Jul 25 2016

What Happened to CoursePlus on Sunday, July 24?

As many of you experienced, CoursePlus was incredibly slow to the point of being unusable on Sunday, July 24, from approximately 5pm until 1am on Monday, July 25. While there were periods during this time when the site responded normally and some people had no problems, "slow and painful" was the most common experience during this time. This isn't normal, and is unacceptable to both you and us. I'd like to explain what happened and how we are addressing the problem.

In working with JHSPH IT on the cause of the problem, we found that there was a cascade of database deadlocks on the database tables for the peer assessment system in CoursePlus. These deadlocks prevented data from being written to the tables. As requests to write data to the tables queued up, it backed up requests to write to the database cluster as a whole. More requests caused the database to not be able to release resources across the database cluster, thus causing more deadlocks at the heart of the problem. This, in turn, caused CoursePlus to slow down to the point of being unusable for long periods of time. As people gave up on accessing CoursePlus because of the slowness, things would speed up again for a bit, only to ultimately slow down again when the database deadlocking resumed.

(As a side note, the brief period where CoursePlus went unresponsive today, July 25, was caused by over-eager database server monitoring while investigating this problem. That period lasted from 11:45am until 11:57am.)

After performing the forensic analysis which revealed the source of this problem, we've done the following:

  • Retuned the underlying database design to improve data lookup performance
  • Removed some locking queries which could potentially result in database deadlocks

We've already put these changes into production and are monitoring the database to look for any sign of continued problems. We're optimistic that these changes will make a big difference in preventing the occurence of the site-wide problems we had last night.

In addition to thanking all of you for your patience, I specifically want to thank all of you who contacted CTL Help, sometimes with great anger and sometimes with great humor, to let us know about the specifics of your problems. The detail you provide to the CTL Help team is invaluable, and is always a better and faster way of getting problems with CoursePlus solved than by contacting your course facuty or TA. 

We know that this event was incredibly frustrating. We know that it eroded the trust that you have that CoursePlus will record your peer assessment or quiz answers correctly. Maintaing that trust is paramount to us. 

We'll keep monintoring the database and will continue to make refinements. As always, please contact CTL Help if you have any ongoing or new issues with CoursePlus!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 3:18 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

Jul 19 2016

Faculty: Download the PPT Used for an Online Lecture from Within CoursePlus

Faculty and staff involved in online courses can now download the source PowerPoint file for their online lectures from within CoursePlus itself. Previously, if you wanted a copy of the PowerPoint file for a lecture, you had to make the request from your course instructional designer. We've recently added a very simple tool to download the source PowerPoint file right into the Page Builder tool for your online course.

If you go to edit a Page Builder page in your online course, you will now see an icon to download the source PowerPoint file for each section in a lecture in the "Lecture Materials" box:

Download PowerPoint icon is to the right of each lecture section title.

To get to this page, go to "Faculty Tools" > "Page Builder" > and then click on the "Edit" link for the lecture in question. You can only download the source PowerPoint file from the "Edit" view in Page Builder. You (and students) cannot download the file from the lecture pages linked off the main course content page.

Please note that if the lecture was recorded in VoiceThread, or otherwise didn't follow the standard CTL lecture production process, the source PowerPoint will not be available to you when you edit a Page Builder page.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 9:13 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Jul 6 2016

Farewell to "Review" Quizzes: Multiple Attempts on Quizzes

The Quiz Generator in CoursePlus is a powerful tool with many options to help faculty assess student work and give feedback. One of those options has long been to set up graded vs. non-graded (or "review") quizzes. "Review" quizzes have been problematic in some situations, however. Students could take them as many times as they wanted, but often ended up with incomplete answer sets because they forgot to finish, or finished but wanted to check in on the quiz one more time and wound up starting with a new copy of the quiz, wiping out their previous answers.

The Quiz Generator no longer treats "graded" and "review" quizzes differently. All quizzes are handled in the same way and you can specify that students get one or more attempts on a quiz, even if that quiz is part of the student's final grade. (Multiple attempts on quizzes that are part of the student's final grade has been a longtime request from some faculty.) You can have a "review"-style quiz that is not part of the student's final grade in a course which can be attempted 50 times by each student. You can have a quiz that is part of the student's final grade in a course which can be attempted only once, or three, or ten times. Students can have access to a quiz only once per attempt, or multiple times per attempt, just as they could previously.

If students are allowed multiple attempts on a quiz, and have completed an attempt on the quiz, they are asked if they want to take the quiz over again, starting from scratch and eliminating any existing answers and score for that quiz. If the student says "yes," then the student begins a new attempt as if they had never taken the quiz before.

The default setup in the Quiz Generator is still a quiz that students can acccess once and only once, and that is part of the student's grade in the class. Existing quizzes have not been altered in any way. Any quiz that was previously flagged as a "Review" quiz in the Quiz Generator is now simply a quiz that is not part of the student's final grade in the class and which can be accessed 99 times by each student. You are, of course, free to alter this setup as you see fit.


  • The log of activity for a quiz now shows if a student switches from one tab or browser window to another while taking a quiz.
  • The total time taken to complete a quiz is now displayed on the Excel file of all responses and grades for a quiz. 
  • The Excel file of all responses and scores for a quiz no longer generates a warning from Excel that the file might be corrupt, and has fixed some rare issues where score values would appear in scientific notation in Excel.
  • A bug where grading feedback on an individual question could be deleted if all students were given credit for a question after feedback had been entered has been fixed.

We hope you find these changes to the Quiz Generator to be useful!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:50 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Jun 22 2016

Track Access of All Content Pages in an Online Course, Not Just Lecture Sections

Faculty and TAs have long had the ability to see which students watched which lectures in an online course. This is often invaluable information for faculty and course instructional designers, helping them see how students are participating (or not) in a course.

We've also often been asked by faculty who teach online courses if there was a way to see if students accessed a page describing an activity or assignment, or a page with overall course guidelines and references. We're pleased to announce that we've set up a report in online courses which shows all the content pages in a course website and the number of times of access, first date of access, and last date of access for each student in the course.

Screenshot of report showing access to each Page Builder page in an online course.

This page only shows access for pages in Page Builder, the tool that allows faculty, instructional designers, the CTL production team, and TAs, build both lecture and activity pages for the course website. It doesn't show the number of visits to the LiveTalk page or Online Library pages, for example, as there are separate reports which cover the more important details of student access for those tools.

We hope that this additional report will provide useful insight into student activity in your online courses!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 12:09 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

May 18 2016

Reminder: Access to AY14-15 Course Websites Ends May 31

Access to academic year 2014-2015 courses ends on May 31, 2016. This is in line with the policy for access to CoursePlus websites. The policy states that access to a CoursePlus site is enabled for the academic year in which the course is offered and following academic year. For example, if a course occurred in the third term of the 2014-2015 academic year, a student enrolled in the course has access to the CoursePlus site until the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. After that point, access to that CoursePlus site is terminated.

If you need materials from a CoursePlus site in the 2014-2015 academic year, please download them before May 31, 2016, as you will not be able to access the sites from the 2014-2015 academic year after that time.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:33 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

May 11 2016

Access to the Schedule Builder Tool in Online Courses

Some faculty in online courses have long asked for the ability to edit the course schedule (or main "Content" page), as it's the only page in their online course site which they cannot edit. Prior to now, the faculty had to work with their course instructional designer to make any changes — even the modification of one due date — to their course schedule.

Faculty now have access to the Schedule Builder tool in online courses! Faculty cannot do everything that a course instructional designer can do, but they can:

  • Access the Schedule Builder tool
  • Reorder the items in the schedule
  • Add new items that are not lectures or LiveTalks. Those must still be added by the course instructional designer.
  • Add and edit group headers for items on the schedule.
  • Change available and due dates on any item except for lectures or LiveTalks.
  • Change the Assignment Description for lectures or LiveTalks.

Edits that are made by faculty are compiled into a daily digest email and sent to the course instructional designer. This helps facilitate communication between the two parties.

The limitations on complete faculty access to the Schedule Builder tool are the result of the extensive, detailed production process for creating online lectures. While it would certainly be convenient for faculty to be able to change the opening date of a lecture as they see fit, that lecture might not actually be fully produced by the date that the faculty selects. As such, coordination with the course instructional designer is still important.

We know that some faculty will continue to rely on their course instructional designer to do all edits to the course schedule. For those fauclty who prefer a more hands-on approach, we hope that these changes will provide you with additional flexibility you've been looking for!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 2:16 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

May 4 2016

Portfolio Updates for the Fourth Term

We're always getting great feedback from the program coordinators and faculty working with students in the CoursePlus portfolio tool. Based on recent feedback, we've added the following features to the portfolio tool:

  • Custom touchpoint due dates can now be assigned on a per-student basis. If a custom touchpoint due date is not used, the default due date for that student will be used. If a student is assigned a custom due date for a portfolio touchpoint, that custom due date now appears in the "My Calendar" view when a student signs in to CoursePlus as well as the Daily Course Notifications email from CoursePlus.
  • An online library for documents specific to a given program and cohort is now available. These documents appear to all students in a cohort in a "Program Library" tab inside of their portfolio.
  • The main touchpoint interface for students has been revamped, providing clear, step-by-step instructions on what to do in a single touchpoint.
  • A program coordinator can now be set as the "advisor" to all students for any touchpoint. That person can then review and check off that touchpoint for any student in the cohort. That person will also get email notifications, just as faculty advisors would, when students mark a touchpoint as ready for review.
  • All reflections for a touchpoint can be downloaded by a program administrator into a single web page, Word, or Excel file.
  • Program administrators can now download all evidence associated with a single touchpoint in a single ZIP file.
  • Students can now send survey results to their portfolio.
  • Students now get an email notification when advisors comment or leave feedback on a touchpoint.
  • The reports which show students waiting faculty review and students who have completed a touchpoint now shows the date on which a student sent a touchpoint to a faculty advisor for review, and flags in red those who did so after the due date for that touchpoint.
  • The words "Student Portfolio" have been removed from the top of published views in the portfolio.
  • Print output of all pages within the portfolio has been cleaned up, eliminating the display of many URLs that were previously only visible in the print view. 
  • Numerous changes to the user interface have been made to make the display of selected competency levels clearer across all views (student, advisor, and administrator). 

0 comments - Posted by Brian Klaas at 8:55 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

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