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Get the Word Out: How to write email people will want to read

February 27th, 2015 Robin Chace

How many unread messages are in your email inbox right now? How many of them will you actually read (like, really actually read)? Do you tend to skip over marketing emails and announcements? I bet you do—your time is precious! So, when you need to send out a mass email of your own, how can you get readers to give some of their own precious time to you? This three-part blog series, Get the Word Out will tell you how, with the basic tenets being, “Don’t make your readers work,” and, “Form follows function.”

Part 1: Literally Legible and Accessible

Of course, you want your audience to literally be able to read your email. Common-sense measures like keeping your text off busy backgrounds, or using a 12–18pt font are a great start. There are also some less-obvious considerations you should make.

8 to 36pt font samples

8–10pt fonts can be too small, but 24pt or larger fonts can seem like shouting. 12–18pts is usually best for body text.

Screen-reader accessibility

Many people rely on screen-readers (programs that read text and interface elements aloud) when using a computer or mobile device. For the screen reader to work, text data must be present. This means:

  • The words of your message need to be in text-form, i.e., not part of an image. Not only does this allow screen-readers to work, it lets readers click on links you’ve included or copy/paste information (say, to put your event in their calendar).
  • All pictures need captions or alt-text to describe their contents.

When composing with an HTML editor (the default for most email programs, including OWA), use the available styling options for headers, lists, etc. A screen-reader will relate this information to the user, doing a lot to clarify your message.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your email without needing to know coding.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your emails without having to write code.

Attaching a document? Remember to apply these accessibility tips to that as well. No saving an image of text as a PDF!


Justin Timberlake keeping it classy in black white.

Did you know that about 1 in 20 of us is colorblind? That’s a lot! While red-green is the most common color vision deficiency, there are other types that you will want to account for, too. To keep everyone included, make sure you:

  • Maintain a strong light/dark contrast between your text and its background.
  • Test your email in an online colorblindness simulator, such as Coblis.
  • Easiest? Stick to black-on-white. It always works, and it’s always classy.

Colblindor is a great site for learning about what colorblindness actually is, and how it affects color perception.

The right side shows the effects of the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

The right side demonstrates the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

…Tune in next Friday for Part 2: Design for Devices!

Work Anywhere

February 26th, 2015 carlin_corrigan

This winter, the weather has presented many challenges for us getting to campus. We’re hoping the first signs of spring are right around the corner, but what happens if you need to get work done and you’re stuck at home?work-from-home-cat

We have several tools available so that you can securely access your personal and departmental Cabinet folders and Banner via the VPN. Your Emerson email can already be accessed from anywhere!

Check out our Work Anywhere guide for step-by-step instructions to get up and running at home:


Simplified Login

February 26th, 2015 Cyle Gage

IT is excited to announce better integration between your Emerson account and This means you can now log in to using your Emerson username and password via If you’ve logged into before, it will merge your existing profile with your Emerson credentials. You won’t lose the progress you’ve made with your courses, and it’s one less password to remember.

For more information and sign-up instructions, please visit our Guide at: or come to our Learn with Workshop on Friday, March 13th, 2015, from 12pm to 1pm in Walker 418 (ATL).

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the IT Help Desk by phone at 617-824-8080 or online at

IT Customer Service Report, Fall 2014 Wrapup

February 13th, 2015 michael_jessen

As part of IT’s Service Excellence Commitment, we’ve pledged to regularly review statistics on response time, resolution time, and user satisfaction. We do that weekly, and we’d like to share some of that data with the community. Now that we’re settling into the Spring semester, let’s take a look back at the Fall 2014 semester.


Top Issues and Submission Methods

We had two big questions we were looking to answer at the end of the semester. What are the main issues everyone is reporting to us? And how are they reporting it?

By a pretty healthy margin, we’re getting the most calls for Hardware problems on campus. This includes most any computer problem that’s not software related. If you were to call the Help Desk about a slow computer, or a printer, or a peripheral, these are all categorized under Hardware, so this makes a lot of sense. Our next largest category, “Online Systems”, encompasses a few different large services, such as ECmail, Canvas, Median, and Spacebook. So, it’s no surprise that’s a huge category!

And how do people prefer to report problems to us? Overwhelmingly, our tickets still come in by phone. Since we introduced our Self-Service ticketing, those have also become very popular! A good number of people also prefer to simply walk into the Help Desk and report their problem in person! Of course, much of that depends on circumstance, what the problem is, and where you happen to be at the time.

Total IT Tickets

From 8/25 to 12/16, IT took in 5,489 tickets! This includes walk-ups to the Help Desk, phone calls, email requests, and self-service initiated tickets. As well as tickets IT staff entered for work we were asked to do. That’s an average of just over 343 every week!


Response Times

Over four months, and factoring in business hours, we averaged 13.5 hours to first response. Importantly, this is an average over all IT tickets – not every kind of ticket requires an immediate customer email, and this does not mean that we weren’t working on the ticket inside of those 13 hours. One of our departmental goals, however, has been to increase our customer communication levels, so we’re looking for this number to go down.

We averaged just under 22 hours until resolution, which again, is across all departments of IT. You’ll also see some long-term project-based tickets listed below.

Average business time to first response: 0 day(s) 13 hour(s) 32 minute(s)

Average business time to resolution: 0 day(s) 21 hour(s) 48 minute(s)

When you’ve emailed, we do our best to answer you as quickly as possible! We found a median realtime response time of 2.9 hours, and a median business hours response time of 0.9 hours.

This is good, but the median represents the middle value of all the highest and lowest values. What we also found, though, was a great degree of variability outside of that median, so the highest and lowest values were quite far off from the median value. In other words, a lot of people got responses in as little as an hour, but a lot of people were left waiting between 12 and 18 hours as well. This was an interesting finding for us, and we’re working to improve this for this semester and beyond.


Customer Satisfaction

After you’ve called the Help Desk or sent us an email, we frequently will follow up with you with a survey request. These are especially important for us as they help us better understand how we’re doing and help us learn how to improve when we don’t meet your expectations.

So how did we do? We had a total of 396 survey responses over the semester, and 314 of them rated their experience as Very Satisfactory! 62 rated Satisfactory, 10 Neutral, and 6 Unsatisfactory. Only 4 people rated their experience as Very Unsatisfactory. We followed up with people when appropriate, but each time there was a negative survey, we discussed it, and tried to find a takeaway to improve.

2.5% / 2.5% / 95%

Our email surveys come separately from Help Desk ticket surveys, so those aren’t included above. For those, we got a total of 190 responses, and only 3 rated their experience as Unsatisfactory!

1.6% / 98.4%

IT takes these statistics very seriously, and we’re looking forward to being able to share more at the end of the Spring semester! If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below, @EmersonIT, or!

New information security training available!

February 12th, 2015 Robin Chace
Mother nature has been hogging everyone’s attention lately, so we’d like to remind you of the information security awareness training we announced last month for staff and faculty. Your inbox should have an email from our security admin Dennis Levine (from the address with unique login information for this online training. It was sent on January 20, so you may need to scroll back a bit.

The “Securing the Human” training, provided by, is made up of short videos that are geared toward you, the department you are in, and the sensitive data you handle on a regular basis. They cover a wide range of security and technology topics that can help protect you at work and at home. We think you’ll get a lot out of this valuable resource.

If you have any questions, or if you can’t for the life of you find that login info email, please contact


Your Emerson Account Info

February 12th, 2015 Cyle Gage

In preparation for the upcoming Emerson College mobile app, IT has begun centralizing staff and faculty information across systems. You can see the current state of your information here:

The result is an aggregated view of your account information, including your name, email address, home department, and position title. Certain information, such as your on-campus phone number and office location, is automatically hidden from public view and requires an Emerson account to access.

Please note that the information being synchronized currently only affects Emerson staff and faculty. If any of the information on the Emerson Account Info page is out-of-date, please contact the respective department to update it.

Fall 2014 Faculty Showcase Series

February 10th, 2015 Monty

In November and December we invited Emerson faculty with exemplary use of technology in their instruction to share their methods and impact with other members of the community.

Presenter Department Topic
Paul Mihailidis Marketing Communication Socrative, Storify
Ruth Grossman Communication Sciences & Disorders EduCannon, Whiteboards
Janet Kolodzy Journalism WordPress
Daniel Kempler Communication Sciences & Disorders Canvas
Jena Castro-Casbon Communication Sciences & Disorders Facebook

In addition to introducing the tool and sharing a little bit about how it operates, all of the presenters offered some insight into its success in their course.

Every presentation focused on a different technology, but there were a few common goals:

  • Facilitating communication to improve the classroom experience.
  • Giving students a public forum for their work to improve its quality and relevance.
  • Building learning objectives around the technology that will help to accomplish them.

Both sessions were live-streamed using Adobe Connect, which served as a digital classroom and allowed people who couldn’t attend in person to listen, ask questions and give feedback.



How well are your students understanding your lectures? How valuable would it be to know this when preparing tomorrow’s lecture? How about in the middle of class, before moving on to the next topic?


Personal whiteboards

Let’s just talk whiteboards for a moment. Of any technology in the faculty showcase series, I was most impressed with the simplicity of dry erase markers on personal whiteboards distributed to each student at the start of class. Ruth Grossman highlighted the benefits: easy to acquire, easy to use, the insight of a pop-quiz with the atmosphere of a game show.

Grossman encouraged talking about the purpose of the process and stressed 100% participation for every question. Once students adopt this platform you’ll be better able to gauge their understanding of topics as they’re presented and adjust lessons on the fly.

Whiteboards aren’t the only tool that can get a quick read on the room. If you’re familiar with clickers, a polling technology with remote controlled units, you understand that hardware and software can come together to capture the student response to questions digitally.



For a large class, Paul Mihailidis made use of Socrative, web-based polling software that allows anyone to use a mobile device to answer questions that have been prepared in advance or impromptu. He recommended it for use with sections of 60 or more students and found it to be a powerful way to guide the focus of smaller breakout groups.

This kind of data can also be useful outside of the classroom. Ruth Grossman highlighted her use of eduCanon to annotate recorded lecture materials. These videos play back just like any YouTube clip, but at predetermined time-stamps the recording will pause and present a question to the viewer that they must answer to continue watching.



Grossman got overwhelming feedback in her course that multiple choice questions were helpful when presented at the times she specified in the clips. By providing insight with the responses, the students could see the answer in the context of the lesson and also learn why other answers were incorrect.



While Grossman used eduCanon with her own recordings, the tool can be paired with any publicly visible YouTube clip. As this trend grows, it’s important for web users to be savvy about what resources they’re utilizing. To this end Paul Mihailidis challenged his students to create narratives that make use of this digital gluttony of information.



Storify is part word processor and part search engine. It lets you do your research and writing side by side so that the evidence becomes part of the story. Mihailidis uses this tool experimentally and treats it as an opportunity to help build an understanding of what makes a source credible.

In Janet Kolodzy’s courses, budding journalists face similar challenges in their research for the Survive and Thrive project. Visit and you’ll find articles that were prepared using WordPress, a self-publishing platform.

WordPress (WordPress)

Each student commits to a topic and writes their post with a shared audience in mind. They are collaborating to tell their own stories in the context of a larger one. Kolodzy appreciates WordPress for its ease-of-use and real-world application and believes that students take greater ownership in their work when publishing online.



Synchronizing a technology with course learning objectives is an art. In Jena Castro-Casbon’s Connecting Online group she crafted a meaningful tool for her graduate students that also enhanced the lives of the clients they supported through the Robbins Speech, Language and Hearing Center. This is an example of Facebook at its finest.



Castro-Casbon created a closed Facebook group that she, her students, and the clients joined to connect privately without revealing their interactions beyond the group or personal account details to one another. Over the course of the semester, the students guided the clients through the communication challenges and hesitations they had while educating them on the social customs prevalent in the platform.

With Castro-Casbon’s adminstrative oversight the students improved in their ability to support the clients. The clients, though, got a different benefit – they left feeling confident in their ability to communicate with friends and family in a previously daunting digital space. This was a successful match between the technology implemented and the educational goal.


Canvas discussion board

Daniel Kempler also made use of a digital space to improve communication. He wanted his students to be able to have professional conversations on industry topics online so that they would be able to better connect with their colleagues as they entered the professional realm. Utilizing a few key features in a Canvas course, Kempler had his students work through two assignments.

In one, he asked students to share a journal article and comment on those selected by their peers. Questions on why a treatment worked or didn’t and what could be done differently fostered thoughtful discussion from students that might have otherwise been silent in a classroom.

In his second assignment, Kempler assigned a short paper and had students break into small groups. He asked them to collaborate outside the classroom but did not designate a particular technology to facilitate the group work. Students suggested that they would have benefited more from completing this assignment during class due to the confusion around how and when students would contribute to the shared effort.

Similar to the other projects reviewed, both of these assignments generated valuable feedback and illustrated the importance of the relationship between course goals and the tools used to achieve them. The Fall 2014 Faculty Showcase highlighted just a handful of the creative ways technology can enhance education and demonstrated some of the challenges and rewards of innovation.

As always, if you have any questions about bringing a new technology into your teaching, don’t hesitate to contact ITG by emailing or by calling 617-824-8090.

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