Archives for December 2008

USB Flash Drives can transmit viruses

EdTechUSBFlash-01.jpgHere is a cheerful thought for the new year. According to this article from Campus Technology, USB flash drives can transmit computer viruses simply by inserting them into an available USB port on a machine and letting the system access the “autorun” feature of the USB flash drive.

At one conference, around 50% of the attendees wound up with an infected USB flash drive. One company actually distributed infected flash drives at a security conference (if you can believe it).

I really like the convenience flash drives offer for transferring files between machines. It is great to have the portability and universality of flash drives (they work on both Mac and PC machines). I use them all the time. Now we are told that flash drives are rapidly becoming a major vector for computer malware distribution. In one experiment a security company scattered several infected flash drives in a parking lot and observed the behavior of the people who picked up the flash drives (the contained malware that transmitted sensitive data to the computers at the security company–the security company was being paid by a bank to audit the security).

Social engineering in a very important and useful tool in the arsenal of malicious hackers. They rely on innate human behaviors to enable the infection of machines with malicious code. Most of us don’t really think twice about inserting an unknown USB flash drive (which is essentially the new floppy disk) into a machine and seeing what is on it.

What does this have to do with education? Well, I’ve been involved in discussions with at least one faculty member about how students should submit assignments. For one class, students create substantially large files (20 MB or more) for their assignments. In a class of 20, this can amount to around 500 MB (or more). This doesn’t really sound like too much space at first. However, multiply this amount of storage space by the number of classes taught by the instructor and then multiply it again by the number of faculty on this campus. It quickly becomes a very large amount of storage space required for assignments (especially if the instructor desires to hang onto assignments for multiple semesters). One possible solution is to have students obtain a relatively inexpensive 2-4 GB flash drive that contains backups of their course files (the originals should be stored on a more permanent machine such as their desktop or laptop, of course). This flash drive is then turned into the instructor at the end of the semester for grading.

Now, the instructor has to rely on the student’s good behavior in handling that flash drive. Students may inadvertently infect their flash drives by inserting into an infected machine. This is then turned in to the instructor who will subsequently infect their own machine. The instructor has no idea where the student’s flash drive has been. The student may not even realize they are carrying an infected flash drive.

For more information on good security practices, visit the IT Help Desk’s Security page.

Finally, this is a little off topic, but if you do a Google images search for “usb flash drive“, you will see some really cool looking flash drives in all shapes, colors, and sizes. I would steer clear of the pill-shaped USB flash drives. However, I do like the “Swiss Army Knife USB Flash Drive”.

Happy Holidays from Educational Technology

We here at EdTech would like to wish the students, faculty, and staff at Missouri S&T a safe and joyous holiday season.

With that in mind, check out the image below. One of our IT staff members put it together a few years ago. Since he now works for EdTech, we have hung it up on our window on the south side of Centennial Hall.

grinch-01-sm.jpgIn case you are wondering just who this ominous figure is, here are some clues: He is known for having a dog named Max, carving the roast beast at Christmas dinner, and stuffing Christmas trees up chimneys.

Smart phone clickers in the classroom

iphone-clicker.pngJennifer Shaner, our campus CERTI Coordinator recently brought to my attention an article she found in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how students at Abilene Christian University (ACU) use iPhones for their clicker-enabled classes.

Apparently, the iPhone application for supporting clickers was developed in-house by ACU programmers. The iPhones (and iPod Touch units) were distributed to all of the first-year students.

However, ACU is not the first, nor the only university to experiment with using smart-phone technology to support clickers. Missouri S&T is also piloting the use of smart-phone technology in conjunction with an application provided by TurningPoint to use integrated clicker/smart-phones in the classroom. The main advantage to using a smart-phone is that many students already have smart-phones, so they would simply need to obtain a copy of the clicker application to run on their smart-phone. It also eliminates the need for students to carry multiple devices, instead relying on a single device which they also use for many of their other communication tasks like email, text-messaging, and web-browsing (and, on occasion, calling their friends and family).

The downside to insisting on using smart-phones for clickers is that not all students can afford to have a smart-phone. The technology may not be available for some brands of smart-phones or on certain smart-phone plans. It is certainly possible to have both standard RF clickers and smart-phone clickers in the same classroom.

One of the more interesting aspects of ACU’s implementation is the ability to display student responses in a “word cloud”, which means students and instructors can see the responses as a random cloud of words (see the image above for an example of what a word cloud might look like). This doesn’t sound particularly useful at first, but the words that students submitted the most will be displayed in larger font. Words that have only one or two submissions will be in correspondingly smaller font. Thus, if you are asking an opinion-oriented question about a topic, you can see at a glance which option students seem to prefer over others. For instance, the word cloud in the image above might reflect the responses to the question, “What is one of the most important events of the 20th Century?”

You can, of course, achieve the same result using a more “standard” clicker question with a bar graph–the word cloud just looks different and may work more effectively for some audiences.


Math Software Updates to Computer Labs & Classrooms over Winter Break

Over the Winter Break, IT will be upgrading computer labs and classrooms on campus with Mathcad 14, MATLAB 2008b (classroom), and Maple 12, which are newer versions of mathematical simulation software than is currently installed. This change is being made based on faculty requests to upgrade the outdated versions.

The software updates will take place as part of the IT re-imaging process of computer labs and classrooms, in conjunction with a number of other software updates that will take place at the same time.

Instructors who will be using any of these software packages for their classes can obtain a copy of the updated version of the software for their campus-owned desktops or laptops by contacting the Help Desk at 341-HELP or by submitting an online Help Request at

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is not possible (or desirable) to update all of the computer labs simultaneously with the new software. For the next few weeks, older versions of the software will be available on campus as well as the newer versions of the software. In some rare instances, both versions of software may even be available in the same computer lab, though not on the same machine (e.g. the Library CLC, which simply can’t be closed entirely for maintenance).

A file created on a machine with the new version may have difficulty being opened on a machine that is still running the older version of software. Newer versions of software should not have any difficulty opening files created in the older versions.

More Thoughts on ITCC Retreat

ITCC-12-10-2008-01-sm.JPGAlong with Angie Hammons, I, too, had the opportunity to attend the Information Technology & Computing Committee (ITCC) Retreat, held in the Southwestern Bell Cultural Center on Wednesday, December 10, 2008.

In case you were unaware, the ITCC is composed of faculty members and students who are actively engaged with Information Technology (IT) to provide advice, guidance, and feedback to IT on the support and services we provide. As I understand it, we (IT) like to have a two-way communication channel between the faculty, students, and IT staff so that we can come together to find the best solutions for the campus’ computing needs that further the university’s academic mission.

The annual ITCC retreat is an all-day affair in which various groups within IT report to the ITCC progress on various projects that IT is involved in. This year, we updated the ITCC on several new projects IT will be implementing in the near future, such as a campus-wide desktop management system to help IT better manage the deployment and support of campus Windows desktops (though hopefully we can offer similar desktop support for Mac/Linux boxes in the not-to-distant future–one step at a time, though!).

EdTech is heavily involved with the various computer learning centers (CLCs) scattered around campus and we are working hard to make sure the right resources are allocated to support the campus educational mission. We had hoped to have the members of the ITCC collaborate with IT staff during the retreat to comment on various possible case scenarios that we (EdTech) posted on our blog. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, the servers that power our blog refused to cooperate (despite the fact our blog was working fine in my office). This is just one more case of how technology works perfectly right up to the point where you actually need to use it for something productive.

Of course, the nice thing about having the case scenarios posted on our blog is that ITCC members can comment on the scenarios whenever or wherever they like, and are not limited to doing so at a particular time and place. We also had paper backup copies that the ITCC members could use to write their comments on.

Later during the retreat, I shared the results of the CDW-G survey that we asked students, faculty, and IT staff to take. We also asked the ITCC members and IT staff members in the room to participate in the survey through the use of clickers to see how their responses stacked up against the survey results. In most cases, their responses aligned nicely with the survey results, but there were a few divergences (I can’t remember which questions diverged at the moment).

Also at the ITCC retreat were three poster presentations created by IT Staff. Eric Sigler, manager of the Server team on campus demonstrated virtual desktops. Brooke Durbin, who is in charge of web site support & development through Documentum, shared her poster on how our campus converted our web sites from UMR to Missouri S&T in less than a day (though there were a few “aftershocks”, they weren’t terribly disruptive and were quickly resolved–without Documentum Web Publisher, the process would have been much, much more painful). Finally, Lauren Oswald, EdTech’s resident learning space designer, and Angie Hammons, our educational technology specialist, shared their presentation on transforming learning spaces, highlighting the changes made to Computer Science 212/213 and Engineering Management 222.

Thoughts on ITCC Retreat

Angie Hammons shares some thoughts on the Information Technology & Computing Committee Retreat, held at the Southwestern Bell Cultural Center on Wednesday, December 10, 2008:

[ANGIE] I had the opportunity to be part of the ITCC Retreat
today. This retreat is an opportunity for IT staff and faculty to come together
and begin a dialogue about technology on our campus. There were 10 different
topics but it was amazing to see how different departments within IT are
interconnected in their projects and how faculty input has been valuable.

Mentioned over and over again was the technology use of
incoming freshmen. That is also something that is important to me,
understanding how the students and faculty are using technology on
campus. We found the following information by looking at incoming
freshmen over the last two years:


Meg Brady, EdTech, presented two videos about a “vision of
students today”. The first was done by a class at Kansas State,
specifically looking at college students.

But what about K-12 students? They will be our
students in a few years. With the tough economic situation, we must plan not
only for today with technology but for a few years down the road. Meg
Brady found this video about K-12 students today.

Are these videos a reflection of the students who are on
campus and will be on campus? It is incredibly important to find out.

[Read more…]

Blog Engine Issues This Morning

Due to circumstances beyond EdTech’s control, it looks like the Movable Type engine that powers the EdTech blog (and other Missouri S&T blogs) experienced some technical difficulties this morning that prevented visitors to our blog from posting comments.

It appears as though the issues have been resolved for the time being. For the ITCC folks who were at today’s retreat, it looks like you should be able to post comments. If you would like to post a comment to one of the entries below, we encourage you to do so.

ITCC RETREAT: Case Scenario – Group A

Group A.pdf

View Case Scenario B

View Case Scenario C

View Case Scenario D

View Case Scenario E

ITCC RETREAT: Case Scenario – Group B

Group B.pdf

ITCC RETREAT: Case Scenario – Group C

Group C.pdf

View Case Scenario A

View Case Scenario B

View Case Scenario D

View Case Scenario E