This course is scheduled to be designed in the summer and taught and evaluated in Fall 2006.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Course Site(s) Design

Deciding how to best use the technology I have available has been difficult.

I decided
  • I am going to use the Composition I site to provide content and instructions
  • I will be using WebCt Vista for the Discussions, Quizzes, Assignment Submissions, Online Office Hours.

It took me a while to decide how I was going to arrange the course so that the use of the sites was consistent and as uncomplicated as possible. I also wanted to have a specific look and feel to my course site which I was not able to manage on the Vista site:

  • wanted to have the navigation bars (my own creation)
  • Wanted to use templates
  • wanted to have certain information visible to students at all times.

Also, I found myself having to teach the ITV classes delivered to the high schools and since those classes started early (one week before the regular semester), I have had to muddle through the bugs of the pilot. I can already feel that the students are getting frustrated. I can understand why someone would want to work with something over which they have control. We have experienced numerous problems

  • misunderstanding over who was going to enroll students; if they are not enrolled they do not get fed into Vista
  • the feed was not working properly so when courses were created, they were not picked up by the system
  • the feed was not working properly and not all students were being added to the courses even though they were officially registered (worst of all the person in charge of the feed was out on vacation the week when ITV classes began and one week before regular classes were set to begin)
  • some students are in the system but their password does not work properly and there is nothing that I can do to help them but send them to the helpdesk
  • I am delivering to two campuses at the same time but for tracking purposes the students are enrolled in two separate sections; Vista creates two sections for what is really one class; I had to figure out a workaround
  • Lab managers for the schools are not students therefore are not in the system; we had to figure out how to get them entered as users so they could be enrolled in the course; the rules for "visitors" hasn't been set yet, but had to go ahead because classes have started
  • when students reset passwords in the system to access Vista, the new password is sent to a account which most students don't know how to access and for which students need to know a password to enter; so they need a password to get their password
  • helpdesk personnel were not aware we were already using the system and were unprepared to help users who called for help
  • User computers which have pop-up blockers and certain java settings cannot access Vista so computer settings have to be changed and helpdesk currently only is open until 6 pm

Unfortunately, the students are getting frustrated with the technology even before we start with the actual content of the course. I am having to depend on the Composition site more and more. So I am thinking that I will even put instructions on the Composition site and then only use Vista to turn in assignments. I am not completely sure how long it will be before all the problems get ironed out. I imagine that others will not experience as many problems as we did this week since the design of my course depended heavily on having access to Vista during the first week which concentrated on explaining how the technology was going to work (and it didn't).

I included a question on a quiz which asked the students what they were most concerned with and several of them said they were worried that they technology, problems and confusions, was going to hinder their progress in the course.

I expect that we won't have as any problems after the pilot but it is a poor reflection on me, I think. For the students, a problem is always the instructor's fault.

Now that I am using the site (which was originally designed for an online course) for three different sections, I am having to figure out how to redesign so that students know what information is relevant to them. For about two minutes, I considered making a different site for the ITV students but then I decided to try to manage the different sections using one.

Since the online course will not start for another week, I guess I can still change my mind. The problem is that if I change the site, I will also have to change the different videos that I create for the students. Many of the videos will refer to the sites which we are using in class and if I use different sites for different classes that will be confusing for the students.

Also, I realized yesterday that to do research students will have to navigate yet one more site, the library site. The library site uses the netmail password for authentication which complicates things even further. I wondered if there is one way to incorporate all the sites into one. I spoke with Justin in IT and he said that MyLearning (Vista) and the library site can be managed through the TSTC portal. So I think I will direct students to the portal and not to the MyLearning site directly. That means I have to go back and change my introduction video to incorporate those changes. Because not all students in my online course are TSTC students (I have several VCT students), I have to make sure that those students can also have access to the portal. I should have an answer in the next day or two.

A major problem is that I keep changing things around as I realize the different types of technology that students have to use. I know that it will be difficult for the students if they have to remember how to access three to four different sites to be able to do the work for the course. But it is equally difficult for things to change from day to day. TSTC is currently working on having a single sign on but not all systems have been integrated yet. I never imagined that it would be this complex.

My only consolation is that it will be much easier for my faculty when they start using the system.

I am designing the instructional videos so that other faculty members can use them. I decided not to include the my talking head in the videos because of this. I also want to use certain sections of some of my videos for more general videos which other instructors can use.

In fact, the video for Updating MyLearning is one which can be used to show users how to add a channel to the portal. Currently, there is a user manual for the portal but it is over 300 pages long and most people don't even know it is available.

With all of this going on, it is difficult to keep track of what my intial intent for the course was.