New Technology Tools Encourage Collaboration and Flexible Course Management June 6, 2013
Karen French and Chad Fulton have managed several pilots of new course technology tools over the last two years.
After two years of piloting a variety of options for supporting course management and online collaboration in College of Education courses, Learning Technology Center staff have helped the college settle on an effective and flexible combination. Google Docs and Canvas, a learning management system (LMS), have combined to provide the functionalities that faculty and their students need.
The LTC has always helped faculty in the College use technology to manage courses and foster collaboration. For many years the LTC maintained the TeachNet system, which provided many collaborative tools, including e-mail and conference folders. The University Information Technology Services provides Blackboard, an LMS that instructors use to manage courses. Beginning in 2010 with the transition away from TeachNet, which had become outdated and too expensive to maintain, the LTC explored a variety of technology tools to support the needs of College classes, and several options were piloted with teacher education cohorts and other courses. Leading these efforts were Karen French, coordinator of the LTC’s IDEA Studio, and Chad Fulton, coordinator of the LTC’s support for the UTcreate program.
In 2011, the PLACE system, on the Elgg platform, was custom developed in the LTC’s IDEA Studio with the needs of COE courses in mind, and then piloted with several classes. Says Karen, “The system worked well but was too difficult for the IDEA Studio to maintain, especially if we were going to expand its use to more classes.” Blackboard was used by some faculty, but was structured in a way that didn’t work for many instructors and the cohort groups that needed to collaborate during their three semesters together. The College of Education needed tools that did not need a lot of administrative maintenance, promoted collaboration, and were flexible enough to suit a variety of course management styles.
The College of Education began using the Canvas course management system last fall.
Collaboration is particularly important in teacher education courses. Having a system that manages grades, class rosters, and assignments is important too, of course, but collaboration in classes, as well as among the entire cohort group as they move together through the program, is essential. Online collaboration allows classmates to work on projects or papers together, and within larger cohort groups, students can participate in discussions and communicate efficiently with one another. And the use of collaborative tools and techniques is a key aspect of UTcreate, a component of all the College’s teacher education programs, which requires students to have a laptop computer.
Google Apps for Education was piloted in spring 2012. It provided the collaboration that was needed in COE courses. Cohorts had better communication, and students could work online together in Goggle Docs on assignments, something they could not do with TeachNet. But the use of Google was too unstructured for many of the instructors. “The shift to storing everything in the Cloud, with multiple ways to access it, was too big a change for many faculty to make right away,” explains Chad.
Beginning in the fall 2012 semester, a new LMS, Canvas, was piloted for instructors at the University, and the College of Education became its biggest user on campus. Many instructors felt Canvas had a more flexible structure and a more modern interface than Blackboard. Canvas also had the capability to “talk” to Google Docs, and Google Docs could be accessed from within Canvas.
The course management features of Canvas, combined with the collaborative tools of Google Docs, proved to be an potent combination that provided the capabilities College of Education classes needed. All the cohorts that began spring 2013 were set up with Canvas and Google, and this will be the recommended arrangement going forward.
With the new configuration of tools comes more need for support from the LTC’s IDEA Studio. Says Karen, “We will help faculty make the pedagogical shift to Canvas and Google and to restructure their courses to take advantage of the possibilities the new tools offer. Faculty will decide how they want to structure things and we will help them get set up.” IDEA Studio staff also provide general technical support for Canvas, and UTcreate staff help students learn the ins and outs of the Google Apps.
The College is ready to move forward with its new set of tools. But inevitably, more options offering new capabilities will soon be on the horizon, and the LTC will again help the College of Education explore the ways they can benefit instruction and foster 21st century learning.
- Google Apps for Education
- LTC Pilot Uses Google Apps for Education in College of Education Courses