Friday, September 30, 2005

Updates to MySCSU/MyCourses and the transition to online

We just an announcement about updates to MySCSU/MyCourses (the course access part of the MySCSU portal):

File Sharing:
The file size limitation has been increased from 1MB to 8MB and the total file storage space for each course has been increased from 12MB to 50MB.

Links to Web Sites:
The number of Links that can be posted in any course is 300.

Duration of Announcements:
Announcements sent to your students will remain available for a maximum of 120 days or until you (or they) delete them.
MyCourses also has links to OnlineCSU and the campus WebCT courses. I noticed recently that the campus WebCT link logs you in directly (Online CSU is on a separate password system, so you still have to log in separately. Hopefully Vista will help with this.)

How do faculty decide whether to put materials in MyCourses or WebCT? I would argue that putting some materials in both would serve students best. I going to start with the scenario of a complete online course, and then move to hybrid courses second.

With a completely online course, where all materials, exchanges, and assessments are being done online, all materials will already be in WebCT. However, given the perennial problem of access, whether due to network outages, password problems, or configuration problems, having a backup for key documents could be very useful. A simple Word or PDF file of the syllabus will only take a minute (or less) to load into MyCourses, and gives students an extra place to check due dates, contact information, and policies. Maybe add a link to the OnlineCSU page ("This course is taught via Online CSU") which could help new students confused by the multiple systems, or students taking courses in more than one system. There is no need to duplicate the entire course in MyCourses, but having the essentials could really help.

MySCSU will probably be most valuable for hybrid courses. One advantage is that all courses have MyCourses slots, while WebCT shells have to be applied for. Most of the features, aside from assessment, are duplicated--files & links (including readings), discussions, email, etc. If you don't need the assessment part (exams & quizzes, gradebook, etc.) MyCourses will handle most of the online course needs. The main drawbacks are organizational (MyCourses is purely chronological--last in on top) and esthetic (you can't configure MyCourses to look any different.)

Trial of Mental Measurements Yearbook Online

We are doing a trial of the Mental Measurements Yearbook Online. Produced by the Buros Institute, this is a standard in psychology and education, containing reviews of tests on a huge variety of psychological factors, like self-esteem and depression. We have MMY in print in the Reference Collection, and the full text of the reviews is included in the Online version.
Mental Measurements Yearbook, produced by the Buros Institute at the University of Nebraska, provides users with a comprehensive guide to over 2,000 contemporary testing instruments. Designed for an audience ranging from novice test consumers to experienced professionals, the MMY series contains information essential for a complete evaluation of test products within such diverse areas as psychology, education, business, and leadership. First published by Oscar K. Buros, the MMY series allows users to make knowledgeable judgments and informed selection decisions about the increasingly complex world of testing. MMY provides coverage from Volume 9 to the present.
NOTE: The MMY does not contain copies of the actual tests, just reviews and information about the tests. Copies of the tests are generally only available for purchase from the publishers (see the Publisher and Price info in the citation record.)

More information about MMY and the Buros Institute is available at the Buros website, including a searchable index for the print copies (part of the catalog database for individual print reviews available for purchase). We are getting our online trial through EBSCO, not directly through the Buros Institute.

To access the trial, go to the Ebsco Databases (SCSU login required) and scroll to the bottom of the list and click on Mental Measurements Yearbook. You can search for a particular test (Achieving Behavioral Competencies), a concept keyword (self esteem), or an author (McCarron, Lawrence). Please let anyone in the Reference Department know how you liked the database, or any problems you had.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Online Word Processing

One problem that many online students have is needing to do word processing in a variety of situations. You may be in your local public library doing online research, logging in from a hotel while you travel, or working with other students spread out around the world. You need access to your files, access to a word processor (many public computers do not have full word processors available), and the ability to share with your classmates. Luckily, there are some online services that meet these needs (and some of them are even free).

I've used Web Collaborator for several projects with colleagues and it is quite useful. You can create and edit documents and hold discussions about the project, all within a password protected environment. You can even allow read-only access for some (classmates, instructor) while retaining editing control by you or your group. Versions are saved in a history section. When you have a finished product, you can download as PDF or MS Word (formatting can be a little weird and may need some clean up, depending on your version of Word.) Web Collaborator is a project by a Reed College student and I don't know what his plans are for keeping it updated.

Writely is a new service with some similar functions (thanks to Paul Pival, The Distant Librarian, for the link). One of the nice features is that you can upload HTML, MS Word (.doc), plain text (.txt), and image (.gif, .jpg and .bmp) files. Document files can be up to 500k and image files up to 2Mb. You (the document "owner") can invite collaborators by email. There are also several publishing options, including posting to a Blogger blog, publishing on a Writely web site, and exporting as a Word document. Older versions are available in the History. One useful "publish" feature is that you can work on a document in the background while the published version is available without changes. This post was written within Writely, and then posted to the blog. Writely is currently in beta, and is currently free. When they do the full release, there will be free and for cost options, according to the FAQ.

Writely is more robust (though I do like the discussion aspect of Web Collaborator). The programmers are working on several additions, including uploading PDF and RTF files, and will take suggestions. They are also planning on offering a corporate/enterprise version, which would have some interesting implications for educational institutions. What if a college or university decided to license Writely instead of Microsoft Word? Most of the standard editing features are available (see the image of the toolbar below). I don't see a way of doing the proper indentations (hanging indents) for cited reference pages or any way to do double spacing. (In some ways, it's more of an HTML editor than a word processor. Of course, that's probably because, as an browser based tool, it is an HTML editor.) Still, for the vast majority of writing on campus, and the willingness of the faculty to let go of a few conventions, it would be fine. You can't do a hanging indent in an email or in most online discussion boards, either. It doesn't affect the purpose or clarity of the citation.

Update: The image didn't come through from Writely. I'm not sure if I did something wrong or if it just doesn't work. More when they get back to me. In the meanwhile, here's the tool bar image:

This may cause some consternation in the library world. Many libraries, including this one, don't put an Office Suite on their main public access computers. The main reason is that we don't want students to be using every single computer to write papers leaving nothing for checking the catalog. We already have a problem with having most of the computers needing a personal log on, especially when it takes longer to log on than to check the catalog. So now what do we do? Any reasonably savvy student (like all my readers, of course) can now write their papers online. Shall we block Writely from our public access computers? I hope not. Personally, I think that browser applications are the way to go, and I don't think that we should prevent students from writing and collaborating online in the library. Writing is part of the research process, which is what we are here for. A few dedicated terminals for the catalog, and other research are necessary, especially in a state institution like ours.

Well, now I get to try the "post to Blogger" feature. Let's see what happens!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Create your Library PIN/Password" Tutorial

The Library spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on subscription services (databases, online journals, ebooks, etc.) every year. Most of those come with restrictions on access: we must limit access to these resources to those associated with the University. The way we do this is to limit access to those people with a current library record, and to require identification before you can access the resources. We use the campus ID number and a user-created Library PIN/Password for identification purposes.

This is, of course, confusing, especially given the recent password changes. To help eliminate some of this confusion, I've created a guide to creating a Library PIN/Password. (Why is it a PIN/Password? I think it started as a number (Personal Identification Number), but there are no character restrictions on it currently, so technically it's a password. Most of the instructions still call it a PIN, however.)

The following guide has text instructions at the bottom, and a screencast showing the process step-by-step. The video requires the Macromedia Flash Player.

Technical details: This screencast was produced with Wink, which captures screenshots and cursor movements, then assembles them with text annotations into a Flash file. Wink is freeware, and while it doesn't have some of the advanced features (like audio) of Captivate, Viewlet, or Camtasia, you can't beat the price! And it is remarkably good at what it does. I actually gave up using RoboDemo (the precursor to Captivate) in favor of Wink, because all I wanted was a simple screencapture-to-Flash-movie process. I can recommend Wink as a great place to start if you want to try screencasting.