Monthly Archives: March 2017

You have NOT been hacked. Here’s what you need to do.

girl with hands to face

Lots of people are worried about being hacked. Interestingly, this worry does not seem to extend to avoiding writing passwords on post it notes ;-). After all, Yahoo has been in the news for multiple hacking situations.

So when something goes wrong, some go immediately to “I’ve been hacked”. This frequently is brought up by students as well. Here are a couple of hard earned tips to deal with students who have been “hacked”:

  1. Check to see if they have installed any extensions.
  2. See if they have “shared” their password (even if “only with” one person).

The first one is one of my favorites. We’ve seen this one many, many times. I’ll share a couple. One of the hacks was an extension that would randomly display a video famous person (I’m intentionally not naming the individual so as to help discourage the use of this one). The student would be working along and up would pop an obnoxious video. If the teacher was looking, the teacher could “see” that the student had don’t anything; the video had just “popped” up. What the teacher was missing was what the student had done previously (i.e. installed an extension to do exactly what the teacher is now seeing happen).

Another extension that some of our students found is an extension which would make a computer unusable. This extension would spawn the creation of lots and lots of tabs. When I say “lots and lots”, I really do mean lots and lots. The Chrome browser would be completely taken over.

I’ve heard for others with concerns, complaints and fears. Frequently, the “check to see if I’ve been hacked” line is used (so, far, this has never been the issue).

Please follow good security procedures. Don’t reuse the same password over and over in multiple places. Don’t write your password down on a sticky note and put that on your monitor. Don’t hide your password under your keyboard. (Quick story, I was presenting in a classroom some time ago. I moved the keyboard and saw all the passwords that a student would really want – access to grades, assignments, etc.)

Don’t immediately jump to “I’ve been hacked”. There is usually a reasonable explanation.

Be safe out there.

Moodle and Wiris

We have been using Wiris in our Moodle installation to help teachers and students deal with math and science equations. In a perfect world, everyone would use LaTeX (which is the standard for math notation in writing). (Actually, in a perfect world, math and science notation would be easily integrated into writing and page layout). However, LaTeX is complex and involves a fair bit of a learning curve. Most teachers aren’t going to learn the ins and outs of LaTeX, and certainly, students aren’t going to master LaTeX as they are learning math. Neither one of them should have to do so.

Enter Wiris. Wiris allows the user to use visual buttons and prompts to easily create math and science notations and equations. Wiris essentially adds a visual way to easily create math formulas. It looks like this:

*Note that Wiris uses LaTeX for the actual formatting.

We’ve created a variety of sample math problems for students to practice their math skills. These math problems are presented in a random order. Additionally, the students can check their answers immediately. The goal is not for summative evaluation; rather, the goal is for students to practice and hone their math skills. As part of checking their answer, the students get specific feedback on what is correct or not. The teachers used Wiris to provide some of that specific feedback. That turned into a problem. Some of the questions didn’t use the Wiris editor in the question, just in the feedback. That would cause some programming issues with Moodle.

So, we reached out the Wiris people. We provided feedback. The feedback included screenshots and detailed descriptions of the conditions where we were seeing problems. I’m happy to report the Wiris people have issued an update which fixes the issues that we saw.

Lesson learned? Reach out to the developers of tools that are useful. Provide them with specific, detailed descriptions of the issue. The good developers will be responsive. Who knows, you may even help solve a problem so that the next user never even knows that the problem used to exist. They will just find joy in a tool that works wonderfully well for them.