In an effort to synthesize the University’s multiple online administrative services, Yale officials are working to revamp the online classes server and will begin testing one new option in a limited form in January.
In addition to managing courses, Yale hopes the new software, called Sakai, will allow for a more “user-centric” portal similar to the current YaleInfo site, but with more options, said Charles Powell, the University’s academic media and technology director. He said it would facilitate a single site through which students would be able to view information including library accounts, financial statements, and course materials.
Sakai is one of three possibilities Yale is considering as it looks to improve the classes server, he said, but it is currently Powell’s preference.
“We think it’s a major improvement in the course management frontier,” Powell said. “We’re looking for a teaching and learning portal.”
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he hopes the enhanced classes server would have more interactive features and threaded discussion forums.
“The classes server now is used like a bulletin board,” Salovey said. “It’s not really interactive.”
Besides Sakai, Yale is also considering buying a product from a commercial company or updating the current software package internally. But Sakai is easily modified, has a lower licensing cost than commercial products, and saves Yale the expense of developing its own software, Powell said.
New features available under Sakai include an online quiz and assessment tool, a calendar function which can be linked to course syllabi, threaded discussions and live chats, Powell said. These tools will be integrated into the Yale pilot version based on faculty and student requests and if time and energy permit, he added in an e-mail.
ITS plans to launch a small pilot program in the spring with five to 10 classes and ideally will roll out a second test of about half of all classes next fall, Powell said. Students and faculty will likely be able to access course pages based on both Sakai and current software from the same starting point, he said.
“At the baseline, it wouldn’t be jarringly unfamiliar,” Powell said. “You wouldn’t have to relearn the universe.”
The University of Michigan, one of Sakai’s four founding partner institutions, began running the software this fall.
Yale pays $10,000 a year to be a partner in the project, Powell said. The University became a partner in February 2004.
By next week, Yale will have a version of Sakai running on hardware here, Powell said, and ITS will begin to input data and make sure it works with the University’s Central Authorization Service. ITS will also seek feedback from faculty and some students, he said.
Powell said he will be looking for faculty who would be willing to be part of the pilot program.
Anthropology professor William Kelly, who links an intricate Web site for his Japanese anthropology course to the classes server, said he hopes to be able to streamline Japanese language television clips through what would be a revamped classes server.
Kelly said ITS has been “remarkable” for the last few years in developing the server from a faculty standpoint.
“As you can well imagine, their clients as faculty range from people in the pencil-and-paper age to people in the high-tech age,” Kelly said. “So, trying to find a common denominator interface that is user-friendly for the technophobes but useful enough with enough features for others of us who want to put a lot of the class into the Web is a real challenge.”
Lauren Jacobson ’08 said the impact of the changes to the classes server will likely vary based on the course.
“I think in a lot of cases having more of the class online without interacting with the professor is not exactly a good thing,” Jacobson said. “But if you’re talking about taking a test online, that you could take in your dorm room, then certainly that would be more convenient.”