By the time students and professors arrive on campus next fall, they will likely find an enhanced, more “Facebook-like” course management site.
Information Technology Services will soon begin testing a new system designed by Sakai, the group of leaders from universities and commercial organizations that developed Yale’s Classesv2 server. As administrators determine how best to integrate the product, which is intended to better facilitate interactions between students and professors, a new company called Coursekit has enlisted Yale students to promote its own recently released system.
Jane Livingston, director of Information Technology governance, policy and strategy, said ITS will consider features in other learning management systems as it customizes the Sakai software for the Yale community.
“We have to balance out the desire to make customizations to the system with the equally compelling desire to offer a sustainable service,” Livingston said. “Each customization we make to Sakai at Yale must be carried over whenever the core application is upgraded to the newest official release.”
ITS recently conducted a series of focus groups with students, faculty and staff to gauge satisfaction with Classesv2, Livingston said, and these sessions yielded “nearly unanimous support and appreciation.” Still, Livingston said she received complaints from students that professors often do not use many of the tools available on the site. Sleeker interfaces, like those in both the new Sakai and Coursekit softwares, are designed to make it easier for professors and students to utilize the resources.
Henry Davidge ’14 and Geoffrey Van ’14, who work for Coursekit, said they are trying to prompt students to encourage their professors to adopt Coursekit, which launched this fall as a pilot in over 80 courses at 30 universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University and New York University.
“Classesv2 is so inefficient that many professors already use their personal website instead of it,” Davidge said. “Classesv2 is filled with features that no one ever uses, like the forum and the calendar, while missing key features like the ability to share things easily.”
Van said Coursekit allows students and professors to post comments and share resources such as links, pictures and other media files more efficiently than Classesv2. But Livingston said the main difference between Classesv2 and Coursekit is the user interface, which will be revamped with the Sakai upgrade, but the communication tools are generally the same.
“We want to make the best and easiest tools available to faculty for sharing teaching materials and communication,” she said. “But ultimately the decision of how extensively Yale faculty will use any learning management system — whether it be Sakai or Coursekit — for communication and sharing is up to each faculty member.”
Three professors interviewed said they could not comment on whether they might adopt Coursekit because they were not familiar with the system.
Davidge and Van said if professors decide to register with Coursekit, they can secure the site so that only students with a password could gain access. But University Registrar Gabriel Olszewski said switching to a new software such as Coursekit would likely raise many concerns about students’ privacy.
Ten of 12 students interviewed said the Classesv2 site has much room for improvement.
“The current version doesn’t really make use of the latest innovations in technology,” Stefano Malfitano ‘14 said.
Angie Hanawa ‘15 said the site is “not user-friendly and kind of confusing,” adding that its usefulness ultimately depends on how well professors utilize its resources.
The co-founders of Coursekit, Joseph Cohen, Jim Grandpre and Dan Getelman, dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011 to focus on their business.