Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Twittering about D2L and Blackboard

I usually keep an eye on a Twitter search looking for posts that have something to do with D2L. The beginning of the semester is always interesting, especially as students are posting their unfiltered thoughts about school, online courses, professors, D2L, and lots of other things. Here are some examples. I'll leave out their Twitter names since I don't know these people.

  • Dear D2L though my college, please fix yourself so I can take quizzes on Firefox. THANK YOU! Love, Cissa
  • trust me, everything you click on d2l... and the time u spend on each "page" they cn see....
  • 71 unread discussions on D2L? CRAP! I was only gone for one weekend!
  • In class with a professor that doesn't know how to work the internets and d2l. Maybe he should use the googles.
  • ocu's desire2learn has to be the shi**iest web page ever. period. well, aside from the other ocu web pages.
  • Online classes start today. Not liking their new D2L system.
  • Go to a "Laptop Campus"...should ALL of my classes have D2L sites? Whatever.
  • just LOL'ed when he looked at D2L at the same class he just took last semester. god taking the same class over is priceless. LOL hate it.
  • D2L is SUCH a pain in the tuckus.... Maybe online classes were a bad idea
  • just realized that something she thought she posted to D2L last week didn't actually get posted and of course she didn't save it... :-(
  • there has to be an easier way to keep track of due dates in d2l.. seriously!
  • Well this stinks. I've got an assignment due tomorrow and D2L is down :( fml
  • Really wish that more than 2 of my 5 classes were up on d2l... Come on profs, classes start monday! Get on that sh**!
  • really hopes this isn't a semester that none of my professors put their stuff on d2l...its friday...classes start monday...lets get movin!
  • I'm sorry but I have no "Desire2Learn" .. why must I be forced to go on that site.
  • D2L is making me angry.
Yep, that's mostly negative stuff. I didn't skip the positive posts from students because there basically weren't any (there were some from educators, along with lots of neutral ones). I'm posting this just because I find it interesting what students are willing to post online about this type of thing - and I wonder what their frame of reference is.

To be fair and balanced, I also check from time to time to see what people are saying about Blackboard. Not surprisingly, it's easy to find lots of comments there that fall in the negative category as well. I think the number of swear words per Blackboard post is higher than posts about D2L - which might be a good topic for a research paper.
  • Well that was quick, logged onto Blackboard and the only thing my class contains is a link to a real website for the class that works.
  • But I enjoy starting every semester with the Blackboard is completely unusable, so just send me your assignments via email instead. (Prof, I believe)
  • Great, my school upgraded to a new bug infested version of Blackboard. At some point I'd love it if they'd just move open source and fix it. (Prof again)
  • i love how i'd rather be on fbook or twitter than #BLACKBOARD. :)
  • Few things in life can anger me as much and as quickly as WebCT/Blackboard and their Java Applet CMS crap. And we pay millions for it. ugh
  • Blackboard is my frenemy.
  • i'm bout to get real ill. F**K is wrong with blackboard?
  • I hate Blackboard! Too many folders, no overview :-((
  • Effin hate the blackboard! Wtf. Pls load.
  • FUHHHH just noticed that the assignment i submitted online through the new Blackboard 9 for my online class on Fri didn't attach right! :(
  • i hate blackboard! ugh!
  • Trying to finish my online homework, but stupid blackboard/open campus isn't working so I can't finish it and it's due tonight, grrrr.....
  • Why doesn't Blackboard support Firefox versions above 2.X? This is ridiculous.
  • I've never hated something as much as I hate the new BLACKBOARD. Seriously!!!!!!!
  • I fu**ing hate #blackboard
  • hey, blackboard. wanna stop being retarded?
I'm wondering how much any of this chatter affects the general view of either Bb or D2L. Probably not much, but maybe it's growing in importance as a source of information about them. And finally, for the record, this post sums up my thoughts about these two "rivals" (partners?) -

Monday, January 04, 2010

MnSCU Online Course Definitions - Part Four

You might need to read the previous three posts to get a feel for all of my concerns about the proposed changed to MnSCU course definitions. For now let's just say that I think they're on the verge of turning a molehill into a mountain. (That's my photo from Pilot Mountain, NC - definitely not a molehill.) So, you should be asking, what is my proposed solution?

Very simple. Here they are.
  • On-ground courses: any course that is scheduled in a traditional classroom setting for the traditional amount of seat-time, which for us equals about 16 hours per credit. It should not matter whatsoever whether the faculty member chooses to use the Internet (in reasonable ways, see caveat #1 below), whether they use active learning exercises, whether they use PowerPoint, or whatever. Faculty members teach their classes how they choose to, within the normal guidelines of the institution.
  • Blended courses: any course that meets in the traditional classroom for a portion of the normal amount of seat time and has required online activities that make up the remainder of the learning activities for the students. The portion of learning that is assigned to classroom seat-time can be as small as 25% of the normal amount of seat time (4 hours per credit) or as much as 75% of the normal amount (12 hours per credit). These courses are not designed or intended for distance students.
  • Online courses: any course that is conducted completely online or can otherwise be completed at a distance. A maximum of two proctored assessments may be required. Students should understand that some online learning activities may require them to interact in real-time with other students and/or with the instructor. No traditional seat-time is required or allowed. (See caveat #2 below.)
Caveat #1 - It is incumbent upon the college administration to ensure that a faculty member does not dramatically expand the time expectations for students by "off-loading" significant amounts of class activities onto the Internet without reducing the seat-time requirements of the students. This is a real and growing problem that can greatly upset students. This is actually a pretty tricky problem to deal with since it begs the question of what are acceptable "homework activities" for a professor to require in an on-ground class. I'm not going to deal with this question fully at this point, let's just say that it is easy to see alternate points of view on this one.

Caveat #2 - I believe that it is important to stress to faculty who teach online courses that students enroll in online courses primarily for the time flexibility that they expect to receive with that registration. Every synchronous requirement, every proctored assessment, every too-small window of opportunity (assignment or exam due dates, for example) can lead to a very inflexible online course. Faculty who are not interested in providing a flexible learning environment for the students should consider a blended or traditional class schedule instead of online.

That's it. Easy peasy. Biggest changes from the current definitions are as follows:
  • Online: No required on-campus meetings are allowed. Offer a blended class instead.
  • Online: Doesn't matter what technologies or techniques a faculty member chooses to use (for example: synchronous or asynchronous). These change frequently anyway. Don't try to dictate so much.
  • Blended: 25% - 75% of the normal amount of seat-time. Everything else online.
All the rest of this is far too confusing and restricting. Don't go there.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

MnSCU Online Course Definitions - Part Three

Part one looked at the proposed changes to definitions of on-ground courses. Part two looks at the state of affairs regarding blended/hybrid courses in MnSCU. Part three will now parse some of the information related to the new proposals to further define what is and what isn't an online course.

The main reason for this effort appears to be a response to complaints/feedback indicating that students find information in the course registration system to be confusing regarding the
delivery method that they should expect when they sign up for a class. Therefore, MnSCU is attempting to create additional class codes so that students will have better advance notice as to whether the course will use the Internet in any way, whether they will have any required seat time, and even what types of online activities they should expect to engage in. That might not sound too bad on the surface, but the devil is in the details - as usual. (synchronized swimming photo (CC) courtesy by Eric Bégin)

Currently, MnSCU/MnOnline defines an online course something like this:
  • All courses where the delivery method is entirely or predominately online, are to be setup with the media code set to 03 – Internet Delivered Course.
  • Predominately = where all, or nearly all, course activity occurs in an online environment. One to two activities may occur face-to-face in a classroom, with the maximum being two activities.
Therefore, online courses in MnSCU have traditionally allowed up to two classroom sessions to be scheduled. Obviously this can be a significant issue for true distance students who are unable to come to a campus for the one or two required sessions. Many schools, such as my own, have strongly discouraged these types of required classroom sessions since it severely decreases the attractiveness of the courses to distance students.

IMO, the real confusion in the current set of definitions comes in the area of test proctoring. (No surprise, but I have previously posted about test proctoring in MnSCU here and also here.) At LSC, we have always treated proctored exams as fitting the definition of the "one or two activities that may occur face-to-face." In other words, we treated it more as a maximum of two times that you can require a distance student to have a specific time-and-place requirement. That might be a classroom activity, but it also might be the requirement of finding an acceptable proctor in the area where you live.

In the past we had one or two faculty members who assigned more than two proctored exams. After working with those faculty members, we were able to reduce the number of proctored requirements by changing assessment methods and consolidating small quizzes and tests into more significant exams (like a mid-term and final) that would still be proctored. Our goal was not to eliminate proctoring, but to reduce the angst that is caused on many different fronts by having a large number of proctored requirements.

So, let's get to the proposed changes. There are three proposed categories:
  • 1. Online - Completely Online
  • 2. Online - Completely Online with "synchronous" components
  • 3. Online - Predominantly Online

Category #1 "Completely Online" has the following features:
  • All instruction is delivered online
  • No face-to-face meetings
  • No proctored exams
  • May not have required synchronous class meetings

Category #2 "Completely Online with synchronous requirements" has the following features:
  • All instruction is delivered online
  • No face-to-face meetings
  • No proctored exams
  • Has required synchronous online meetings or activities

Category #3 "Predominantly Online" has the following features:
  • Nearly all course activity occurs in the online environment
  • One or two activities may occur face-to-face in a classroom, with the maximum being two activities
  • No more than two face to face meetings -- as a cohort in the same physical location
  • May have proctored exams
  • May have synchronous components
  • NOTE: this is very similar to the current MnSCU definition of online

This brings several questions to mind:
  • 1. Why do we want to allow an unlimited number of required proctored assessments as we have in the current definition and one of the proposed definitions? Isn't this absurd? At LSC we had the pleasure of providing proctoring services for one students from another MnSCU school for more than 20 different quizzes - FOR ONE COURSE!! Indeed, this is absurd.
  • 2. What exactly do we mean when we say that there are "required" synchronous components? Does that mean that if you don't do them that you will fail the course, or does it mean you will miss out on a few of the available points? Big difference. Students often blow off a requirement that doesn't keep them from achieving their goals. What if the synchronous work comprises 5% of the total grade in a course? What if it comprises 75% of the total grade? Aren't those very different - and how will the students know in advance which one is the case for the courses they just signed up for? Oh yeah, they won't.
  • 3. Will students understand what the heck we mean when we say "synchronous components?" Aren't we just creating a much more confusing situation rather than less?
  • 4. Will students want to know which synchronous components will be used? Maybe they're totally down with using a web conferencing solution, but totally against using UStream or Skype. Should we care whether they object to one technology or another? Is that their choice to make?
  • 5. Is a "synchronous group meeting" the same thing as a synchronous class meeting? If three students need to get together online at the same time in order to successfully complete their group project, is that a "required" synchronous meeting, or was it optional since they could have chosen to fail instead, or could have done a lousy job, or could have let one person do all the work?
  • 6. Due to completely normal course scheduling issues, it won't always be possible to know months in advance whether a faculty member will require proctored exams or synchronous components. Many time we don't even know for certain who will be teaching a class until after it is already full of registered students. Perfect example would be late in the registration window when we end up canceling a class for a tenured faculty member and then re-assign a fully registered class to that person to keep them at a full teaching load (this happens all the time, BTW). Is the newly assigned faculty member required to live up to the proctoring/synchronous plan that the previous instructor had laid out, or are they free to change it even though 30 students signed up expecting no proctored exams (or whatever)?
  • 7. Isn't the course registration coding a perfectly ridiculous place to try to tell students about all the nuances of how a course will be "delivered" to them? Students signing up for online courses will be confused by all the extra flags and codes - if they read them at all. Our system-wide course registration system is a highly inflexible beast - with very little chance to provide clarifying information. I can't see this working well in any way, shape, or form.
  • 8. Determining the proper coding for thousands of courses is going to be a nightmare on campuses. The amount of information needed from each instructor will expand exponentially. The opportunities for coding errors or misunderstandings will also skyrocket. I can see it now: Student: "Hey, I signed up for a fully online course and now they say that I need to be connected every Tuesday night at 7 PM. What gives?" School official: "I'm very sorry, but I think our faculty member was confused about the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communications. Sorry about that."
  • 9. This one is a big one for me - how do these new guidelines position us for the future uses of web technologies? IMO, it positions us perfectly for dealing with the online world in about 2002. The whole distinction between synchronous and asynchronous is becoming more and more blurred. Although a traditional LMS discussion board is pretty clearly asynchronous and a Skype Internet phone call is pretty clearly synchronous - most of the newer technologies fall somewhere in the middle and are not easily classified. Is Google Wave a synchronous tool or asynchronous? It's both, of course. What about a webinar using WebEx or DimDim or something similar? Since they can easily be recorded and archived, they are both also. Is the D2L pager synchronous or asynchronous? Both, of course. And on and on and on.
  • 10. Is this a solution in search of a problem? Sure feels like it. Or, alternately stated, I believe this will create an even bigger problem than whatever problem has been currently identified.
That's enough for one post. I guess there will be a part four as I attempt to clarify what I think should be done with this mess. Coming soon.