Online academics at Columbia are getting a makeover, via an initiative by Student Services, the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, and CUIT to switch Courseworks over to the alternate platform Sakai.
After investigating several different options and piloting the programs extensively, Student Services officials have decided to switch platforms and begin using Sakai, a system with capabilities that exceeded those of Courseworks and which those involved hope will streamline and expand classroom use of new media.
According to Engineering Student Council University Senator Sumeet Shah, SEAS ’08, Sakai has “a laundry list of special features” that Shah finds “mind-boggling.” Such features include an interactive calendar that allows both professors and students to manage calendars for specific courses as well as entire course loads, customizable features for both students and professors, easier downloading and uploading of files, and the capacity to add podcasts, wikis, blogs, and discussion boards to individual class sites.
“One goal of this effort,” the CCNMTL Web site explained in an announcement of this spring’s pilot use of the program, “is to introduce new tools, such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts; tools that did not exist when the current CourseWorks system was implemented at Columbia in late 2001.”
Another feature Shah found particularly exciting is the increased online availability of class resources to students, both during their enrollment in a given course and during course selection. Under the new system, professors will be able to specify time limits for how long certain materials appear online, and may also be able to upload lectures as they occur so that students can watch them in real time.
But with these improvements come reservations for some, mainly the issue of a plunge in classroom attendance with the availability of online lectures and concerns over intellectual property rights.
“I can definitely see the concern,” Shah said, but he noted that professors will be free to choose which of the wide variety of features they wish to use. Also, as far as copyright infringement goes, he noted that professors will be able to designate copyright status on resources like lectures of syllabi and have already been working closely with the Copyright Office.
Jessica Ruby, BC ’11, said that while she wished professors would utilize certain portions of the existing Courseworks more efficiently, particularly the gradebook, she believes that more features could only improve the student experience with Courseworks. With increased access to lectures, she said, “you can focus better because you’re not spending the whole time trying to decipher what the professor is saying.”
Lalit Gurnani, CC ’11, has other ideas. “It enhances my ability to get sleep when everything is posted online,” he said.
But in Ruby’s view, the academic benefits of the program outweigh the occasional temptation.
“I think it’s important for those who are honest and have integrity,” she said, “who aren’t skipping, but who just can’t go to every class, or for those who might prefer just to listen in class, to have access to the material covered in lectures.”
Shah noted that over 100 colleges and universities nationwide currently use Sakai, including such prominent schools as MIT, Stanford, and Yale, and said that administrators had been in communication with peer institutions as decisions were made.
“Overall, the thing that just popped out about Sakai was that it’s so professional,” Shah said. He also said that although many are accustomed to Courseworks as is, others have expressed frustration towards it. “I think it’s great,” he continued. “The whole idea of making a student’s and a professor’s life easier in getting information regarding classes from one to the other—it’s so important and Sakai does that so well.”