Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Instructor Driven Course Site Design

Chapel (built in 1885-1890) of the University ...Image via Wikipedia

Yitna Firdyiwek is Faculty Consultant in Instructional Technology at the University of Virginia.

Sakai is now in full production at the University of Virginia where its adoption rate has been steadily growing over the last two and a half years. However, in spite of its many useful features, one of Sakai's serious shortcomings has been its limited accommodations for variety and flexibility in truly representing and delivering a course's design. While Sakai allows instructors to select, rename, and reorder tools and resources, instructors cannot provide students access to tools and resources except through a linear and heavily tool-based menu structure. Instructors at our institution have made it clear to us that this limitation is a severe setback to their creative and effective use of the system, especially in purely online environments. They may, for example, want to organize their course content and activities in a chronological order, or by topic modules, or even as a narrative with an emergent design. But, by default, Sakai forces a tool-based view/presentation even though few (if any!) courses are designed that way. This limitation has been partially addressed by at least two projects -- Melete by Etudes and OpenSyllabus by HECl. In this presentation we will briefly discuss the approaches and limitations in these two efforts and describe a third approach that focuses on the built-in editor in Sakai (FCKEditor) which we have adapted to provide a simple and flexible way for instructors to deliver their course designs via Sakai. By extending the Sakai editor with easy-to-use templates and plug-ins for full screen editing and previewing, and by adding the ability to easily link to discussion topics, assignments, and tests (in addition to resources), we have been able to provide instructors with an environment that is simple but also capable of supporting their individualized and innovative course designs.

There are groups on campus that provide information, suggestions, and decisions from faculty that drive technology:
  • CMS Advisors
  • Shanti/UVACSE
  • TRC - teaching and learning support
  • Instructional development teams in the different schools
When they collect information from users, they find that after a year, instructors are more comfortable using Sakai. They have forgotten the other LMS. They are only really using a few tools - communications, syllabus, and resources.

Student/faculty perspectives are not aligned. The students are comfortable and the faculty are not organized. Faculty complain about the tools but not willing to get the training to use the tools effectively.

There are requests from faculty for "content driven" course design - an agenda based course. This is contrasted with a "tool driven" approach. This way, the content is owned by the instructor - the instructor owns that space.

The steps that they took were:
  • Focus on supporting instructors
  • Give instructors control over the interface
  • Provide design assistance with templates
  • Focus on online editor training for instructors
They use an "interactive syllabus" - a template that allows instructors to link all of the activities to the syllabus.

They use the template icon in their syllabus editor with pre-loaded syllabi templates that they have created.

They are working on preserving the links - the syllabus is not copyable to the next course or semester because the links are dependent on the original course. They cannot afford new tools and support. He is looking at linking everything to a development site.

Another instructor here is using the "Schedule" tool in Sakai.

The syllabus becomes a teaching tool rather than just a contract.

This represents an elegant solution because it uses the editor that is built into Sakai.
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