Five Minute Fixes to Improve Sakai Course Design

Mark O. Hatfield Research Center at the Oregon...Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Boudrot – Oregon Health & Science University
Thomas Boudrot is the Manager of Academic Technology at Oregon Health & Science University. His team provides instructional design and technical support to three schools and numerous departments in the use of Sakai. He has an EdD in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.

John Ansorge – Oregon Health & Science University
John Ansorge is an Instructional Technologist at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR. He provides user and technical support for Sakai and other online academic technology services. He has a Masters degree in educational technology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Support calls from students and instructors are an extremely important source of information. By analyzing help desk issues, a course builder will often discover that design, not the technology, is the culprit. Using support call details, course developers can revise courses and develop best practices to prevent further support calls. Spending just a few minutes improving a course at the beginning of the term can save hours of user frustration and confusion. Many good design techniques are basic though new course builders are likely to miss them. A few of them include:

  • Building the course homepage to direct students to important features and “must-do’s” when they first enter the site
  • Ensuring that the site has a voice of its instructors
  • Building (and deploying in Melete or Resources) templates that standardize the look and feel of instructional material
  • Standardizing on uploaded media types to prevent the need for multiple media players and to minimize end-user access issues.

In this session, the presenters will share lessons learned from two years of help desk experience that has resulted in course design changes yielding significantly fewer support calls. Actual courses from a variety of subjects and levels will be shared. Time will be reserved for questions and answers.

Look at your support tickets and see where people are having problems.
Things to do:
  • Make sure there is something on the home page of the course that tells the students where they are.
  • Link to the syllabus in the side-bar (we do this already).
  • Set link target with tools to “top”.
  • Put a “Getting Started” section in the homepage that links to the syllabus.
  • Make sure that the students get an email or message every week (creates a voice for the course) or put in a video or recording.
  • Get rid of all unused buttons. Use the “Page Order” in the “Site Editor” (Site Info).
  • End the scavenger hunt. Use icons and links in the “Lessons” tool. Provide a template. Look at the “Templates” button.
  • Standardize all file types for things like videos (they are using Flash, mp3, and pdf)
  • Have faculty use the Text Editor as often as possible instead of uploading and linking documents
Things to Avoid:
  • Do not use date specific assignments – make the tests due on specific weekdays.
  • Because you can’t link to every area in Sakai (don’t link), give them a consistent path (Tests & Quizzes > Week 03 Quiz).
  • Stop using the calendar – not every instructor uses it, students don’t know to expand the calendar. It sets the students up for failure.
Longer than 5 minute fixes:
rSmart got Lessons Tool and Resources talking together. You used to not be able to do this in Melete. This allows the links to be able to be moved. All the links revised automatically.
Adding templates – have rSmart change the editor to include templates.
CSS for Ergonomics – Skin manager allows you to make changes to make managing groups much easier. This is fixed in 2.7
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