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!