Courseware (Course Systems, Blogs, Wikis, and Other Platforms for Online Course Support)
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Course Management Systems (integrated platforms specifically for curricula)email@example.com).
[Restricted to instructors in UCSB English Department] Programmed by Eric Weitzel (a former graduate student in the UCSB English Dept.), Coursebuilder is a custom system that allows UCSB English Department instructors to create course Web sites through the use of Web forms. Course sites include pages for overviews, schedules of reading, assignments, student projects, etc., as well as class notes pages (for outlines, texts, or multimedia to be used during class meetings). Course content is kept in a SQL Server database that dynamically generates Web pages. Instructors may choose one of a number of frontend "skins" for the display of their course site depending on the nature of the course. There is a generic skin for UCSB English Department courses. Skins also exist for courses given by the Transcriptions Center, Early Modern Center, and American Cultures & Global Contexts Center. (Example of course created with Coursebuilder). Coursebuilder is aware of which courses an instructor is scheduled to teach and will automatically plug in information about the course, office hours, etc., based on the main department database. In addition, new courses can be started by cloning previous courses given by an instructor. (To use Coursebuilder, instructors in the UCSB English Dept. can ask the system for a password to be emailed to them.)
[Under development (UCSB will decide whether to deploy in Sept. 2008)] Developed by a consortium led by universities, Sakai is intended to be an open-source alternative to commercial, full-featured, campus-wide courseware systems. The interface and usability of Sakai at UCSB is still "under construction," but the tools are quite usable. A quick summary of pros and cons (based on Alan Liu's beta-testing of the UCSB experimental version of SAKAI for a course in Fall 2006): Advantages: Without forcing universities to license expensive commercial systems and store intellectual property on outsourced servers, Sakai provides an open architecture medley of features--including discussion forums, chat, announcements, a wiki, drop box, gradebook, schedule, and many more--that can be turned or or off at the instructor's discretion. As son as an instructor signs up for a course site, it is populated by the students who have registered for the course with GOLD. Any student who add the course later in the quarter are also automatically added (Some features, such as the gradebook, may in the future also be connected automatically to other university information systems, such as the Registrar's.) By comparison, Moodle is a one-size-fits-all platform with a narrower range of capabilities. Disadvantages (current): While "free" to universities, Sakai requires significant development and support costs to roll out on a campus-wide basis. Currently, there is only funding for experimental deployment (a situation that may change depending on a future student vote on an information technology fee). The system can have a tendency to overwhelm instructors and students with a fractured mosaic of disparate features and a persistent sense that "there must be a unified dashboard somewhere that let's me see it all and configure it all." The best way for an instructor to use the tools is to restrict them to the minimum number possible so as not to overwhelm student users. UCSB has set September 2008 as the target date for a decision on committing campus-wide to either Sakai or Moodle.
Blog Engines (or Content Management Systems)English 10LC. Examples of English Dept. research sites include: Transliteracies Project, Race and Pedagogy Project, and The Agrippa Files. Examples of faculty sites include: Rita Raley, Alan Liu.) After setting up a free account at WordPress.com, instructors (or anyone) can create one or more WordPress sites. Most WordPress (and other blog platform) sites are laid out in the form of a main content section (within which chronologically ordered "posts" appear) flanked by a sidebar with navigation links and links to related sites. However, there are a very large number of "themes" (combinations of layouts and functional features) that can be selected. WordPress sites can be configured as viewable either by the public or by a private group of users. Sites are organized by creating "categories" and then assigning posts to one or multiple categories (e.g., Schedule, Assignments, Discussion, Student Projects, etc.). The instructor can create users or allow students to register themselves as users (instructors can reassign users to higher or lower permissions levels). Posts appear in reverse chronological order (newest at top of a category), but the order can be revised by editing the posting date.
- Choice from a small set of interface "themes" or "skins."
- Unlimited pages and revisions.
- Wiki can be made public or private to a group of users.
- Choice of easy-to-use graphical-style editing interface or source-code editing. (Most students will need little, if any, guidance in creating, editing, or formatting content.)
- Users can upload images and other content.
- The instructor can download a backup of the site content as a .pdf file.
There are various levels of one-time-fee or subscription-fee services that can be optionally purchased. For example, the next step up includes more storage space, a few more themes, no ads, and more granular control over user access level (e.g., administrators, contributors, readers) [Caution: instructors may feel the need to upgrade just for the last mentioned feature: the ability to assign students to a "contributor" status without the full permissions of administrator.]
Online Collaborative (Office) Suites
Google Docs & Spreadsheets includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, and Powerpoint-like presentation program, all of which can be used if one has a free Google account (which is also the account for Gmail and other Google services). One can start a document from scratch or by importing existing files from .doc, .ppt, and other popular formats. Editing is by means of a Web editing interface enhanced with some GUI-like (graphical user interface) features--so that one can format text by pressing on buttons for bold, italics, underline, text color, font, etc., or insert links and images with similar buttons. (However, power users will appreciate the fact that the interface can be switched at any time to source-code view, which allows direct use of most HTML and CSS code.) Documents are optionally public or private. Editing can be "shared" with collaborators by supplying their email addresses (each collaborator will automatically receive a message from Google inviting them to log in to the document). Multiple collaborators can edit different parts of the document simultaneously. (The only conflicts arise when two or more people simultaneously edit the same sentence, at which point the system makes a decision to save one revision. However, the system notifies the loser in the race about the conflict and allows unsaved work to be rescued.) Each collaborator's revisions are separately tracked by the system, which includes a version-tracking and -reversion feature so that different time-states of the document can be compared to each other. (In the revision view, the changes made by each collaborator is displayed in a different color.) When a document is finished, it can be exported in .doc, .ppt, and other well-known formats. Google Docs & Spreadsheets has been most commonly used in the UCSB English Department for collaborative word processing. In courses, for example, students can be asked to co-edit a document. Similarly, the system is perfect for faculty collaborators on departmental administrative documents of various sorts--e.g., grant proposals, memos, etc. (Collaborators on such documents often use colors or highlighting to make comments to each other during the editing process.)