Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Web Conferencing

To: All Faculty
From: Blake Beck

Idaho State University is going to add a new tool for distance education, Web Conferencing.

In the ITRC, we have heard some questions and confusion about the new web conferencing tool ISU is in the process of acquiring. ISU has been working with other institutions of higher ed in the state as well as the Office of the State Board of Education (OSBE) and are very close to acquiring web conferencing for our campus. Some of the questions that are coming up regarding this new tool revolve around a confusion about Blackboard (Bb). Bb is the company that offers the Web Conferencing tool we will be purchasing. Bb is a company that offers several different tools to the education market including their LMS, Bb Learn; their communication tool, Bb Connect; their card service, Bb Transact; their mobile solution, Bb Mobile; and their Web Conferencing tool, Bb Collaborate. All those tools work and are sold independently or bundled. ISU is only purchasing their Web Conferencing tool, Bb Collaborate. This won't change our current LMS, which is Moodle. Moodle will remain the primary means to reach students at a distance with asynchronous education.

Because we are working with other higher education institutions as well as the OSBE, the timing of actually obtaining this tool is not entirely in our control. Thus, we continue to wait for final purchase and access to this tool. Everything seems to be in place now to complete the purchase and gain access within the next 30-45 days. The ITRC and the Provost's office will notify the faculty as soon as this tool becomes available.

Web Conferencing will provide a synchronous teaching means to reach students at the desk top that can also be recorded for asynchronous play back. With the acquisition of a Web Conferencing tool, ISU will have three primary tools for teaching distant students, Video Conferencing, a Learning Management System, and Web Conferencing. Although Video Conferencing and Web Conferencing are both synchronous distance tools, both can be recorded for asynchronous play back by the students at their convenience.

Hopefully this makes clear the various products. The ITRC will support all three means of reaching students at a distance. The brand of the tool is of less importance, and can change over time, than the functionality of the tool. The quality of the education, along with the functionality of the various distance learning tools is what will allow ISU to compete for and reach distance students.

If you have questions about how you can most effectively reach and teach students at a distance, please don't hesitate to contact the ITRC and we can assist you with evaluation of the best tool to meet your needs. Additionally, the ITRC can assist with the development and presentation of content, or instructional design. We can be reached at itrc@isu.edu or 282-5880.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


This article provides some sound guidelines for faculty teaching an online course. eISU faculty would benefit from the eight performance expectations developed by the Penn State. Enjoy the read/video -- Randy Stamm, eLearning Coordinator

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Moodle 2 -YouTube videos

It seems like every day a new Moodle 2.o tutorial is posted to YouTube. The ITRC will be doing some video tutorials and posting these videos to our own YouTube channel. By posting these videos to YouTube, we hope to make them available to our faculty and other university and college faculty from around the world.

Stay tuned!--- Randy Stamm, eLearning Coordinator

Friday, February 25, 2011

MFAB February 2011

The Moodle Faculty Advisory Board (MFAB) met today for an hour and a half to discuss issues related to a possible (and likely) move from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle 2.0 (and eventually 2.1) sometime in the next year; as well as to hear concerns from faculty about what this move will mean and how it will affect their ability to teach their distance-based (and hybrid) courses.

One of the major concerns the ITRC has about the potential move is the current (although likely not, future) incompatibility of the contributed add-on modules currently in use at ISU (including the Attendance, Book, Feedback, Questionnaire, and Quickmail modules) with the Moodle 2.0 platform. This is, however, a temporary concern as the Moodle community is working on updates to these modules and most of them should be usable from within Moodle 2.1 (around June). The book module specifically is worrisome to us because it is so popular with faculty; nonetheless, it will have an update that will make it usable in the Moodle 2.1 release.

The following table shows the contributed modules currently in use by ISU faculty and their status of development for Moodle 2.0 (or 2.1) or alternative:

Contributed ModuleStatus/Alternative
Attendancein development - release date unknown
Bookin development - release date likely in June 2011
Feedbackadded to core in 2.0; will be merged with Questionnaire and Survey modules.
Questionnairepossible alternative - feedback module
Quickmailbeing phased out; alternative is Messaging or Google Mail

The ITRC is also concerned about the backup and restore functionality when moving classes over from Moodle 1.9 to 2.0. As of now there is not an easy way for faculty to do this on an individual course basis. There is however a tool called 'Conversion thingie' [insert URL] that will allow faculty to make backups of their 1.9 courses and move them over to 2.0. This is a quick fix until the full backup and restore functionality between the two versions of Moodle is resolved (which should be Moodle 2.1).

Although the process of moving from Moodle 1.9 to 2.0 will not necessarily be easy for all faculty we believe it has some important advantages, including the following:
  • Conditional Release (which allows an instructor to define conditions such that access to an activity or resource is not available until certain criteria become true (for example, a grade is reached by the student in another activity, a resource is viewed, etc.)
  • Google mail and enhancements to the internal messaging system in Moodle 2.0 will replace Quickmail (and be better in many ways - such as, users will have more control over how they receive messages)
  • Tighter integration with Google Docs
  • Files can easily be shared among courses
  • Working with files generally will be easier, and especially for collaborative work and peer review.
  • Faculty will be able to set student roles to inactive which will prevent them from doing anything in the course even if they are withdrawn (this is a big issue now with students being able to access courses once withdrawn).
  • There is a progress tracker that makes certain resources or activities available to students depending on what work they have already completed (the guest speaker had more information on this tool - see below)
Some concerns faculty have, that the ITRC will address, include the following:
  • Is it possible for the internal messaging system in Moodle 2.0+ or Google mail to see from which class a student has sent email to the faculty member? (for faculty with many classes specifically)
  • Can faculty duplicate in the new Feedback module what they used to use the questionnaire module for?
  • Can we enable manual grading of manually graded items, that allows faculty to see and grade just one item or assignment at a time, as they do now in 1.9?
We discussed also, WHEN we might make the move to Moodle 2.0 (or 2.1) as well. Many faculty suggested they would be happy with an earlier roll-out so they could have time to get accustomed to the new features and interface of Moodle 2.0. However if we go very soon faculty will only have access to Moodle 2.0 features (and not all the upgrades of 2.1); most faculty seemed to be okay with this. We discussed also not moving to Moodle 2.0 at all, but instead essentially remaining with Moodle 1.9+ for another year (but with some additional security fixes), with the understanding that Moodle 1.9+ will not have as much support from the Moodle community in the future. Not a lot of faculty seemed interested in this idea.

Clayn Lambert, an English professor at ISU, gave a guest presentation on his use of Moodle 2.0 for his class this semester (Spring 2011) for our one-man pilot project; his results were mostly encouraging. He especially liked the Course Completion block, which, in conjunction with Conditional release, gave him the ability to restrict student access to resources and activities depending on what work they had already accomplished (or not) in the course up to that point. Moreover, the Conditional Release block lets students know what they still need to be able to complete to access the activity or resource; useful, he said, and automated once setup. He also liked the new quiz features that show student images in the timer box when an exam or quiz is being proctored, and that the Workshop activity allows anonymous, peer review of other student’s submissions (instructors of course can still see everything). He cautioned however that Moodle 2.0 is very "sensitive", as he put it, to being used with Internet Explorer; however, to most Moodle users the problems with using Internet Explorer and Moodle together have become quite obvious; Firefox is still the preferred browser, although the ITRC is testing the newest version of Internet Explorer with Moodle 2.0 to see how they interoperate (initial, very limited testing, has been positive). Also, any block may be docked from within Moodle so it is always visible and available no matter which page in Moodle you are visiting in your course, which is a huge timesaver. Finally, the import feature is more intimidating and may require some additional training on the part of faculty.

Other considerations for the Moodle 1.9 to 2.0 move include the following:
  • The ITRC has a general announcement meeting scheduled for March 30th at 9:00 am for all four ISU sites; we will also be providing a lot of Moodle 2.0 workshops, once we announce the change; currently we have one a month on offer.
  • ITRC will consider creating video-based tutorials on how to use the various Moodle 2.0 features
By March 28 the ITRC hopes to have updates for the MFAB on the backup and restore capabilities for moving between Moodle 1.9 and 2.0, the new book module for 2.0, and the quickmail module (or alternatives).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

D2L now dropping the law suit?

According to a comment following a Chronicle article about their lawsuit, it seems D2L has reconsidered their position on the LMS contract award in Utah.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Desire 2 Learn Now suing the the little guy

The Utah Education Network recently went through an RFP process to choose a new LMS for the state. They went with a small Utah based start up company called Instructure that has a new LMS called Canvas. Apparently, this product provided the flexibility and price point that made it most attractive for UEN.

I don't know much about Canvas, but I understand it is a completely different approach to an LMS. I was looking forward to learning more about it from some of my Utah colleagues. I assume that will still happen, albeit with some delay as now the courts are involved in the protest filed by D2L.

The article linked in the title (http://bit.ly/hi6KTZ) is from the SLC Tribune and gives a fairly clear description of what has transpired. Although I expect a lot more to be said soon about this issue.

I'm also linking to a blog post by Michael Feldstein who is someone I follow on Twitter and who posts a lot of good ideas about Educational Technology. He calls his blog e-Literate. He does a good job describing what Canvas is. He also includes a 5 minute YouTube Video that is a good visual demonstration of Canvas.

This is an interesting development in the LMS world. Combine with this the news from last fall that BYU Idaho is moving to an LMS called Brain Honey. Another small startup LMS with extreme flexibility.

The lesson here is that the distance ed tool box may have changing tools from time to time. Faculty need to be prepared to change tools without having to abandon their approach or resources prepared for different courses. As we add a Web Conferencing tool at Idaho State in the coming months, the same lesson is worth remembering. The tool may change over time but the approach and resources you want to use should be the crux of how you teach the course.

Good Luck!