Tech Xpress Fall 2019
Students help classroom tech team win race against time
ITD is always looking for students to help win its annual race against time to do classroom tech upgrades before the start of the fall semester.
Students like MTSU junior Spencer Arnold, who are also seeking some hands-on IT experience to augment their computer science studies.
Arnold and the other four student workers are a vital part of getting that summertime to do list done, said James Copeland, assistant director, Classroom Technology.
“They are really like full-blown employees—they do everything we do, which is really a good resume builder,” Copeland said, adding that he began his IT career in a student worker role.
This year that included 11 classroom upgrades—double what has been done in past years, Copeland said.
“That involves taking out all the technology in a classroom—all of the old equipment—and replacing it,” Copeland said. “The big thing is we’re moving from low-quality video to high definition, switching to digital signals.”
At right, Copeland and Arnold unload a 98-inch video screen →
for installation in a dance studio at Murphy Center
Arnold, of Smyrna, said working with classroom and desktop team the past 1 ½ years has been a convenient work situation and one that is beneficial for his future.
“You can’t really get software programming work while in college, so this gives you a reputable base of experience in IT and audiovisual, which is an industry that is really coming together,” said Arnold, who has done the part-time work for over a year now.
Arnold said his father worked on campus in telecommunications as a student in the 1990s, so he is carrying on that tradition. Arnold said he would like to work in software development, but whatever career he finds he knows this experience will help.
“Computer science is such a large field it’s kind of hard to get exposed to everything and choose a path,” Arnold said. “This may not be the exact thing I will do in the future, but it certainly helps to be working with computers.”
Arnold said he has been able to do some coding for scripting and automating computers.
“Just today we were imaging and deploying computers for this lab that is being updated in the engineering lab. Getting some of the licensing to work out was difficult,” he said. “It’s really neat to work in classrooms and get technology working for teachers.”
And that benefit goes both ways.
Several classes in BAS were upgraded with built-in cameras and microphones for use with Panopto software that records classroom sessions for use on Desire2Learn (D2L) and online courses. Franklin said other classes have received 86-inch Interactive Flat Panel touch screens—described as “giant iPads”—with 4K video resolution.
And two classrooms were upgraded with 98-inch screens—one in the Bragg Building for the College of Media and Entertainment, and one in Murphy Center for the Department of Dance.
The student workers start out shadowing the full-time ITD staff but later can work on their own, responding to work orders in classrooms.
“There is no spare moment. . . They are on their feet the entire shift, working every summer and every break,” Copeland said. “A lot of people think we have the summer off, and sometimes people are surprised that our student workers work through Christmas break or spring break.”
While the pace slows down for many people on campus, it picks up for ITD’s Classroom Technology & Support and Desktop Support team. That is when they rush to replace and upgrade computers, update software, and do inventory and improvements in classrooms across campus, said Alan Franklin, director, Client Services.
In addition, the classroom/desktop team has been:
- Converting printers/copiers from Pharos to Uniflow in faculty and staff offices across campus in order to consolidate the campus print management system on one software program.
- Upgrading most University computer lab PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 operating systems.
- Working on annual rotation of faculty and staff computers based on work orders or age of the machines.
- Inspecting all classrooms throughout the year to make sure all equipment in the inventory is present and working.
Arnold is on track to graduate in winter of 2020, and having about 2½ years of student employment is going to help in that job search—not only the tech experience but the ability to juggle work and studies.
“It’s kind of cool because I can say I was involved in the support and maintenance of over 500 classrooms,” Arnold said. “So that’s certainly valuable. I came into this job knowing a lot of the IT side of things, but not a lot of the A/V side of things.
“James (Copeland) is an audiovisual guru, so I was able to learn a lot of the A/V stuff and pair those things together. . . You have two industries—IT and A/V—and the way it’s going they are kind of merging together.”
Much of the team’s focus is on projects funded by Student Technology Access Fees. TAF funds are required to be spent in the year collected. In 2017-18 that totaled nearly $4.4 million. For information on TAF including how to recommend projects, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/taf/.
MTSU Mobile app mostly student-led opportunity
When MTSU junior Einar Strandberg started on his computer science degree, he soon discovered a unique opportunity to improve the University’s mobile app and his own IT resume.
He joined the MTSU Mobile Development Team, which continues to be a mostly student-run
effort nearly nine years after it was formed.
“Because the app team is student led, it’s possible for students to gain hands-on
experience in areas like application architecture and design that students normally
can’t participate in,” said Strandberg, of San Jose, California.
“I would highly, highly encourage any student seeking to become a developer to apply for the mobile app team the next time there’s an open position. It’s valuable for professional development, the working environment is great, and it’s possible to take time off during the summer for internships with software companies.”
Strandberg started working for the MTSU App Team at the beginning of the spring 2019 semester. He learned about the position through the MTSU computer science Slack (a group chat application with different channels). He had applied and interviewed for the position at the end of the fall 2018 semester.
The App Team is divided into Android and iOS teams, each developing an app for their respective platforms.
“I work on the iOS team, where I’ve recently been focusing on developing the map portion of the application. However, in my limited experience the team doesn’t tend to have explicitly defined areas of expertise; some members tend to work more with certain parts of the application due to familiarity, but there aren’t really any rigidly defined boundaries,” he said.
One of his projects has been a menu that users could touch and drag up.
“We already had some existing code to do this, but I was in charge of re-writing it
to use a new technology called RxSwift. This type of code dealt with a lot of animation,
something I hadn’t encountered before on the iOS platform, so it was already a bit
tricky to switch over to RxSwift,” he said.
“So, after a while, I got it kind of working, and then realized that the way I was
using RxSwift was too slow; the menu was slow to react to you touching it, and overall
it just felt janky and laggy. So then I had to re-write the whole menu animation again
to encapsulate more performant code in an interface that could interact with RxSwift.”
He said working on a development team is “a completely different experience than working on even a very large project by yourself.
“I would highly encourage students interested in becoming a developer to contribute to an open source project. It teaches some of the same teamwork skills and can also help you learn to navigate a codebase that you didn’t write," Strandber said.
John Peden has gone from working on the app team for 2½ years as a student, to leading the team as a full-time senior developer in ITD. He made the transition in May 2018 after graduating from MTSU with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and minor in Mathematics.
“I work on iOS and Android applications for the University as well as the API that powers the apps. I also lead a team of students who work on the university’s main mobile application. I also maintain the university’s GitLab instance,” said Peden, from Columbia, Tenn.
Membership in this group of 6-10 students constantly changes, but its mission stays
the same: Maintain the University’s mobile app and develop new features.
Much time is spent making sure the app can function with each newly released operating
system on both platforms.
The MTSU Mobile App team recruits applicants from current students who have taken
a core programming course but who are not about to graduate. This is done when current
members are scheduled to graduate at the end of the semester.
The notification instructs students on how to apply for the team and chosen applicants
are then interviewed by team members for the final cut.
Along with the pay, and a parking pass, the experience of on the app team helps when
it’s time to put out resumes.
Peden has consulted with mobile app industry professionals about their workflows and
how their teams function and tries to mimic that as closely as possible.
"The students learn how to program for iOS and Android, they learn how to program
on a team (i.e. using source control), we have automated builds and testing on GitLab
so students can get reports about their code, and I also code review all changes they
make and help them write better code," Peden said.
"Students will be able to leave the team with all the appropriate buzzwords on their
resume as well as have around a year or two of experience working on an actual production
STA program allows students to learn and earn
The Student Technology Assistant (STA) program is designed to give students an opportunity to earn and learn.
STA workers provide the first line of assistance to computer lab users on a wide range of software packages, repairing of equipment, and diagnosing of software problems with an emphasis on customer service.
The STA program consists of online training at three levels of expertise: Level I—Beginning; Level II — Intermediate (Microsoft Office Specialist Certification); Level III — Advanced (Microsoft Technician Certification).
The mission of the STA program is twofold:
- The STA program will serve as a special opportunity for students to develop professional-level skills using information technology.
- The participating labs become student-centered, technology-based learning environments where students, faculty, and staff can use the latest computer technology available on campus.
For details about job types and participating labs, pay levels, an application, and assessment, visit www.mtsu.edu/sta/.
All STA participants must complete the training level required of the lab at which they work by specific dates in order to remain employed in that lab or any other STA participating lab.
All students wishing to participate in the STA program will need to complete an application and skill level assessment. If you wish to apply, fill out the STA application and skill level assessment by clicking on the link above.
Be sure to click on the submit button when you have completed each process. Upon receipt, the application will be forwarded to lab directors as the need to hire arises.
You will be notified if you are selected for an interview.
Learn D2L ePortfolio and earn MT Engage scholarships
MT Engage will once again award up to 15 scholarships valued at $6,000 each through its ePortfolio page contest.
Up to two scholarships will be awarded in each academic college, and one overall winner will be chosen. Scholarships will be paid at the rate of $1,500 per semester for four semesters.
The deadline is Feb. 21, 2020. Starting Jan. 15, 2020, you can apply at mtsu.academicworks.com/opportunities/7223.
You may be eligible if you entered MTSU with fewer than 30 hours (excluding AP and Dual Enrollment).
To qualify you must:
- Have successfully completed one or more MT Engage course sections
- Have attended one approved ePortfolio training or workshop
- Have a minimum overall GPA of 2.75
- Have completed your 60th hour in Fall 2019 or are completing your 60th hour in Spring 2020
- Be enrolled as a student at MTSU with good academic standing
- Submit a complete ePortfolio presentation using the D2L platform according to the MT Engage requirements
Training information can be found at www.mtsu.edu/mtengage/student_resources.php. Need more info? Contact email@example.com.
For instructions on applying for an MT Engage scholarship, visit mtsu.edu/mtengage/Scholarship.php.
Advice for preventing ‘spam’ from turning into a scam
Junk emails universally described as “spam” make an estimated 45% of all email. We are awash in unnecessary, unrequested, and often poorly written mail.
The sheer volume of email can lead us to be careless and frustrated as we sift this flood of emails for those that are important.
Hidden in the flow like bait are scam emails.
Scams make up less than 3% of email, but that percentage is growing. Falling for these fake emails can lead to more than just embarrassment—you can be subject to real financial loss, so it pays to know the signs of a scam email.
How to recognize scam email
The list below is not exhaustive but will be useful. Some of the tips may feel like common sense; others less so. Use them as a whole to help identify the scams. Watch out for:
▶ Tip 1: Mismatched email addresses and display names
Display names in emails cannot be trusted. Scammers like to “spoof” display names
that you might trust. Look at the display name but also look at the email address
that it is coming from. If that address looks strange or unprofessional you should
be on your guard.
▶ Tip 2: Spelling and grammar mistakes
In a world where spellcheck is ubiquitous it is absurd but true that scam emails will
often have bad grammar and misspelled words. But thankfully they do, so this is another
indicator of a scam.
▶ Tip 3: Requests for personal information
Legitimate institutions, including MTSU, will not ask you for your personal information
by email. They have that information or more secure ways to receive it. Never give
up personal credentials by email.
▶ Tip 4: Urgent language
Emails that claim you are going to lose access unless you respond right away or that
you must click on a link below should be avoided. This is just a tactic socially engineered
to convince you to give up information.
▶ Tip 5: Unsolicited job offers
This one may seem obvious but if you receive a job offer by email that you did not
apply for you should not trust it. Keep track of your resumes and if you did not apply
for this job be cautious. I refer you back to tip 3— Don’t give out your personal
information through email.
▶ Tip 6: Incomplete signature line
With scam emails you will find a lack of contact information in the signature line.
Legitimate businesses will always provide contact details at the bottom of their emails.
When you receive a scam email, what should you do?
Typically the best course of action is to delete the email and go on. If you receive a scam email to your MTSU account you can forward that email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forwarding the email lets us evaluate them, block those that we can, and inform others that may not be as informed about scam emails. Need help? Contact the ITD Help Desk at 615-898-5345 or help@mtsu.
Student Printing Update: Most Are Responsible But...
Student printing is available at all University labs and is a privilege for all active students.We ask that students be frugal and responsible when making printing decisions and not print unnecessarily and excessively.
Printing should always be reserved for academic purposes only and not used for personal gain, i.e., advertising flyers, etc. Such non-academic printing should be performed at Blue Print Solutions in the Student Union Building.
Printing levels are monitored. The good news is that the vast majority of students (96.5%) are responsible printers. You will be notified through the print management system when you are approaching an excessive amount of printing.
You're invited to Data Science events this month
Two events are planned in September 2019 for students to get involved with the new Data Sciences Institute.
Nationally known Data Scientist Kirk Borne, who has more than 240,000 followers on Twitter, will be on campus on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. Borne is the principal data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton and was also recently named the No. 1 influencer on Twitter for AI and Data Science.
“You and the Environment . . . and Data Literacy,” presented by Borne, will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 26 in the the BAS State Farm Room.
This event is sponsored by the student organizations AIS, ACM, SME, and Economics Club and anyone interested in Data Science can join in, said Prof. Charlie H. Apigian, co-director of the Data Science Institute at MTSU.
“Data Dive: A Data Science Institute Hackathon benefitting Special Kids,” will be Sept. 27 and 28. Click here to learn more and to register: datadive2019.eventbrite.com. Participants must take part both days.
The two-day Hackathon will look at Special Kids’ donor data and help them identify
opportunities for more donations through activities, Apigian said.
To learn more about Special Kids, Inc., visit www.specialkidstn.com.
“We are looking for students and faculty that have a desire to learn. Skills would be helpful, but everyone is welcome, Apigian said. Skills needed include problem-solving, database/SQL, Python, Tableau, and Power BI.
Student Tech Handbook Available Online
A digital version of the Technology Handbook for students is now available on the
ITD website. Go to www.mtsu.edu/itd/2019_20_Student_Handbook.pdf.