News and Updates: Fall 2011

Work over the past year has involved a significant amount of attention to security issues. We've worked to reduce the likelihood that cross-site scripting attacks and SQL injection attacks will be successful (even as we know that the sophistication and skills of the folks mounting those attacks continues to grow). We've balanced this against the need to provide open access to writers who wish to publish their blogs, wikis, and ePortfolios. A large amount of time, as a result, has been taken up removing Blogs, Wikis, and ePortfolios whose only purpose is to host Spam, increase the hit counts on other sites (often, an auto repair shop in exotic locations such as Sydney, Australia), or sell products that most of us don't really need. Oh, and let's not forget the driving schools in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Texas. Those folks deserve a special place in the afterlife.

Beyond those concerns, we've been doing quite a bit of work on our help system. In spring 2011, the team from Colorado State University's Institute for Learning and Teaching (Barbara Maynard, Jeremy Proctor, Amanda Purnell, Justin Switzer, and Mike Palmquist) joined forces with a group of faculty and graduate students from the University of California at Irvine (Lynda Haas, Elizabeth Bevans, Elaina Taylor, and Abraham Romney) to create the current help system. This work involved a major change to the interface, extensive new content development, and the creation of video help files. Reid Palmquist joined the project during the summer and brought the images used in the help pages up to date. Reid Palmquist also did a signficant amount of work on the site to enhance its accessibility. Work in this area continues.

In spring 2011, we found a new home for our server. The staff at Academic Computing and Network Services at Colorado State University have taken over the care and feeding of our server (thanks to Lance Baatz, Jason Huitt, and Joe Volesky) and it has been running smoothly ever since. The University also upgraded its SQL server and we have seen performance improvements as a result. Finally, we upgraded our file server so that we have enough space for student and instructor files for the foreseeable future.

In summer 2011, we released the newest version of our Bibliography tool and updated most of our tools (drafting, outlining, notes, to-do list, and so on). Some of the most visible changes to the site include a major upgrade to the Personal Pages as well as to the management pages for our classes, wikis, and writing tools. We've dropped the tabbed interface on our pages and replaced it with a simpler and (we hope) easier to use set of links. We've also worked to eliminate the drop-down menus that we used so extensively in the past. These changes followed a report on site usability from Andrea L. Beaudin, Jeremy F. Huston, and Michael R. Trice, all from Texas Tech University. Their project called attention to the wide range of navigation tools we'd developed since we launched the site in 1996 and provided guidance in developing a more usable site.

Looking ahead, work continues on the Open Access version of the Studio, which is being developed by Mike Palmquist, Lynda Haas, and Greg McClure. Work also is being carried out on an ePortfolio Community tool, which will allow institutions, organizations, and other groups to assess student ePortfolios. Finally, we are launching a new partnership with the Colorado State University Writing Center to update and expand our writing and teaching guides. We look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration.