January 2011 Archives

Accessibility Lawsuit Against Canadian Government

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We are sadly in a season of accessibility lawsuits. One notable challenge was filed by an accessibility activist against the government of Canada, but a Canadian federal judge ruled that all online national government services in Canada need to be made accessible to all users.

An interesting note is that the government had argued that certain services did NOT need to be accessible as long as there were other options available (e.g. via phone, in person or other paper forms). However, this was still not considered equal access. On a side note, I would agree because other options are either more restricted in hours of availability and/or require more processing time than an online method would.

Ironically though, the government is appealing the decision, apparently on technical grounds, despite developing a fairly rigorous national accessibility standard several years previously.

Obviously, we're in the middle of our own lawsuit maelstrom here, and ironically, it has been difficult to comment publicly on that. For the record though, even though these actions are pushing us to focus more on the issue, I am not "happy" to see these lawsuits being filed, if only because it raises so much panic and ill will. I wish the system could find a better way to implement accessibility before the customer becomes so dissatisfied.

And yet, I cannot deny that I have enjoyed the benefits of ramps, elevators and closed captioning in crowded bars. And yes, most of these were brought to us courtesy of similar legal actions (sigh). I think we will see a day when we couldn't imagine videos without captions or appreciate being able to disable a plugin like Flash and still know what it was supposed to be.

MidAtlantic Educause Report

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Last week, I got a chance to attend part of the Mid Atlantic Educause session which happens every year in January. This year, it was in Baltimore and was close enough that there were multiple attendees from Penn State from the different campuses. Between the lunch and the breaks, I had a good chance to compare notes with nearby institutions.

I went to several sessions, but the ones that got the most out of was a demo of augmented reality (AR) and the Policy overview session.

Policy Overview

One of the functions of the Educause consortium is to be a voice for the educational community in Washington, so they have an office in DC to monitor legislative and regulatory issues. The session was headed by Senior Policy Director Steven Worona and he covered issues that a lot of us were concerned about including copyright, student privacy, accessibility and security. I was also able to sit with him at lunch for a Birds of a Feather, and he gave some very helpful insight to different issues. If you are attending Educause, this is a session I would definitely recommend.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is a buzzword I have been hearing, but not one I had seen in practice yet. There are lots of variations including iPad tours of museums (similar to enhanced audio tours in the 80s) and 3D pop-up books using the special 3D classes. The speaker, Jonathan Cabiria, predicted that we may all be walking the streets with special glasses to take advantage of enhanced information from different vendors and locations (I think I saw this in a movie).

One of the more interesting demos are programs which connect paper objects with your Web cam allowing the computer to "think" that your piece of paper does something. There is a demo of this from Olympus where you can print a paper camera, then hold it up in front of a camera and click the "buttons" on it. I tried this in my cubicle, but I do have to report that I couldn't get the web cam to recognize my camera. However, it's still strange to see a live picture of yourself holding a paper camera on the Web.

I do think AR and 3D are about to take off, and here's my anecdote to explain why - Over the break I went to see Tron in 3D so I could experience the cool graphics. Ever since Avatar came out, I've gotten used to going to the theater, getting the 3D glasses then handing them back at the end of the show. This time though, the note asked us not to steal the glasses for use with home theaters. Apparently, some people out there are finding enough 3D experiences that they are stealing glasses.

What was once an experience confined to an engineering lab 10 years ago or only a few movies, is becoming commonplace.

Create UMG (User Management Group) for PSU Course

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The UMG utility is a good way to manage access to certain Penn State online tools such as protected blogs. For instance, the UMG allows you to connect a protected blog to a course roster which updates itself automatically. Details about UMGs can be found at http://kb.its.psu.edu/node/1010

However, you have to first activate the UMG before it can be used, and while the process is easy, it's not entirely transparent...so I thought I would blog it.

Activate UMG for a Course

  1. Log in to https://umg.its.psu.edu/
  2. Click Course Groups on the right.
  3. Select an appropriate course from the menu. The menu should be pre-populated with any course in the current semester that you are an instructor of record for.
  4. Click Submit and the UMg will be created for you. The UMG will automatically be assigned a name based on campus, course and section numbers (e.g. "umg/course.up.ling497b.001")

Create Protected Blog

  1. Log in to http://blogs.psu.edu and create a blogs following instructions on http://kb.its.psu.edu/article/1315
  2. On the Blog creation screen, make sure check the Protected option
  3. When you create the protected blog it will be stored in your personal PASS space and only be accessible to you. You will have to link it to the course UMG to give students to view it.

Connect UMG to Protected Blog

  1. Log in to https://protected.personal.psu.edu/ or go to https://www.work.psu.edu/, then click Manage Protected Personal Web Space in the left menu.
  2. In the Protected Web Space area, click Access Control Manager Wizard in the left menu.
  3. On the next screen, click the plus sign next to the blogs folder icon.
  4. Click the directory name of your protected blog (e.g. "ling497b"), then click the Next button.
  5. Check the option "Restrict access to blogs/... using Access Account userids," then click the Next button.
  6. Check the option "Restrict access to blogs/... using class lists, roles and/or groups.," then click the Next button.
  7. A list of activated UMGs from all semesters will be displayed. The list may also include lists based on your work units. For each course, a UMG for owners and admins will be created alongside the main UMG.
  8. Select the appropriate UMG (e.g. "umg/course.up.ling497b.001") in the left hand text box, then click Add, then click Next). You should see a summary of the permissions for that blog.

Note: Although the roster of the UMG is automatically updated, you can also add grant permission to individual users to a protected blog or UMG by adding user names. The protected blog can also be assigned to individual FPS accounts.