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Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Michelle Tran


NEWS 12/3/14 7:18am

186 solar panels to top Jones College south roof

Rice University Housing and Dining began the installation of 186 solar panels on the roof of South Jones College as a new source of sustainable power for student inhabitants at the beginning of November. This solar panel project is the start of an institutional investment toward making Rice more eco-friendly, according to H&D Senior Operations Manager David Brown.“Our main intent is to reduce our electrical demands from the normal utility and generate some of our own green, renewable power to help [lower] costs and improve our environmental footprint,” Senior Electrical Engineer and Project Manager Jason Hochstein said. According to Hochstein, aside from the power generated directly from the solar cells, there are additional energy conservation benefits from the solar panel project.“The panels provide a degree of shading,” Hochstein said. “The goal there is to reduce the solar load to the building’s roof [to] reduce the air condition requirements for the facility.”Hochstein said the panels will also help prevent the ultraviolet breakdown of the roof and protect the internal parts of the building, including the insulation and air conditioning system. In the long run, the solar panels will extend the life of the building, according to Hochstein.According to Brown, Facilities Engineering and Planning is considering additional solar panel installments on other residential colleges and academic buildings. North Jones College is tentatively slated for a solar panel installment next summer. Brown said Jones was chosen to pilot the project because its roof structure best accommodated solar panels.“One of the things that Housing and Dining is hopeful about is that if this is worth what we invested up to this point, we will continue to invest and add more solar panels to more buildings and make Rice a greener place,” Brown said.The solar panel project at Jones is a learning experiment for both Rice as an institution and the student body according to Brown.“We want to look at how going to a green source will benefit us and the university, and I am hoping that we can really set an example not just for other colleges, but for the students as they graduate and move on and take this lesson with them and share it wherever they go,” Brown said. Because many students have expressed interest in the development of this project, there will be an educative component for the student body focused on explaining how the panels operate and benefit the building and the environment. “As an educational feature, we will be mounting a 42-inch television monitor in the main lobby of South Jones College that students will be able to look at to learn how the system is performing,” Hochstein said. Student involvement played a significant role in advancing this sustainability project.“The solar panels at Jones have been a long time coming,” Lead Campus Eco-Representative Zach Bielak said. “For a while now, students have been pushing for more responsible and sustainable sources of energy, and it’s phenomenal that Rice has finally responded in a tangible way. Hopefully, this project will pave the way for future energy projects at Rice — perhaps even solar panels on top of Lovett Hall!”According to Brown, the sustainability projects at Rice involve support from institutional staff and students alike.“Students are a part of this [green initiative],” Brown said. “Everyone plays a part in the conservation.”


NEWS 10/21/14 12:02pm

Crisis Management Team implements ebola precautions with the Texas Medical Center

Rice University’s Crisis Management Team has been monitoring communications regarding Ebola from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of State. They sent an email to students, faculty and staff over midterm recess assuring the campus population of the precautions the university has implemented with the Texas Medical Center to protect against Ebola infection.


NEWS 10/7/14 5:14pm

In-class instant feedback programs pilot to test popularity against current system

Seven Rice undergraduate professors from various departments began piloting two different in-class instant student feedback programs, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere, at the beginning of the fall semester. The end goal of these pilot programs is to select a standardized immediate feedback system to be used by professors across campus. Though the official Rice audience feedback brand has been Turning Point for the past five years, professors have individually branched out to implement various other student polling systems, such as iClicker, in their classes. The pilot programs exist due to professors’ expressed interest in moving towards a unified product at the end of last year, according to Carlos Solis, Assistant Director of Academic Technology Services.“Over time, faculty members have started using different products all over campus, and during a meeting with faculty members early last year, there was an expressed desire for standardization,” Solis said. “[They wanted] a product that is more flexible than what we have right now that will add capabilities that will serve instructional purposes of the faculty better.”Solis acknowledged that professors who have already become accustomed to using particular brand products, like iClicker, might have difficulties making a system transition over to Top Hat or Poll Everywhere. However, he said there would be a benefit for everyone to find one product to fit most people’s purposes. “We want to get to the point of standardization where students do not need to be carrying different clickers or applications on their cell phones or using one product in one class and another in one class,” Solis said. Rice IT identified products on the market and narrowed the choices down to Top Hat and Poll Everywhere after considering the systems’ features and reviewing feedback from other academic institutions and Rice faculty members who have previously used them, according to Solis.Having utilized iClicker in his previous classes, Professor of Physics and Astronomy Paul Padley is one of seven professors piloting one of these two programs.“If I just think about my experience as a professor, I would prefer iClicker [over Top Hat],” Padley said. “However, when I imagine the student perspective, I think Top Hat is better because of the [free] cost and the [reduced] burden of students losing their clickers.” Martel College freshman Jorge Whitley has been using Poll Everywhere in General Chemistry I, a class that has previously used iClickers for instant feedback.“Though I see where it might be useful, it seems to be used primarily as a method of taking attendance,” Whitley said. “I think the polling system itself is clean and easy to use. It’s a question with four answer choices and that’s it, but many of the questions asked in the class have more than one right answer, which can be frustrating given the single-response restriction.”If Rice transitioned towards using one of these systems, there would be no additional individual monetary cost for students beyond the single annual payment that the university would make for a site-wide license. According to Solis, the price of this annual payment is yet to be negotiated and will be largely determined by the choice of response system and the final total volume needed as dictated by the quantity of users. Both systems being piloted offer attractive, user-friendly features that add to the range of interactions professors can have with students, Solis said. “With your typical clicker, you can answer ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘E’,” Solis said. “With these clickers, you can submit full-text answers, so you can have open-ended questions. There is also the opportunity to ask questions using images and point on the parts of the image for the different answers.” The range of interfaces on which these downloadable programs can be accessed gives professors more room to include all students in this immediate-response-mediated learning.  “We do a survey at the beginning of the year that lets us know what students are bringing to Rice,” Solis said. “Students are, on average, bringing one laptop plus two to three wireless devices with them.”Sid Richardson College sophomore Sean Dilliard said he has tried multiple forms of feedback programs and is glad to hear that professors are using programs other than iClickers.“Considering the high cost I paid to make use of the technology once, maybe twice in my time during the class, I found the iClickers to be rather impractical,” Dilliard said. “While the use of iClickers is rooted in good intentions, to engage the class and increase interactions with the curriculum, their minimal use at such a high cost offsets most of their good. There are and always have been better alternatives to the clickers; I made use of them in one of my CHBE classes.”According to Solis, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere allow students to use specific applications that they can install on their phone, either iOS or Android. The programs can also be accessed through a browser on a phone, laptop or tablet. Student may also use text services and submit answers via SMS.The opinions of faculty members and students will have weight in the final institution-wide decision, according to Solis. In November, both groups will be invited to attend a presentation made by current professor users who will discuss their experiences with Top Hat and Poll Everywhere. “We feel that if we bring vendors to do a sales pitch to the faculty, we will get always get the rosy picture, and it is important to have the users present their experiences to make decisions based off of real-world usage scenarios rather than vendors’ self-serving interests,” Solis said. “Towards the end of the semester, we also want to survey the students in the classes where these products are being tested.” The IT department would like to act quickly after a faculty and student-driven choice is made. “We would like to have this decision taken care off so that by the fall of 2015 we can move forward with a unified system,” Solis said.



NEWS 9/17/14 5:22pm

RUPD launches new radio system

The Rice University Police Department launched a new digital two-way radio communications system, marking the end of an extensive two-year collaborative endeavor between RUPD, Facilities Engineering and Planning and Rice IT. According to RUPD Chief Johnny Whitehead, the changes seek to improve communication across campus and with Houston’s Police and Fire Departments.Before the switch, which occurred on Sept. 9, the same radio communications system had been implemented for more than 15 years and presented multiple challenges for RUPD, according to Whitehead.“We had been experiencing some issues with scratchy transmissions and dead spots on campus,” Whitehead said. “[The old system] presented a safety issue to our officers.”According to Whitehead, the switch was also prompted by the City of Houston’s Police Department’s radio communications upgrade that went live last October.“In the past, we had communications with [HPD], but when they went to their new radio system, we lost the ability to communicate with them,” Whitehead said.The findings of a 2012 campus-wide radio study presented two options: building a new radio infrastructure on campus or going to a digital system. RUPD decided to join the city’s radio system, which was already in place, rather than begin an independent project.“The radio project team met with all the radio users on campus including FE&P, Athletics, Housing and Dining, and Transportation to identify their needs,” Whitehead said. “There was a consensus that only the public safety agencies, RUPD, Rice [Emergency Medical Services] and Environmental Health and Safety, should go to the new digital radios.”According to Deigaard, the new system also communication with on-campus departments as well as with off-campus public safety agencies such as the Houston Police and Fire Departments and the University of Texas Police in the Texas Medical Center.“It used to be that dispatch could only listen to one radio channel,” Deigaard said. “[Rice] is not a little stand-alone island anymore. We are now part of a large collective.”