Wednesday, March 7, 2012

D2L content manager... Improvements I would like to see

As I have mentioned in the past, I use Desire2Learn as my Learning Management System (LMS). It has some really strong points and some not so strong points. And there is one tool that I think has both strong and weak points. That tool would be the Content Manager. Let me explain. :)

When I first started with CDLI a few years back, we were using WebCT as our LMS. It was simple to use but it did not allow one to track content. Essentially I, as a teacher, could not see what students were accessing inside the LMS when I posted things. So if I posted an answer key to a test or linked an interactive learning object for a student to use for remediation, I never knew if students accessed this content. That changed when we implemented D2L.

With Desire2Learn an instructor can place just about anything inside the content manager to see who accessed it, when, and for how long. I thought it such a strong feature that I started placing everything inside the content manager. For example I place all my worksamples in the content manager first and then inside the dropbox I quicklink to the worksamples within content. By doing it that way I can see when students download and start the worksample. A student just the other day was looking for a lot of help on the work assigned. This request came to me really late because the student did not start working on it until the last minute. How did I know? I checked the content manager reports to see that the work was not accessed until the day before. As an aside... this ability to see what students access comes in handy when parent teacher interview time comes.

But by placing all course materials inside D2L exposed its weaknesses, in my opinion. The first weakness appeared when I stared quicklinking to content. Imagine a content list that contains all work assigned this year, last year, two years ago, etc. Now imagine that list also contains videos to curriculum outcomes, interactive learning objects, etc. As you can imagine that list is quite long. For me, if I want to quicklink to one of those content items I have to scroll through that extensive list until I find it. When you have worksample 5 for three years of teaching in your content manager and the quicklink list does not sort this list as per the module it is placed in, then quicklinking to content can be frustrating. Why do I quicklink to content when the link is under content? Simple answer really. I believe that students should not have to search through things to find what I want them to do. I place links on the news area to avoid this... I use quicklinks.

The second weakness in the content manager involves how content appears when it is viewed inside D2L. When the student opens the content there is a large amount of screen real estate on the left and top that is taken up, space that could really come in handy. On the top of the screen is the D2L toolbar and on the left is the content listing. Content can be opened in an external window but if you have external websites/videos linked then this can cause the opening of multiple tabs or windows. What I would like to see is the content open with the option of opening in a presentation type of view. That way there would be no need to open in new windows or tabs. Furthermore in my use of quicklinks, I can instruct students to either use, or not use the presenter view for the content... as needed. Presenter view could be as simple as having an arrow on top to hide/show the tools and an arrow on the left to show the content list.

Having said all of this... I will not be giving up using the D2L content manager with my students. It is an awesome feature... and very powerful too. But, like every other teacher/tech geek... I want it to work my way :)


Dana Griffiths said...

I like the tracking too, but I would like to be able to see all of the times that a student uses a content item, instead of just the last time and the average of all the times.

And, when a content page is made in D2L using its editor, there is too much scrolling required. The Save button should be top left, not bottom right. Or put it both places! Small point, but when you are editing these pages several times a day, it gets on your nerves.

isadoresnook said...

Rick, as you know, I have also used Desire2Learn as my Learning Management System (LMS) for the last five years. For four years prior to that it was the inferior product - WebCT. I agree that D2L has some pros and cons. For example the recent changes to the dropbox are fantastic. I absolutely love the way I can move easily from one student submission to the next. It flows so much easier. But I too have a love-hate relationship with D2L’s Content Manager.

Tracking the use of elearning content is a lot like looking over the shoulder of a student in a regular face to face classroom. Content that is trackable, and in particular content that is Scorm Compliant (a topic for another day), adds a level of student accountability that was certainly missing in WebCT. However I don’t place all my content in the manager as I find the level of organization and structure to be frustrating. I do track meaningful items of a critical nature. We all have THAT class that a student should not miss. Thus I tag the unplugged Elluminate Live (soon to be BB collaborate) recording as content and keep a close eye on some absent and underperforming students and their usage of that class recording. For example I recently had a sit down with 2 students in Physics 2204. Through a polycom conference I was able to share my desktop through polycom’s “people and content” add-on and I showed the principal and the 2 students their progress (or lack there of) with critical content inside D2L. The students were shocked but ALAS - the “jig was up”. The principal was also surprised at the level of detail of my tracking of content. But as I said I don’t tag enough content inside the content manager. I personally would like to see the quicklink feature updated similar to the recent changes with the placement of content inside the events calendar. Now that is a sensible way to do it. Kudos here Desire 2 Learn. But please clean up your quicklink feature in a similar fashion. It needs a drastic update. I would describe the content manager and quicklink tool now as “unwieldy.”

I also agree that another weakness in the content manager involves how content appears when viewed inside D2L. The screen real estate needs some added viewing flexibility. I like the idea of presenter view but how about a full screen mode similar to Youtube. Or even better - a fully scalable (slider) view mode similar to google earth. Now we are talking!

As with you, the D2L content manager is a faithful servant to me when keeping my students in line and accountable. In fact, it keeps me accountable as well. It is indeed an awesome feature. But it is one that can be improved upon by D2L if they continue to listen. And it seems they have done a fairly good job with that. Still I feel that Post secondary gets all the attention when designing improvements and enhancements. I feel that what we do stretches the limits of what D2L can do. I don’t think the higher education sytems in our Province tax the features of D2L as much as we do. Maybe Desire 2 Learn should start looking to smaller operations in K12 like us. But to be honest I think we do things with D2L that a lot of organizations are not doing. Lets see how this all unfolds. Interesting times my friend. Interesting times!