Viewing by month: May 2010

May 27 2010

Summer Change: New Features in the Gradebook

When we were making all of the behind-the-scenes changes to the online course system this summer, we found that we had to do quite a bit of work to the Gradebook to bring it up to our current software development standards and make it work well with the new architecture. This gave us a great opportunity to not only make the Gradebook a bit faster, but to also add in some long-requested features. Here's what's new in the Gradebook:

  • Custom grading systems can be set up via a simple value-matching tool, where, for example, 0=rewrite, 1=satisfactory, 2=good. The student only sees the custom grading value ("rewrite," "satisfactory" or "good") as their grade. Note that these custom grade systems only use point values for calculations by the Gradebook.
  • You can add items to the Gradebook which do not count towards the final grade in the course.
  • The total points assigned to a student on point-based items can exceed the maximum possible points for that item. This allows faculty/TAs to add extra credit points to a points-based item.
  • Feedback is entered in a new overlay window, allowing more room for the file, text, and audio feedback tools.
  • Text feedback is now composed via a rich text editor.
  • Changes made to the final grade letter grade ranges are automatically saved and will appear the next time the final grade setup page is accessed.
  • A new report has been added which shows just the student, their final numeric grade in the course, and their final letter grade in the course.
The custom grading systems are pretty nifty, and will hopefully meet the needs of a number of courses where letter grades don't need to be given for a written assignment or review quiz, but students should still get feedback on how they did on the assignment.

As always, if you have additional suggestions for how the Gradebook should work, we'd love to hear them!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:37 AM - Categories: Online Courses | Course Tools

May 24 2010

Summer Change: Warning When You Get Disconnected from the Server

The behind-the-scenes changes we've made in the online course system have allowed for a number of things, one of the more pedestrian but important of which is significantly improved internal monitoring of your activity in an online course. A side effect of this improved internal monitoring is the ability to let you stay on course Web sites longer without getting signed out, and the ability for us to let you know when you may have been disconnected from a course Web site.

When you sign in to your online courses, you remain signed in and able to access the pages in your online courses until a certain period of inactivity is reached. This is generally not an issue because most people don't spend 30 or 45 minutes on a single page. However, there are situations when you may spend a long time on a single page. If you watch a particularly long lecture section, for example, you may get logged out because you're sitting on the same page for a long time without any activity (that the server can see). More importantly, if you take an exam with a time limit of 90 minutes or two hours, you sit on the exam page for that entire time. This can result in a logout because of lack of activity or, more problematically, a loss of Internet connectivity if you are on a wireless connection.

A brief detour is probably necessary here to explain why this happens: when you are on a wireless connection, you are given an "address" on the Internet so that Web sites can find you, uniquely identify you, and send you the Web pages or information that you have requested. Most wireless systems will take back that "address" after a certain amount of inactivity. This is particularly true of wireless systems at schools, workplaces, and public spaces. They have only so many addresses to give out, so they take them back if you haven't been doing anything for 10 or 15 minutes, so that someone else might use that same address. When your address has been taken back and actually need to do something again, you're given a new "address" on the Internet by the wireless system.

The problem here is that when you are given a new "address," it may not match up with your old address, and the Web site to which you were previously connected will say "I don't know who you are because I don't recognize you as being signed in." This results in you being asked to sign in to a site again, and if you've been taking an online exam that you can only access once, this can be a bad thing.

The behind-the-scenes changes we've made in the online course system now allow us to warn you if it appears that you've lost your connection to the course Web site server for one of the reasons listed above. If the system detects that it can't connect to the course Web site server or that the course Web site server doesn't recognize you any more, a yellow warning box will fade in at the bottom of the screen. If you're taking an online exam, that yellow warning box is a prompt to copy and paste your answers in to a Word document so you don't lose your work. (If you've become disconnected from the Internet, you can't submit your exam.)

If the disruption in the connection to the course Web site is temporary, the yellow warning box will update to let you know that all appears to be OK again, and will fade away shortly thereafter.

We hope this small addition to the online course system will be useful, especially to those students in remote parts of the world, with less than reliable Internet connections.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:48 AM - Categories: Online Courses

May 21 2010

Maintenance and Site Outages on Tuesday, May 25

Both CoursePlus and the online courses will be periodically unavailable on Tuesday, May 25, from 10am-3pm for required maintenance and server upgrades. During this maintenance, there will be periods of time when you will not be able to access CoursePlus or any online course. While this maintenance was specifically scheduled for after the end of the academic year, we understand that this maintenance will still be disruptive and apologize in advance for any inconvenience it may cause.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:27 AM - Categories: Online Courses | CoursePlus

May 21 2010

Summer Change: Matching Your Name to What's in JHED

In the long list of changes coming to online courses this summer, there's one that seems small but will most likely cause some unhappiness in the student community. Effective June 1, 2010, they way your name appears in JHED (the official system of record for personal information at the University level) will be the way your name appears in all academic, online courses offered by the School.

Some students deliberately use a different name, or nickname, when creating their eLearning accounts. This is because a student may prefer to be referred to as "Fred" instead of "Frederick." That's perfectly reasonable and understandable. The problem comes when faculty have to report student grades back to the University at the end of the term. Although it's fairly clear that "Fred Smith" and "Frederick Smith" are most likely the same person, this is not always the case. Faculty need to know that the names of students in a class in the University registration system match the names in online courses (or CoursePlus, for that matter) exactly.

As a result, once a student enters a JHED ID in to their eLearning account, their name will shortly thereafter be matched with the student information in JHED. This ensures that there is consistency between how a student's name appears in JHED, ISIS (the University system for enrollment), and online courses.

If you never get a JHED ID, this change doesn't apply to you.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:25 AM - Categories: Online Courses | CoursePlus

May 18 2010

Summer Change: Download the Course Schedule to Your Calendar

Earlier this year, we asked students to give us feedback on some potential new tools for online courses. The results of that survey were posted in February. 

When presented with a list of potential new course features, a good number of students stated that the ability to synchronize events on the course schedule to their Outlook/iCal/Google calendars was really important to them. This presents certain challenges — especially when you try to sync up information that's changed to a calendar entry that already exists on your computer — but one of the really good things about the new, behind-the-scenes architecture that we are moving to is that it makes it much easier to make changes to the tools in online courses.

So we've gone ahead and added this feature to the new version of the online course system that is coming this summer.

When you haven't downloaded the course schedule to your computer, this is what you see:

When there are updates to the course schedule since you last downloaded it to your computer, you'll be notified that there are updates to download. When you download those updates, the existing events in Outlook, iCal or Google Calendar will update accordingly. Very handy!

A couple of notes about this new feature:


  • This has been tested and works with Outlook on Windows, Entourage on the Mac, iCal on the Mac, and Google Calendar. Other applications which support the iCal format should work, but we aren't officially supporting them.
  • You get separate events for due dates. If something on the course schedule has both an "Available" date and a "Due" date, you'll get separate events for each.
  • You have to import the calendar entries into your calendar program. This doesn't happen automatically. Instructions are provided with each download, but it's really easy: just double-click on an item in the download and it gets imported in to your calendar program.
  • If you change date/time information in an event once it's been imported into your calendar application, that event may not update properly when you download updates from the course schedule.

We hope you find that this is a really useful addition to the online courses.


Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:15 AM - Categories: Online Courses | Course Tools

May 13 2010

Summer Change: Jump to Other Courses

As we were working on the behind the scenes changes to the online course system that is being rolled out this summer, we found ourselves switching between a lot of different course Web sites. We realized that there had to be a better way to do this than to continually go back to the online courses home page, and then click on the link to the course to which we wanted to switch.

Here's a screenshot of how we solved this problem:

Jump to Course Menu

If you are enrolled in (or otherwise have access to) more than one online course, you will see a small, upside-down triangle next to your name. Clicking on that triangle brings up a list of all the other current online courses in which you are enrolled or to which you otherwise have access. Click on the course name, and you jump to the home page for that course.

Simple and convenient!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:52 AM - Categories: Online Courses

May 10 2010

Summer Change: Single Sign In to All Online Courses

One of the more immediate and obvious changes to the online course system that is coming this summer is a change to the way you sign in to online courses.

Currently, when you access sections of an online course Web site that are only available to students, faculty, and TAs in that course, you are asked to sign in to that course Web site. You have to do this for each and every online course in which you are enrolled.

One of the side effects of the behind-the-scenes changes that we've made is that you will now only have to sign in once, regardless of the number of online courses to which you currently have access. Once you've done that, you'll also have access to any other course in which you are currently enrolled without having to sign in to each individual course Web site. It's a small change, but a nice convenience.

Additionally, there's a nice, big "Logout" button in the upper-right corner of all pages, as you can see below:

Logout Button

Clicking this button logs you out of all of your online courses.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:13 AM - Categories: Online Courses

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