Brace Yourself in Lessons

So everyone likes new features – as long as they add value and they’re not too hard to use.  A new feature in Sakai is a special set of ‘codes’ you can use to refer to the logged in user by first name. This neat feature was developed by the good folks over at University of Dayton based on an effort to personalize the interaction students have with course content. Dayton later shared the feature with the larger open-source Sakai global community.

The feature works in any rich text edit window of the Lessons tool and it’s simple to use.  Let’s say you’d like to welcome students to a course with something like the following:

Welcome to the course! I’m so glad you’ve registered and checked into the course!

It’d be great if you could draw the student’s attention to something in the content using their first name or something like this:

Welcome to the course! David I’m so glad you’ve registered and checked into the course!

You can use the following text to do so:

Welcome to the course! {{firstname}} I’m so glad you’ve registered and checked into the course!

entering the text right in the rich text edit area. Don’t use the SOURCE toggle button.  Once you save the change, you’ll see the result with your name – and anyone else who logs into the course will see their name in that area. You can even change the font color of {{firstname}} or {{lastname}} or {{fullname}} to draw even more attention.

Here’s a 73 second video showing the feature:


Setting dates for an Assessment

Setting dates for what’s due in a course is often a complex process even if you’re not using some sort of digital mechanism to do so – making sure to include your late policy, correct for official out of class dates and long holidays can be a challenge.  It can be done though by thinking about things ahead of time and knowing how to set them in the course.

When using Tests and Quizzes in a course for assessment, setting the dates is pretty simple, esp. if it’s the only thing you’re doing. Creating an assessment is another conversation entirely (because it’s also a complex concept – depending on what you’re trying to do).

If you’ve been given a course to prep, or if you’ve already got your assessments built in Sakai and just need to make them ready for students to take, you can follow the directions for each assessment:

Step 1. In the course, go to Tests and Quizzes

Step 2. Below the Create from Scratch area, on the Working Copies tab (a), select Settings from the Select Action drop down menu (b) for the Quiz you want to adjust or change.


Step 3. On the new page, in the Availability and Submissions section, select the new available, due and late acceptance dates, and other settings as you deem necessary.

Step 4. Select Save Settings and Publish

Step 5. Confirm the setting and choose notification settings.

Step 6. Select the Publish button.


That’s it.  Note, also once an assessment is published, if you need to adjust the date/time again, be sure to do so from the Published Copies tab, instead of the Working Copies tab. As long as you’ve not changed the assessment title, if you’ve inserted it previously into a Lesson, it should be good to go. If it doesn’t seem to work from there, just go to the Lesson, and re-insert the link to the assessment, using the Add Content menu.

Using External Content in Sakai

Embedded Video
Embedded Video

One of the great things about the Lessons tool in Sakai is the ability to bring applicable content together from lots of different sources.

This isn’t so much a function of Sakai as it is a function of standard HTML, most of the code that structures the majority of web pages on the Internet today.

The Lessons tool affirms this ability to integrate content together using what is commonly referred to as embed codes.

The Lessons Tool

The Lessons Tool long ago replaced the Modules tool and is really the go to place for constructing chunked or organized course content by way of logical units or chronological portions of content into weeks.  Many faculty are using the Lessons tool, and all of the University’s online courses use it prolifically.

Adding content is as simple as using the common text editor (FCKeditor) which is a WYSIWYG style editor, which has been replaced by the CKeditor in Sakai 2.9.1.

The Lessons tool has several major components or mechanisms you can use to add content to your course site, including:

  • Add Text
  • Add Multimedia
  • Add Resource
  • Add Subpage
  • Add Assignment
  • Add Quiz
  • Add Forum
  • Add Comments Area
  • and more!

So how does all this come together?

Well essentially you have to do something. Hey, what were you expecting anyways? The best way to do so is to:

  1. Create your course components.
  2. Organize those components logically.
  3. Use Lessons to bring them all together.

Basically this means getting most of the individual bits and pieces of your course together ahead of time.  Gather, organize and create your course Assignments, online Assessments, Forums and other important content.  Once that’s done use the Lesson tool to bring it all together, allowing the content to appear in context within the Lesson – in Sakai:

Lessons: Content in Context
Lessons: Content in Context

This process is sort of like getting ready to baking a cake or making a batch of cookies.  It takes ample time and preparation, which includes the need to gather all the individual ingredients together. Each of the individual parts of the course are the individual ingredients. Constructing that content in Lessons is like mixing all the ingredients together, and teaching it? Well that’s like the baking process.

Try to keep the look and feel of each of your Lesson sections consistent in how they look and feel, retaining familiar navigation cues (like buttons, links, locations and color indications).  My grandfather always said the thing he loved about Walmart was that they were all mostly laid out the same, even though the stuff they had inside was different from season to season. You can do this pretty simply by designing a single Lesson with the structure you want, and then duplicating that Lesson and changing it accordingly. (To do so, using the Lesson as you’ve built it, click More Tools>Add More Pages.  In the pop up window, give the page a Title and be sure to place a checkmark next to”Make new pages copies of the current one”.)

Every course shouldn’t be perfectly identical. There’s a certain level of expectation students can rely on, and even come to appreciate when the content itself adheres to a structure w/o infringing on the content or compromising on the mechanism for delivering it. Doing so helps the technology to ‘get out of the way’ and allows students to ‘get on with the learning’.

Using Embed Codes

May different web services provide what are referred to as Embed codes – these codes – short segments of HTML code (which may look like this):

Sample Embed Code
Sample Embed Code

provide the means by which content from other sources can be included in text areas of the Lessons Tool.  Not all embed codes work the same.  You should note that content that’s pulled from another location on the Internet, which the University or you yourself do not have access to, might be removed by the owner or made private by the content provider.  (This can easily happen with YouTube content as some of our instructors have experienced.)

Johnson does have its own online streaming service that allows the University to retain access to uploaded academic audio or video content. If you want to know more, contact the University’s Online Education Department.

On the other hand, embedding content is a great way to extend the variety and access to applicable content within the context of the course. Most online services provide some type of embed functionality (often by way of a SHARE button), some of which include:

PowerPoint Web App
PowerPoint Web App

Keep in mind you can also use the Web Content and News tools to pull content in from other locations on the Internet, w/o having students click to another site only to loose their ‘place’ in the course in Sakai.

Keep in mind that Fair Use and Copyright requirements may be present for any or all of the content you elect to use in a course.