Rutgers hosts pop-up workshops to help instructors use Sakai
Most students are familiar with Sakai, Rutgers’ primary learning management system, which is used throughout the three main campuses.
Last semester, the Office of Instructional and Research Technology (OIRT) rolled out Sakai 11, the newest version of the web service. This semester, OIRT is hosting a series of “pop-up workshops” to help faculty members better understand how to use the different features the site provides.
The workshops are an informal way for faculty and staff members who use Sakai to ask questions or learn more about the service, said Senior Instructional Designer Jeniffer Obando. Rather than force instructors to travel to OIRT’s office on Busch campus, the workshops allow for casual conversations on any campus.
“It’s us coming to them. That way, when they’re coming to lunch they can ask questions,” she said. “They can stop by, ask a question and be on their way.”
These questions can range from learning how to use the new tools Sakai 11 offers, including a new Gradebook and a media tool, to how to set up the different possible pages, she said.
Some of these tools allow instructors to receive more feedback from students, including through the assignments tab. There is also a forum tool, which enables easy communication between students and their instructors.
“It really depends on how the instructor has set up their course. If the instructor has allowed the student to upload content, they can do that,” she said. “With the new Kaltura tool, students can upload assignments or reflections or homework via media, not just (documents). They can upload video (or) whatever the project might be.”
This would help students who are more comfortable creating videos or other forms of multimedia content than they are writing papers, she said. Students can also upload image files if they want.
Many of the instructors who use Sakai do so because their departments require it, rather than Blackboard or eCollege.
Instructors also have a new way to post grades on the site, she said.
“The new Gradebook is the only one that’s going to exist after the spring semester. Right now we still have Gradebook 2, but it’s going to be going away after the spring semester ends, so around June,” she said. “Hopefully by then, we’ll have achieved parity between Gradebook and Gradebook 2.”
Right now the two tools have some differences, which may make it difficult for a professor who is only familiar with Gradebook 2, the older version, to use Gradebook, the new version. Designers with OIRT are working to minimize these differences to ensure a smooth transition.
The new Gradebook has a learning curve, and instructors are most cautious about it due to how important grades are for students, she said. Faculty members want to ensure they post students’ grades correctly.
The busiest times of year for training instructors on Sakai are during the starts and ends of semesters, she said. This is at least partly because many faculty members do not receive access to their Sakai sites until shortly before the start of a new term.
Meeting with designers to go over the site’s tools is helpful for instructors, she said.
“I think the most important thing is getting to know Sakai (and) use the tools that align with (an instructor’s) objectives,” she said. “Sometimes coming in and sitting down with an instructional designer is really the best way to learn.”
The site will continue to improve as well. Sakai is an open source project with designers from several different institutions contributing to it.
If someone from Rutgers finds a tool they think can be useful, they will develop it further for the University’s specific needs, or adopt a tool that the larger community has developed, Obando said.
On the other hand, if a tool does not seem to be a good fit for Rutgers, Sakai’s development team will not adopt it.
Sakai also has a sort of digital suggestions box, but developers may not have the time to create every tool suggested, she said.
There will be more workshops held throughout the semester on topics ranging from how to make video lectures with proper lighting and sound to just general tips on managing a Sakai page, she said.
“We have been doing a lot of training this semester, some of (the features) are new, some are media creation (related),” she said. “It’s a very versatile learning management system and a little orientation can help (instructors) achieve what they couldn’t before.”
Nikhilesh De is the news editor of The Daily Targum. He is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.