Friday, July 22, 2005

The back door into the CMS

I supposed it is human nature for us in learning technology to measure our personal worth by how many faculty have taken up the software we support. Since the course management system is almost certainly the primary application, the focus is on its usage. Seemingly the norm we have in mind is 100% uptake, with intense utilization of the tool set within the CMS. Anything less than that ideal is deficient in some way and makes us feel inadequate.

I don't normally try to speak for the profession as a whole, but at the conference here I heard this point made multiple times from representatives of many different universities. Of course, it wasn't made directly. It was made about "back door" paths into the CMS.

One that got plenty of discussion at the sessions I attended was automatic final grade submission from the CMS into the Student Information System. This is a biggie. The thought is that if faculty don't have to enter final grades one by one on a per student basis that it will encourage use of the CMS grade book. (That is probably a reasonable assumption.) The related thought is that once the faculty use the the CMS grade book, they will start to use other features of the CMS - for instruction. I don't know about that, perhaps it's true.

A related thought I heard expressed is for the Registrar to advise the Provost to mandate CMS use for final submission of grades. In other words, don't allow the faculty to directly submit grades into the SIS but instead have it go through the CMS grade book. I'm really not sure how that adds to the integrity of the grade process, but perhaps it does by having only one path for the submission of grades. When I heard that suggestion, however, all I could think of was that we learning technologists are enlisting the Provost to help us achieve the 100% CMS use that we so covet.

Another back door path is via student ID photos linked to their entries in the grade book. Faculty would like to be able to match the name with the face and this is a ready way for that to happen. This is one I've been hoping we can deliver. I've had requests for this type of functionality and I'm quite sure it would increase usage.

The more we learning technologists focus on these back door paths, however, the less we have our eye on the teaching and learning. At my campus, where budgets will preclude us from supporting other applications in the foreseeable future, it would be good to get some leverage from the CMS on the teaching and learning front. Perhaps we should be paying more attention to the front door path and figure out more ways by which using the software benefits learners.

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