Aug 16 2016

Change Submitted Answers for a Quiz Back Into an Active, In-Progress Quiz

In spite of our best efforts to the contrary, students still occasionally have computer or network problems which prevent them from properly completing an exam or quiz in CoursePlus. Oftentimes, these are single-access, single-attempt exams where the student has one and only one chance to take the exam and submit answers.

While we've long had tools which enable faculty to allow students back in to a single-access, single-attempt exam if they have a problem, once students submitted their answers, those answers were final and unchangeable. There was no way for a student who submitted answers in spite of having some kind of problem (ie; not being able to open a file linked in the exam) to go back and finish the exam once the problem was discussed and resovled with the course faculty.

We're pleased to announce that we've added a feature to the Quiz Generator to address exactly this problem.

Screenshot of the "Change Answers Back into an Active Quiz" link

After a student submits their answers, a new option has been added to the the view of the student's responses and scores: "Change Answers Back Into an Active Quiz." Once you click this link and confirm your choice, the students answers will be changed back into a working set, and the student can access the quiz again (given the proper permissions) to continue working on the quiz.

If the quiz is a single-access, single-attempt quiz, students are also automatically given permission to access the quiz one more time. It is strongly recommended, however, that you still consider any other special permissions needed for the student to complete the quiz. Students may need more time, may need to have access to the quiz if it's already outside the normal dates for taking the quiz, or you may want to lock down any answers the student did submit themselves before running into a technical problem. You will need to set those permissions yourself. 

It's also important to note that when you change student answers back into an active quiz, any scores or feedback you may have provided for the student are deleted. 

We hope that this new feature helps alleviate a little bit more of the stress encountered when students have problems taking quizzes or exams, and makes it much easier for a student to simply finish their work, rather than having them start everything over from scratch.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 1:18 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

Aug 4 2016

On-Campus Session: What's New in CoursePlus, Fall 2016

Join us on Tuesday, August 23 at 1pm in W2030 in the Wolfe Street building for our semi-annual update of what's new and different in CoursePlus for the 2016-2017 academic year. As in years past, we'll have a tour of all the useful changes in CoursePlus over the past year, and give you an opportunity to have your questions answered.

This session will be recorded, but will not be webcast. A link to the recording will be posted to the CTL Blog and the @courseplus Twitter account after the session.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 12:20 PM - Categories: CoursePlus | Teaching Tips

Jul 28 2016

Portfolio Updates for the Summer Term

As more programs at the School of Public Health adopt portfoios for mapping student progress throughout a degree program, we continue to refine and enhance the portfolio tool based on program director, administrator, and student feedback. We've made a number of enhancements to the portfolio tool in the summer term, which are listed below:

  • Touchpoints can now be flagged as being reflection-oriented or task-oriented. The student view of reflection-oriented touchpoints remains the same as it has been. The student view of task-oriented touchpoints is different in that instead of providing a reflection, there is a completely optional "Task Notes" section.
  • Students now have a private journal tool, visible only to them, where they can reflect on how they move through their program.
  • Students can mark any publishing view as a bio-sketch, which can then be viewed by their advisor with a single click from the main advisor dashboard.
  • Folders in the Evidence Library can now be expanded and collapsed as needed.
  • A student's Evidence Library is no longer visible to advisors, per the request of a number of program leaders.
  • Every touchpoint now has the option to not include supporting evidence/files along with not showing competencies.
  • The rich text editor in the portfolio now has paragraph alignment tools, but has lost the drawing pad.
  • You can now fully remove a profile photo from a publishing view, not just replace the image. 
  • There is now a link to view all student competencies at the bottom of a faculty advisor's view of a student touchpoint.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:40 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

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

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