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March 6, 2014

Changes expected to produce more user-friendly CourseWeb

In May, Pitt will debut the latest upgrade of CourseWeb, with new features and a design that is said to be more user-friendly.

Joe Horne, director of instructional services for the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE), said the user interface upgrade will allow faculty to have more control over how individual classes appear and function.

“We have a whole lot of people in CIDDE exploring the new features,” he adds — testing and documenting them and “making sure they do what Blackboard says they will do.”

Blackboard’s signature LMS — learning management system — is Learn, known as CourseWeb at Pitt but called many other things, and configured in many different ways, at other universities. Blackboard releases an upgrade every year, but Pitt doesn’t always utilize the upgrade, Horne says: “We want to let the other universities work out any issues … We wait until the platform upgrade is reliable and dependable.”

Among the new features that Horne dubs “very exciting” is in-line grading. Akin to Word’s track changes feature, it will allow faculty to put notes in the margins of student papers submitted via CourseWeb. “It’s a nice, elegant solution to what faculty do all day long, which is grading papers,” he says, adding that it will be a “productivity boon.”

The new CourseWeb also will have features akin to those offered by social media sites, such as student profiles within courses, which they will create and manage. “It’ll be interesting to see how the faculty and students choose to take advantage of it,” Horne says.

CIDDE still is determining how much of Learn’s profile-construction capabilities will be incorporated into CourseWeb.

CourseWeb classes have offered discussion boards for many years — they are an online education necessity. But too many students wait for one person to write something lengthy and intelligent, then chime in with a simple “Me too.”

In the CourseWeb revamp, faculty will be able to prevent this chorus of effortless agreement: They can prohibit students from seeing any posts until they first post their own substantive comments.

Changes to CourseWeb also will include an enhanced gradebook and class wikis, with more new features to be announced over the coming months, Horne says. His office currently is creating help documents for the changes — one set for faculty, another for students.

The specific new CourseWeb kickoff date, yet to be decided, will be sometime in early May.

—Marty Levine