Viewing by month: August 2011

Aug 29 2011

What Works (and What Doesn't) Using Mobile Devices in Online Courses and CoursePlus

As mobile devices running the iOS and Android operating systems become much more common, the Center sometimes gets questions about what works (and what doesn't) with these devices. This post provides answers.

While online course and CoursePlus websites are accessible on iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android devices, there are some features that will not work properly depending on the device you use. These are:

  • Synchronized lecture presentations will not play back on iOS devices. (iOS devices don't support Flash, and never will. You can, however, listen to lecture MP3s and view PDFs on iOS devices.)
  • The rich text editor does not work on iOS or Android devices. This affects the following:
    • Posting messages in the BBS.
    • Making edits to any wiki page.
    • Responding to essay questions in online quizzes/exams.
    • Sending emails via the email tool.
    • Providing text feedback in the Gradebook.
  • Submitting files to a Drop Box does not work on iOS or Android devices. (This really has to do with a lack of a formal "file system" on both platforms.)
  • TextChat and AudioChat will not work on iOS devices. (Again, because of Flash.)
  • LiveTalks and playback of LiveTalk archives will not work on iOS or Android devices.
We're working to make online courses a lot more mobile-friendly, starting with making special, mobile-specific layouts for most online course pages. If you're using an iPad or Android tablet, the current course websites load and display just fine on those larger screeens. It's not likely that there will be a resolution to the lack of lecture playback on iOS devices any time soon, however, given both Apple's relative intransigence on the issue and Adobe's timetable for coming up with a non-Flash version of Adobe Presenter (which is used for the creation of online lecture presentations).

In the meantime, though, it's recommended that when you want to create things on online course or CoursePlus websites, you should use a desktop or laptop. The experience is much better and the tools are designed for those environments. This would include:
  • Taking quizzes/exams online
  • Submitting files to a Drop Box
  • Contributing to a wiki
  • Posting a message in a BBS
  • Participating in a LiveTalk
The mobile experience for online education is much better suited to consuming information, at least in the short term.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:16 AM - Categories: Online Courses | Course Tools | CoursePlus

Aug 21 2011

What's New in the Drop Box for Students

On Saturday, August 21, 2011, we rolled out a new version of the Drop Box in CoursePlus. Here's a summary of what's new for students:

  • You can now see the file you submitted. As soon as you submit a file to a Drop Box, there's a link to the file so you can download it if you need it right then, or at a later time.
  • Drop Boxes can have multiple parts. Faculty can set up Drop Boxes so that you can submit more than one file. A Drop Box might be set up for an excercise which has two requirements: submit a Word document and an Excel file. A single Drop Box can now collect both files.
  • You must have the Flash plug-in installed to submit files to a Drop Box. Students have been asking for a long time to see the progress of their files as they are uploaded to a Drop Box. In order to achieve this (and in order to manage a few more things in the new Drop Box), we have to use the Flash plug-in. While super-new Web browsers (like the latest versions of Chrome and Safari) have ways of doing this without Flash, in order to achieve the same functionality across all Web browsers — especially Internet Explorer, which is what you find in the labs and kiosks at the School — Flash was the only option.

A couple of students have asked us if it's possible to submit files to the Drop Box from an iPad or iPhone. Because iOS devices like the iPad and iPhone (and Android devices, for that matter) lack a traditional file system, you can't "browse" your iPad or iPhone (or Andriod device) for files. As such, there's no way to upload a file from your iPad into a Drop Box. While apps you buy in the App Store can do this (and mostly for photos, not so much for Word documents and the like), Safari (the Web browser) on iOS cannot do this.

As always, if you have feedback or comments about the new Drop Box in CoursePlus, please let us know!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:11 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Aug 21 2011

What's New in the Drop Box for Faculty and Editors

On Saturday, August 21, 2011, we rolled out a new version of the Drop Box in CoursePlus. Here's a summary of what's new for faculty and editors of CoursePlus sites:

  • Multiple assignment parts per Drop Box. You can now collect up to five (5) files from each student in a single Drop Box. If you have an activity or lab that requires students to submit both a Word document and an Excel file, you can set up a single Drop Box with two parts: one for the Word document and one for the Excel file.
  • Submit files on behalf of a student. Faculty and editors can now submit a file to a Drop Box on behalf of a student. This is very useful when a student can't submit their file in the regular fashion, but you want to take full advantage of the organizational capabilities of the Drop Box.
  • See who downloaded files, and when. Each student file in a Drop Box now shows if the file has been downloaded by a faculty or editor, and when that person downloaded the file.
  • See a history of student submissions to a Drop Box. If the Drop Box is set up to allow multiple submissions, you can see a history of all submissions by the student to that Drop Box. Note: Multiple versions of the files are not stored. Only the history of when students submitted a file to that Drop Box is displayed.
  • Let students see other student submissions. You can set up a Drop Box so that once files are submitted, students can see everyone else's submissions. This is useful when students need to evaluate or critique other student papers, projects, or assignments.
  • Get notified when students submit files to a Drop Box. You can optionally turn on notifications so that every time a student submits a file to a Drop Box, an email is sent to the specified address.
  • See a full list of students who have not submitted a file to a Drop Box. Previously, you could only see the email addresses of students who had not submitted a file to a Drop Box, and only when you started to send a reminder email. Now you see the full list of students who have not submitted a file to a Drop Box on the main page for each Drop Box.

We hope that you find these updates to be useful. This is the same version of the Drop Box that's been used in online courses for the past few years, so it's been thoroughly tested and faculty and TA feedback on the tool has been great. 

If you do have comments or suggestions on the new Drop Box, please let us know!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:04 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Aug 18 2011

Problems With Online Courses Resolved

 

Information Systems applied the needed patch to the core storage system in the School's data center around 9:45pm tonight (Thursday, August 11). Since that time, pages which took a while to load before are now loading quite fast. We've checked numerous pages in a variety of courses and have not seen any abnormal slowdowns. The team from the Center and the team from Information Systems are going to keep an eye on this well into the night to monitor for any problems.

If you run into any problems with slowdowns in any of your courses, please contact CTLTHelp as soon as possible.

We'd like to thank everyone again for your patience during this frustrating time.


 

Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:28 PM - Categories: Online Courses

Aug 18 2011

Udpate to Ongoing Slowness on Online Course Websites

August 18, 5:15pm Update:

The IS team strongly believes that the problem you currently experience when accessing online courses lies in the core storage network that is used by nearly every server here at the School. That's why there have been slowdowns in email, My Documents, and a number of other services. The database for the online courses is affected by this problem as well.

At or just before 8pm tonight, the IS team will find out if they can do a quick patch to the core storage network which should resolve the problem, or if they have to take down all the servers in the data center, apply the patch, and bring everything back up. If it's the latter scenario, there will be no access to email, CoursePlus, the online courses, the my.jhsph.edu portal, or anything else from about 8pm until 4am tomorrow (Friday) morning.

Again, in the meantime, if a page is taking a while to load, simply let it run its course. Clicking multiple times will not make the page load faster.

We sincerely hope that this resolves the slowness and outages you've been experiencing with online courses. We know how incredibly frustrating it can be right now, and everyone wants to get this resolved as soon as possible.

 

The original part of this post is below.


Yesterday's power outage at the School has led to ongoing problems with various systems at the School. The database cluster that powers online courses is responding very slowly to requests. Requests that took a fraction of a second before the power outage are now taking 20-25 seconds to complete. This is resulting in general slowness and timeout errors across all of the courses.

Information Systems is aware of the problem and spent most of the night working on resolving it. We still do not have a timeline for when the problem will be fixed. We hope that will hapen today.

In the meantime, if a page is taking a while to load, simply let it run its course. Clicking multiple times will not make the page load faster.

We thank you for your patience and apologize for the inconveniences this has caused.

 

 

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:31 AM - Categories: Online Courses

Aug 17 2011

Systemwide Outages at SPH on Wednesday, August 17

Just before 10am on Wednesday, August 17, there was a major power outage which affected a good portion of the JHU East Baltimore campus, and the School of Public Health in particular. As a result of this power outage, the SPH data center went offline after a brief period on backup power. The SPH data center is where the servers for CoursePlus, the online courses, JHSPH email, the my.jhsph.edu portal, and other services are housed. As a result, there was no access to CoursePlus, the online courses, or nearly any JHSPH website until approximately 4pm in the afternoon.

After the power outage, there were additional problems as a result of the outage which prevented CoursePlus and the online courses from coming back right away. CoursePlus was back up at 4:40pm and the online courses at 4:55pm.

This outage was obviously completely unplanned and a major disruption in the educational life at the School. JHSPH Information Systems worked as hard as they could to bring services back online quickly, but ongoing power issues prevented them from doing so until late in the afternoon.

Planned outages for CoursePlus and online courses are listed on this blog.

We apologize for the obvious inconvenience these outages caused but without power, servers and websites cannot run. 

Posted by Brian Klaas at 4:16 PM - Categories: General | Online Courses | CoursePlus

Aug 16 2011

CoursePlus Downtime on August 20 for the New Version of the Drop Box

CourePlus will be unavailable on Saturday, August 20, 2011, from 6-9am Eastern time as we roll out the new version of the Drop Box

The new version of the Drop Box brings a number of new features and improvements. Changes for faculty, TAs, and editors can be found in this post.

On the student side, there are two significant changes:

  1. You must have the Flash plug-in installed to upload files. This requirement is in place so that you can receive visual feedback while you upload files.
  2. You will now be able to click on a link which shows you the actual file which you uploaded. No more guessing if the file you uploaded was the correct one!
We understand that any downtime for CoursePlus is an inconvenience for some, and we will endeavor to get CoursePlus back up and running as quickly as possible on Saturday morning.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 2:00 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

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