Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Doing biz with Washington State too tricky, audit says

by September 18th, 2012

Getting permits and licenses from Washington’s government is nowhere as simple as it could be, according to a recent Washington State performance audit. A longtime state government goal has been to allow people and businesses who must comply with regulations to go to central Web sites to get all the information they need to meet their legal obligations under the law. That goal is still a long way away. “Doing business in Washington today means sifting through a complex maze of state and local laws and regulations. At the state level alone, someone wanting to open a small convenience store, with a gas pump for example, would have to get regulatory approval from up to a dozen different agencies, in addition to approvals from local jurisdictions. … The challenge is especially difficult for small businesses, usually lacking the resources that enable larger companies to hire attorneys and other specialists to help them comply. When businesses fail to fully comply with regulations, they face fines and penalties,” the audit report said.

UW aims to transform learning via cloud, Web and mobile

by September 12th, 2012

The University of Washington is moving ahead with an ambitious campus technology initiative that aims to transform learning. Key components include electronic textbooks allowing collaborative exchanges among students, a cloud-based cache of teacher lectures with interactive features, a series of new mobile apps aimed at UW students, and the university’s entry into the “massive open online courses” arena led by the Coursera consortium of Stanford, Princeton, University of Michigan and other schools. A memo prepared for the UW Board of Regents at its regular meeting this Thursday by Vice-President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Kelli Trosvig, provides an overview.

To meet the needs of increasingly digitally-oriented students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, the U has been conducting a series of surveys in the last several years. This is resulting, says Trosvig’s memo to The Regents, in adoption of “roughly 12 technologies – bought, built or borrowed – (that) are now on-premises and in the cloud, some in pilot project mode and others in full production.”

Some highlights of the “Two Years to Two Decades, Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Initiative” follow.

  • Pilot projects began last spring and are continuing with eText electronic textbooks that have collaborative features allowing students to help each other understand the material.
  • The cloud-based Tegrity tool allows professors to post their presentations for easy recording by students on their computing devices without special software or hardware. Students can annotate and bookmark the content and teachers can free up classroom time for other purposes. Tegrity is being rolled out on all three campuses – Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.
  • The university’s IT division is developing several mobile apps that students wanted, and which are said to be coming this fall. MyUWMobile will give students a convenient mobile hub to access class schedules and class Web sites. A student-funded app will highlight best campus study spots.
  • Coursera@UW will align the university with a leading-edge distance learning company and platform to offer no-cost UW courses online to anyone anywhere with Web access, for free, but this “may be extended by self-sustaining, credit-bearing versions taught by UW faculty” through the school’s continuing education program. Three to four courses are expected to be offered this fall via Coursera@UW.

Some of the additional components of the “Two Years to Two Decades” initiative will seek to make administrative aspects of campus life simpler for students and teachers, or are already doing so. The GradePage electronic grading system was adopted in 2009 and by last fall had made paper grading forms unnecessary. Now 94 percent of final grades are turned in on time, versus 75 percent in Winter, 2009. As a result, administrative work to facilitate scholarships, honors and financial aid has been made more efficient, according to Trosvig’s memo.

New technology is also coming to help students better manage their financial aid. This will allow “better messaging and self-service,” as well as “clearer status and actions for online award acceptance, rejection or reduction” of aid, and improvements in tracking of required documents and a student’s total debt accumulation.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA Revenue Dept. unveils sales tax-rate app for businesses

by July 12th, 2012

The Washington State Department of Revenue has released an iPhone app, soon to appear for Andriod as well, that lets businesses doing transactions in different areas look up the local sales and use tax rates, which vary according to city and county. The department calls it “an ideal tool if you make deliveries to your customers in multiple locations.” It’s available at the iTunes store, where early reviews are positive.

Users first look up their location of sale by address, using GPS, or enter the zip code. Then they tap the “calculate;” key in the sale amount; and tap “done.” The app provides the local sales tax rate, and total amount due. The user can save the data for each transaction to a list. The list can be viewed, and also sent via text or email from iPhone.

“We are using the latest technologies to constantly adapt to the changing needs of taxpayers,” said Janet Shimabukuro, assistant director of the Department’s Taxpayer Services division, in a written statement. “The new app should help businesses get the right rate and location code quickly.”

The DOR statement continued, “The app will be particularly useful to mobile businesses such as contractors who need to code sales tax to the location where a service is performed. It also will help retailers who ship products from one location to another. Under Washington law, the sales tax must be coded to the destination of a shipped or delivered product.”

The department recommends users save the confirmation code for each transaction, in case of an audit.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA state site has new interactive data sets on population

by July 6th, 2012

Population data for Washington cities and counties from 2010 to April 1, 2012 released in late June by the state’s Office of Financial Management is now available as a series of interactive datasets at Washington State’s official open data site, We’ve embedded the interactive datasets immediately below. To begin exploring the data, slide the horizontal scroll bar to the right. Pick a data column to re-arrange in ascending or descending order, such as “Percentage change in population, 2010-2012.” Further instructions including visual aids are below the embed.

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Bellevue College seeks approval of new bachelor’s degree program in ‘Big Data’ analytics; fall 2014 start eyed

by July 2nd, 2012

For many community college students in Washington state, getting a two-year associate degree might be a ticket into the workplace. But more so than ever, advancing to a higher rank and responsibilities requires more education. So rather than merely serve as a cost-effective warm-up for further training elsewhere, some community colleges in Washington state, including one that has dropped the word “community” from its name, are stepping up with their own special “applied baccalaureate” or career-centric bachelor’s degree programs in high-demand fields which have been emphasized by regional employers during outreach efforts of educators. One such institution is Bellevue College, formerly Bellevue Community College. And as officials there have continued developing applied bachelor’s degree programs in subject areas mandated under a 2011 state budget proviso – namely, information technology, nursing, and environmental and biological sciences – they realized there was a missing piece of the equation. So in a required two-year plan for the new programs that they recently submitted to the state, Bellevue College announced its intention to add one more: Bachelor of Applied Science in Data Analytics. (See pp. 14-15 of the Bellevue College Applied Baccalaureate Degree Implementation Program).

Management requires growing analysis of “structured and unstructured” data
“Big Data is an ‘explosive’ trend,” the college says in its plan. “As large amounts of structured and unstructured data are being collected in all industry sectors, the emergence of of easy-to-use yet sophisticated analytics tools and portals is increasing rapidly…in healthcare, business, finance and other industries to increase operational efficiency and support professionals and administrators in all levels of decision-making.”

Bellevue College will form a multi-disciplinary workgroup to flesh out the new degree program and will provide a statement of need to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges at the board’s first meeting this coming fall. The special degree program in data analytics would start in fall 2014, with the board’s okay, and would graduate its first students in spring of 2017.

State to contract for feasibility report on vehicle mileage tax

by June 6th, 2012

Building on an experiment with drivers on Puget Sound roads plus a 2010 legislative study and a task force report issued in January 2012 by Governor Chris Gregoire, the State of Washington is now seeking bidders for a feasibility study on something that could eventually become a big piece of the 21st Century surface transportation funding puzzle here and elsewhere: a vehicle mileage tax.

Although more attention in the Seattle region is focused now on whether electronic highway and bridge tolling will be expanded, the long-term picture might prove far more high-tech than today’s windshield-mounted transponders which get zapped by an overhead roadway device that then bills the driver’s prepaid “Good To Go” account. Instead, GPS-like black boxes mandated in passenger vehicles and connected to a central billing system are just one example of where we might be headed – though with plenty of focus groups and public meetings to get the necessary buy-in from wary motorists. It may be 10 years or more before such an approach is actually in place in the state’s major metro regions, but the 2011-2013 supplemental transportation budget approved by lawmakers earlier this year provides $1 million in preliminary study funds to get started on the assessments.

The funding is detailed in Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2190 on page 14, line 6; and page 30, line 12. A more comprehensive mileage tax study funding bill sponsored in the 2012 winter session by State Rep. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), HB 2704, sparked debate on next steps and led to the near-term appropriation.

As a result, in a request for proposals recently issued by the Washington Transportation Commission, the state is seeking a consultant who would be paid up to $875,000 to produce a series of deliverables between August 2012 and June 2013 for a commission steering committee and ultimately elected officials, on the concept of a road user charge. That’s more commonly known as a pay-by-the-mile vehicle tax, or vehicle mileage tax.

Honors program coming to Community Colleges of Spokane

by June 5th, 2012

Next fall Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS) hopes to begin trial phases of a new honors program at its schools. CCS has published a request for proposals (RFP) from consulting firms to help create an honors program that will increase enrollment and revenues at Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College.

According to the RFP, courses for the honors program will be developed and students recruited this summer. Next fall the two schools will pilot a total of three to five honors classes for as many as 100 students and provide some support services. More planning, design, recruitment and marketing will unfold leading up to fall 2013 when the honors program will officially start, with the goal of eventually enrolling 300 students.