IU administrators evaluating Oncourse alternatives

IU recently signed agreements to include technology providers CourseNetworking (CN) and Canvas by Instructure Inc. in the learning technologies pilot launched in August 2012.

The Next@IU initiative, next.iu.edu, is a two-year pilot program testing new learning and teaching resources for students and faculty at IU and has already involved 27 faculty members and 750 students across seven IU campuses.

CourseNetworking beta acts as an academic social networking site, connecting students all around the world based on both classes and shared interests. Once classes are put on CN, students and instructors with similar courses are able to connect.

Links to articles, YouTube videos, images taken via the CN iPhone app, polls and surveys relating to a particular course can be posted on CN.

“Liking” or “reflecting” on posts by both classmates and students in similar courses around the world is encouraged.

“I think something important with the platforms is they involve a lot of social media, embedded video and rich content and that kind of thing that the students aren’t seeing today,” said Janae Cummings, senior communications specialist for the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology.

Canvas, a cloud-based service, also involves student and faculty interaction. The platform integrates web services such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, SMS, Facebook, Twitter and RSS to encourage and improve collaboration between faculty and students.

This service features grading rubrics and an interface that enables teachers to interact with students and provide feedback as quickly as possible.
While CN functions more as a complement to Oncourse, Canvas exists as a possible alternative to the heavily used Oncourse system. The future of Oncourse will depend on how the new pilots play out, she said.

“Oncourse will be available for at least four years,” Morrone said. “We’re going to spend two years evaluating a number of things, and, of course, Canvas is a learning management system, so to assess whether or not Oncourse continues to be the right choice for IU or if there are other learning management systems that might be better, easier, more fully featured.”

John Gosney, faculty liaison for learning technologies, has been teaching with Canvas and has received positive feedback on the system.

“People feel that it’s very easy to navigate, very intuitive,” Gosney said. “There’s some really strong help resources within the system, and there’s good information around student analytics, so how often are people logging in? How often are they posting discussion forum posts? That kind of thing.”

Gosney spoke highly of the Speed Grader, a tool in the Canvas discussion forums, which collects individual students’ discussion posts, displays them on one screen and provides a box to enter comments.

This enables him to quickly go through discussion posts and give comments to all students in the course.

In the meantime, both students and faculty members have the option to participate in the pilots. During the evaluation period, Oncourse will remain more or less untouched by the new platforms.

“We think that it’s not just, put something out there and kind of talk to people,”
Morrone said. “We really want it to be where we are very systematic in our evaluation of these particular tools that we’re going to make available.”

Morrone said they will be exploring both alternatives and additions to Oncourse.

“All the tools will be teaching and learning tools,” Morrone said. “We are interested in putting into the hands of faculty and students various options for teaching and learning. As part of Next, we are not looking at tools that would be more administrative kinds of tools.”

The evaluation will involve both student and faculty feedback in order to provide a fully rounded opinion. Morrone said the feedback will be combined into a report, which will be shared publicly.

The ability to submit a suggestion at next.iu.edu is an integral part of the pilot program, Morrone said. Both students and faculty have the ability to submit suggestions for further exploration and piloting to Morrone and her team.
Morrone said they plan to announce two more systems in the near future. She anticipates the same spark of interest and experimentation to occur with the new systems.

“People have said this is a really nice way to do this,” Morrone said. “Spend two years, look at all that’s out there because really, if you think about your life right now and all of the things that you use every day, there was a time 10 years ago when that was not the case.”

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