on creating courses to set up a semester in Desire2Learn

We’re in the middle of our Fall 2013 “Pilot” semester – almost 5,000 students are using D2L1 this semester, with extremely positive feedback from students and instructors. We’re now in the process of setting up for the Winter 2014 semester – where 4 faculties will be moving to use Desire2Learn for 100% of their online- and blended courses (and many courses from other faculties thrown in for good measure). Likely 10-12,000 students using it next semester. That’s a lot of students. And a lot of courses. We still don’t have automated course creation integrated with PeopleSoft, and are working feverishly on that (the thought of managing course enrolments for 12,000 students using CSV uploads makes me break into a cold sweat).

The basic process for setting up courses for a semester looks something like this:

  1. Create a data feed that triggers course creation. Course Code, Course Title, Department, other key metadata about the courses. This can either be done through the connection with PeopleSoft (which isn’t working for us yet), or via the Bulk Course Create (BCC) tool. Feed BCC the CSV of course info (SFTP it to the D2L server), wait until the scheduled processing job crunches it, and boom. Courses are created. But they’re empty. And nobody can see them.

  2. Enrol users in the courses. This can either be done via scheduled data feed from PeopleSoft (again, not yet), or via another CSV file that associates a user with a course and applies a role. This is done using a second tool, built into the Users admin interface. This Bulk User Management (BUM) tool2 takes the CSV, and crunches it on demand. No scheduled processing job to wait for. The CSV can also be cumulative, so you don’t have to scoop out previous entries. Separate files are needed to handle CREATE, ENROLL, UNENROLL etc… because they all have different columns, in different orders.

  3. The courses are empty. They need to be populated with any default content that a faculty uses. We have set up “template”3 that needs to be copied into each course in a faculty. This uses another separate utility, Copy Course Bulk (CCB), with another CSV format. This utility is different, because it lives inside a special course in our D2L instance. You go to the course, open the “Manage Files” interface, and upload the CSV file (named input.csv) into an “Inbox” folder. Every night, at about 12:30am, a process crunches that file (if it exists), copies the content as specified in it, logs the result, and moves the file to the “Outbox” folder. But, this only copies course content, grade items, assignments, grading schemes, etc…

  4. To have the courses in each faculty use the proper homepage as designed by the key people in each faculty, yet another utility is needed. With yet another CSV format. We haven’t seen the Automated Course Branding Tool (ACBT) yet4 but I assume it lives as a special course offering within our D2L instance, as the CCB tool does. This tool will set the homepage (the layout of the course – which widgets are visible, where they are, etc…) – as well as setting the NavBar (the navigation menu for the course).

There. That’s all it takes. Of the 4 steps, 2 will eventually be automatable through our connection with PeopleSoft, when that comes online. The other 2 will require semi-manual intervention, to create the list of courses for each faculty, tying course codes to “template” courses5.

Of these tools, the Copy Course Bulk (CCB) and Automated Course Branding Tool (ACBT) require additional licenses, and need to be separately deployed in your D2L environment. This takes time. We weren’t even aware these tools were separate, or that they needed to be licensed and deployed, until we went to use the functionality (assuming it would exist in the core product). Plan ahead. These tools do the job, but take some time to set up (and push through campus purchasing processes…).

  1. I should start an acronym-based drinking game, except my liver wouldn’t survive it []
  2. BUM. giggle. No, just upload it to the BUM. D2L takes it in the BUM. oy. productive project meetings discussing this tool… []
  3. not the D2L concept of “Template” which is strictly an administrative thing – all Math 251 courses are set up with the D2L Template of “Math 251″, making it easier to find all instances of a certain course. The “Faculty Template” I’m talking about here is just a Course Offering that is used by key people in each faculty to set up how they want all of their courses to look – they add stuff to the Content area. Items to News. Preload any content etc… that will then be copied into each course in their faculty. []
  4. stuck in the fun of University Purchasing etc… []
  5. that aren’t actually D2L templates []

Sending Mail to Evernote on MacOSX

I still can’t figure out why this isn’t baked into the Evernote application as a Service available system-wide, but there’s a way to add a Service to send messages from Mail into Evernote as notes for archive. There was a previous applescript solution, but I hadn’t used it (and it apparently borked on the 10.9 upgrade anyway).

I’d been using the Evernote email address feature, to just forward messages I need to archive for automatic importing into Evernote, but it’s a pain. I have to remove the *FWD: * prefix on the note title. I need to decrease the indented quote level of messages. etc… It works, but it’s funky.

Some quick searching turned up this post on the Evernote website. It talks about using an Automator app as a GTD workflow. Awesome. Except the app they provide includes a step to move archived messages into an “Archive” mailbox in Mail. I don’t want to do that, so I modified the app ever so slightly, to remove that step.

Now, I have it set up as a Service, and have followed the instructions on the Evernote post to add a keyboard shortcut. Command-option-E sends selected message(s) to Evernote. Done. Awesome.

Here’s my modified Automator app – download the .zip, extract it, and double-click on the app inside. It’ll ask you if you want to install it. If you haven’t already turned off the “Allow Apps from Anywhere” setting, you’ll get a warning saying that you haven’t done so. Easy fix. Open System Preferences, click “Security & Privacy” and then click the lock at the bottom left. Then, click “Allow apps downloaded from: anywhere”. Done.

The one wrinkle I’ve seen so far is that the current version doesn’t pull attachments over. That sucks. Attachments are one of the reasons I archive stuff. Looking into solutions for that now…

my subscribed edublog feeds

Just checked my RSS reader – I subscribe to 79 101 feeds tagged as “edublogs”. Not all are active – some are still in there, in the hopes that the owner of the site comes back to play. It’s also not comprehensive. There are lots of feeds I don’t subscribe to. But, these are my go-to reads, with a decent signal:noise ratio, with little breathless hype. Likely not everyone’s cup of feed, but I find them useful.

Here’s the list, in handy-dandy OPML format.

Remember when RSS was dead? And blogging? Me either.

Update: I ran the OPML through this handy dandy OPML link checker utility. It found 3 bad feeds, so I’ll need to update them ASAP…

Edublogs OPML link checking

Update 2: just added a bunch of new links thanks to a nudge from Alec