A few weeks ago, I built a Facebook application over the course of a weekend for my classmates in the professional communication program at Royal Roads University. Its objective is simple: send timely and accurate notifications to students regarding deadlines for upcoming assignments.
Sending. That’s important. Students don’t have to look for deadlines with this application. The application pushes notifications to their Facebook profile. It also takes advantage of SMS. Students can choose to receive timely notifications on their cellphones, or send the application itself an SMS and have it reply with the next due date for any given course the student indicates. Finally, it provides a single page where students can see what’s due today, tomorrow, during the current week, what’s due next by course, and next deadline by group.
The application has been a tremendous success with 44% of the class signing up within two hours of the application launching, and 86% of students signing up within two days. The remaining 14% told me they’d use it, but aren’t on Facebook.
I’ve received many emails repeatedly saying something like, “Thank god you made this, its already saved me a couple times.” Others have thanked me for the time it saves them each week and in a couple cases, the stress it relieves them of.
You see, Royal Roads uses an online, open source, learning platform called Moodle. Which is great, except it lacks consistency across courses. The problem, as I see it, is that Moodle allows instructors (or whomever has proper authorization) to design their own folder structure to organize a course. Some instructors design by content type, others by topic or date, and some – and this is the worst – choose to put all of their assignment details, slides, etc., inside of a single forum.
Now, to be fair to Moodle, it has a calendar that provides you with assignments deadlines for all of your courses. It even allows you to export the data in iCal format for your own usage. However, there are limitations. For one, it only allows you to export 60 days worth of iCal data. What good is that? I’d like an entire semesters worth, thanks. Another point of frustration is it doesn’t take group work into consideration. Odd, I think, because Royal Roads makes group work such an essential part of a student’s learning. Remember, Moodle is open source; there’s nothing stopping Royal Roads’ IT staff from whippin’ that up. Lastly, and most importantly, its data is often incorrect. Instructors will change deadlines in the middle of a class and forget or choose not to update Moodle accordingly. This leads students into disarray. It’s hysterical to watch. Everyone is asking one another, while sifting through their notes, “When is this due? When is that due?” often followed by profanity of some nature.
Even when instructors deadlines are correctly posted to Moodle, a student still has to login to Moodle, select the course, sift through the folder structure (or use the calendar), and note the deadline. To me, there’s something that’s not quite right about this workflow. In my opinion, I think Royal Roads should be encouraging the use of existing social networking platforms, like Facebook, to bring the learning experience to students – not the other way around. It’s already been proven, through my simple application, that students prefer this method.