Sep 6 2016

Cleaning Up the Syllabus Builder Interface

In addition to making significant improvements to the printed version of a syllabus in CoursePlus, the CoursePlus team has also cleaned up the Syllabus Builder tool interface to make it easier on the eyes. We've removed a lot of visual clutter and extra whitespace so the whole page has a leaner, more readable look. Sepecifically, we've:

  • Taken the sidebar of suggested sections and put it into a drop-down button at the top of the page
  • Removed some of the suggested sections in the sidebar because they were never used in the past two years
  • Reduced the box sizes and font sizes of section headers
  • Reduced blank space between sections
  • Provided a "Collapse/Expand All Sections" tool so you can quickly see all the sections on the page
  • Removed the "See Student View of the Syllabus" button because that's available from the "Syllabus" menu at the very top of the page

We hope that these changes make it an easier tool for everyone to use!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:05 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Aug 29 2016

Vastly Improved Printing of the Syllabus

Faculty haven't always been happy with the printout of the syllabus in their CoursePlus sites. The CoursePlus team has been gathering feedback about this issue, and we're pleased to announce that we've made significant improvements to the printed version of the course syllabus in CoursePlus. Some of the changes include:

  • A cleaner font throughout the document. When alternate fonts are used on the webpage version of the syllabus, they are substituted for the standard font in the PDF version.
  • Font size is reduced overall, especially in headers. This results in fewer pages in the printed document.
  • Whitespace has been significantly reduced, including the automatic removal of leading or trailing whitespace in the webpage verison of the syllabus.
  • Page numbers have been added to each page.
  • A footer has been added to each page which shows the course number, title, academic term and year, and the last updated date/time.
  • Sections of the syllabus or even standard pieces of content like the days/times of the class that are not used or are blank are suppressed in the printed syllabus.
  • The layout of the "Contact" section has been redone to reduce unused space.
  • Email addresses in the "Contact" section are now active hyperlinks.
  • Class time notes are imported from the JHSPH course system and displayed next to the class dates/times.
  • Objectives are numbered, not bulleted.
  • If a course's learning objectives are "Information not required for this course type" or "No objectives have been defined," the Course Learning Objectives section is not shown.
  • Links to files in the Online Library appear as active weblinks.
  • The list of class sessions has been vastly improved, reducing whitespace and listing Online Library files in a multi-column list, rather than a single column list that took up a lot of vertical space.
  • The date of the class session now appears before the faculty name (if any).
  • Class session dates now use the full name of the day and the month of the session, rather than an abbreviation.
  • A JHU watermark has been added to the first page of the printed syllabus.

If you haven't tried printing your course syllabus recently, please do so! Additional refinements will be made to the printed version of the syllabus as requests and feedback continue to come in.

Please note that the "Print to Word" option in the syllabus will be removed as of October 1, 2016. The main reason for this is the "Print to Word" option is both expensive to maintain and used by a very small number of people. Of the 1,321,906 visits to course syllabi pages between January 1, 2015 and June 13, 2016, only 2426 of those requests (0.18%) were for the Word version of the syllabus. As it is expensive to maintain the Word version, and difficult to implement some of the above changes to the Word version of the syllabus, we will be removing that option from CoursePlus as of October 1, 2016.

Your continued feedback about the syllabus tool is important to us. We want it to be a great tool for everyone, so please contact CTL Help or your course instructional designer with additional concerns, questions, and feedback about the syllabus tool.

Posted by Brian Klaas at 11:16 AM - Categories: CoursePlus

Aug 24 2016

Recording and Notes from "What's New in CoursePlus AY16-17"

If you couldn't make the Tuesday, August 23 session on "What's New in CoursePlus AY2016-2017," below are two valuable resources for you:

  1. A recording of the presentation
  2. A PDF of notes highlighting the new features and significant changes to CoursePlus

Thank you to everyone who attended the session, and thank you for your great feedback!

Posted by Brian Klaas at 4:07 PM - Categories: CoursePlus

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

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