Academic Technology - Florida State College at Jacksonville

Academic Technology

Online Syllabus Builder - Deployed Updates

EdTechBrandi Bleak
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This week, the developer of our Online Syllabus Builder deployed an updated version that addressed a number of recent issues. Here is a list of the expected fixes: 

Self Developed and Word Documents

  • An issue causing the Spring courses to not populate has been resolved.
  • If a user revisits a page after creating their syllabus, it did not show the syllabus status. This has been resolved.

Edit Screen

  • Flagging now enabled if user edits two different syllabi in the same session
  • Issue with save button not functioning as expected has been fixed
  • Deans employee ID has been added to transaction for backend processing 

Portrait Screen 

  • Checked to make sure session not timed out before deleting portrait
  • Checked session before trying to change image
  • When a session times out, it will now redirect user to the login screen

Office Hours 

  • Issue with saving office hours has been corrected
  • It was reported that Tuesday auto-selects. This should no longer happen.
  • College logo updated to match the new standard
  • Bullets removed from template page

Blackboard Inline Grading is getting a refresh!

EdTech, LMSRobyn Reese

Even if you often use the inline grading feature in Blackboard, you probably don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about how it works (and if you don't use it, you really should--it's amazing). Inline grading uses a technology called Crocodoc to allow instructors to provide feedback such as comments, highlights, and even drawing/annotation, directly on a document while grading it. 

Over the Winter Break, the inline grading service is being upgraded to replace Crocodoc with more powerful Box technology. Instructors should not notice much of a difference in how they access and use the tool, but it will have a few new features, as detailed in the chart below. 

Taken From Blackboard Help (https://help.blackboard.com/)

Taken From Blackboard Help (https://help.blackboard.com/)

The upgrade will take place prior to the start of the Spring Term, so it will not interfere with the grading of work at any time. All prior artifacts that were annotated with Crocodoc will still be fully accessible within past terms' course shells. 

For more information about this change, or to find out more about inline grading, click here. For further questions, please contact Educational Technology (EdTech@fscj.edu).

 

In Focus: FSCJ Archives

EdTech, DMP, In FocusBrandi Bleak

On this episode, we sit down with Jennifer Grey, Public Services Coordinator for FSCJ Library and Learning Commons, to talk about a project that involves archiving many of the College's old publications, files, artifacts, and many interesting items she never imagined finding. 

Innovate to Educate: Professor Audrey Antee

EdTech, DMPBrandi Bleak

Innovate to Educate is a series created by Educational Technology and Digital Media Productions to share information about innovative technology being used by our amazing faculty at each of our campuses. In this episode, we sit down with Professor Audrey Antee to discuss how she introduces technology within her classroom, which technologies have been successful, and what the driving factor is that determines whether students are likely to adopt the tool for their own use.

Kaltura MediaSpace Updates

EdTech, DMPBrandi Bleak
Kaltura_Logo.png

The recent transition to PeopleSoft brought many changes with it, including differences in how users upload and embed videos from MediaSpace into Blackboard. Currently, this process has been disabled within Blackboard while IT works out some authentication issues. While the IT department is working with a third-party vendor to ensure resolution, there is an available workaround. 

Currently, Kaltura MediaSpace still requires users to login by using the old credentials that were used prior to the PeopleSoft transition. In order to access content that was already uploaded into MediaSpace, users are advised to login to Artemis and access MediaSpace via a link in the Technology tab until a similar bridge has been created within myFSCJ. Once a user has logged in to MediaSpace, they can upload, edit, and copy an embed code to use within their Blackboard course to make the content available to students. 

Once a permanent fix has been tested and is in place, an update will be posted and communicated. If users have any questions about the workaround, please submit a ticket at help.fscj.edu.

For more information on adding files, images, audio, and video visit this Blackboard Help article.

New Blackboard Apps!

LMS, EdTech, Apps, Tutorial, In Focus, Student ContentRobyn Reese
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We are happy to announce that Blackboard has released a suite of new, improved mobile apps and that they are now compatible with myFSCJ for Fall 2017 and beyond! Blackboard has split the functionality of the apps to create one that is specifically tailored towards the needs of students and one that is perfect for instructor use! 

Blackboard App (for Students)

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The Blackboard App is the current name for the student-centered version of Blackboard mobile. It replaces the current Blackboard student app, which has been discontinued.

It is available in the iOS App Store, in Google Play, and in the Windows Store. 

Like the previous version of the Blackboard mobile app, students can still take tests, view announcements, post discussions, and review grades with Blackboard App. Now, the app is optimized for mobile, so that the content will adapt to all screen sizes and be more visible and accessible! Users can also upload assignments and attachments from Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, making it easier than ever to work on the go using just your mobile device. The new homepage for the app also features an activity stream, displaying due dates, posted grades, and assignment uploads for all classes in one continuous, integrated flow. Collaborate is also now fully integrated into the mobile experience, so students do not need to use another app or their browser to join learning sessions on their phone or tablet. 

The Blackboard app will be continuously updated, with the intent of making it easier and more efficient for students to complete online coursework wherever they are. For more information, visit Blackboard's help site.

Login to the Blackboard Student app:


Blackboard Instructor

Blackboard Instructor_Tile_Square.png

The Blackboard Instructor app is brand new, and only shows the courses that are being taught, not those that the user is enrolled in. Instructors can use the app to view and send announcements or make courses available for viewing by students. The app is fully responsive and mimics the content layouts and file structure of a Blackboard course within the full LMS. This structure can also be edited or changed from the mobile app.

The app contains a student viewer that can help faculty to better understand the student mobile experience while taking tests, watching videos, and reading content. The app will also allow the user to export content for use in other mobile apps or in a web browser. It also incorporates Collaborate access natively, so that sessions can be run completely from the mobile app without relying on a browser or separate plug-in. For more information about the Blackboard Instructor App, visit Blackboard's help site. 

Login to the Blackboard Instructor app:


To access your online courses on the Blackboard Mobile app, please follow the directions listed below:

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1. Ensure you have the correct app downloaded onto your smart-device. The Blackboard Mobile app’s icon should appear as a blue square with a pencil. (Note: The Blackboard Learn app, which looks like a chalkboard, is not compatible with myFSCJ, so if you only have that app on your device, please download the correct Blackboard Mobile app).

2. Upon opening the app, you will be prompted to enter your college. Type in “Florida State College at Jacksonville”.

3. You will be presented with a prompt telling you to “Web Login”. Click the “Web Login” button.

4. You will be redirected to the myFSCJ login page. Please login using your myFSCJ userID and password.

5. Locate and click the Blackboard link underneath the “Useful Links” section of the student tab. For instructors, locate the Blackboard link within the faculty tab.

6. This will certify your session and take you back to the Blackboard Mobile app interface.

 

If you are experiencing any issues during any one of these steps or with the functionality of the app, please contact the Technical Service Desk at (904) 646-2300, option 3.

Video Captioning Just Got Easier!

DMP, Tutorial, VideosRobyn Reese

Are you using videos in your classroom or Blackboard shell and have put off captioning them because it is too hard, or too expensive, or you just don't know how to do it? No need to admit it, because we have just the tool for you!

Introducing Katura REACH Auto-captioning, the free, easy to use tool that can help you to maintain an accessible learning environment while keeping the hassle to a minimum.  View the video below for more information, and remember: Accessibility is Everyone's Responsibility!

Sunsetting of SoftChalk

EdTech, LMSRobyn Reese
SoftChalk.jpg

Information Technology has decided phase out SoftChalk, the eLearning authoring tool that was used by some faculty members to create learning objects that integrated with Blackboard. FSCJ faculty and staff will no longer be able to use SoftChalk to create new learning objects after February 28, 2018. Already-created content will still be usable. 

If you are a SoftChalk user, there are a few tools that can be used to create learning modules, depending upon your budget and what you would like to make. Please feel free to contact the Educational Technology team (EdTech@fscj.edu) for consultation and recommendations!

October Updates: Fall 2017

EdTechBrandi Bleak

Although we look forward to communicating an update with a more detailed description of best practices for moving forward, we wanted to offer a quick update as we are well on our way this Fall term. Here are a few of the technology issues, fixes, and updates for the Fall term:

The relationship between PeopleSoft and Blackboard Data

One change that has occurred since the implementation is that Blackboard simply takes the data that PeopleSoft provides. This means that when a change is made in Blackboard, it is almost always because the data was pushed over from PeopleSoft. 

Cache is a big deal

It has been our experience that many of the issues that we have encountered early in the semester as data was being updated, were corrected by simply clearing a users cache. Anytime a change is made to resolve an issue, we suggest to first try clearing your cache first before submitting a ticket or contacting your supervisor. 

Employee access to Blackboard

New employees, or those who have never taken a course at FSCJ, will no longer automatically be granted access to Blackboard. An account is only created when a user is enrolled or encoded in a course that is fed over from PeopleSoft. 

Employees no longer have an Employee and a Student Account

The accounts were merged into one account. Therefore, in Blackboard, users will see classes they are the instructor in and any courses they are enrolled in as a student. Users will also only have one email address that will be used to correspond to all. 

Roles in myFSCJ

When a user logs in to myFSCJ, the system determines their role assigned by PeopleSoft and grants access to the appropriate tab(s). The Faculty Tab is role-based, meaning you have to be encoded to teach a class in order to see the tab. 

Similarly, Students, Deans, and other ‘roles’ are also assigned. New employees may not see the Student Tab, which is needed to register for courses. If a user believes they should have access to something they do not see upon logging in, please submit a ticket at help.fscj.edu.

Real-time Updates: Blackboard and Syllabus Builder

EdTechBrandi Bleak

Online Syllabus Builder

We have been notified there is an issue with syllabi not showing within the Self-Developed option of the Online Syllabus Builder. Our developer has been made aware and is currently working on a resolution. 

Recent Updates - November 1

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Update!

Courses will now be available 60 days prior to their start day instead of 40.

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Update

The Blackboard mobile apps are now functional!

Dean's View - Online Syllabus Builder

Although available earlier in the month, the system had reports of some errors and slow processing times. Recent deployments have resolved the issues and the system is now functioning as expected.

Current Known Issues & FAQs:

  • While using the Online Syllabus Builder, the “Save Continue” button in the syllabus builder is not functioning. Please use the “Save Finish” option until a resolution is deployed.
  • Instructors, please remember to make your Blackboard course available when you are ready for your students to view the content. This can be done by going to Customization, then Properties in the Blackboard side navigation panel. 
  • Instructors, please keep in mind the online syllabi need to be published before they are available.
  • The migration process only associated users to active courses due to the change to EMPLID as username, however, users can be easily added to previous courses on a manual basis if needed for the Fall term. We understand some instructors may want to copy from or review an existing course(s). If there are any courses that an instructor needs access to please send an email to et@fscj.edu with the reference numbers. 
  • Some instructors are seeing their student email address in the 'from' field when emailing students from within Blackboard. To have this updated manually, please email et@fscj.edu.
  • If users are no longer associated with Organizations they were previously enrolled in, please locate and self enroll once again. If there are any problems doing so, please email et@fscj.edu for assistance.
  • There are faculty who either do not, or have lost access to, their faculty tab within myFSCJ. Affected faculty may submit a ticket at help.fscj.edu to assist in tracking the problem. Once resolved we will update tickets as well as this post.
    • This issue has been resolved. Instructors should now have access to their faculty tab. It may be necessary to clear browser cache first. If you still do not have access to your faculty tab, please submit a ticket at help.fscj.edu.

August 29

This morning, there was a time where all Blackboard users were unable to access the system. This has been resolved, however it may be necessary to clear the cache before users are able to log in. 

August 28

A partial disruption in service to my.fscj.edu has been scheduled to occur between 1:00 a.m. -  3:00 a.m., August 29, 2017. The estimated outage time is expected to be less than 15 minutes in duration and should not impact users who are already logged into Blackboard or my.fscj.edu

Thank you for your patience as we continue to improve services!

August 25

  • As of 8 p.m., the migration process of live student data into Blackboard production is now complete, and the Blackboard system should once again be accessible via myFSCJ. For Faculty, the link to Blackboard is available within the Faculty tab, under Classroom. Students also have a link in their tab.
  • As of 1 p.m., the migration process is in the final stage and multiple teams are currently testing the data transition for accuracy. The last steps will be ensuring sign-on processes are functional.
  • As of 8 a.m., Blackboard is still unavailable due the migration process. Progress has been made overnight and we will be updating these posts throughout the day with additional details.

August 24

  • As of 4:30 p.m., the process of migrating data over to Blackboard has begun and the system is now offline. We estimate that this should take a few hours.
  • As of 8 p.m., Blackboard is still unavailable due the migration process.

August 23

  • The migration process of live student data into Blackboard production will begin taking place Thursday, August 24. This should have little effect on the Blackboard system, however, there is a possibility that rolling restarts of the system may be necessary from Thursday until Sunday, August 27. This may cause short outages from time-to-time. We understand this is not ideal, but it is necessary to be prepared for the new term.
  • During the migration, it is expected that Publisher data may be impacted. Please avoid adding publisher data to your course until we communicate that the process is complete in order to avoid duplication of work.
  • We highly recommend that faculty who have worked on their Fall Blackboard shells take a moment today to export/archive their courses in preparation for the migration occurring over the next few days. Here is a Knowledge Base article on that provides instruction on how to export/archive courses.

Blackboard Course Shell Availability

News, EdTechBrandi Bleak

Blackboard Course Shells - Now Available for Fall!

We are happy to communicate that Fall course shells have now been successfully loaded in Blackboard and have been associated with their instructors. Professors should be able to access them now by logging in to Blackboard via Artemis. 

Be aware that students will not yet be populated within courses, and thus will not have access to them, even if the instructor makes the course shell available. The loading of students into courses will take place during the course of the week of August 20.

FSCJ Online Courses

Those that use a course master may not yet have the associated content loaded into the shell. At this point, all A term master course content should be loaded into the Blackboard shells. The work of loading B term course content should be completed this week. 

Online Syllabus Builder

The link to the Online Syllabus Builder is now visible within my.fscj.edu under the newly designed Faculty tab. Please view our separate post regarding the online syllabus builder for more information. 

Issues, Questions, or Concerns?

If for any reason you have issues with access to Blackboard or are unable to view a course that you have been assigned for the Fall, please contact EdTech@fscj.edu.

FAQs

I was recently encoded in a course, however, the shells have not appeared within Blackboard. When will they appear?

Any courses that were encoded within the last week or so will not be available in Blackboard until the final migration is complete and all data has been transitioned over. We appreciate the patience of all instructors who were recently added.

My course and lab appear as two separate shells.

Many courses with a hands-on facet are experiencing this issue--not exclusive to pure sciences--as a result of the way that these courses are encoded in PeopleSoft.  When a student enrolls in the lecture component, they are automatically enrolled in the lab. However, these courses are still graded as one course offering.

In order to reduce confusion for both faculty and students when navigating Blackboard, we would like to ask all faculty with duplicate course shells to ONLY make the lecture component available to students and keep all other components unavailable. To identify which Blackboard shell was created for the lecture component, look at your course schedule within myFSCJ. As shown in the example below, “lecture” or “laboratory” is marked in parentheses after the course title. In the first column, note that the course code is the same, but the reference number in parentheses is different for the lecture (3888) and the laboratory (3889).

Sample Schedule to pair with Bb example.png

 

When looking at courses within myBlackboard, the last four numbers in each course shell title matches reference number seen in the first column of the faculty schedule in myFSCJ. Thus, in the provided example below, the second course, COOP-EDCTN (INTERN)-3889, is the laboratory component and should not be made available to students.

Sample Blackboard Course Numbers.png

 

Students do not see courses that are not made available in myBlackboard and therefore will not be aware of the duplicate course shells. Please know that this process will not have any effect on students’ final grades.

Will the class roster populate students info at a later time?

Yes. The creation of course shells and instructor association was the first step of the integration of PeopleSoft with Blackboard. After receiving feedback from professors, we prioritized the creation of course shells so that content could be built in advance of the Fall Semester. The addition of students to Blackboard requires a change to student user IDs that cannot be performed until the Summer Semester's end, so as not to disrupt ongoing classes. We’ll be sending more information out about the progress soon.

The IT Maintenance Dates are not currently visible within the Syllabus Builder, however often used to inform students and for planning purposes. 

We are currently working to integrate the dates within the online syllabus builder, however they may not be ready prior to Fall. You can visit the Calendar page located within fscj.edu to view a full Collegewide calendar. 

Below are the IT Maintenance dates for the Fall term:

August 26-27, Weekend in between grade submission and start of term.
September 16-17, Saturday 9PM – Sunday 9AM
October 14-15, Saturday 9PM – Sunday 9AM
November 10-12 Veterans Day
December 23 – January 2 Winter Break


Instructions for using the Online Syllabus Builder

EdTechBrandi Bleak
 

This post has been updated to reflect the most recent information and no longer has links to the test envirnoment

 

my.fscj Integration

As most employees are aware, we are in the middle of a transition from the Artemis and Connections portals to our unified portal, my.fscj.edu. The move requires a new data workflow, integration of multiple systems, and updates to current tools. Our development team has been working diligently to prepare one specific piece of the puzzle, the Online Syllabus Builder.  

The updated version of the Syllabus Builder is located within my.fscj.edu within the faculty tab. In general, it functions very similarly to the prior version. If this is your first time using the online syllabus builder as a member of the FSCJ faculty, you should begin by viewing the Video Introduction that is in the middle of the home page for the Online Syllabus Builder, as shown in the image above. 

Please be aware that already developed syllabi from the old Online Syllabus Builder are able to be transferred to the new Syllabus Builder Platform.

Identifying Different Sections within the Syllabus Builder

When utilizing the syllabus builder,  it can be a bit challenging to identify how courses correlate to faculty schedules in the mySchedule area of myFSCJ. This can be particularly important to understand for faculty who may teach the same course in different formats (i.e. face to face, hybrid, or fully online versions of the same content) thus requiring that unique sections have different syllabi.

The example below provides a simple explanation of how to interpret the numbers in the syllabus builder to identify different sections of the same course. 

myFSCJ schedule example.jpg

The image to the left is a sample schedule that can be accessed via the faculty tab in myFSCJ (more information about accessing schedules can be found here).

The first text column contains a letter-number combination that identifies the course number (CHM1025C), the section number (17), and the class number (4754) for this specific class meeting. 

While the course number is the same for all courses of this type throughout the college, the section and class number are unique to this course offering at this specific time with this professor.  

It is possible to correlate the section number displayed in myFSCJ to the one in the Online Syllabus Builder so that each section can be identified so that the appropriate syllabi can be uploaded. 

Looking at the image of the course dropdown menu in the Syllabus Builder below,  one can see that the course title is followed by different string of numbers to identify each specific course offering.

When using this dropdown menu, the numbers in parentheses deliver the vital identifying information about each course.

  • The first set of six numbers identifies the course number (105708)
  • The next digit identifies the course offer number (1)
  • The next four digits identify the term (2178 for the Fall term)
  • The next digit identifies the session (1)
  • The next digit identifies the section number (17)

Thus,  section number (in this case, "17"), is the common thread that can enable professors to correlate the sections on their schedule with the sections listed in the Online Syllabus Builder.

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FAQs, Commonly Reported Issues, and Deployed Fixes

Below is a list of the most frequently reported current issues with my.FSCJ.edu, though it is by no means an exhaustive list. Please use the list below for self-service solutions, and contact EdTech@fscj.edu if you have an issue that is not included on this list, or if the suggested solution does not resolve the problem.

 

When I try to access the online syllabus builder via the faculty tab within my.FSCJ.edu, the link does not take me anywhere and I stay on the same page.

Turning off your browser's pop-up blocker and reloading the page should resolve the issue.

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When attempting to copy a syllabus and selecting various sections to include, only some of the sections copied, while several did not come over.

This is currently being reviewed and does not yet have a final resolution. As a workaround, once working inside the syllabus, instructors can select Show Outline, then click on the sections that did not come over and need to be added. Finish by selecting Update Outline.

IT Maintenance dates are no longer added to the online syllabus builder; where can I find them if I would like to include them in my syllabi or use for planning?

There will be a convenient link or availability to these and similarly useful dates within the Faculty tab of My.fscj, however in the meantime, please visit www.fscj.edu/news-events/calendar to view a complete calendar of College events.

As an instructor, my name is displaying a middle initial or another form of my name that I would like to edit. Is that possible?

This has been resolved and should now allow for changes to be made.

Copying a previous syllabus Calendar did not copy properly, can this be addressed?

This high priority issue has been resolved.

The holiday dates the College is closed are not displayed correctly within the syllabus.

Thanksgiving closing details, along with other dates have been updated. The formatting of this area has also been improved.

Book information is not displaying within the syllabus builder.

This high priority issue has been resolved. 

In the previous system I upload a custom photo, however, this is not functioning.

We currently do not support the custom image from Artemis. There is a possibility this will be enhanced in the future and we will continue to update as progress is made.

Can office hours be added globally, or at least to multiple syllabi instead of needing to be input for each course taught? 

New feature: option to copy office hours between syllabus

In the updated version of the syllabus builder, the option to copy office hours to another syllabus will be available. 

The functionality to create global office hours has not been added at this time, but the team will be surveying users to ensure this option would be most beneficial and addressing a solution in the near future.

Could students search for an instructor's hours instead of hosting only within the online syllabus?

The site search is a great idea that will also be added to the queue to be worked on this Fall.

Can required text books pull from an instructor's book adoption request rather than the bookstore's order?

The book request needs to be handled through the Follett process, so no change will be made.

The experience of viewing a syllabus on mobile needs improving. Is that possible?

This has been addressed and will be finalized soon for a better viewing experience on mobile.

There's an issue when displaying different syllabi in same browser session. This workflow is necessary for reviewing multiple syllabi at one time. Can this be addressed? 

This has been corrected and should no longer be an issue. 

Deans have numerous courses, which at times makes it difficult to find a specific course or session. How can this be improved? 

Dean's View now has the ability to filter by sessions.


 

Reporting an Issue

If you spot any issues that are not mentioned in the list above, please use the Report Issue button that is highlighted in the graphic above to notify the development team directly. Be as descriptive as possible to assist the team with addressing the concern. Although there is a list of issues currently being worked on, don't hesitate to submit any concerns you may have.

Tools for the Millennial Student Training Materials

EdTech, WorkshopRobyn Reese
 

On July 13, 2017, the Educational Technology Department worked with the Office of Training and Organizational Development to offer Tools for the Millennial Student, a look at how technology has changed the educational experience for today's students. The training provided an overview of some apps, websites, and applets that fit into the broad categories of effective learning detailed in the graphic above, drawn from the Adobe Education Creativity Study.

 

MediaSpace/CaptureSpace

For those who are interested in learning more about MediaSpace, FSCJ's media streaming service and CaptureSpace, the screencasting and recording tool, the Office of Training and Professional Development is offering a dedicated session on Wednesday, July 19th at 2:00 at the Advanced Technology Center Downtown. 

You can also view an In Focus webinar that showcased MediaSpace, produced by the Academic Technology Department, here, along with a series of tutorials that explain how to use some of the more advanced features of MediaSpace, like chaptering and video quizzing. Information about the Reach auto-captioning service for MediaSpace can be found by watching this tutorial. Remember that, as discussed in training, all academic videos should be captioned to 99% accuracy in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Blackboard Collaborate

Based upon the results of the exit survey that we administered at the end of the training, many of the participants wanted more information about the use of Blackboard Collaborate. You can find a series of webinars that detail the many features of Collaborate, along with best practices for their use, here. 

Thanks so much for attending our training! For more information about inititiatives offered through the Training and Organizational Development Office, click here to visit their website. 

Apps for Student Success Presentation from HHS Common Orientation

EdTech, AppsRobyn Reese

Thanks so much for attending our presentation, Apps for Student Success, at the Health and Human Services Common Orientation, held at North Campus on July 14th. Below is a copy of the presentation used, which includes the names of all of the recommended apps and information about how to get them. Due to high student interest, we also wanted to share some information about how to get free copies of the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity tools for your home computer. Instructions for doing so can be found here. 

Best of luck to all of you as you continue your degree program at FSCJ! It was a pleasure to meet you, and please do not hesitate to reach out to Information Technology if you ever have questions or issues with computers, Blackboard, or any other FSCJ system.

Taking Better Selfies!

Photos, Apps, Student ContentRobyn Reese

In the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, taking flattering selfies seems like an important life (or even career) skill. Each day, when scrolling through my social feeds, I see well-composed photos of people at the springs, in front of famous monuments, or snuggling with their super adorable pets. I have to admit that this annoys me slightly because I am HORRIBLE at taking selfies. In fact, I sometimes feel like I am the only Millenial who cannot manage to hold my phone out at the right angle and compose my face so I look gently happy and in possession of the right number of chins. Granted, I am kind of an old Millenial, but I refuse to believe that I am as old as I look in my selfies.  

When discussing this with my coworkers, who are depicted in the lovely images below, I was told that awesome selfie-taking is not some sort of crazy voodoo magic, but rather is a skill that can be learned through practice and the application of a few simple principles, as explained below. 

  1. Know your Angles It turns out that "your good side" isn't really a myth! Take some time to look at yourself in the mirror (or on your camera's screen) to determine how to hold your face in a way that you think is most flattering. Generally, people who take good selfies are making the same face, at the same angle, in all of their photos. They are not necessarily naturally photogenic, they have just figured out how to work what they have. You have "it", too, you just need to find "it".  
  2. Camera Placement This is somewhat of a controversial issue. Many people believe that holding the camera out and slightly up can keep you from exhibiting the dreaded five chins. It can also produce odd shadows on your face, though, and it can look a bit forced. Alternatively, holding the camera on the same level as your face, and within two feet of it, can produce a nice look. To keep your face sharp while snapping an image, poke your chin out and down while shoving your shoulders down into your back and away from your ears (remember, beauty is pain).
  3. Lighting is Everything  Proper lighting can change the look of the planes of your face, the texture of your hair, and the quality of your skin. Natural lighting is best for photography, and especially flattering is the "Golden Hour" around sunrise and sunset. If taking a photo in the middle of the day, try to keep the harsh sun behind you, but use your head as a natural block of the actual sun to avoid overexposure. Avoid fluorescent or harsh lighting at all costs--if taking photos inside, try to find a window or skylight with slightly filtered natural lighting.
  4. Background Choice Your background should reflect the purpose of the shot and should be thoughtfully chosen. If you want to document your visit to a fabulous location, focus on making that the focal point of the photo by holding the camera further away from you and experimenting with different viewpoints until you find something that looks interesting. If you just want to show off your outfit or a new haircut, keep background distractions to a minimum.
  5. Take a Million Shots Great photos don't happen by accident. Usually, that perfect image seen on your friend's Instagram is just one of twenty slightly different takes on the same subject. The burst feature on your phone's camera can really come in handy here, as it will allow your phone to take a series of photos while you focus on voguing.  Try moving the camera up and down, or rotating the phone and your body on an axis.  Be experimental! This is supposed to be fun (at least, that's what I hear).
  6. When All Else Fails, Filter!  Postproduction is always important! Instagram and Snapchat come with tons of built in filters to change the coloring of an image, or to blur it to mask tiny imperfections. I am also a big fan of the Adobe Photoshop Fix mobile app, which allows you to adjust color, fix blemishes, cut out backgrounds, and even use a clone stamp tool to remove tiny distractions. 

Good luck, happy selfie-ing, and don't forget to smize! 

 

Will HEIF replace JPEG?

EdTech, DMP, NewsBrandi Bleak

If you’ve taken, shared, or edited a photo within the last 25 years, chances are you’ve worked with a JPEG file. This file format is the standard for all digital photos, was around before modern digital cameras were available, and every camera on the market currently is able to export photos as JPG files. Just like many other technologies, though, it looks like we could be heading toward a change in the standard file format that many of us use on a daily basis. 

During Apple’s most recent WWDC 2017 Keynote on June 5th, they introduced a file format that will give images better quality while only requiring half of the storage space on a mobile device. If you are an avid user of your mobile device's camera, you know what a needed innovation this is, as it is sometimes challenging to balance personal storage needs for apps, files, videos, and photos. This Fall, with the launch of iOS 11, iPhones and iPads will all capture and store images in HEIF, or High Efficiency Image File Format. The smaller image files will include all of the features users expect, as well as anticipating the needs of future users. 

 

If Apple has its way, the standard file format everyone is used to will be improved and JPEGs will be replaced by HEIFs.

 

The HEIF format stores images, video, image bursts, audio, and text together in one file, that can be edited without compromising the original quality of the image. When editing or cropping a file, a separate portion of the file is viewed without taking up additional storage, essentially utilizing non-destructive edits. That’s a huge improvement from the JPEG, which when an image was saved, it gave you a final image with less quality each time it was edited. 

Example files copyright © Nokia Technologies 2017

Example files copyright © Nokia Technologies 2017

View more example images

What does this mean for an average user? At this point, we will have to wait and see. If the format catches on though, consider the extent to which images are currently integrated into our everyday life and communications. Software companies will have to adapt to the change by issuing updates that will enable this new file type to be compatible with current desktop applications. Additionally, websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat where images are a core component of the service will need to support the files, and browsers will need to adjust as well. It could instigate a series of huge changes throughout all segments of technology. 

However, Apple isn’t the only one working to change our future. Google has also developed their own format for images on the web, called WebP.  it remains to be seen which of these two massive tech companies' file format will become the new standard. 

Low-Cost (Mobile) Virtual Reality Options

EdTechRobyn Reese

In a past post on this blog, we examined the highest quality virtual reality devices that are on the market right now. Currently, the best VR systems available require the use of a standalone computer with a high-powered processor and graphics card, and range in price from $500 to $800 dollars. If you are interested in acquiring one of these and have the budget to do so, click here to read our roundup of the computer-enabled VR headsets. If you just want to experiment with VR, or to incorporate it into your classroom without breaking the bank, read on! 

Lower cost VR systems rely upon the use of a mobile device to provide the processing power. These mobile device VR headsets are essentially holders or viewers that work in conjunction with specially designed mobile apps to produce an immersive experience. This experience can vary in quality, depending upon the screen resolution and power of the phone and the control mechanism and lenses of the headset being used. The first mobile VR headset to be distributed widely was the Google Cardboard, a fifteen dollar headset that was so simple that users could assemble it themselves, or even download plans to print their own. As the Cardboard gathered steam (Ten million units have been distributed since it appeared in 2014), it became apparent that there was a need for headsets with more durability, and that there was a market for competition. Here are some of the best examples of mobile VR headsets that are built to last, low in cost, and reliant on a mobile device. 

Samsung Gear VR

The Samsung Gear Mobile VR headset is currently the most widely known of this category of headsets, and is currently the best-selling unit in this category on Amazon.com. It is also currently the most expensive in this category, with a new model priced at $109. The Gear is often bundled as a giveaway with the purchase of Samsung Galaxy devices, making it more affordable if you are in the market for a new phone. The Gear is designed to be paired with Galaxy family of phones, though it can be used with other mobile devices, albeit with limited functionality. Those who are using the Gear with a Galaxy phone can take advantage of one of its most unique features, the controller, which enables you to manipulate or change the content and gaming experience on the device without removing your phone from the holder to tap the screen or the buttons. 

Reviews indicate that this feature of the Gear is one of the reasons that it is currently at the top of its market, along with the fact that it integrates with the Oculus Store. This integration means that users of the Gear must download an Oculus app that enables them to use the content. Unfortunately, though this means that some of the best games and experiences in Virtual Reality are available to users of Gear VR, it seems that many games experience glitches because the mobile phones does not have the requisite processing power to deliver the full, smooth experience. 

As mentioned above, the Gear VR headset can be used by anyone with a mobile device, however, the feature set is severely limited, based upon the type of phone being used. iOS capable devices do not have access to the Oculus Store, severely limiting the experience. Also, currently the remote control might best be described as "in development", since fewer than ten apps in the store take full advantage of it! Another mark in the negative column for the Gear is the fact that the Oculus store is mainly centered around gaming. It does not currently market a Youtube app, making it more difficult to watch 360 videos put out on that platform, which are among the best educational content for VR available today.

Google Daydream View

The Daydream is the newest (and possibly most hyped) addition to the slate of mobile-enabled VR headsets. Continuing Google's commitment to offering cutting-edge technology at a lower price point, the Daydream View offers an incredibly immersive VR experience, and a controller that is better thought-out than the Gear's, but is currently "affordably" priced at $79.00. It is consistently noted as the most comfortable VR headset on the market, constructed out of lightweight plastic with a soft fabric covering that can be removed and washed. 

The Daydream View has a lot of promise, but currently, it is designed to only be compatible with the Google Pixel mobile phone and a VERY limited list of models manufactured by competitors (an updated list of Daydream-ready phones can be found here).  Also, at this time the dedicated Daydream app store has very little content in it, though what IS there is fantastic for education, as this seems to be Google's primary targeted market for the device. Google Expeditions, the Google Arts and Culture App, and YouTube all provide wonderfully immersive experiences with a variety of informative material. 

Another main strength of the Daydream is its open developer platform, making it possible for those who are interested to create their own apps for inclusion in the Daydream store. This is in keeping with the ease of development and acceptance that characterizes the Android platform, as well as other Alphabet (Google) owned content outlets. On the flip side, it has been reported that some of the Cardboard apps that were designed for Google's lower-cost mobile VR headset do not work well in the Daydream, and can cause vertigo or motion sickness. At this time, the Daydream is very much under development, and may not be the best investment, though it does have great promise to provide the VR democratization that will bring this technology fully into the mainstream. 

Cardboard-Compatible VR Headsets

The last category to consider in mobile VR is an extremely broad category known as "cardboard compatible" headsets. Since the form factor and design of the Google Cardboard have been open since its inception, there are a wide variety of devices that mimic it, in different materials, with different price points and levels of quality. Though none of these devices offer an immersive VR experience on the level with the Gear or Daydream, they have the advantage of being device agnostic, so every user has the same experience, regardless of the type of mobile device that they put into the headset. Here are two of the best-known Cardboard-compatible headsets on the market:

Zeiss VR One: The Zeiss is manufactured by the lens company Carl Zeiss, and as such, it markets the visual experience as being one of the best on the market. You are, essentially, paying for the lenses on this headset, and with a price point just under $100, it is debatable whether it is worth the money. The visual experience in mobile VR is already limited by the resolution of your screen (hence, the complaint that Mobile VR often looks gridded or boxy), and the better lenses cannot fix this visual distortion.

Merge VR: The mobile VR dark horse is the Merge VR foam headset. It is designed to hold phones with all form factors, and stretches slightly to ensure a tight fit to protect your phone from dropping out of the headset. Lightweight and closely fitting, it features two straps for comfort when wearing the device. Though it essentially does nothing but hold your phone in the optimal position for viewing, has no buttons, and requires you to take the phone out of the holder to change apps, for the casual user (or in a classroom setting), the Merge is more durable than the traditional Google Cardboard and can be cleaned between uses. With a $40 price tag, it provides few frills, but is the most affordable of all options, while maintaining comfort, cleanliness, and functionality.