Viewing by month: October 2009

Oct 28 2009

October 2009 Update to the Online Library

The Online Library in online courses has received a significant update with the start of the second academic term.

We've heard from many of you that the performance of the Online Library in online courses is a concern. We know that the application was not nearly as fast as it could be, and the developers here in the Center have worked hard to improve the loading and response time of the Online Library across the board. This update is 2-6 times faster than the current version of the Online Library, depending on the current task being executed. For example, loading the library in a course with about a hundred library items took 35 seconds in the old version of the library. In this version, it takes six seconds.

The Online Library still does not load instantaneously, and in libraries of a hundred items or more, that's simply not a reasonable goal. The performance of the Online Library is, like many pieces of software, also dependent on your computer. Newer computers with faster processors and more RAM are going to load and perform much better than a machine that is three, four, or five years old.

The other major change in this update to the Online Library is the introduction of the Audio Notes tool. This is a very cool addition to the library, and one that promises major impact when this version of the Online Library comes to CoursePlus.

Faculty, TAs, and students can currently use a tool like Audacity (or GarageBand, or any number of desktop applications) to create audio files for posting in their online courses or CoursePlus sites. This approach is actually a key part of the School's pandemic flu preparedness strategy. We, however, have created a simpler tool for recording audio and distributing it to students. It's no replacement for a desktop audio recording and editing solution, but it's drop-dead simple, and sometimes that's what matters most.

The Audio Notes is a very simple online audio recorder, almost identical to the one found in the Gradebook. Just as faculty (or TAs) would add a file or Web link to the Online Library, now they can also record audio, and have the MP3 version of that audio appear in the Online Library. They can edit information about that file, control the open/close date, and do everything else that they can do with any other file in the Online Library. Students can download the MP3 files just as they would any other file in the Online Library.

Here are some sample use cases for the Audio Notes tool:

  • There is a real-world event that faculty want to comment on, but don't have time to get in to the studio to record a new lecture.
  • Faculty want to give an overview of the results for the midterm or final, without having to type everything out.
  • Faculty want to make a correction to their lecture or provide an update to their lecture, but the issue of time and the production process prevents this from happening to the actual online course lecture.  
  • Faculty cannot come in to the School to give an in-person lecture for an onsite class, but students still need the content for that lecture.

There are some limitations to the Audio Notes tool that should be noted:

  • The audio recorder is extremely simple. There are no editing tools. If mistakes are made, the person making the recording leaves them in or starts over from the beginning. 
  • There are no limits on the length of a recording, although after approximately one hour of continuous recording, the connection to the server may become unreliable.
  • Recordings are available to all students unless otherwise specified via the "Block Students" tool for that file in the Online Library.

If you want to try out the Audio Notes tool, please be sure that your computer is set up properly, per the tutorial for recording audio for posting in online courses.

There are even more changes in this update to the Online Library in online courses. These include:

  • Opening of file/link edit boxes relative to your current position on the screen. No more scrolling to the top of the library to edit!
  • If a file is uploaded to the Online Library that is a FLV, MP4 or MOV file, instead of downloading the file to the end user's computer, the file will be played in a new window which contains a simple video player. Students could rarely open FLV or MP4 files on their own because of the playback requirements of those formats. The Online Library takes care of this for them now.
  • A few UI changes have been made to clarify the links to pages in an online course and to make it easier to select multiple students to block/unblock from seeing a file in the library.
  • A handful of bug fixes including issues with open/close dates assigned to folders.

We want to thank everyone for their feedback in the past few months about the Online Library. We're listening and want to make it as good a tool as it can be. If you have any questions about these updates, or suggestions for further areas of improvement, we'd love to hear them!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:02 AM - Categories: Online Courses | Course Tools

Oct 22 2009

The October 2009 Patch to CoursePlus

CoursePlus was updated on Thursday, October 22, with some significant new features. The focal point of this release is the update to Quiz Generator 5, which brings CoursePlus in line with online courses at JHSPH in terms of what can be done inside of the Quiz Generator. Highlights of the new Quiz Generator include:

Multiple Choice Questions with Multiple Answers 

  • Multiple choice questions can now require that multiple responses be selected by the student. Partial credit can be awarded if the student makes a partial set of correct matches, or you can require that all responses be selected correctly in order to get credit for the question.

Rich Text Editor for Essay Question Answers 

  • Students now answer essay questions using a rich text editor so that they can create numbered or bulleted lists, add text formatting, and have at their fingertips basic word processing tools while they create their answers.

Revamped Quiz Setup Screen and New Options 

  • The quiz setup screen has been simplified and reorganized to make it easier to see how your quiz is set up. 
  • Post-quiz screen and email notification options now have a preview tool so you can see what students will see after they take a quiz. 
  • You can choose to have the full set of student responses to a quiz emailed to you as soon as the student submits their answers to a quiz. 
  • You can now display custom instructional text after the students submit their answers to a quiz. 

Answer Key Changes 

  • Students who took the quiz now see their answers inline with the correct answers in the answer key.
  • You can specify a minimum passing grade which the student must achieve in order to view the answer key.
  • You can let students see the answer key before manually graded questions in the quiz have been scored.

Special Permissions Changes 

  • You can specify that specific students get more time than others to complete the quiz. 
  • You can specify both dates and times when you grant special permissions to take a quiz.

Scoring Changes 

  • You can change the score of an automatically scored question. A history is kept of all changes made to question scores. 
  • You can opt to give all students full credit for a question, even if students originally got that question wrong. 
  • Scores for each question and the overall quiz score can be exported to Excel. 
  • You can recalculate an individual student's score on a quiz, or recalculate the scores of everyone in the class. 
  • When a question is removed from a quiz, all scores are automatically recalculated.

Changes to Emailing Results 

  • You can set up the quiz so that results are held until you decide that the results should be sent to students. 
  • You can send or re-send results to individual students, multiple students, or all students in the class from the same page.

There are many other changes to the Quiz Generator. You can see a complete "What's New" list when you access the Quiz Generator in your CoursePlus site.

The other significant addition in this release is to the Online Library. The Online Library will now automatically display a simple movie player for any .flv (Flash video) or QuickTime (.mov, .mp4) movie file which is uploaded to the Online Library. Previously, if faculty or editors uploaded a Flash video in to their Online Library, most students could not play the file. That's because Flash video requires some kind of Flash movie in which the video is played back. Flash videos won't play back on their own, and require a special player. The Online Library now takes care of this for you.

Keep in mind that although the Online Library now has enhanced video playback capabilities, it is still the responsibility of the individual who uploads the video in to the Online Library to secure copyright clearance before posting the movie to the Online Library.

If you have any questions or feedback about the new features in this update to CoursePlus, please let us know!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:38 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Oct 16 2009

Two Population Science Courses Added to OCW

Two population science courses, Social and Economic Aspects of Human Fertility and Principles of Population Change, have been added to JHSPH OpenCourseWare.


Social and Economic Aspects of Human Fertility analyzes the correlates of fertility levels in societies and childbearing among individuals and couples. The course examines classical theories of fertility change at the societal level and contemporary critiques of these theories, and it also explores the determinants of fertility at the individual level, with an emphasis on differences in the timing of first birth and total family size by social class and ethnicity in developed and developing countries.


Principles of Population Change provides students with the basics of demography and the health implications of major contemporary population issues. Lectures explore population changes over time; elements of demography; child survival and mortality; family and households and demographic change; the demography of social and economic inequality, role of women, urbanization, migration and fertility. Finally, students examine world demographic patterns, synthesizing the data and issues surrounding the importance of population to public health.


Both courses are taught by Nan Astone, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Education in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health.


Posted by Ira Gooding at 3:46 PM - Categories: OpenCourseWare

Oct 15 2009

Another PDF Annotation Tool Available for Full and Part-Time Students

Last Spring, JHSPH Information Systems announced that they had acquired a site license for PDF Annotator, a tool that lets you annotate (write, draw, highlight, and otherwise mark up) PDF files. This is a really useful tool if you're trying to take class notes digitally or otherwise doing collaborative work using PDF files. Unfortunately, PDF Annotator is only available for the Windows operating system. Those of us using a Mac could use Preview, an application built in to the Mac OS, to do basic PDF annotation, but Preview lacks many of the features of PDF Annotator.

Recently, JHSPH Information Systems announced that they have acquired a site license for PDF Pen Pro, an equivalent to PDF Annotator for the Mac. This makes this tool available for free to all full- and part-time students, faculty, and staff here at the School. If you aren't enrolled in a degree program at the School, or aren't School faculty or staff, you can't take advantage of this site license.

For more information on acquiring either PDF Pen Pro or PDF Annotator, please see this page in the portal. Remember: you have to log in to to the portal using your JHSPH email account credentials to view this information.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 4:17 PM - Categories: General | Online Courses | Course Tools | CoursePlus

Oct 13 2009

What Happened to CoursePlus on October 12 and 13?

In case you didn't notice (and you probably did), CoursePlus was unavailable for a short while on Monday, October 12 around 1:30pm and Tuesday, October 13 around 10:30am. Each outage lasted about 25 minutes. We recognize that any outage of CoursePlus, particularly during the day, is an inconvenience for many students, faculty, and staff. While we can't guarantee 99.99% uptime of CoursePlus, we do take these outages seriously and want to keep downtime to a minimum.

The reason that there was an outage on both of these days is because there was a misconfigured Google Search Appliance running on the JHU network that was bombarding CoursePlus with hundreds upon hundreds of requests, not stopping to request information from CoursePlus when it should have, endlessly consuming server resources until the server didn't have any more resources to allocate to the Google Search Appliance requests. We've spoken with the administrators of this Google Search Appliance, and they recognize that the appliance was malfunctioning. Our expectation is that they have fixed the operation of their Google Search Appliance, and we should not see this problem again.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 3:31 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

Oct 6 2009

How to Record Audio from Your Desktop Tutorial Posted

The Center's team of Web documentation and audio production specialists have been hard at work developing a new tutorial which shows you, in simple and clear steps, how to record audio from your desktop. If you're a student who needs to record audio for a class assignment, or a faculty member who needs to record a lecture in your office or at home for posting in to CoursePlus, this tutorial is for you.

The tutorial covers the whole process, from downloading the right software, to making sure your microphone settings are correct, to editing mistakes out of your audio, and generating an MP3 file for posting in to an online course or CourePlus Web site. There's even a handy microphone tester with troubleshooting information along side, which can be used not only for recording audio from your desktop, but also for testing out a microphone for LiveTalk.

The tutorial is composed of text, images, and video demonstrations. There's also a handy PDF reference guide available for those who want to print the complete set of step-by-step instructions for all phases of the recording process.

If you have any feedback about the tutorial, we'd love to hear it!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 6:06 PM - Categories: Online Courses | CoursePlus

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