why does university supported courseware have to suck so badly?


As I prepare to return to RIT this fall, I'm having to take a look at the new university courseware that they implemented while I was away. We used to use a system called Prometheus, which I wrote about in 2003 in an entry that was one of my most linked-to and commented on. We now use a system called Desire2Learn, and when I went to the main page of the site today, I saw this:

Screen shot of system requirements, which explicitly exclude Firefox

WTF? I can't use Safari. I can't use Firefox. They want me to download a third browser onto my system so that I can use this ridiculous piece of bloatware?

I don't think so.

This is exactly why I created my Movable Type courseware way back when, and I guess I'll be spending part of my summer getting it updated to run more smoothly with the current version of MT...or possibly porting it over to WordPress.



The sad thing is that now we have to use this in the IT dept instead of FirstClass, which I had a few complaints about but really worked nicely as a group collaboration tool.

A little "woot!" for WordPress. WP still doesn't support multiple blogs from one install out-of-the-box, though there are various hacks/plugins people have created to support that. I think that's one of the big features you mentioned wanting in a CM for your courseware.

Wow. That is just so. . . incomprehensible! I mean, about 40% of the visitors to my blog use Firefox and about 20% of my students do (results of in-class polls). That little list up there is strange! Why support Netscape and older versions of Mozilla browsers but not the current Firefox line?

Really, is the "functionality" of IE that good that these software developers can't support something else? Makes me happy we're sticking with WebCT for the immediate future -- at least it plays nicely with Firefox.

I hope you're also letting your IT department know what a bad choice they made with this switch. Gah!

I successfully used Firefox and Camino on the Mac Desire2Learn system at RIT all last year. Not sure what 'features' I was missing, but I guess they wern't that critical.

Another WTF is the Discussions module. It is horrible -- poor usability. Now that I think of it, the who systmes suffers from poor usability.

I think the features that are most affected are the editing functions, which is an issue if you want to, say, *create* course content. :P

Hi Liz,

As someone who was a part of the IT team that was working to implement this, I never felt warm and fuzzy about the product. I left RIT before the product was rolled out, but reading your post today about Desire2Learn was not a surprise.


To focus on your title question--which every educator I know agrees with--there is a yawning disconnect between the people who have to use this software, the people who select it, and the people who design it. Most of it doesn't begin to approach a reasonable environment for pedagogy. One of my frustrations for distance teaching was using a "courseware" product that was really just a Web app correspondence course, and at that, far more cumbersome than such a course should have to be.

Give 'em heck, Liz. Oh, and welcome back to the real world ;-)

According to this blog entry the html editor bug to which you refer is fixed with version 8 of Desire2Learn.

Hi, Liz -

Courseware sucks because it's stupid software from the get-go. When it comes right down to it, courseware is nothing more than a whole bunch of common communication pieces like ez web authoring, email lists, threaded discussion, quizzing and surveys, file sharing, etc, combined with a small set of course administrative functions (grading, class lists, access control) that are derived from the central student system.

A properly thinking institution (of which there are very few if any) would figure out ways to create open interfaces that allow its departments, faculty, and researchers to combine pieces in loosely joined fashion.

That of course, turns out to be easier said than done, especially when you're dealing with personally identifiable information that's FERPA protected as student records, but it's not an impossible set of tasks. It gets considerably more difficult, we've found out the hard way, when you're dealing with constant pressure to "just adopt one of the commercial options like everybody else does".

Speaking of which, I'm working on a research bulletin for the Educause Center for Applied Research on the use of social software in academia, so if you'd care to make any observations on what you're learned from using MT or other social software in your courses or research, I'd be happy to hear them. I'm interested in what new forms of interaction the software has fostered that were either more difficult or just not possible before using the software.

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This page contains a single entry published on June 21, 2006 10:16 AM.

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