Saturday, April 29, 2006

D2L Poll Results

So far there are 125 responses to the informal poll about whether we should start the process now to review IMS platforms for the MnSCU system. Basically the question was should we start a process now that might result in replacing D2L at the end of the five-year contract or wait it out a while longer before starting the process. Of course the other possible outcome of starting a process now is that D2L again be selected as the best available IMS for the system in which case we would likely negotiate a new long-term deal.

We are able to wait longer if desired since we have a series of five one-year contract extensions available that can turn the five-year contract into as much as a ten-year contract, or anywhere in between. Those contract extensions might also be valuable in delaying a new long-term contract which will almost certainly be at a higher annual cost than the current contract.

The poll results are as follows:
79 out of 125, or 63% say we should wait longer before starting the review process.
46 out of 125, or 37% say we should start the review process now.

My personal take on this is as follows: I want to get D2L version 8.x installed and operational before we start making any decisions about our future with or without D2L. If it fulfills all the promises that are being touted for it, then I will likely not be interested in looking at other possible platforms. If however, version 8 doesn't live up to the hype, then I will most certainly be tired of waiting for "the next version, next release, next patch, next whatever" and will be ready to look to other possibilities for the future. I hope to be wowed by version 8. I also hope that we get to see it during my lifetime.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

D2L: Ode to Mayberry

This is about a 9 minute podcast (click title link to play, or right-click to download) where I review some of the open-ended written comments about D2L in the MnSCU I.T. survey for faculty. You might want to put on your headphones, unless it is okay to have some fun at work.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lack of WebCT Users

We just received our campus results from the faculty I.T. survey. One thing I find interesting is how many of the faculty systemwide have never used WebCT. We hear so much about the old "WebCT days," and yet across the system, only 35% of those who have used ANY IMS have used WebCT. If we were to adopt WebCT across the system, it appears that there would be a very large need for faculty training. Click chart to enlarge.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Test-driving Moodle

During the first week of May I'll be moderating an online discussion for the University of Wisconsin Distance Education Certificate Program. This is a special topics course where the group explores a different topic for one week at beginning of each month. The Topics are:

  • February: "Real" Ways to Promote Interaction for Effective Online Learning
  • March: Learning on Demand: Using the PDA for Mobile Course Delivery
  • April: Creating and Using Learning Objects with Open Source Tools
  • May: e-Learning Quality Improvement Through Peer Review
I'll post more about the course quality discussion later, but for now I'll just tell you that I'm excited to use Moodle during the week of the discussion forum. Moodle is the one of the open source IMS/CMS/LMS (take your pick) platforms that has seen a great deal of development over the past couple years.

Nancy Rebholz of UW has given her permission for me to post this link to a 12 minute Camtasia video about Moodle. This was made specifically for participants in the discussion series, so it does not attempt to look deeply into Moodle, but does give you an idea of the interface and the discussion tool. Take a look.

Wikipedia entry about Moodle.
One school's comparison of Blackboard and Moodle.

BTW, anyone can download and install a copy of Moodle. You don't have to have your own college or anything like that. ;)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

IMS of the Future? Do it Again?

MnSCU folks only please! Take this instant poll. Should we start evaluating IMS platforms again, or should we just ride it out for a while longer?

With the end of the D2L 5-year contract staring us in the face, should a full review process begin now for an RFP (request for proposals) leading to a new long-term contract with whichever IMS rises to the top during the process, or should we delay beginning such a process and take advantage of the series of 1-year extensions to the D2L contract until such time that the system is ready to engage in another full-blown RFP process?
Begin RFP process now
Delay RFP process for at least a couple of years
powered by See what the world thinks

Student Satisfaction with D2L

On the recent satisfaction survey (Noel-Levitz PSOL) administered at 17 of the campuses within MnOnline, question 28 stated: "The online course delivery platform (Desire2Learn or D2L) is reliable."

2,818 students submitted the survey. Of the 30 comparable items on the survey, this was rated as the most important item with a score of 6.61 on a 7-point scale. On the satisfaction scale, it rated a score of 5.74, which results in a performance gap of .87 points (difference between importance and satisfaction, which could be viewed as the room for improvement).

Overall, that is a pretty good satisfaction score, although clearly not as good as it could be based on the size of the gap. There are only three items on the survey that the students rated higher for satisfaction, which means that the students were more satisfied with D2L than with 26 of the other items on the survey.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Quick Look at Coming Attractions

These were a few of the takeaways for me from the D2L session in Chicago. All of these are features for version 8.x, which means we have no idea when we might actually see them in production.

Internal email function: the first glance at this tool looked pretty good. It appears to be a combination of a true email client and an internal IMS tool, such as the internal "email" in WebCT, which of course wasn't really email, but it was a private communication device. From what I could see, it looks like real email in that you can send and receive messages to and from the world outside D2L. It also functions as internal email by placing class messages into a separate folder for each class. My biggest question is how well it will integrate with the various email clients in use at different campuses...or more to the point; will it integrate nicely with our employee GroupWise and student NetMail systems?

D2L is extending the Journal tool into a blogging tool. They didn't provide much in the way of details here, but it looks like a Journal entry can be kept private as is the case now, or that they can be made public and displayed in blog format. Also, it can be shown only to a group, or the whole class, to the whole institution, or the world, at least in theory. There might be more to it than that, but that was all that I gathered from the demo.

The "Learner Competencies" (I'm sure there is a fancier name for that) tool looks potentially powerful, but also somewhat confusing. My first impression is that this will have a steep learning curve. The idea is that you will be able to track students’ performances on a wide range of learning objectives/outcomes. My impression was that it could be used to track the completion of course outcomes (this is not necessarily the same as grades on assessments) but that it could also be used more globally such as tracking completion of our college-wide outcomes or program outcomes over the course of the student progression through the college. An interesting concept that may be ready for us before we are ready for it.

LiveRoom 4 is a synchronous tool similar to WebEx, Elluminate, and other tools that allow you to combine various media into a web interface. Voice, text, webpages, video, documents, etc. can all be coordinated through the LiveRoom interface. Since our students generally don’t want synchronous requirements due to the restrictions on their time and place management, I actually think that this might have more uses outside of e-learning courses with committees, meetings, online orientations, and the like. However, I’m not so sure that our licensing allows all of these extra uses.

Those were some of the highlights from the D2L session at the Higher Learning Commission annual meeting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

D2L Icons

Originally uploaded by Barry D.
Too bad we wasted time and money (not alot, thankfully) when we created a group of about ten coordinated icons prior to the switch to D2L. I really like the icons (these are fuzzy, not sure why) but we haven't really gotten much use out of them.

I think we were so used to icons from our WebCT days that we weren't sure whether people could live without them. Looks like everyone has survived the past two years without icons plastered all over the place.

Also, the actual icons don't have those little picture frames around them, I was just playing around with a photo edting program.

Monday, April 10, 2006

D2L Picture Gallery

Originally uploaded by Barry D.
We have started to use Dennis O'Hara's photos in our picture gallery within D2L. Dennis has fantastic photos of lighthouses, the North Shore and the South Shore, ice storms, the Northern Lights, beautiful fall colors, and all things about the Northland.

Dennis has also given his permission for his photos to be posted as part of the 4th graders Wikiville project about Superior, WI. Go to to see more of his fabulous work.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

D2L Forum Session at HLC

While attending the Higher Learning Commission annual meetings in Chicago I sat in on the Desire2Learn forum session. I would estimate that there were at least 50 people in the room, maybe more like 75. I usually avoid these sessions for various reasons, but I decided to go since a couple of MnSCU friends were going and I also just thought that it had been long enough since I last heard what they have to say.

D2L always has skilled presenters for sessions of this type. None of the others are quite as skilled as CEO John Baker himself, but the sales manager for this session was also pretty good. I'll post later about some of the new features that we can expect (someday), but for now just let me say how hard it is for me to sit through demonstrations like that. I am a bit of an instant gratification kind-o-guy. It pains me to see some really cool features that they have built. The pain comes from the fact that we don't access to those new features and it's not even clear when we will have.

Managing a monstrous IMS installation for 32 institutions (okay, only 31 right now) is a huge undertaking. We cannot switch to their new version or even install an upgrade to the current version without a great deal of risk, planning, testing, and more risk. However, I WANT THOSE NEW FEATURES NOW!!

This situation strikes me in much the same way that I get so frustrated with the cell phone companies. For the cell phones, I have been a loyal customer for several years now but they treat a brand new customer who has never given them a dime better than they treat me. You have to beg to get treated as well as someone with whom they have not established an ongoing relationship. Same goes for the cable providers. Well apparently, the same goes for D2L (although for admittedly different reasons). Even though we have been customers for over two years now, a new school/system could come along tomorrow and be able to jump into the latest, shiniest, newest version of D2L with all the new bells and whistles. Meanwhile, we just get to sit here with our noses pressed against the window wondering how much fun they're having in there.

Tags: D2L Desire2Learn IMS HLC

Online Student Advisory - Take 3

The question about what constitutes online attendance provoked some great answers, but also moved into the question that has been bugging me for a long time....if we establish standards (policy) for student attendance, shouldn't we also have "set" standards for faculty participation?

Regarding the question of what types of activities constitute attendance in online courses:

“Each class I have taken has also required at least weekly postings and/or dropbox assignments. I agree with XXXX, though, that participation in online discussions heavily depends on instructor interaction. Most of my instructors are wonderful about responding and keeping discussion going. However, I have a couple of classes where the instructor seems to be "absent" most days. It becomes apparent within the course itself that students are frustrated and confused, and that could certainly lead to non-attendance problems.”

“I think online attendance policy should at the very least be based on exchange between student and instructor - but perhaps you might want to add "on a regular or timely basis." Additionally, students should be able to expect regular communication from instructors as well. I have one instructor from whom we did not hear for the first four weeks of this semester. The whole class was confused - we were turning in assignments with no feedback. It is a very uncomfortable situation, but the student is at the mercy of the instructor. Now, as we reach mid-term, the whole class has no idea if we are meeting instructor requirements or not.”

“You make some great points here about professor involvement. I am taking an on-line class through (other MN school) right now too and the professor has not participated. There is no communication at all, and like your situation, he has not given any feedback on assignments. He does not use D2L at all, except to post the syllabus. As a student, it is very frustrating."

“I too am experiencing a class this semester with insufficient involvement by the instructor. It is very frustrating. I can see by the postings of several other students in the class that they too feel abandoned. With an assignment due tomorrow, and no responses to our questions on the discussion board for the past 1 1/2 weeks, I am left to hope that I understood enough to manage a decent grade on the assignment. This seems to be the equivalent of an instructor in an on-campus class not showing up for more than a week's worth of classes with no notice."

Online Student Advisory - Take 2

One of the discussion topics for the student advisory group centered on various issues related to the school policy on assigning a "F" for non-attendance. In particular we looked at the questions about (1) how long (the policy says 20 days) should the non-attendance be allowed, and (2) what is considered to be "attendance" in an online course (next post, above).

Regarding the 20 days of inactivity to assign the FN grade:

“Wow! Twenty days is a long time for a student to be away from the class entirely. While I appreciate the freedom and flexibility, this may be too flexible.”

“I also agree that 20 days is an incredibly long period of time not to participate in a class. If one stays away from a class for that period of time, is there any hope of catching up? I'd have a nervous breakdown! I was gone for one day over spring break and was unable to log-in, and I felt absolutely out of the loop even for that one day. What was the criteria for the 20 days? It does seem way too long, and I think shortening up that time span would be appropriate. Some students will put classes off for the full 20 days; and, in my opinion, that is just setting themselves up for failure. I don't understand how you can even do a mediocre job when you are behind by 20 days. By allowing this expanse of time - it's just too much leeway. The expectations should be much more stringent because the student and his/her classmates will benefit from stricter guidelines in the long run.”

Online Students Advisory Committee

There are about a dozen online students participating in a short-term advisory committee with me inside D2L. Over the next month we are holding online discussions about 3 or 4 different questions each week. Their input during week one has been tremendous. Here are a couple of examples of their posts:

Regarding end-of-term evaluations, one suggestion is:
“Perhaps be as basic as possible. The first question is 'Are you satisfied overall with the class, material and instructor'. If not, then please look below and mark the areas of problems (with a list of areas similar to what the normal survey contains). If there are areas you feel were above your expectations, please mark those below also.”

Regarding the online tutoring service provided to LSC students:
“I think discussion between fellow students is one of the most often used sources for help in a class, as well as direct questions to the instructor. I have never been in a situation where that assistance was not adequate enough to help me solve any problem I might have with an assignment. I also agree with an earlier posting, if instructors advertised the (tutoring) service to the students, it may be more widely used.”

Tags: online students student advisory LSC Online online tutoring course evaluations