By Jon L. Denby
December 20, 2013
TorchTech, a grassroots, community-led group of NYU professionals with an interest in technology, is known for throwing a good party. Its past events have included such occasions as the IT UnMeeting, a freeform, participant-driven technology conference; a panel discussion on cloud computing involving speakers from Amazon and Google, and a recent Networking Breakfast. Their fourth event, the IT Share Fair, was held on September 30th at the Kimmel Center.
The IT Share Fair brought together people from across NYU's global locations, both as presenters and attendees. Billed as "an information fair with the purpose of sharing IT/Technology-related projects in NYU schools and departments with colleagues from various NYU departments, schools, campuses, and global sites," the event featured a wide range of poster sessions and hands-on demonstrations.
One of the main goals of the Share Fair was to establish communities of practice within the University's larger IT community, according to Lucy Appert, Director of Educational Technology at the Liberal Studies Program in NYU's College of Arts & Science at the time, and one of the fair's organizers. "It's great to walk into a community," said Appert. "Doing this allows one to put together a name and a face…and provides an opportunity to talk to people who are doing what you're doing, or want to be."
In all, there were 37 presenters at the Fair, representing 19 NYU schools, departments, and divisions, including the College of Dentistry, ITS, the School of Medicine, Stern, Steinhardt, NYU-Poly, Tisch School of Arts, Wagner School of Public Sciences, and others. (For the complete listing, see torchtech.law.nyu.edu/events/share-fair/projects-and-presenters/). Strolling around the room, it seemed as though the entire NYU IT spectrum was represented, whether as presenters or as engaged visitors. Read on for a few highlights from the event.
As Steinhardt's Academic Technology Manager, Ben Vien, described, "With such a vast and diverse community of educators and researchers that work both on campus and in the field, video conferencing quickly became a solution to fit meetings into everyone's busy schedules." The problem Steinhardt faced was that there were so many video conferencing platforms being used amongst the departments that incompatibility problems quickly arose. A single video conferencing solution was needed to streamline and standardize the process; they found the answer in Blue Jeans technology.
Blue Jeans is the Swiss army knife of video conferencing, allowing an organization to connect multiple video platforms and deliver video feeds to all kinds of devices—from desktop systems to iPads and smartphones. "Our new unified videoconferencing solution allows for seamless video communication, which translates into more efficient and more collaborative work with a bigger real world impact," said Vein. "It allows our end users to be free of dedicated technicians and engage in distance learning on the fly." The Steinhardt team is interested in helping to expand the use of Blue Jeans across the University; interested community members can reach out to Ben Vien directly at email@example.com.
Improving services through better use of mobile computing platforms was the focus of several projects presented at the Fair, including those of the Bern Dibner Library and of NYU Wagner. The Bern Dibner Library's old website was not providing a friendly experience for mobile users, so they set out to change that based on feedback from their community, and using the limited resources at their disposal. As stated on their "Going Mobile" poster, their objective was to "create a simple mobile interface with minimal technical expertise and no budget, allowing students to easily access commonly used resources and services." They accomplished this by developing a mobile site using open source frameworks like jQuery mobile and platforms like Springshare's LibCal and LibGuides. With development assistance from student employees, they progressed from initial conceptualization in October 2012, to launch in March 2013.
In the case of NYU Wagner, they developed their own mobile website in the summer of 2012. "Our website analytics showed a rapid increase in mobile visitors over the last few years," said web developer Chun Fang, "and we recognize that mobile users will outpace PC users, and in many countries mobile is more accessible and less expensive than a desktop or laptop." With that in mind, they set out to develop a new mobile-friendly website in stages. "The initial phase of our development focused on enhancing access to existing features and functionality, and creating a unified user experience," stated Chen. "The next phase of development will enhance our student portal." Explore their mobile site at: m.wagner.nyu.edu.
Databrary is "a national digital library that will allow researchers in developmental science to share their research data, which is primarily video." The project is spearheaded by NYU's Department of Psychology, Institute of Human Development and Social Change (Steinhardt, Wagner, FAS), DLTS (Libraries, ITS), and Penn State University, with contributors and board members from dozens of peer institutions. For more information or to get involved, see databrary.org/about.
Stern staff were in attendance to present a variety of recent projects, including:
The College of Dentistry showcased a new ePortfolio system that enables students to document and reflect upon their projects and progress through the curriculum, including evaluations of themselves and each other using an online self-assessment portfolio instrument. "This program is unique in that it will feed student progress directly into the program for accurate assessment of a student's progress towards competency," says Elise Eisenberg, Senior Director of Informatics at the College of Dentistry. "It will be utilized by clinical courses to document the student's pathway to achieving professional competence and their final graduation from dental school."
The NYU Digital Communications group had several exciting developments to share, including an upcoming redesign of the NYU website (stay tuned for details) and:
Though this is just a sampling of the many interesting and innovative projects on display, all of the Share Fair participants deserve credit for the effort and skill they demonstrated. Overall, the event had a great turnout and was an impressive show. One could not help but come away with a sense that the spirit of innovation and creativity was alive and well in the University's IT community.
The TorchTech community continues to offer valuable resources and plan compelling events, including the next IT UnMeeting, scheduled for January 15th, 2014. To join the TorchTech community or mailing list, register for the IT UnMeeting, and explore past and upcoming events, including photos and other documentation, visit the TorchTech website at www.nyu.edu/torchtech.
Jon L. Denby works for NYU's Information Technology Services. In his other life, he is a freelance journalist and writer with interests in technology, travel, history, and politics.