Mobile Learning with Blackboard

School has started and my university uses the Blackboard Learning Management System, and I was told about a feature called Blackboard Mobile Learn that may enhance my learning experience.

Blackboard Mobile Learn is available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices over Wi-Fi, and Blackberry and Android devices on the Sprint network.

Mobile Learn allows students to access the same features available through Blackboard on a PC such as accessing grades, discussions, and content uploaded by instructors.

I’ve been trying out Mobile Learn to see what, if any, value it brings to the student learning environment. Since I’m not on the Sprint network, I can’t test it on my Android based devices, so my tests come from the iPad version.

When Mobile Learn is launched, you’re asked to search for your university. After typing in the search criteria and selecting the university you are prompted with either the login prompt provided by blackboard or the Single Sign On prompt used by the university.

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Once logged in, you are able to choose from a list of available classes or view the Dashboard. In the Dashboard you will be able to see notifications of new content that has been added to each available class.

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Navigating within a class on Mobile Learn is much the same as using Blackboard on a PC or Mac. The overall structure is the same, and the same features available on a PC are available within Mobile Learn. For instance, if you need to register a TurningPoint branded clicker, the registration tool is available and will open in a browser window within Mobile Learn.

Accessing content that is in the form of PDF files, Word documents, PowerPoint slide shows, or other common file types is incredibly easy through Mobile Learn. When you select a piece of content, for example, a PDF file of notes for Biology class, you are presented with two options. The first is to open the file in the browser, and the second is a direct link to the attached file. If you tap the button to open the attachment, it will open within Mobile Learn, and you can browse the PDF file just as you would normally.

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What impressed me the most about Blackboard Mobile Learn is the feature parity with accessing Blackboard from a PC. My testing has shown that if it’s accessible through Blackboard on a PC, then it can be accessed from Mobile Learn. The only real limitation seems to be, in this case, the iPad itself. If content contains Flash or Windows Media Video, then it won’t play, as the iPad does not support those types of files.

What I’m not so impressed by is the business deal between Blackboard and Sprint. I do not see many, if any, students who use Sprint. It’s Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile that students are using. To be honest, while Mobile Learn provides some compelling features, I wouldn’t change to Sprint just so I could use it on my cell phone. Hopefully, we will see this change and Mobile Learn will be available to any user on any cellular network.

A couple other minor annoyances are that there is not an ability to choose a school as a default. There have been times where the search I have used to find my school has stayed and other times I have had to search for the school all over again. For most people, being able to search for the school once and setting that school as the default would be a good feature to have. Another thing is that the application will occasionally hang after I login and I won’t be able to open any classes or open the dashboard, but after going back to the home screen and re-launching Mobile Learn, everything works okay.

Overall, I’m giving Blackboard Mobile Learn 3.75 out of 5 stars, with a full point deduction for partnering with Sprint and a quarter point deduction for the inability to set a school as the default when launching the application.

Windows Server Code Name “Aurora” Public Preview now available

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Today along with the release of the August Preview build of Windows Home Server “Vail”, Microsoft has released the first public preview of Windows Small Business Server “Aurora.”

Windows Small Business Server “Aurora” is what I’m going to call the younger brother of Small Business Server. Aurora is designed to be the “bridge to the cloud,” with on-premise features such as network monitoring, remote access, PC backup, and cloud features, such as e-mail and collaboration through services such as Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services Standard Suite (BPOS).

Aurora is designed for small businesses with less than 25 users and do not have the resources or budget for an SBS or even higher setup.

Aurora and Vail share the same code base so there is some feature overlap, and in the case of Aurora, the “home” features such as media sharing have been removed. Some of the features of Windows Small Business Server “Aurora” are listed below.

  • Active Directory integration for enterprise grade user and resource management.
  • Remote Web Access to files, computers, and applications created by third parties
  • Integration with Microsoft’s online service offering, BPOS
  • Client Connector and PC Backup of Mac OS X clients (must be using 10.5 or above)
  • Launchpad for quick access to common tasks
  • Drive Extender storage technology, first introduced with Windows Home Server v1, for easy upgrades and management of server storage

While this release is a public preview, it is not recommended that you use Aurora for production use as there is no support and there are some issues around server storage. I’ve listed those issues below.

  • There is a QFE available along with this build that addresses an issue where saving files to an Aurora server may fail when a large amount of data is present on the server. It is advised that this QFE be installed immediately after installing Aurora.
  • Storage Check and Repair is broken in this release, as under certain conditions, there may be data loss.
  • If a hard drive goes missing from the storage pool and you attempt to remove that missing hard drive from the storage pool, the removal wizard may inadvertently remove the wrong files from your server.

For the build number curious amongst us, this is Build 7657 and is available from Microsoft Connect today. The CRC and SHA1 hashes for the ISO have been posted below along with steps to check the integrity of the downloaded ISO.

Hashes for today’s release:

Volume label: GR0SAAxFRE_EN_DVD
CRC: 0x15C92BAA
SHA1: 0x83D7341DB9916145749A02B010981494227F1166

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to. (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type "MSCDCRC InstallDVD.iso" (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Full PC Restore from Windows Home Server Vail with a USB Flash Drive

The August Preview of Windows Home Server Vail is the gift that keeps on giving.

In this release, there is now a feature that enables you to plug a USB thumb drive into your server and create a bootable drive that contains the necessary software to perform a full system restore of a client PC.

The nice thing about the process is that the thumb drive is created for both 32 and 64 bit PCs meaning that you only need one thumb drive to restore any PCs in your house.  Steps to perform a restore after the creation of the flash drive are largely unchanged from past releases or even WHS v1.

I performed a test restore of my netbook and I’ve included screenshots below of the restore process and the creation of the restore thumb drive.

Windows Home Server “Vail” August Preview–Screenshot Galleries

 

 

 

Windows Home Server Vail now with Mac OS Support

Screen shot 2010-08-14 at 1.21.21 AMWith the exception of having Windows Media Center on the same PC as Windows Home Server, having Mac OS Support has been a top feature request of mine since the announcement of Windows Home Server back in 2007.

Today, this request has been fulfilled. In the August Preview release of Windows Home Server Vail, the Client Connector for Mac OS has been included.

From what I can tell, there is going to be support for backing up a Mac OS client to Windows Home Server by means of Time Machine. (Backup has not yet been implemented in this release.)

Just like its Windows counterpart, there is a Launchpad component that enables users to manage backups, access Remote Web Access and shared folders on the server.

What’s not clear yet is if there will be any method for accessing the Windows Home Server Vail Dashboard on a Mac OS client. Another thing not yet clear is how restores of Mac clients will work. I’m confident that in time we will find out the answers to these questions.

If you are a Windows Home Server Vail beta user and have Mac clients, I highly encourage you to download the August Preview and test the Mac OS Client Connector.

Windows Home Server “Vail” August Preview now available

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Today Microsoft has released an updated preview build of Windows Home Server “Vail.”

This build has some very welcome changes and some cool new features. Among these changes and new features are the following:

  • Ability to enable or disable Add-ins at will from within the Dashboard
  • Improvements to the Getting Started tasks
  • New color scheme for the Dashboard, Remote Web Access, and Connect Computer website
  • Client Connector for Mac OS (Yes, you read that right, Mac OS!)
  • Alert Viewer now allows for alerts to be organized based on computer name or severity
  • Server Folders and Hard Drives now includes a summary tab
  • There is now the ability to create a bootable USB flash drive that can be used to restore a client computer
  • Official support for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 Betas

However, there are some issues and changes in this build that need to be mentioned up front.

  • For users of a previous release of Vail, you will have to migrate data off of your test server to another PC or external storage device before reinstallation as Drive Extender has undergone more changes making DE drives from previous releases incompatible with the August preview.
  • There is a QFE available along with this build that addresses an issue where saving files to a Vail server may fail when a large amount of data is present on the server. It is advised that this QFE be installed immediately after installing Vail.
  • Storage Check and Repair is broken in this release, as under certain conditions, there may be data loss.
  • If a hard drive goes missing from the storage pool and you attempt to remove that missing hard drive from the storage pool, the removal wizard may inadvertently remove the wrong files from your server.

For the build number curious amongst us, this is build 7657 and is available from Microsoft Connect today. The CRC and SHA1 hashes for the ISO have been posted below along with steps to check the integrity of the downloaded ISO.

Hashes for today’s release:

Volume label: GR0SHSxFRE_EN_DVD

CRC: 0x7D6C61AD

SHA1: 0x051BBC9A1EEF7BEFD9DADD5584EEEB0C81F07AF2

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to. (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type "MSCDCRC InstallDVD.iso" (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Imagine Cup 2010 Wrap-up

(I totally meant to have this posted right after the Imagine Cup finals, but due to some blog issues, and work, the posting schedule slipped. –Tom)

Wow, what a week! I’ve just finished attending the 2010 Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Warsaw, Poland. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with students from all over the world, meet the top executives for Microsoft worldwide, have lunch with education ministers and dignitaries from all over the world, and see some some incredible projects at this year’s Imagine Cup.

At the World Festival on Thursday evening, Jon Perera announced that the 2011 Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals will be held in New York, New York. After Perera’s introduction, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to this year’s finalists via video, and congratulated them on their accomplishments, and talked about how excited she was that the Imagine Cup will be in the USA.  This is incredibly exciting to see the Imagine Cup travelling to the United States. I highly encourage all tech students to compete in the Imagine Cup competition. I’m not sure when the Imagine Cup website will be updated with information for next year’s competition, but keep checking www.imaginecup.com for updated information.

I want to take a moment to thank the City of Warsaw and the government and country of Poland for their wonderful hospitality. Warsaw is such a beautiful city. Throughout the week there were events at different venues within Warsaw. We were at the Palace of Culture and Science, the Warsaw Opera House, a castle in the beautiful town of Pultusk, and several hotels in the city center. The event concluded with an awesome party at the Platinum Nightclub, and after partying into the wee hours of the morning, I returned to the hotel for a few hours of shut eye before heading off to the airport.

One of the biggest takeaways from the Imagine Cup is that no matter how young or how old, students have the power to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems through software. I was totally blown away by how awesome these projects were. Quite a few of the projects are already being looked at by world governments and the private sector. Most of the teams that made it to the final round of judging said that they are working on plans bring their projects to market, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

I want to thank Jacek Murawski (General Manager Microsoft Poland), Jon Perera (General Manager Microsoft Education), the entire corporate Microsoft Imagine Cup team, and the team in Poland that worked to pull off an incredible event. I also want to thank everyone at Microsoft and Waggener-Edstrom for making this trip possible. I had a great time, and I look forward to the 2011 Imagine Cup.