GRACE for Instructors

  1. Overview of GRACE
  2. Requesting/Configuring Your GRACE Space
  3. Requesting Software

Overview of GRACE

This page is intended to give an overview of GRACE for instructors of courses, as well as some answers about how things are typically done.

GRACE is intended as an environment to facilitate many of the computing needs for the University's role as a teaching institution. Due to the breadth and scope of the departments and courses at the University, no single environment can completely fit the needs of every single class, but it is hoped that this environment can fit the needs of most courses. GRACE provides:

  • Unix based compute resources, with compilers and an assortment of software packages for scientific computing. Access to an Oracle database is also available.
  • A modest amount of network attached storage, with a standardized directory layout. This layout provides areas for the instructor to share files with the students, private areas for students to do work, areas for students to submit assignments, areas to facilitate collaboration among students, and areas for TAs to do work.
  • Web pages for the class/project, with contents restricted to members of the class/project.
  • Command line scripts to facilitate the submission of assignments by students.
  • A web-based tool to enable instructors to manage the GRACE project/class.
  • A >roles based system for controlling the level of access rights. Students registered for the specific course automatically are granted student level access for as long as they are enrolled in the course.

GRACE spaces are not automatically created for courses, they must be requested by the instructor of record using the web-based management tool. If there is an issue with that, or for some reason the instructor cannot use the tool, or there are special needs, contact us for help. Requests for GRACE course spaces from the instructor of record for the course are processed automatically, and should be available within an hour or so of the request. GRACE projects require human approval, but typically should be available within one business day.

Requesting/Configuring Your GRACE Space

Faculty can request GRACE spaces for their courses, etc. There are a few major options available, described below:

  • Course or Project?
  • GRACE courses are for official University courses that strictly follow the standard academic calendar. GRACE courses get expired and deleted on a FIXED calendar, with NO exceptions or renewals.

    GRACE projects allow for more flexibility; they still have an expiration date, but it is specific to the project and not tied to the academic calendar, and extensions are possible. GRACE projects also do not need to directly tied to an official University course. They can be used for multi-semester courses, research projects (whether tied to a specific course or not), etc. Indeed, there are no set rules on what a project can be used for; however, due to such flexibility, projects are NOT automatically created upon request and go through a human approval process, which means they take a bit longer to process. And you need to explain what the project is for.

    In general, I advise choosing a GRACE course if you do not need the flexibiliy of a project. If in doubt, feel free to contact us..

  • Separate or Combined Sections?
  • GRACE courses are defined at the level of individual sections. This allows for the greatest flexibility, as each section's space can be controlled independently of the others. But when that level of independence is not required, it can be a nuissance.

    GRACE allows for multiple sections to be combined. Actually, one section is created (the primary), and the other sections are aliased to that, but students in the primary or any of the aliases sections get access, and for the most part the space can be accessed under any of the names.

    This merging, however, is irreversible and can only be done before any GRACE spaces for the aliases are created. I.e., you can combine all sections of FOO 123 before any of them are created, or you can create FOO 123 section 0101, and then combine sections 0102 and 0103 later, either together or one at a time, as long as no GRACE space for 0102 or 0103 exist. But if you create FOO 123 section 0101 and FOO 123 section 0102 as separate spaces, they cannot be combined later.

    Note that the sections being merged do not have to be part of the same course, or even department. They must be from the same semester, but that is the only restriction (beyond not already existing as GRACE spaces as discussed above). Courses with different instructors can be combined; if you are interested in such, contact us to do it for you. (Due to the need to have instructors of all the involved courses agree to it, it is tricky for non-administrators to do in the management tool.)

    When sections are merged, the personal work directories and the assignment submission directory for students are grouped by the name of the course under which they are registered (students manually granted access get placed in the primary section), allowing you or the TAs to easily view the work of students in a single section. But these same directories all appear in a collective student and submit directory (using symbolic links), allowing you to easily view the work of all students for the course, regardless of section. (These are alternate routes to the same directory, so changes to a file in either place is visible in the other place, since there is only a single file.).

    The downside of the combined sections are that all the access controls and quotas are done at the GRACE space level, so you lose some of the finer grained control that would be available with individual spaces. I.e., we do not distinguish between TAs for the different sections in a combined GRACE space; the TA for any section in the combined space has TA level access for all the sections in that space. Similarly, all the named instructors for the courses have full access to everything. Also, there is a single quota for the entire GRACE space. (By default, a single section GRACE course gets the same quota as one that is the combination of 10 courses. So if you are combining courses, be sure to request any additional quota you need as well.)

  • Quotas
  • All GRACE spaces come with a quota on the amount of disk space that can be used. Currently, this is a single quota for the entire GRACE space (a single quota for the entire project, course section, or in the case of combined sections, for all the sections in the space). GRACE currently cannot handle courses needing huge amounts of space (i.e. 100's of GB or TBs per student), but can in general handle hundreds of MBs per student, with some limited ability in the GBs per student range. Note that the quota for the GRACE space is an absolute number, and not per student (despite the discussion above).

    Requests for increases to a GRACE project or course quota can be made by any instructors for the space (but NOT by students or TAs) via the web-based management tool. In general, quota increases require human approval, just to ensure adequate resources exist, and while it is usually a rubber stamp, it does add some time to the process (generally, it should be done within one business day). If there is an urgent situation, please contact us, preferably actually talking to someone for the speediest results.

    Note that currently it is possible for a single student to exhaust the entire quota for the course/project. This is particularly problematic if there are assignments due. There are plans to move to individual quotas for each student, at least for their personal work and submission directories, but that is still in the design phase. And while students can fill the GRACE space, they cannot do so anonymously, and so abuse of the system can be dealt with through other means.

    The system does check on the disk usage for your GRACE space hourly, and will by default send email if it is approaching the quota limit (by default if more than 75% of the quota is in use, or if less than 100 MB is free). These settings, as well as whether to email at all, and the current usage, are accessible via the web-based management tool.

  • Roles
  • The GRACE environment uses a roles based system for access rights. The basic roles, from most to least rights, are:

    1. instructor
    2. TA
    3. student

    Instructors are able to manage the course via the web-based management tool. They also have full read/write access to the entire directory tree. I.e., they own the course/project. One of the things instructors can configure in the web-based management tool is the roles of other users, including adding and deleting other instructors. (The instructor of record according to the schedule of classes cannot be removed.)

    TAs must be added by an instructor. The will have access to the common areas, and to the submission directories of students (as they presumably will be involved with grading). There are some optional access permissions that can be set using the web-based management tool, including whether or not they get read access to the instructors directory or the students' personal work areas. By default, they get neither.

    For GRACE courses, students do not normally need to be added by instructors. The system periodically checks who is registered in the course (and any aliases courses for combined sections) and these students are granted access (or denied access when they drop the course). For GRACE projects, the instructors might need to add students, although GRACE projects can have courses attached to them (which do not need to have GRACE course spaces); if a student is registered for any of the attached courses, they are granted access to the project as long as they are enrolled.

    Instructors, can, however, manually add students to either projects or courses using the web-based management tool. These students will have access to the GRACE space as long as the project/course is current and their access is not manually removed.

    Requesting Software

    The Division of Information Technology will make a reasonable effort to install any freely available software/software versions required for your course. However, we often are not very familiar with the software packages and usually cannot assist with the use of the packages. Indeed, often we can only perform minimal if any tests to verify that the packages have been installed correctly. And even in cases where software is already "installed", it might or might not be configured with certain options you expect to use in your class, or it might not be a recent enough version for some features. And sometimes. packages which are not commonly used outside the occasional class might have broken without our knowledge due to system upgrades, etc.

    Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to verify that all software that you plan to use for a class is working properly, as expected, and is a recent enough version/has the features, etc. that you require. This should be done a minimum of one month before the start of classes. Like everyone else, we have many matters keeping us busy around the start of classes, and might not be able to satisfy requests coming in after that date. We also are reluctant to make changes to software being used in classes after the first day of classes. Ideally, report your requirements for the fall semester at the start of summer, and for the spring semester before the end of the fall semester.

    Verify that any software packages you expect to use in your classes are installed, at the required version levels, and working as expected and report any issues to us at least one month before the start of classes.