Update: Learning Portal Issues in February and March

Since Feb. 17th, users of our Learning Portal have had to deal with a series of unexpected ‘outages’ for our Learning Portal.

First of all, as the person ultimately responsible for this system, please let me extend my apologies for any difficulties, and let me assure you that the entire team is working very hard to eliminate these issues.

Second, I just want to clarify something about the outages. Many people have complained about ‘Blackboard’ because this is the software we use for our Learning Portal. For the record, the problem has not been with the Blackboard software, which has actually functioned perfectly well throughout. The problem has been, in fact, with a database application on which Blackboard relies.

This is little comfort to those who have attempted to use the Learning Portal and have not been able to, but I thought it important and fair to share some of the details.

Back on February 17, we attempted what should have been a routine upgrade to the database software. After rigourous pre-upgrade testing on the test server for the database, we ran the upgrade on our production server and it failed, corrupting the database. The vendor analyzed the situation and it turns out that there was a bug in their upgrade routine.

We did manage to get the thing running again so people could use the Learning Portal, but since then, we’ve had a couple of more crashes of the database as we recover from the original failure. As I said, our entire team is fully committed to making sure the Portal experience is stable and effective!

Again, my apologies and my thanks for your patience.

Avi Hyman, Director, Academic & Collaborative Technologies

(For Portal system status messages, please see:
http://www.systemstatus.utoronto.ca/system/systems/portal )

News: UofT Joins Liberated Learning Consortium

We are very pleased to announce that the University of Toronto has joined the Liberated Learning Consortium as its newest partner in the effort to increase access to information through the advancement of speech recognition (SR) technologies.

The Liberated Learning Consortium was founded to research and develop two interrelated applications: (1) using speech recognition technology to automatically caption spoken language and display it as readable text in educational environments; (2) using speech recognition to produce and disseminate accessible, multimedia transcripts. The Consortium’s ultimate goal is for speech recognition based captioning and transcription of educational media to become a standard for supporting diverse learning needs in learning environments.  The Consortium strives to make these approaches widely available to improve access to information for persons with disabilities.

A number of organizations within UofT will come together to lead this new partnership. Accessibility Services, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, Information + Technology Services, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the Office of Space Management will work collaboratively to evaluate the impact Liberated Learning concepts and systems have on students, faculty and university stakeholders. This group will also look at developing transferable models for successfully implementing speech recognition and related accessibility solutions in various learning environments.

The University of Toronto’s goal is to not only evaluate the impact SR technology has in a classroom environment but to evaluate the impact these technologies have on teaching and learning outcomes. Given its sheer size the university will provide consortium partners access to its large student population and large class sizes.  This will enable Liberated Learning to continue its goal of fostering an environment where speech recognition based captioning and transcription of educational media becomes a regular fixture for supporting various learning needs in an educational setting.

If you are interested in SR technologies for teaching and learning, please let us know. Thanks.

UTM Strikes Instructional Technology Task Force – Call for Ideas and Input

As part of the academic planning process,  UTM has established an Instructional Technologies Task Force (ITTF) to outline a vision for the  instructional technologies that support teaching and learning at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

The ITTF is expected to create a shared vision for instructional technology at U of T Mississauga in support of student learning and faculty teaching; identify gaps and/or obstacles to achieving this shared vision; explore best practices and examine options for enhanced instructional technology support (e.g., human or physical resources); and recommend a sustainable model for instructional technology for the U of T Mississauga campus.

See http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/instructional-tech/ for more details.