Course websites vary with professors

As courses shift from texts to online media, professors and students alike are meeting halfway through various online systems.

Such systems include Moodle, Illinois Compass and other websites that are available for professors to upload information for their classes.

Lisa Rosenthal, associate professor in art history, said she uses Compass, the University’s official enterprise system, as her online medium of choice.

“It’s available,” Rosenthal said. “It’s what we’ve been instructed — that it’s the system the University supports. It has improved. It’s gotten easier for me to use.”

With art history courses, images of the paintings are vital to the class’s instruction. Therefore, Rosenthal posts images onto Compass, as well as uploads weekly handouts for large classes.

Jack Roberts, sophomore in Engineering, said new freshmen will have to make an adjustment to learn how to fully use these sites.

“Like anything, I think it’s a little tough to transition to something new, but I think it’s set up well,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to use. I don’t think it scares anyone off.”

New freshmen react to Compass like they react to their textbooks, realizing how much work they have to do for a certain class, said Robert Baird, assistant professor and acting associate director for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services.

Roberts added that he has used Compass before for his classes.

“It’s organized, it’s very organized, especially if the professors actually use all the services that it has,” Roberts said. “And it’s nice because you can access all your grades in the same spot, and you don’t have to go to six different websites for all your grades.”

Rosenthal said professors who are using the old fashioned model of teaching with paper handouts should not be forced to use this course management system if it does not work with their instructional style.

“I don’t think anyone should be forced (to use) pedagogical technology if it doesn’t work for them and their students,” she said.

In regards to Moodle, Baird said it is “the next biggest loading management system on campus.” He added that some teachers use a combination of tools, such as blogs and wiki sites, or web pages designed for class use, along with Compass.

Baird said Compass was purchased by Blackboard and was started six or seven years ago. It has various functions, including a whiteboard, live chat, discussion forums, grade books, grading rubrics and a blog function. Teachers can also embed Youtube videos to bring in content from other areas, he said.

Laurie Johnson, associate professor in Germanic Studies, said she uses Compass for only large classes to facilitate discussion forums.

“What I really like — I select discussion forums to get to know the students better,” Johnson said. “I like it for that reason. I don’t like teaching to the crowd. Students may participate more in the forum — they can really show what they know. The technology makes it easy.”

In discussion forums, students can start their own threads and talk about what they want, she added.

“If you have assignments shared online, you have a real audience and a dialogue about what’s being written,” Baird said. “It makes it more public and open — and that’s a powerful thing.”