Why do faculty use an LMS?

I think it’s the Gradebook. It’s the primary difference between a learning management system and many of the other tools helpful to teaching such as Box or Google docs or blogs or wikis. A platform like Sakai is quite a convenience for posting grades from electronic paper submissions, from quizzes, from forum postings, from almost any other gradeable student artifact (electronic or not), and securely displaying them to students. The Sakai Gradebook even does calculations for Instructors and provides histograms of grade distributions.

Sakai open source software

Sakai open source software

At last reckoning, March 2014, nearly 40% of Notre Dame instructors used Sakai in some fashion or other. They touch 80% of our undergrad students. More startling to me is the 60% of Notre Dame instructors who don’t use Sakai. Why they don’t use Sakai is probably due to many factors – not enough time to learn it, the perception that it will be daunting, perhaps even a failed attempt to grasp it, or not being aware of the people and resources to turn to when setting it up for the first time. But my bigger question is what are these Instructors using to keep their student grades?
I met an Instructor two years ago who showed me their ledger, the same style as an accounting ledger from an office supplier. All grades for all classes for each student they taught were neatly transcribed. It was elegant. It was permanent. It was accessible to the instructor. It was a tried and true method perfected through regular yearly use. I’m sure the instructor did not share this ledger with their students because it was not possible to see only one students’ grades; I don’t know if the instructor scheduled office appointments with each student for every grade to apprise each student. Surely not… Did they use personal emails to inform students of their grades?
More often though, I talk to instructors who keep grades in alternative electronic gradebooks. The most popular electronic gradebook is plain ole Microsoft Excel. Those who know Excel well have embedded formulas that automatically calculate students’ averages, provide stats, categorize Homework, Quizzes and Exams, and weight them appropriately to their syllabus. – Really, all the things the Sakai Gradebook does but without having to know Excel formulas. These instructors are in the same boat when it comes to regularly and frequently distributing grades to students. How do they do it? I don’t know.
As Notre Dame’s LMS administrator these past 10 years, I can remember when only the technologically adventurous used such platforms – yes, they wanted to easily distribute grades to students behind a secure login, but they also have been ever pushing the envelope of what they can do inside and outside the classroom through engaging students everywhere that students learn, including the Internet.
Today because of this one feature, the Gradebook, more faculty are simply using our LMS, Sakai, to make their grading processes more efficient. Maybe later they’ll find value in some of the other features, but for now, they just use the Gradebook. And because of this, we’re asking ourselves if we picked the right Gradebook. Does it do everything needed for the different ways instructors record grades?
The Gradebook we picked (GB2) does well if the items to be graded are all based on points or all based on percentages. It works with number grades, but not letter grades (except for a final grade). It allows instructors to create categories to weight like Assignments, Projects, and Exams. But recent criticism suggests faculty want more. Not all faculty want points converted to percentages for students. Faculty want their excel spreadsheet imports to do more – to upload comments or letter grades, in other words, non-numeric data not used by our chosen Gradebook for calculations. They want more flexibility in what they display to students. Some want to only display the running course grade (based on work completed to date) but not the percentage it represents – because they will grade on a curve at the end of the term.
Some faculty who do use other Sakai tools love that they can collect electronic submissions, grade them electronically and return both the marked up submission (such as a word doc or spreadsheet) and the grade for it, all within Sakai. Others have built multiple choice quizzes that are automatically graded by Sakai and serve to let students know how well they’re doing on reading or homework.

  • If you have general comments or feedback on Sakai and/or on the Sakai Gradebook, or if you’ve found particular Internet tools helpful, we’d love to hear from you at Sakai_Team@nd.edu . Meanwhile, if you’re exploring tools for the fall, here are a couple of excellent resources to stimulate your thought:
  • NspireD2 “Explore new ways to integrate technology into teaching & learning.” You’ll find this blog at https://ltlatnd.wordpress.com – great tips and reviews by the Kaneb Center’s Chris Clark and others.
  • Why not talk through your course with the Kaneb Center for their direct recommendations? Consultations can be scheduled online at http://learning.nd.edu .
  • Have you seen the site yet for Notre Dame’s Office of Digital Learning? It’s already a great resource. Check out http://online.nd.edu
  • If you already use Sakai, or have a question specific to it, our site is http://sakai.nd.edu


University of Notre Dame is #3

Use of open source software


Faculty and Instructional Designers

Kudos to Darren Crone. So true! And funny…unless you’re crying.

What I Didn’t Know About Using Community Source Software (Sakai) in Higher Ed

“How to set expectations for change management,” – that’s it. That’s what I didn’t know.

Consider the kinds of changes one habitually takes from a vendor of proprietary software which you maintain in your own higher ed Data Center.

The hypothetical change is

New cool features advertised to you, or…

  • Bug fixes (you’d found them or you hadn’t, in other words, you cared deeply or not at all), or …
  • Enhancements.

Qualities of the change:

  • The change has already been deployed and tested many times over by the software vendor in environments, with data, very similar to yours.
  • You schedule when you want to accept/install the change and make it available to your users, usually based on your academic schedule.

What your users expect-

  • Won’t get it before the regular schedule break, even if they knew about it.
  • Didn’t know about it anyway because the vendor doesn’t market to them but to the people who manage the system for them.
  • The vendor is an uncaring large collection of cogs anyway, so no point in asking for an enhancement.

What your users do-

  • Blog, tweet and facebook their complaints vociferously but without expecting more than a good venting session.
  • Write you emails about how your vendor doesn’t care.
  • Login after upgrades and harumpf that that the thing that used to annoy them so greatly is finally fixed.


Contrast this with open/community source:

What your users expect-

  • They will be heard if they connect with the community.
  • You are connecting with the community on their behalf and that will be meaningful in the community because it must be small.
  • The developers working on their behalf will automatically do a better job than the vendor because they work for higher ed institutions.

What your users do-

  • Demand bug fixes and enhancements.
  • Expect them to be applied frequently.
  • Suggest enhancements and expect them to be executed in amazingly beautiful ways.

Working with the Ents

Enterprise architecture, the endeavor of building technical reference architecture for the business, or, in this case, for higher ed, is a deliberative iterative and s l o w process.

Here I am in Madison, Wisconsin joining phenomenally gifted and wise senior enterprise architects such as Rich Stevens (University of Maryland), Jim Phelps (U of Wisconsin and current chair of ITANA*), Leo Fernig (U of British Columbia) and Scott Fullerton (U of Wisconsin) in creating a Learning Reference architecture for presentation at Educause in the fall. Knock on wood.

Wood, you say? Or trees? Not only the things architects see through on their way to categorizing the whole forest, but really, these deliberate conversations with their careful measured tone …which I am learning from in enormous measure… think before you speak, Laura, hear the rationale of that statement on the inside of your brain before you say it on the outside…, these deliberate conversations make me feel as foolish as the Hobbits among the Ents.

Even my fellow subject matter experts, Jeanne Blochwitz (Asst. Director of Academic Technology, Wisconsin) and Jeff Bohrer (Instructional Technology Consultant, Wisconsin) seem more tuned to this pace than I am.

Remember this Lord of the Rings council of war by the Keepers of the Forests, the Ents? (There are Hobbits in this photo perched in an Ent, but you can’t really see them).


*ITANA, by the way, is a constituent group of Educause, an outreach arm for Enterprise, Business, and Technical Architects in Academia.

Look for the presentation of our work at Educause this fall. Knock on wood (but not in an Entish forest) we’ll be done!


Disruptive Education – Or Encouraging Education?

It is disruptive. But it shouldn’t be. Putting myself in faculty shoes, the hardest part is mastery of this new online stuff, which, really, if I’m being honest, I don’t want to do myself and I probably don’t have time to do myself anyway. I need to just get the gist of it and find individuals or even a team I can work with effectively so that they can find or build the reusuable learning objects, the content bundles and the sequencing I need to supplement and enhance the way I teach and the content I intend to cover.  I remain the subject matter expert, but they advise me and participate with me in finding the best ways to get across the material.

Michael Stanton’s Disruptive Education

I can focus on my research, bring the students into what I’m learning, modeling and mentoring the processes those in our field master to forward our discipline. I may find vital to reaching and engaging my students such online activities as virtual office hours, blogging, or contributing in other public spaces in which my students have their discussions and launch their questions.

But I daren’t be a fearful learner myself.

What happens in the Classroom shouldn’t stay in the Classroom

Your classroom is bigger than that space you reserve to meet in a couple of times a week. It always has been. You can not keep doing what you’ve always been doing and think you’re going to get different results.  Adapting the way you teach is not optional. It’s imperative.

Previously, students read the textbook before class and then came to class and you lectured on the same content. You were impassioned, funny, clever, erudite. Well, maybe not all the time… Your job was never just about getting them to read the text, so much as to expose them to the ideas, processes, cases, and real world applications that came out of the text. Which part of that should keep happening in your classroom? Which part of that is more engaging elsewhere?

It has never been easier to design experiences which take the classroom experience out into the world (24/7!), and there touch, taste, feel, search, discuss, skype, draw, visualize, record, chart, experiment, sequence, hypothesize, journal, create, make, do!

Back in the classroom ask questions, report failures, share conclusions, rale against the gods, rant about the industry, posit a new theorem, get feedback on ones journey, only to go back out and do it all over again having the support, guidance and direction of one or more who have navigated before the construct and sequencing to the inside/outside classroom experiences of the student scholar.

The classroom is a box, long ago converted from a delineated space where scholars and wannabe scholars interacted. Scholars used nothing more than their voices, their timbres, passion, expression, elocution, and rhetoric to incite their students with a desire to gain more capacity in their chosen field.  Thus was born the lecture. It was codified as a rehearsed staple of teaching.  It has a place today.

But the lecture today shares that place with a plethora of techniques, some of them more suited for what once only the lecture tried to do.