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NYU Classes: Making Open Source Work for You

May 20, 2013

The spring 2013 saw over 6,800 course sites activated in NYU Classes with nearly 38,000 students and 5,100 instructors participating in those sites, exceeding the expected number of sections activated based on Blackboard course site activation rates—an impressive beginning to the third and final phase of the transition from Blackboard to NYU Classes. These numbers have been due in part to an easier course site activation process, as well as early and targeted faculty communications and outreach to support partners in the various schools across the University. The NYU Classes Support Team facilitated a smooth transition during the beginning weeks of the semester by providing extensive online training resources, in-person classroom training, walk-in and group training sessions in Bobst Libraries' Digital Studio, and dedicated support personnel at the IT Service Desk.

The majority of the University community has now been transitioned from Blackboard to NYU Classes. (The College of Dentistry, the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and the NYU School of Law will be transitioned as of summer 2013.) Although the transition from Blackboard to NYU Classes will soon be complete, improvements and changes to this new system will continue to roll out as we identify areas for enhancement or improvement. This kind of adaptability is one of the many benefits of embracing an open-source platform like Sakai CLE, the foundation of NYU Classes. Based on both feedback from the University community and faculty-driven focus groups, NYU Classes is continually evolving to meet the online teaching and learning needs of the University.

Feedback in Action

As part of this commitment to respond to the needs of the NYU community, the NYU Classes Team introduced Lessons and Blogs near the end of the fall 2012 semester. This semester, the following new services and tools have also been integrated with NYU Classes:

  • Clickers in the Classroom: Turning Technologies "clickers" can now be registered and associated with participants in the classroom. When paired with the TurningPoint AnyWhere software and a receiver connected to the classroom podium, faculty can conduct live polls during class and see results instantaneously displayed on screen. An upgrade to TurningPoint 5, Turning Technologies' latest polling software solution, is anticipated for fall 2013.
  • NYU Stream: Sharing video has never been easier. The NYU Stream button, which was recently added to the NYU Classes text editor, simplifies the process of including videos to your course site (see image in sidebar). Stay tuned for a full NYU Stream Media Gallery integration, coming soon.
  • Digital Course Packs: XanEdu Course Packs ordered through the NYU Bookstore can now be integrated into your NYU Classes course site through Web Content or the Lessons tool via Resources, making readings even more accessible for students.
  • WebAssign: An automatic testing and grading solution for math and science courses, WebAssign is now integrated into NYU Classes through Single Sign On. This simplifies things for faculty and students alike by only having to log into one place.

The chart in the sidebar provides a quick reference for some of the other NYU Classes enhancements that have been put into place over the course of the spring semester. Join the NYU Classes Updates group to get the latest news for NYU Classes, including enhancements and bug fixes.

Pedagogy driving technology

Improving functionality through feedback

The NYU Classes project is sponsored by the Learning Management Systems and Instructional Content Management Systems (LMS/iCMS) subcommittee reporting to the Teaching Technology Committee, chaired by Matthew Santirocco, Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The LMS/iCMS works in consultation with the relevant individuals and groups (e.g., service delivery units and project teams), reviews the project's progress, and makes recommendations about its future direction and investment levels to the full Teaching Technology Committee.

The User Advisory Group (UAG) was created as a structured focus group to capture needs of our user community. The UAG works on reporting use cases and avenues for improving the LMS/iCMS subcommittee. Members of the UAG represent NYU global sites, schools, and departments, and provide input to help make informed decisions about the service. In part due to the flexibility permitted by Sakai's open-source architecture, new integrations and enhancements are made possible.

When the UAG first met in the spring 2012 semester, participants from across various schools and departments reviewed and assessed baseline functionality; the outcome of this work generated areas for improvement and ideas for further exploration. In its second phase, the User Advisory Group shifted their focus on experimenting with new tools. The Blogs and Lessons tools are just some of the functionality added to the application as a result of the group's efforts to better define needs through the lens of various teaching and learning objectives.

As the UAG moves into its third phase, the focus has shifted toward addressing the overall teaching and learning experience of using an online platform for pedagogical pursuits. Currently, the User Advisory Group consists of an executive committee and a larger faculty working group. The Executive Committee, composed of faculty and administrative technology leaders from across NYU's schools and programs, identifies critical user issues, outlines customizations of existing tools, and prioritizes user feedback. If you are interested in joining the larger faculty working group, please contact uag-admin-group@nyu.edu.

Improving user experience

While the User Advisory Group is charged with gathering user needs, the NYU Classes Usability Team works toward examining and improving the overall look and feel of the platform by identifying how community members behave when performing specific tasks. Results of usability testing are twofold: to revise the NYU Classes interface and interaction design, and to inform the NYU Classes Service Team of problematic areas that might need special attention for training and documentation. Already, the Usability Team has made several customizations to the platform, including enhancing the experience when copying course content. They have also designed an in-house solution for activating course sites at the beginning of each semester.

The Usability Team is constantly working to improve the experience of faculty, students, and staff who use NYU Classes. If you are interested in signing up for a usability session or have any questions, please contact nyu-classes-usability-group@nyu.edu.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Pilar Abuin is a Senior Academic Technology Specialist for ITS' .edu Services. Francesca Socolick is an Academic Technology Specialist for ITS' .edu Services.

This Article is in the following Topics:
Connect - Information Technology at NYU, Learning Management Systems

Type: Article

NYU Classes: Making Open Source Work for You

After transitioning to most schools and implementing new features, the NYU Classes project has entered it's third phase.


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