Facilitating iLearn for large classes
October 28, 2009 5:00 PM
SF State's learning management system, known as iLearn, has been continuously gaining users since it replaced Blackboard, a commercial product previously hosted by the campus, two years ago.
On Oct. 20, about 15 instructors attended a workshop to become more familiar with the academic site to help them better facilitate large classes.
"The workshop was driven by the questions of the participants," Cyrus Ginwala, Assistant Professor in the School of Music and Dance at SF State and conductor of the workshop, said.
The afternoon showed teachers how to construct and administer exams online, how to utilize the groups feature and gave them an overview of new features added in the latest upgrade.
Some of the new upgrades made this semester were the drag and drop function, so that instructors can move courses and materials around more freely without having to refresh their page. There were also changes added to the built-in grade book.
According to the iLearn Central Web site, iLearn was designed to enhance the learning of students and collaboration. It also allows instructors to customize the site based on the needs of the class and students. Using iLearn allows the sharing of online resources and collecting feedback from students which is necessary in large classes.
Ginwala has used iLearn in all his classes in some form for the last four years. Now teaching MUS 120: Basic Music I: Voice, which is taught live and online, Ginwala uses iLearn to post documents and links of online materials that are relevant to his lectures along with captioned videos of his lectures. He also uses the site to communicate with his class via online forums and e-mails and to post calendars of due dates for assignments and quizzes.
Posting class lectures and materials on iLearn can have both positive and negative effects for students.
Students may be able access lectures and assignments they missed when they were unable to attend class. It can also be a good way to double check something that was not clear in class.
One flaw though, is that students can not immediately ask the instructor a question and receive an immediate response as they do in the classroom.
Sophomore Lauren Spalter, 19, said one benefit of the site is that she can monitor her grades as they are posted online, and that it is a nice reassurance to justify teaching material she heard in class. The environmental science major stated, however, that she still enjoys the traditional method of teaching better.
"I need to be there physically in class to get a better grasp of what's going on," she said.
Unlike Spalter, Marlana Milligan, an 18-year-old freshman and business major, said she liked the traditional method at first because she felt if something were physically put in her hand she was not obligated to check her e-mail, but had a change of heart after realizing if she missed class, she would be able to get access of the lecture materials using iLearn.
"Now I feel it is more efficient because I can get information I missed before the next class meeting," Milligan said.
According to Ginwala, attendance problems are possible because of faculty giving lectures in class and later posting them on iLearn, but warned, "Teachers can require iLearn to track or control the number of times on-site material has been viewed by students in order to monitor them."
As far as technological problems are concerned, Ginwala feels that many of the system problems occur during the beginning or end of the semester, when students are all navigating it at once.
According to iLearn Central, network problems caused the site to slow down or be unresponsive within the fourth day of this semester.
However, Ginwala said that in his years of using the system he had not had any major problems with the site regarding system reliability.
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