Simplifying I-Learn: What is I-Learn Good For?
By Jason Shaw and Arlen Wilcock
In case you haven’t heard about the results of last semester’s faculty survey regarding I-Learn, it generally received high marks on usage and low marks on satisfaction. Because of the nature of the product, our university is somewhat limited in our ability to “fix” I-Learn, but we can do some things to simplify the user’s experience. Last year Academic Council approved the formation of a faculty committee called FACIL (Faculty Advisory Committee for I-Learn) which includes one representative from each college. The members of this committee are:
The FACIL group is working to help simplify the user’s I-Learn experience through training, communication, and other means. So this is the first in a series of “Simplifying I-Learn” articles authored by instructors.
What is I-Learn good for? Why should I use it? If I don’t use I-Learn, what are my options?
I-Learn is a Learning Management System, the heart of which is a third-party product called Blackboard™, a Course Management System. Blackboard™ is a fairly robust system relative to other options on the market. And while there are competitive products (Angel™, Desire2Learn™, Moodle™, and Sakai™), Blackboard™ remains the market share leader. When faculty experience dissatisfaction with I-Learn, they often suggest that we move to a different Course Management System – and we will continue to look at that in the future. But it is important to realize that each alternative comes with its own costs and frustrations. Recent conversations with faculty serving in several other universities left no doubt that BYU-Idaho enjoys a relatively stable and user-friendly Course Management System.
As an instructor, if I didn’t use I-Learn, I would have two less-optimal choices:
1) Go back to manual distribution of paper copies. I would need to printout/photocopy and hand out my syllabi and other course materials. My students would also need to printout and then submit their assignments to me in class. I would need to sort, organize, grade, manage, and deal with the paper flow. Faculty who use I-Learn may still do a limited amount of this, but increasingly they are posting and receiving documents in I-Learn. Their students can access these materials anywhere they have internet access. These faculty no longer hear, “I lost my copy of the syllabus,” or “My printer broke.”
2) Learn how to create my own webpages. Some instructors at BYU-Idaho actually know how to do this. But most faculty members don’t know html programming or anything about web authoring, webservers, permissions, security, or posting and hosting of web documents. So it’s nice having a system that will do that for me. Moreover, students are increasingly familiar with the consistent interface and navigation of I-Learn and don’t need to relearn it from course to course.
Despite its imperfections, I-Learn can be a really powerful tool. It has a lot of features and capabilities. But faculty can also become frustrated if they use the resource without understanding it strengths and an awareness of its limitations. From our own experience, here are the Top Five features in I-Learn that will save you time and make your life easier:
Some of the frustration faculty experience comes when they try to move beyond the tools that they are confident using. If you are not already focusing on the above five features of I-learn, we recommend starting there. If you are thinking of moving beyond these five, we recommend that you:
Come to the Faculty Technology Center in the Library (Room 321) for training.
Visit one of the satellite I-Learn Service Centers (SMI, HIN, and SPO).
Access the online tutorials.
The Academic Technology office hopes to become an increasingly useful resource to faculty as they use I-Learn. Watch for our next two article in the series – “I-Learn Gotcha’s” (how to avoid common mistakes while using I-Learn) and “Simplifying Grade Center.”
Currently rated 5.0 by 3 people
Friday, January 30, 2009 4:03 PM
I will propose that the problem is not with the tool but with how we use the tool. One of my classes (Human-Computer Interaction) studies the way that students approach and view various I Learn sites, and how instructors develop them. We have found that the faculty generally does a good job of "getting the information out there" but do not do a good job of organizing the information in a way that is useful to the students. In other words, care needs to be taken in how the students view the information. We do a good job putting the student first in our student-faculty interactions, but not so much designing our student-course interactions.
In my experience, the default site layout that comes when you create a new I Learn course is never optimal for the specific needs of my classes. Before I begin dumping content on a site, I take a few minutes and draft out a few design alternatives on the white board. As I ask myself "how the student will use this information," a better organizational structure quickly emerges.
Friday, January 30, 2009 11:40 PM
I-learn is the coolest!!!! I have found a lot of great use from it already.
Monday, February 02, 2009 9:41 PM
I have been using I-Learn fairly extensively for two years how. I concur with James' comment above. It is very important to think about how you want to design the interface of the online portion of your course so students can understand its flow and how to interact effectively with the content. Initially, it can take quite a bit of time to design the online portion of the course, but overtime it begins to pay off great dividends in learning and time.
I learned what I-Learn can do by conceptualizing what I wanted students to do and then experimenting with it. As I wanted to do more and discovered what else could be done, I often called the students in the Academic Technology lab. They have best most helpful in answering my questions. I literally called them several times a semester as I was learning new things. Once a shell of a course is created, it can be duplicated semester after semester with desired tweaking as you go.