Viewing by month: November 2010

Nov 29 2010

So What Happened to the Online Courses Today (Nov 29)?

Today, Monday, November 29, the online courses website was down from 5:15-6:30pm. Earlier in the day, at 3:10PM, the servers had to be restarted because a major process on those servers stopped responding properly. While the online course websites were back up in a matter of minutes, they did not restart properly. We noticed a number of problems, not the least of which was the inability to use Firefox to sign in to online courses or access the BBS in online courses or CoursePlus. As a result, the services had to be restarted so that they could run properly and people could use Firefox again.

However, when the services were restarted, the servers began to experience heavy load. A couple of classes had LiveTalks, and a number had quizzes and Drop Box assignments due this evening. While the servers were trying to come up, they were getting more and more requests from students needing to sign in to their LiveTalks and to get their work done. The servers restarting combined with increasing load of requests formed a vicious circle that only made it more difficult for the servers to return to normal functionality.

After making some server-side adjustments to help reduce the severity of this problem, access to online courses was restored at about 6:30pm. The problems seen earlier — including the inability to sign in with Firefox — had been resolved.

We understand how very frustrating it is to not be able to access your online courses for any period of time. We dislike outages as much as you do, and we work to avoid them whenever possible. When there are outages, we try to communicate as best we can with you about the situation and to resolve the problems as quickly as possible. We did communicate directly with the classes with LiveTalks this evening to help facilitate the LiveTalks in spite of the problems accessing online courses, and, fortunately, all the LiveTalks happened.

We thank you for your patience with today's outage, and hope that we won't be making another post like this again for a very long time.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:26 PM - Categories: Online Courses

Nov 22 2010

Using Google Chrome?

If you're using Google Chrome to access online courses, please remember that Google Chrome is not an officially supported Web browser for accessing online courses. While Chrome is based on the same code for displaying Web pages as Safari (which is supported), it's still different enough that it may cause problems. The part of Chrome that allows for interactivity in things like online quizzes is quite different, so there may be problems there.

The Center plans on officially supporting Chrome for accessing online courses in June, 2011, with the start of the next academic year. 

If you are using Chrome, be sure that you are running the latest version. As of today (November 22, 2010), the latest version is version 7. If Chrome prompts you to upgrade to a new version, you should upgrade.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:02 AM - Categories: Online Courses

Nov 12 2010

Changes to the CoursePlus Class Sessions Tool

At the end of the current academic term, the class sessions tool in CoursePlus will get a major update. The CoursePlus team has been receiving feedback about the class sessions tool from faculty and editors since CoursePlus launched in 2005. We pulled out the most frequently-requested changes and have made those the core of this update. Here are the highlights:

  • Drag-and-drop ordering of sessions: Many people who have used the class sessions tool told us that they really did not like having to use numbers to order class sessions and that they had to reorder sessions one at a time. Worse yet, if you wanted to move a session between other sessions, you had to renumber every session below the insertion point one at a time. This was a major hassle. The updated class sessions tool allows you to drag-and-drop class session listings to reorder them. Simply click on the blue title bar for any session and drag it to a new location. Everything gets reordered for you with no extra work.
  • Update all session dates at once: When you copy a CoursePlus site from one academic year to the next, you have to update all the dates on the class session by hand. The updated class sessions tool allows you to enter in the number of days by which you want to update every date in every session. If you enter "365," then all class session dates are updated by 365 days. This saves a lot of time, particularly on classes with a lot of sessions!
  • Session objectives: As the School moves to link department/program objectives with course objectives and individual class session objectives, the class sessions tool now has an easy-to-use session objectives tool. You can enter as many session objectives as you would like, and you can reorder the display of session objectives as you see fit. Entering session objectives is totally optional.
  • Download all files for a session: Students and faculty have told us that they would like to be able to download all the files for a given session in one click, rather than having to click on the link to each file to download the files. The updated class sessions tool allows you to do this. You can still download files one at a time if you want.
  • Download all sessions to your calendar: Since we launched CoursePlus, students have been asking for the ability to easily import class session information into their desktop or online calendars. The student view of the class sessions tool now allows students to download basic information about each session in the .ics format, which can be dragged and dropped into Outlook, Entourage, Apple Mail, and Thunderbird, or imported in to Google Calendar. If there are changes to class sessions after the initial student download, the student is notified that there are updates to download.
  • Create a survey for the session when you create the session: When you create a new session in the class sessions tool, you have the option of also creating a survey from a template at that time. CoursePlus now offers a number of template evaluation surveys for you to choose from, or you can create a template survey for just your course or a template survey that can be used by any class in CoursePlus.
  • Session numbers are no longer required: Because the ordering of sessions was previously based on the session number, session numbers were required for each session. This is no longer the case. You can include session numbers or not — it's totally up to you. When you link a file from the Online Library or a Drop Box to a session, you select the topic of the session instead of the session number in those tools.

These are the highlights of the update to the class sessions tool. There are additional, smaller changes, which will be detailed when the update is live and available on CoursePlus.

The CoursePlus team has really tried to make these updates as simple to use as possible. We understand that some people were perfectly happy with the class sessions tool as it was, but we also have to accommodate the needs of faculty, editors, and students who were clamoring for change. We hope that, in the end, everyone will find these changes beneficial.

If you have any questions or concerns about these changes, please let us know!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:47 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Nov 8 2010

Remaking the BBS: Bookmarks

When asking students, TAs, and faculty about their pain points with the BBS currently found in online courses, one problem that was raised again and again was the ability to quickly find specific posts in a course BBS that were important to a given individual. There really is no way in the current BBS to mark an individual post as something that you want to come back to for future reference or reply.

The new BBS addresses this issue in a number of ways. The first and most obvious way in which this problem is addressed is bookmarks. 

In the new BBS, you will be able to bookmark individual posts with a click of a button. Once you bookmark, or "star" (in Google parlance) a post, that bookmark flag will appear next to that post every time you visit that topic. You can un-bookmark a post just as easily. Click the star once more, and the post isn't bookmarked any more.

All of your BBS bookmarks for a given course will be available on the "Bookmarks" page in the BBS, as shown below:

My Bookmarks Mockup

This page shows all the posts that you have bookmarked, organized by topic and category, just as topics and categories are organized at the top level of the BBS. You can un-bookmark posts on this page by clicking the trash icon next to a given post. Clicking on the "Go to Message" brings you to the original message in the context of the original topic.

There's one limitation to the bookmarks tool: the number of bookmarks you can have per BBS. You're limited to 200 bookmarks within a single BBS. The reason for this is that we are displaying the bookmarked posts in the context of the topic and category in which they reside. As such, we have to be careful to make sure that this bookmarks page comes up relatively quickly. We've found that bookmarking over 200 posts makes things slow down to an unacceptable level, so we're limiting the number of bookmarks to 200. That's an awful lot of bookmarks for a single course BBS, and are expecting that this won't be a problem for nearly everyone.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:51 AM - Categories: Course Tools | Online Courses

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