First Look: Desire2Learn Essentials
2/27/2007—This week Desire2Learn introduced a new course management/learning management system--Desire2Learn Essentials--targeted toward smaller institutions: those with fewer than 5,000 users, including K-12 schools and districts, virtual high schools, colleges, universities, and e-learning programs. We have an exclusive first look at this new system.
The new tool, called Desire2Learn Essentials, offers functionality similar to that of D2L's large-scale Desire2Learn Learning Environment, along with customization features designed to enhance experiences for students and faculty alike. The hosted solution (hosted by Desire2Learn) is designed to deliver full-scale features but in a compact, modular design that can be customized at virtually every level of the interface--from the welcome screen all the way down to individual courses.
We'll take a look at these features from two user perspectives: student and instructor.
This "modular" interface is based on interface elements contained within "widgets." These are, essentially, blocks of information and links contained within modular sections. The screen shot below shows one possible configuration on a D2L Essentials home page.
This page contains six such widgets: a welcome box, which olds user preferences and other settings; an Updates box, which can contain notifications for users; an Events box listing due dates, new tests, etc.; a central News box, which contains a welcome message, general instructions and other information; a "MyCourses" box listing courses in which the user is enrolled; and a User Guides widget, which, in this case, contains links to PDF-based user manuals.
Each of these widgets can be fully customized to include additional information (or no information at all. For example, here we see the Updates box containing information just about e-mail messages.
And here's a version of the same widget containing e-mail messages and alerts regarding discussions and quizzes.
In addition, navigation elements at the top of the interface, as well as the look and feel and branding of the interface, can be customized according to the needs of the instructor or institution.
As a side note to this modular structure, the login widget for D2L Essentials can also be customized and placed anywhere on a school's site to provide easy access for students and other users.
For those moving from another CMS/LMS, Desire2Learn Essentials provides the capability to import SCORM- and IMS-compliant courses. t also includes a wizard-like interface for batch converting IMS-compliant packages.
Courses and course management Of course, at the heart of Desire2Learn Essentials is its course management features. From the student perspective, these features include a wide range of content, communications, organizational and assessment tools. From the instructor perspective, they also include tools for creating and modifying content, scheduling events, grading, reporting and various other features we'll touch on below.
First, the student features.
As we saw previously on the general welcome screen, each student has access to courses in which he or she is enrolled. Clicking on a course calls up a new page that contains, once again, custom widgets for access preferences and various other features; a course-specific navigation bar; and the course content itself.
Course content itself is fairly straightforward. It can include text, links, images, multimedia and common file types, such as Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, Word documents, etc. And tis content can be organized into modules and further organized into module sections. Within the course content is a collection of tools for help, feedback, printing, discussions, and basic navigation. Below you'll see an example of a section within a sample course module.
Beyond the course content itself, there are also several communications functions. These include an area for discussions, which includes access to statistics on individual users enrolled in the course (posts read and posts authored).
And it includes blogs, which can contain public and private entries, as well as e-mail, paging, notifications through interface widgets, feedback, and surveys. (On the administration side, surveys include a selection of typical question types, e-mailing custom survey invitations, restricting responses, reporting and statistics, course integration, and export to external systems.)
Assignments and tests are also handled directly though individual course. Assignments can be turned in using a drop box. Tests and quizzes are handled through the D2L Essentials interface. And there are also self-assessments, which are not graded but rather used by students to measure their own abilities prior to taking graded tests.
Once assignments and tests are submitted, students can access their grades immediately and, if given the option, can retake a test to improve their grades.
Outside of the courses themselves, students also have access to a calendar of events, a "locker" for storing files (with a fixed amount of usable space), self-enrollment capabilities for joining courses, and other statistical and organizational tools.
As with other course management systems, D2L Essentials includes the ability for users to have multiple rolls within an organization. A user might be a student in one course, an instructor in another, maybe a guest in another. Essentials provides unlimited organizational units and roles with granular permissions. Rolls can be switch through a widget known as the Rollswitch widget.
At all participation levels, much of the interface and workflow remain consistent. But the capabilities when accessing various features changes with the role of the user.
We previously looked at a course using a student login. Now we take a look at a related course using instructor access.
As with student access to a course, instructor access provides all of the common widget elements that have been set up; all of the course content, viewable just as a student would see it; quizzes and self assessments; and all of the other organizational, statistical, and communications tools.
However, instructors also have the ability to alter all of the various elements of a course and create new courses.
For example, with course content, instructors are provided tools for uploading, managing, and organizing text, images, and other content types. In the discussion area, instructors can create, delete, and otherwise manage forums. And for quizzes and self assessments, it includes the ability to create and grade various forms of tests.
Of course, it also provides a number of statistical and organizational tools. A "Class List" function provides instant access to all participants in a course, including staff and students, with one-click access to e-mail and instant messaging ("paging") through the D2L Web interface (seen below). The "Grades" function provides access to grades for all students in a course, organized automatically by assignments and tests set up within the system by the instructor.
The test engine within D2L Essentials provides a number of tools for creating graded and self-assessment tests, along with management features.
For the creation of tests, some of the specific features include:
- Setting general properties (test name and category, whether to export results to be graded, notification, hints, headers and footers, etc.);
- Setting restrictions (test active dates, prerequisites for taking the test, timing, IP restrictions, passwords, and special access);
- Number of attempts and method for calculating grades across multiple attempts (highest attempt, average of all attempts, etc.);
- Adding activities to a test;
- Determining view options for the user;
- Creating reports for the test (including class average, score distribution, bonus questions, question details, display of student comments, user statistics, etc.); and
- Creating the sections and questions to be included in the test.
Specific question types supported by the system include: true/false, multiple choice, log answer, short answer, multi-select questions, multi-sort answer, fill in the blank, matching, ordering, arithmetic, and significant figures. Questions can also contain textual information, images, hints, and feedback. The image below shows the setup for a true/false question (whose answer is clearly "true").
Test management features include the ability to share tests across multiple courses, share and randomize questions, edit tests individually, set the number of possible attempts at a test, set the method of calculating the grade for a test across multiple attempts, etc.
Setup, availability, compatibility
Desire2Learn Essentials is available now for institutions with fewer than 5,000 users, including colleges, universities, K-12 schools/districts, and e-learning programs. Support and hosting are both provided by Desire2Learn, which says that the system can be set up in about five business days from the time implementation starts. It's compatible with a variety of browsers on Mac and Windows systems.
Pricing is handled on a case by case basis.
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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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