Can the Portal Simplify Instructors' Jobs, Too?
Richard Plant Reflects on Using Web Course Management Tools
Editor's note: In preparing this issue, the IT Times asked Dr. Plant to offer his perspective on course management tools featured on MyUCDavis. As the Chair of AC4, Dr. Plant has been involved in ensuring that instructors' needs are considered by the teams who develop MyUCDavis. As a Professor, Dr. Plant can recount the first-hand experience of a busy faculty member who utilizes the Web portal to make his job easier.
To paraphrase a well-known commercial slogan, at UC Davis, academics are our business—our only business. Thus, a new business architecture must also be a new academic architecture, designed with academics in mind. It must address the question: how can this technology be used to make our lives as faculty easier and more productive?
MyUCDavis: What's In It For Me?
When I started using course management tools available on MyUCDavis, I assumed that the extra effort to use them would be worthwhile, since it would make things better for the students. However, it surprised me that these tools made things much easier and more straightforward for me. Designed with the complete novice in mind, they can actually be mastered easily. Simple use of these tools saves me from dealing with the common hassles of administering a course. For example, the class email list comes in handy when I need to contact a whole class of students with last-minute announcements, and the class Web site makes it much easier to distribute materials or rapidly correct mistakes discovered in existing materials. Also, if someone outside the class wants to know about my course, I can simply refer them to the Web site for a complete description.
If you have the time and know-how to create a glitzy Web page, you probably created one long ago. For the rest of us, there is the MyUCDavis Website Builder which takes only an hour or so to learn and enables instructors to build effective no-nonsense Web pages.
To Professor Barbara Goldman of the Department of Education, these tools offer a number of conveniences. "For my students' use, I upload class lecture overheads, course assignments and assignment scoring guides, sample exam questions, links to class-related resources, and students' scores on course assignments," Goldman says.
How Faculty Use MyUCDavis Outside the Classroom
In addition to the course management system, MyUCDavis contains a number of other features, and continues to house new ones, such as My Contracts and Grants, which provides the Principal Investigator with direct, immediate access to DaFIS accounts of his or her grants. "I have been waiting for this feature for a long time," says Emilio Laca of Agronomy and Range Science. "It is probably the most important part of MyUCDavis. I estimate it will save me and my Research Assistant one hour a week. More importantly, I will be able to plan my research based on more accurate numbers, which will have an enormous positive effect."
Put the "My" in MyUCDavis: Get Involved
Since MyUCDavis is a campus-created tool, there is an excellent support staff readily available to the user. Professor James Griesemer of the Philosophy Department says, "One of the best things about MyUCDavis, besides the ease with which even novices can set up and maintain course Web pages, is the staff support behind it. When I have a technical problem or a suggestion, I get answers to my questions quickly. Very often, I see my suggestions for programming improvements implemented." The MyUCDavis Development Team even gives faculty the opportunity to influence how the tools are developed. For instance, this quarter some of my students were having difficulty accessing their grades in GradeBook. I found that the instructions were causing the students to select the wrong menu option. I sent the development team an email pointing this out, and the very next day the problem was corrected.
Log on to http://my.ucdavis.edu/. I urge you to get involved by contacting the MyUCDavis Development Team with suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquire about instructor training for MyUCDavis use at the Arbor by visiting http://arbor.ucdavis.edu/.