Classes transition to Compass 2g

As the University’s students or faculty log onto the Illinois Compass website, others around the world are doing the same. Now, when they log on, they’ll see a change in setup and framework.

The switch from Compass to Compass 2g is many years in the making. It is run by Blackboard Inc., an international company utilized in schools, universities and corporations spanning continents. Now that Blackboard has made a switch to a newer platform, Blackboard Learn 9.1, it is occurring around the world — in Champaign-Urbana as Compass 2g, or second generation.

“We’re going through a transition to the second generation of what we’re calling Illinois Compass with Blackboard Learn 9.1,” said Leslie Hammersmith, e-learning analyst at the University’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Through Blackboard Inc., institutions can organize grades, information, user interfaces and more.

“We started running Blackboard on this campus in 1999. Then in 2005 when we went into business with WebCT Vista, we actually retired our old Blackboard server and didn’t continue that product,” said Hammersmith. “So it’s kind of ironic that we’re going back to Blackboard.”

The name “Illinois Compass” was established to eliminate confusion about the website’s many product and name changes in the past. This way, to run the second generation of Compass, the University is using Blackboard Learn 9.1 as its server.

In spring of 2011, a pilot version of Compass 2g was released for a number of students and faculty to survey. From their suggestions and critiques, new options were tested and tweaked for ease of navigation. Among these improvements from the first generation Compass are gradebook usability, e-mail function and simplicity in search features.

For larger classes, Compass 2g makes it easier for TAs to work with their section and for faculty to oversee their courses. The layout is more straightforward to work with, and the e-mail function is a new addition that was not available before 2g.

“The faculty and students also liked Blackboard’s ‘mash-ups’ for ease of searching for and then embedding media and other web 2.0 content such as YouTube, Flickr and Sideshare from within their course sites,” Hammersmith said.

Nilofer Kazmi, junior in AHS, noticed these new features, especially the one that allows users to embed content from other websites. It takes some getting used to, though, because depending on how much or how little the student has navigated, they may not notice too much of a difference at a glance.

Richard Kacirek, freshman in LAS, had the chance to use the beta version of Compass 2g last fall, so he is a bit more used to it than most students.

“I like the new quiz format a lot better,” he said. The class roster, though, was noticeably different and less public than the original version, he noticed. This was a hindrance for uploading photos and seeing the list of enrolled students.

Right now, both Illinois Compass and Illinois Compass 2g will be running through Spring, Summer and Fall 2012 semesters so students and faculty can get acclimated to the site’s new features and setup.

Slowly, more classes will be able to shift to the new version of Compass during these three semesters to move the technology further. In the meantime, students can log on to Compass 2g and see which classes are using the first generation and which ones use the second.