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Chipping for Change

Professor Gerald Q. "Chip" Maguire Jr.
Published Mar 11, 2019

Professor Gerald Q. “Chip” Maguire Jr. is not retiring quietly. Instead, he is leaving his mark on students, faculty, and administration by migrating content from older systems to the Canvas learning managing system with his programs.

Chip Maguire, Professor of Computer Communications, has during 2018 written scripts (in Python, Ruby, and Groovy) facilitating the migration to Canvas of information added by students and teachers to earlier systems. Thanks to Chip’s problem-solving skills he has saved the faculty and administration endless hours of work and also succeeded in keeping the accuracy of information intact.

–My wife often says the way to motivate me is to say that something is impossible. And she is right. I like to solve problems and don’t like to waste time. The most important thing for me is to facilitate students’ completion of their courses and education. A secondary goal is to minimize the time wasted by myself and others, he says. 

Different schools, same invaluable efforts

Chip Maguire as a teacher has produced great results during his 25 years at KTH. Of his hundreds of master's students, several have contributed to pioneering technology innovations in diverse companies. But this time it is not his teaching skills which are celebrated, but the programs he has created to transfer data to Canvas from systems that are to be shut-down.

To understand why he was the man for the mission, it all started with the transfer of data from KTH Social to Canvas (for which he was allocated 2 days of time from a programmer at ITA) and then was followed by developing code to migrate all of the data from Bilda (PingPong’s learning management system) to Canvas. 

– Bilda was used at KTH for almost 17 years and there were over 5 million test items (typically quiz questions) in the system. Bilda contained a huge amount of material which people had spent a lot of time creating. One example is a faculty member in Chemistry who had 3,000 quiz questions on organic molecules with pictures which would have taken weeks to transfer manually, he says.  

After that followed the transfer of data from Rapp to Canvas. Rapp was a record system used at the former School of Computer Science and was developed and maintained by Inge Frick and Serafim Dahl for more than two decades. This system enabled students and teachers to keep track of all their finished and unfinished assignments and parts of courses. The system had records for around 1,800 courses involving roughly 40,000 students. 

– I was asked by Marianne Lundin (Educational Administration Managerat the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science´s Student Affairs) and the School administration if it would be possible for me to help the former School of CSC to transfer their course information from Rapp to Canvas “in the same kind of magic, automatic way” that I moved all the data from Bilda into Canvas. I said yes, he says. 

Last summer he had a meeting with Inge and Serafim and showed his first version of the program that could move data from Rapp’s database to Canvas. At this point he had never seen Rapp being used, but only had access to the Rapp documentation and a copy of the database. A result of this meeting was that he learned about the computations that Rapp could do on grades and he got a copy of the Rapp code (written in Groovy). With this code base, he developed a new version of the migration program that used the existing Groovy code to calculate the grades that were calculated rather than simply those stored in the database. 

Three important underlying factors in these data migrations

– In all cases when you have a lot of accumulated material that needs to be retained you run the risk of losing material or unnecessarily spending a huge amount of time redoing what has already been created by faculty and students when the data could be migrated mechanically. Also, a programmatic transfer (hopefully) offers greater accuracy than manually transferring it via cut and paste, he says. 

According to Chip, three driving factors for the Rapp data migration were (1) the approaching end of life of the computer it was running on and (2) the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR), because GDPR penalties would affect not only KTH but also individuals. Fortunately, Canvas is approved under GDPR for keeping records about assignments. A third factor was that there was no one left who wanted to maintain, support, or pay for maintaining the previous software.

The responsibility to transfer data for all of the previous courses from Rapp was handed over to ITA. How well has that transferred worked? By January 2019 all the data seems to have been correctly transferred, and student and faculty have access to this data through the same Canvas system that they use daily.

Next

Currently Chip is trying to facilitate the degree project process for students, faculty, and staff – first by eliminating the need for a paper application (UT-EXAR) to do a degree project and then automating each step of the process to as great an extent as possible. Additionally, he has three groups of 1stcycle degree project students working on additional steps of the degree project process. 

His goal is to be able to deploy a degree project course in Canvas by specifying whether it is a 1stor 2ndcycle degree project and for which of KTH’s schools it is. To the greatest extent possible the program behind this takes information from various systems (such as Canvas and KOPPS and in the future Ladok) to customize the course and to support the faculty, staff, and students throughout the entire degree project process.

What is the next challenge for Canvas and who will be the man or woman handling the almost impossible?

– The limitations are only our imagination and ability!