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ISSUE 118 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/25/2005

IIT implements new technology

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, February 25, 2005

Along with a new semester comes new classes, new professors and new updates from St. Olaf’s Information and Instructional Technologies (IIT) department. For the new semester, students can look forward to less spam, more Moodle use and the possibility for electronic grade submission.

On Feb. 10, Dean of Students Greg Kneser and IIT sent an e-mail to the student body explaining the trial use of a new anti-spam program, Barracuda Spam Firewall 400.

Spam levels have always been high, but have recently been growing, according to Craig Rice, associate director of information systems.

What exactly is spam, for the technologically illiterate? "Unsolicited e-mail you do not want," Rice said. "Some people gets hundreds of [these types of] messages, some get none.”

Rice explained how IIT chose the Barracuda program.

"Most other programs are priced per user, and this one was not," he said. "Also, this program has four different methods to detect spam and is more sophisticated."

Barracuda’s layering system was one of its top selling points. The program sends outside e-mail through four layers of testing to ensure that spam does not get through. First, the system uses Realtime Blackhole Lists (RBL’s), which list top spam-producing e-mail addresses, and remove any e-mail sent from those accounts. Secondly, the program uses an antivirus check and removes any viruses sent over e-mail. Third, the program uses SpamAssassin scoring, which puts the e-mail through various tests, such as checking for misspelled words. Finally, the program uses a statistical analysis to give each e-mail a score based on the above criteria. If it reaches a certain level, it is labeled and quarantined as spam.

So far, the average received outside messages at St. Olaf is 53,000 per day. Of those 53,000, the Barracuda program blocks an average of 36,500, and allows an average of 13,421 messages through. There has been an average of 701 viruses per day, and an average of 2,312 quarantined messages per day.

With the success of the Barracuda Firewall, Rice said they will "probably keep it."

Moodle is another program IIT is working on. Moodle has enjoyed increased success among students and professors during Interim and second semester. Dan Beach, St. Olaf’s Webmaster, says that he has received many questions from faculty about Moodle.

"They are interested in incorporating it in class," he said.

Several additional Moodle features have been added to the site, including an upgrade during Interim. Now, students can log into Moodle from the Moodle home page. Foreign language support for classes such as Japanese and Russian has also been improved.

St. Olaf is currently creating a new student information system, which will allow faculty to submit grades electronically for the first time.

Currently, faculty must copy their grades onto grade sheets, and personally bring them over to the Registrar’s office before a deadline.

"Since some faculty commute from the Twin Cities and many leave for off-campus Interims, allowing grades to be submitted via the web is much more convenient," said Mary Cisar, registrar and assistant vice president for academic affairs.

When the Registrar’s office receives the grade sheets, staff manually enter grades into the computer and manually proofread the grades, a job that gets tedious, Cisar said.

Over Interim, however, seven faculty members volunteered to try the new electronic grade submission process. They followed instructions on how to insert grades via the web, as well as handing in paper copies of their grades.

"It went very smoothly," Cisar said. "Faculty seemed to love it."

When the new system takes effect, possibly as soon as next fall, grades will be entered once into the system and as soon as they are submitted, will be posted to the students’ records, Cisar said.

Cisar mentioned that more professors will try a pilot run of the system for the spring semester and electronically insert grades for non-seniors.

"With a tight frame before graduation, we plan to stick with our tried-and-true, if clunky, system for this year’s seniors," Cisar said. "Next fall, if all goes as planned, we will be giving all faculty the opportunity to submit their grades via the web."

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