Spring Beta: The End is Here

It seems like just a few weeks ago that I was blogging about my start-of-the-semester nerves. In actuality, it’s been almost an entire semester. As we come up on the end of Spring 2018, it’s time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong with the Spring 2018 beta, specifically with my course, English 1302.

The Prep: 

Prepping my course for D2L was more difficult than it would have been had I stayed in eCollege. I care a great deal about what my course actually looks like to students, not only for ease of use but also for aesthetic reasons. As such, I spent about 5 hours preparing my D2L course shell for the Spring 2018 semester. Then I had a student with a disability sign up, and it took about another hour to make sure everything in the course was accessible. The good side of all this prep is that I didn’t have to do anything at all to the course once it started running. The bad side is that, well, it took 6 total hours to get ready for the semester. I don’t know that it would take most people six hours, but for people who really want a polished course presentation, it’s going to take some elbow grease.

The Start: 

Students were really confused at the beginning of the semester. Multiple students asked me where the eCollege course was, even after I e-mailed them multiple times to let them know that the class would be taking place in myLeo Online (D2L). There was also a little permissions slip-up where we had disallowed students from replying to other students on the discussion boards. After that was worked out, though, the beginning of the semester was really not much different than the beginning of any other semester, besides a few more e-mails asking where things were.

The Middle: 

The middle of the semester always seems to be the part where I tend to get a little lost. Weeks start running together, the grading piles up, and you’re just trying to make it through to the end. D2L didn’t change any of that. I noticed tools I was using differently than I had used them in eCollege, though – namely, I used dates and restrictions on all my units and assignments so that students had to e-mail me to request permission to turn something in late, or see the unit after the due date. I think next semester I’ll use start and due dates in D2L, but not end dates. Applying Special Access for every student who misread a due date or had computer trouble ultimately just wasn’t useful for me. Lessons learned.

After I got into the groove of grading in D2L, it became like second nature – just like in eCollege. Grading discussions was, at first, kind of laborious; I was used to grading discussions in eCollege where I had a “Next Student” button. But ultimately I found that the single extra click didn’t add that much time to my grading process, and seeing every student’s contributions (or lack thereof) individually was just fine. Now that I’m accustomed to it, I wouldn’t want to go back.

The End:

I like and also dislike the indicator on the organizational homepage that tells you how many items you have outstanding. I like it because it’s convenient and helpful to be reminded that students have turned stuff in. I dislike it because it reminds me of how much grading I still have to do, and honestly, nobody wants to see a big number 50 highlighted in orange knowing that 40 represents final essays that are ten pages long each. Guess I should think about that before I assign ten page papers to my freshmen. Sigh.

As an instructor, the biggest thing that stood out to me about using D2L was that it worked. It always worked. I never got into the system and was faced with a half-loaded page that I needed to refresh three times to use. My gradebook never became suddenly unusable for hours. I never even had to call tech support. All these are things that happened in eCollege this semester to various instructors I worked with.

Additionally, I accessed D2L from my phone while I was at my dad’s for the weekend and was able to do everything I needed to do short of actually grading a paper, and that was just because I don’t have Microsoft Word on my phone. The course was clean and easy to navigate, and its minimalist appearance allowed my content to stand out on the page.

In terms of functionality and usability, D2L was leaps and bounds better than eCollege from my standpoint. I know it’s going to be a difficult road, getting everyone over into the new system, trained and migrated. But I feel like there’s a light at the end of a rapidly decaying tunnel now.

Permanent link to this article: http://sites.tamuc.edu/innovations/spring-beta-the-end/

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