Viewing by month: January 2014

Jan 22 2014

Merging the Online Courses and CoursePlus Systems

Over the past few weeks, Center representatives have attended departmental faculty meetings to let them know about a a major change coming to CoursePlus in May, 2014: we're merging the online course system and CoursePlus into a single website,

There are a number of benfits to this merge:

  • A better experience for everyone by having all courses in the same website
  • Better tools for on-campus courses, which have missed out on features previously available to online courses only
  • Improved opportunities for interaction, especially for on-campus courses
  • The ability for the Center to deliver new features faster by focusing on a single system

Those who have taught an online course will not notice too many changes, as the online course system is the basis of the new CoursePlus. The biggest change for faculty who have taught online is that all courses — on-campus and online — will be avialable in the same website and use the same tools. Additionally, you'll be able to sign into the merged CoursePlus using your JHSPH username and password for the courses on which you are primary faculty.

For those who have not taught online before, the system will be a bit different. The biggest change will be to the course home page and the "faculty tools" area. In the current CoursePlus, faculty and editors view a site that is very much separate from what students see. In the merged system, just as in online courses, faculty will see everything that students see, and will have access to all tools on a single page (rather than jumping through multiple pages to get to the tools they use). Additionally, there will be an entirely new and vastly improved discussion forum (the same one used in online courses), a rich text editor that supports LaTeX markup for equations, a peer assessment tool, better student site activity reports, an improved Quiz Generator, and more.

There is one feature of the current CoursePlus which will not be part of the new, merged system: the ability to turn individual features (Drop Box, Online Library, Quizzes, etc) on or off. It's important for students to have a consistent experience in a course management system, and when some courses have some features turned on, and other courses have those same features turned off, it is confusing to students. Additionally, many CTL Help requests relate direclty to a feature being turned off when, in fact, the faculty or TAs needed that feature to be available to students and not realizing they had turned that feature off in their CoursePlus site. By keeping all features on all the time, students, TAs, and faculty should have a better experience.

All content currently in CoursePlus and online courses will be copied into the merged system, so you don't have to worry about content being lost. While there will definitely be downtime for CoursePlus during the last week of May, 2014, while we make the change official, you can still work on CoursePlus sites for courses and that content will be copied over when the new CoursePlus goes live.

Online courses, which currently reside on, will be located at after this change. Requests to website will redirect to automatically, although you will need to update any bookmarks you may have which point to, as those will not redirect automatically.

The Center will offer training sessions for the new, merged CoursePlus starting in June and then throughout the next academic year to show faculty and editors what's new and different in the merged system. Additionally, we'll be providing an overview video of what's changing once we get closer to the actual launch date of the new CoursePlus.

We're very excited about this change and know that it's going to bring a better experience to everyone who uses CoursePlus. If you have questions, comments, or concerns about this change, please reach out to us!

0 comments - Posted by Brian Klaas at 12:01 PM - Categories: General | Online Courses | CoursePlus

Jan 14 2014

New Version of the Rich Text Editor includes Equation Support and a Drawing Tool

On January 14, 2014, we pushed out a major new version of the rich text editor in all online courses. The highlight of this new version of the rich text editor is that it now includes a) support for rendering equations created in LaTeX format, and b) a drawing board for sketching equations, tables, graphs or anything else!

Faculty (and students) have long asked for the ability to render equations in discussion forum posts, quizzes, and more. The problem has been that doing this required additional plug-ins to the Web browser, because Web browsers used to not be able to display markup for equations. That has changed, and since we're no longer supporting older browsers like Internet Explorer 8, we can now use tools which render equations using markup!

If you look at the rich text editor in the discussion forum, quizzes, or elsewhere in an online course site, you will now see the Greek Sigma symbol as a button in the editor toolbar.

Clicking this button will bring up the LaTeX equation editing window.

You paste in syntactically correct LaTeX markup, and the result  is rendered immediately in a preview. Clicking OK to close this window inserts the equation wherever it your cursor is placed in the rich text editor box. 

The other new button in the rich text editor toolbar is the paintbrush button:

Clicking on this button will bring up the drawing board tool, which allows you to quickly sketch or draw something (or mark up an equation or create a 2x2 table, etc).

Once you click the OK button, the image is saved, and then that image then becomes part of the content of your discussion forum post, email message, quiz question, etc. This is a great tool for marking up something that isn't possible to type.

The new rich text editor appears throughout tools in online courses. There is one place where the equation editor tool does not work, however, and that's within the class email tool. The reason for this is because the rendering of equations inside the Web browser requires code to execute. Email clients do not allow code to execute when you open an email message because that would be a major security risk. As a result, we've removed the equation editor button from the class email tool so that you don't create messages with equations in them and then get frustrated that students don't see those equations when they read the email. You could use the drawing board tool to sketch your eqation instead, as email clients don't have problems displaying images.

This new version of the rich text editor is available in online courses only at this time. It will be coming to CoursePlus in June.

1 comments - Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:26 AM - Categories: Course Tools | Online Courses

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