Integrating D2L-Drupal Via LTI #USGRockEagle13

Tom Boyle, Kennesaw State University

  • Half Drupal and half Desire2Learn interest.
  • Request to determine how to decrease time it takes for an online student to go from application to orientation to advisement to registration.
  • Orientation took place in Desire2Learn.
  • Script looks for applicants in Banner and creates the user in Bulk User Management. Registrar enrolls them in the course.
  • Student takes the quiz.
  • Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is a way to integrate systems parallel to an LMS without the need for separate custom integrations. Custom output module  uses D2L external learning tools and LTI.
  • Drupal link is not world readable and users do not have to login. D2L configuration familiar. Open source allowed to write custom code to output to Banner. Sometimes the user does not click the button within Drupal so nothing gets captured. Maybe they should automatically click the button for them?
  • YAY!! Tom is using his test instance of D2L to demo instead of production. Love it when our clients use our services right.
  • URLs are not usable unless sent over by Desire2Learn ELT. Yay, for security.
  • Added LTI Tool Provider and OAuth-PHP libraries to Drupal.
  • Got to explain to Tom what some of the values he sees in the session variables.

Discussion:

  • Alternative method:
    • Intelligent agent emails an address to inform them the orientation is complete.
  • KSU going to use similar method for putting staff into course(s) for Ethics test. Really anything where Tom needs to get new users into D2L fast.

Athensdating.org

Writing a Blog Post About This Scam I noticed a little black and white sign: “Single? athensdating.org” a while ago. A couple weeks ago it came up in conversation. Today I saw it again. So I visited the site.

First impression: A local site should have images to represent something about the locality. Generic stock photography doesn’t cut it for me. The signup for wanted my home and cell phone numbers.

That sounded phishy to me.

Domaintools.com is a great site for looking up who runs a site. If the owner has selected privacy options with their registrar, then that would be a snag. Fortunately for us, the owner of athensdating.org isn’t hiding.

Owner: NuStar Solutions

The note “Email address is associated with about 4,690 domains” caught my eye. So I looked up NuStar and found this article about these popping up everywhere. (At least DomainTools gave me the info in one shot without having to do the same extensive research.) Lots of stuff online about these signs, who is placing them, and whether or not this is a scam.

I’m just going to assume it is a scam.

Picture info: Writing a Blog Post About This Scam on Flickr from sneezypb

Confidentiality

A student wants Blackboard Vista to not reveal his or her last name. The student has already gone to the Registrar and gotten a confidentiality flag placed on the record. As I understand it, this flag in Banner is a FERPA protection to prevent the record from being provided to parties external to the university. It does not provide anonymity within the university. That electronic systems are being scrubbed of the student’s last name means something more than just confidentiality.

We only create new and not update from our student information system (SIS). So in general, the last name should not revert.

The instructor must know who the student is in order to correctly assign grades. If grades were automatically sent back to the SIS, then it would match the IMS id to the what is in the SIS. The user name or any other name is immaterial and not a confounder to the process. Unfortunately, our faculty has to manually transfer the grades. Some rely on the WebCT id / username. Others rely on the first and last name. I guess without names, this latter group is going to have to deal with relying on the WebCT id.

Only username, first and last name, and role are populated into the grade book. So moving the last name to another name field (like other, prefix, or suffix) would not help.

The last name appears to be part of their scheme for creating usernames, so they will likely need to change the username if the point is to not let anyone know what it is. The school in question does not appear to populate their Vista user records with a school email address. So I don’t know if the same would need to be done with it as well.

Blackboard Vista 3.0.7 does have issues with renaming the last name. While many things are immediately updated (good), some things are not. This is not a comprehensive list.

  1. The last name in the grade book was not updated. Removing the user from the section and restoring it to the section changed the name to the correct one.
  2. The last name in discussions was not updated.

So while renaming the account is easy to do, not everything takes place as quicklly as we would like.

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Everything to Everyone

This is intended to be a more thoughtful response to Laura regarding Course Management Systems and the need for innovation.

Currently, Course Management Systems are bloatware. They got this way by trying to provide everything to everyone. One instructor wants a feature, the university presses for this feature, the CMS programmers put in the feature. Okay, maybe not even 1/2 the time, but given that we have about 15,000 instructors, even a tenth getting a tenth of what they want adds up very quickly. Where they overlap is where companies feel the pressure to add these features.

In my experience, people have found CE and Vista clunky and difficult to use since 2001ish. Basically, that was when the shiny newness wore off at Valdosta State. If anything, then its gotten worse over time. Personally, I think this is the case because its not easy to use. Part of this lack of ease is because of the sheer number of possible actions required to accomplish frequent tasks. Another part is the overwhelming possible branches one might take [1] in the decision tree. Part of what makes us intelligent is visualizing the goal and taking the steps necessary to get is there. When software is not easy to use, the users feel stupid because they cannot figure out how to get to the goal.

Think about the complaints we have been seeing about CE6 from people using CE4. They are griping about features they are used to using disappearing. No one wants to lose the features or options they frequently use. They also wish the features or options they never use would disappear.

From what I’ve seen, instructors will make use of what the university
provides. When universities don’t provide what instructors want, then
these instructors will find what they want elsewhere and make use of
it. Large companies take a long time to integrate new features. By the
time they figure out the user base wants something, incorporate it,
release it, and customers implement it, the users have become used to
using it elsewhere are not attracted to a feature they’ve been using
for years elsewhere. So then we invoke FERPA and whatever to move them
to the CMS which is more clunky than what they were using already.

So enough with my griping… What is the solution? Well, maybe we should think about what a Course Management System should do?

  1. Course management: This means it provides the university administration means by which they can control access to classes. Its not for the faculty so much as provosts, vice presidents, and registrars to be comfortable the university is not allowing students to take something without paying the institution.
  2. Learning: Specifically, these are communication of concepts and evaluation of concept comprehension.

In a nutshell, #1 is the course list and administration screens while #2 is the course internals. If our focus is recreating the university in an online environment, then the CMS is the right approach. By importing the data from the student information system, we build a hierarchy just like the course catalog and put students into virtual representations of these classes. This mindset is where instructors want to build classes that consist of their lectures, the assignments, and the assessments. Its the face-to-face class online. Thankfully, online classes are moving to using tools to better utilize the advantages of the WWW. However, the focus is more towards improving peer discussion.

Maybe this approach isn’t the best one for learning? Last month I read a few articles off a web site advocating a different model: students gathering and creating information themselves (Personal Learning Environment). The instructor in this model becomes more of a mentor like independent study or how universities functioned at the time of our Founding Fathers. I’ve been hearing this is the direction education ought to take for over a decade now. However, I think its unlikely as its easier on the instructor to use the bird shot approach. 🙂

My Approach: The CMS is only an integration framework to provide access to tools. It doesn’t try to provide these tools at all. There are hundreds of wiki products who are better at some things depending on how its used. Why should the CMS think it can do it better than all of them? Same thing applies to blogs, social bookmarking, file sharing, etc. This means universities will provide a number of these tools and support dozens of different applications and integrate them all. We will have to better understand data flow, security, how all these pedagogically work well together. It’ll be a nightmare.

[1] One of things I unfortunately still do is recreate the user’s actions by figuring out what they clicked on in the recorded session. Much of the problems we see are user error, probably through not understanding the ramifications of the action.