bad apples” who are constantly trying to circumvent our safeguards (not just us, of course – the whole world). They are working just as hard to get their spam / scams / viruses / phishing messages through.

Email is a pretty steady service overall. But once in a blue moon, we hit a glitch. In the case of the past few days, the big increase of inbound messages was one such glitch. But hopefully we are on the way back to stability. And again, thank you for your collective patience.

PS – here’s the link to some best practices in dealing with some of the junk we get:

Posted in Communications, News, Technical Issues

Portal Scheduled Maintenance – May 5-7

Portal (Blackboard) Maintenance is Scheduled for May 5, 22:00 EDT  –  May 7, 22:00 EDT
The Portal will undergo scheduled maintenance from Friday May 5, 2017 at 10:00 PM until Sunday, May 7, 2017 at 10:00 PM in order to install an updated version of the product. Details of the new version will be made available in due course at .

The Portal will be unavailable for the duration of the maintenance window. Service will be restored earlier if the work is completed ahead of schedule.

Posted in News, Portal, Technical Issues

Audience Response Systems (aka clickers) RFSQ

After many years studying and analyzing the various issues surrounding the use of Audience Response Systems at UofT (including ancillary fees policies, information security and privacy concerns, wifi stability, and of course, required functionality, etc.), the University issued a Request for Supplier Qualifications earlier this year. Unlike an “RFP”, the “RFSQ” gives the University more flexibility to select more than one supplier, thereby offering instructors and departments some choice around this type of technology.

Attached to this post is the actual RFSQ document for those who may wish to read it, but in summary, here is the introduction to the initiative excerpted for your convenience:

The University requires a streamlined approach to the deployment of Audience Response Systems and Devices (“ARS”), which may include physical devices and/or mobile apps.  The ARS will primarily be used in classes ranging from smaller than 30 to large lectures with more than 1500 students.  The University anticipates the selected solution(s) to be mainly used in not only a single location, but in several situations, simultaneous operation in multiple locations might be necessary for courses taught on multiple campuses. It is not the intent of the University to purchase devices and/or software licenses for each student; the cost for those items will continue to be borne by individual students, or purchased at a departmental level, as per the current practice. Nor is it the intent of the University to purchase base stations (where a solution requires those), either by the University as a whole or by individual instructors. However, the purpose of this call for proposals is to identify one or more Successful Respondents for a multi-year contract, and subject to a successful agreement between the Respondent and the University of Toronto Bookstore as the sales agent for the proposed solution. The ARS and related services from the Successful Respondents will be promoted to members of our teaching staff as viable options, with a primary goal being that students who invest in the technology will be able to use them in more than one class, rather than having to buy competing technologies for different courses. In addition to promoting the selected solution(s), the University will also commit to installing the Respondent’s necessary integration solution on our Learning Management System.

The opportunity, which was posted on MERX, is now closed and a University evaluation committee is currently working with Procurement Services to short-list potential suppliers, hopefully by the end of May. Please stay tuned for updates. Thank you.

UOT201715202 Audience Response System RFSQ Final

Posted in Clickers, Teaching Toolkit, The Future

Reading Week Reading

Using the Micro-Meso-Macro-Mega (4M) framework for annual reporting and strategic planning
by Janice Miller-Young  July 25, 2016

Coming to You Soon: Uber U
In higher education, we are increasingly facing the distinct possibility of a faceless future, teacherless courses, online everything, argues David Theo Goldberg.
By David Theo Goldberg August 12, 2016

15 Technologies That Were Supposed to Change Education Forever
Matt Novak 1/15/14

Distant and discontent: the downsides of digital learning
Despite many advances, online programmes suffer from technical faults and a dispiriting lack of interaction, as two scholars found
By Matthew Reisz August 18, 2016

The Unpredictability of Predictive Analytics 2.0
by John O’Brien August 22, 2016

Imagine Discovering That Your Teaching Assistant Really Is a Robot
Students mostly couldn’t tell ‘Jill Watson’ wasn’t human; ‘Yep!’
By Melissa Korn May 6, 2016

Uber-U is Already Here Powered by Blockchain Technology
Contact North 2016-05-06

Online tutoring by students raises access fears
By David Matthews  May 11, 2016

Hiring Experts Still Mostly Boggled by Digital Credentials
By Dian Schaffhauser 05/10/16

Five ways the lecture halls of 2030 will be different
By Petra Hauptfeld-Göllner September 13, 2016

Posted in Reading, Readings

Open Books and Resources

UofT BrowZine

BC Campus OpenEd

Rice U OpenStax

Posted in Open, Resources

Holiday Reading (and watching)

Jeremy Howard:
The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn


Badging: Not Quite the Next Big Thing
By Michael Hart 07/20/16

I Love Community Colleges (and Tech Should Too)
By Alejandra Cervantes Aug 7, 2016

Learning Management System Market Expected to Grow $10.5 Billion in Next 5 Years
By Richard Chang 07/28/16

6 Implications of the Next-Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) Framework
by Malcolm Brown June 27, 2016

App Assists Teachers With Integrating Digital Content Into Lessons
By Sri Ravipati 08/01/16

Posted in Reading, Readings

Toolbox Renewal Update

At the end of December, the LME Evaluation Committee made its formal recommendation to the Provost via our Executive Sponsors. The next stage of the process will be negotiations, led by the University’s Procurement Services. For more details on the Toolbox Renewal process, please check in at the main project website regularly:

Posted in News, Renewal, Teaching Toolkit

OneClass Easy Invite Chrome Extension


We have discovered a problem with something called the OneClass Easy Invite Chrome Extension which may result in the theft of any username and password you use for websites and services, including Blackboard and other university and/or commercial/community services.

If you receive an email soliciting enrolment in OneClass, do not click on any links or buttons, and delete the email.

The email may have included a link to install the OneClass Chrome Extension. During the installation, the user is prompted to accept permissions to “read and change all your data on the websites you visit.” If you accepted, a fake button will be created within the Blackboard Portal to “Invite your Classmates to OneClass.” If the button is clicked on, the extension will also attempt to send an email to everyone in your class to promote the OneClass extension.

A copy of the phishing email is below:

“Hey guys, I just found some really helpful notes for the upcoming exams for courses at UofT . I highly recommend signing up for an account now that way your first download is free!”

If you have previously downloaded and installed the OneClass Easy Invite Chrome Extension you should immediately cease using your Chrome browser. Then, using a different browser (e.g., Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) you should change all of your passwords to any services (Blackboard, your online bank account, credit card, email, Facebook, etc.) that you accessed using your Chrome browser with that extension installed.

To change your UTORid (Blackboard) password, please visit:

To remove the extension:

1. Open up your Chrome Browser
2. Select the 3 vertical dots in the top right-hand corner
3. Select Settings
4. Select Extensions in the top left-hand corner
5. Click the Trashcan beside the “OneClass Easy Invite” extension
6. Select Remove on the Confirm Removal Popup
7. Close all Chrome windows and go back to the Extensions page to verify the extension has been removed (Steps 1-4)

As we learn more, we will share updates with the community, and if you have any questions, please write to

Posted in News, Technical Issues

UofT Portal Week (part of the Academic Toolbox Renewal)

The University is currently testing three new systems that can serve as the “engine” for our new Learning Portal (LMS). The week of November 14-18 has been designated “Portal Week” with many opportunities for members of the community to learn more, get involved, take a test drive, and share their opinions and feedback.

To learn more about the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative and to see a schedule of “Portal Week” events, please visit

Posted in Portal, Projects, Renewal, The Future

MADLab Users Publish Scientific Paper

A Versatile System for High-Throughput In Situ X-ray Screening and Data Collection of Soluble and Membrane-Protein Crystals
Cryst. Growth Des., 2016, 16 (11), pp 6318–6326
Jana Broecker, Viviane Klingel, Wei-Lin Ou, Aidin R. Balo, David J. Kissick, Craig M. Ogata, Anling Kuo, and Oliver P. Ernst
Department of Biochemistry and §Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto


We introduce the Mylar in situ method that uses Mylar-based sandwich plates, which are advantageous over established designs. Cognate holders make the method robust and versatile and allow for automated crystal imaging, screening, and goniometer-based X-ray diffraction data collection at room temperature and under cryogenic conditions for soluble and membrane-protein crystals grown in or transferred to these plates.


In recent years, in situ data collection has been a major focus of progress in protein crystallography. Here, we introduce the Mylar in situ method using Mylar-based sandwich plates that are inexpensive, easy to make and handle, and show significantly less background scattering than other setups. A variety of cognate holders for patches of Mylar in situ sandwich films corresponding to one or more wells makes the method robust and versatile, allows for storage and shipping of entire wells, and enables automated crystal imaging, screening, and goniometer-based X-ray diffraction data-collection at room temperature and under cryogenic conditions for soluble and membrane-protein crystals grown in or transferred to these plates. We validated the Mylar in situ method using crystals of the water-soluble proteins hen egg-white lysozyme and sperm whale myoglobin as well as the 7-transmembrane protein bacteriorhodopsin from Haloquadratum walsbyi. In conjunction with current developments at synchrotrons, this approach promises high-resolution structural studies of membrane proteins to become faster and more routine.

Posted in MADLab