Friday, May 23, 2008

20 New Features in Desire2Learn 8.3

This weekend, Learn@UW (our Desire2Learn system), is down for an upgrade from D2L LE 8.1 to 8.3. Of course, such a big outage means there is absolutely nothing to do around here (kidding of course).

In preparation, I put together some of the key changes that our instructors will face when the system comes up. This isn't a perfect list. I'm sure I missed some other changes along the way. Some of the new features are a result of our tweaking permissions rather than a new feature that the vendor added. Some changes are due to the fact we are getting both 8.2 and 8.3 in this upgrade.

Here's a PDF of the full presentation with screen shots or screen captures.

What's New in Learn@UW? 20 Changes in (Approximately) 20 Minutes

1. Improved browser support. D2L now supports Firefox 2.0 on both Windows & Mac, Safari 2.0 and 1.3, and IE 6/7. (Someone in my presentation asked about Firefox 3 support (he said, "but it's Release Candidate 1"). Seriously.

2. Inactive course indicator.
D2L now displays a little gray icon with an exclamation mark for courses that are not active for student access. This will help cut down calls to the help desk, but I'd still prefer to see a loud red X or something more visible.

3. New icon set. Experienced D2L users might get a bit disorientated with the new look, but overall, it's an improvement.

4. New navigational elements. D2L now has a much more consistent navigational interface. Across almost all tools, buttons and menus are located in consistent places. I haven't measured this, but the navigational improvements seem to cut down on the number of clicks needed to do something.

5. Instructors can toggle the role of users in their course. This was something we implemented by adjusting permissions slightly.

6. Instructors can remove TA's and instructors for their course. Again, this was a UW-Madison permissions tweak to cut down on support cases.

7. New Groups tool on course navigation bar. To leverage the enhanced groups functionality, you need to put the Groups tool in the nav bar. I think the prominence of this tool will get people thinking more about how to consider groups in their course.

8. Groups - very easy setup. By simply selecting a few checkboxes, instructors can create workspaces for their groups that include group discussions, group dropboxes, and group file lockers.

9. Improved HTML Editor. This was a big deal for D2L. I believe they implemented the TinyMCE HTML editor. The editing area is expandable, the buttons are clear, and it should work well across supported platforms and browsers.

10. HTML editor is everywhere. We decided to enable the HTML editor for all tools. The result is that the editor appears in places we didn't expect. Many surprises here, but no red flags yet.

11. Grades - easier interface. Again, navigational improvements make the plethora of options/settings a bit easier to wade through.

12. Grades - setup wizard. This is cool. When an instructor first clicks their Grades tool, a screen appears that lists the current gradebook settings. It's called a wizard, but (unless I'm mistaken), it doesn't walk an instructor through each setting or option.

13. Grades - spreadsheet view. This is even cooler. Instructors have been wanting the gradebook to "act more like Excel". I think this new ability to click on gradebook cells and enter scores will appease many frustrated instructors.

14. Dropbox - ability to multi-edit. Instructors can now edit multiple dropbox folder names and settings on a single screen.

15. Improved accessibility. We haven't done our own testing (and probably won't), but D2L's documentation purports to many improvements aligning with W3C standards. Some stated enhancements include: proper image alt/null text, proper headers/titles for tables/frames, hidden skip links for navigation bars and widgets, and the overall improved interface standardization.

16. Content - expand and collapse modules.

17. Content - multi-edit. See #14.

18. Content - learner statistics. This feature provides content item-level stats such as number of users visited and average time spent on item. The value here is not in analyzing the minutia of data, but rather, giving the instructor a feel for who is using the material (and who is not).

19. Discussions - linked to gradebook. Like quizzes, discussion postings can now be graded and automatically connected to gradebook columns.

20. Discussions - ratings. Interesting. Instructors can optionally enable ratings so that students can rate each other's posts on a 5-star scale. Average ratings are calculated. I'm sure that instructors opinions on this feature will vary greatly.

Like I said, I know there are more changes than what I've noted here. Over time, I'm sure this list would change considerably once we get more experience in 8.3.x.


c.w. goad said...

Hey man, I'm in higher ed too and we're upgrading our D2L right now. Cool to know someone else is going through that. haha.

Live raw,

jeff said...

For those yet to face the upgrade to D2L 8.3, we made it. Overall, it was a very successful upgrade. We are now in the process of addressing the "little quirks" post-upgrade. You might find the following notes from our internal project manager useful:

"The 8.3 upgrade for University of Wisconsin (Learn@UW) is complete!

We started the outage on Thursday May 22 at 8pm and where back online by 5:30 pm
Monday May 26.

The D2L portion of the upgrade was estimated to take 76 hours. Actual duration was
42.5 hours....

The system was available for our campus site administrators to finish their portion of the
setup (Dome settings and other required changes) by 1PM on Sunday May 25.
We completed our batch integration testing and other user acceptance testing
by 5PM on Monday May 26 to meet the scheduled 'go live' at 7AM this morning,

We are currently addressing one issue with the deployment - we are unable to
edit quizzes (get a 500 error) on all but one of our application servers. D2L
has a hotfix ready and we are working on a deployment plan.

We still have several known issues still outstanding - the most significant of
which is grade submission. This is a custom process for Wisconsin and D2L
was unable to provide a fix for this prior to the upgrade. We received a last
minute fix from D2L on Friday and expect to have this fix tested and deployed

We are working on a more detailed report on the upgrade and will share later
in the week.

Overall, the upgrade went smoothly. I wish everyone else the best with their
8.3 upgrades and beyond!