By Danielle Stoppelmann, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 5, 2012
Though CTools still features its familiar blue banner, Information and Technology Services added a slate of new tools to the website in an update that was made over the summer.
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The new system version 2.7.2A launched on Aug. 4, was designed to enhance the learning experience beyond the classroom by further integrating tools from Google and other external sources into CTools.
Students and faculty now have access to core Google apps including e-mail, documents, calendar and Google+ accounts. A new feature called Box also provides users with 50GB of external cyberspace storage where documents can be saved and shared.
The new version of the website also strives for increased interactivity through integration of Piazza, an online social media tool that allows students to ask questions and review instructor responses. Interactive training modules on responsible conduct in research as part of the University’s Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship Research Integrity Project are also now available through the site.
Sean DeMonner, director of Information and Technology Services Teaching & Learning, wrote in an e-mail interview that the new applications will give students and instructors more opportunities to interact beyond lectures and discussions.
“The structured learning environment of CTools and the collaborative environment of Google Apps complement each other nicely and provide a bridge from the formal learning space to the social and experiential learning space,” DeMonner said.
DeMonner added that it is a “navigational plus” to have the ability to access these external tools from the CTools site.
User feedback was an integral part of the upgrade process, DeMonner said. Students and faculty gave feedback via the 4-HELP phone hotline, user-testing and CTools evaluations led by students in the School of Information. ITS internship students also helped design and develop tools.
To ensure that users understand and fully utilize the new tools, ITS has held faculty workshops, interactive webinars, and additional help resources about CTools will continue to be offered throughout the year.
DeMonner added that the staff is constantly working to develop new tools and applications for CTools.
“Our goal is to continue to increase and enhance the functionality of CTools by integrating more external tools and making CTools serve as a sort of hub for access to many applications and services,” DeMonner said.
LSA freshman Tyler Ryder said he noticed the Aug. 4 changes to CTools while taking summer courses at the University.
“I feel like it will help,” Ryder said. “It will be a time-saver and it will also be a stress reliever.”
Ryder added that he thinks the Piazza forum will allow for more personal interaction between students and instructors.
“It puts you more on a one-on-one basis with your professor, and keeps you closer,” Ryder said. “It’s almost like going back to high school again, where you can actually sit and talk to your professor even if it is a big lecture.”
Hayley Knouff, an LSA sophomore, said she doesn't know how to fully utilize CTools and would like to learn more about the tools that are available to her.
“I think they really do need to spend a little more time showing us how to use it because it’s a really good resource to organize,” Knouff said. “I will probably go home and explore and see what new things are on there.”
LSA sophomore Zainab Masood said she has assignments due on Piazza and is uncomfortable with the tool’s lack of privacy.
“I don’t like that what I have to say is going to be seen by everybody,” Masood said. “I guess it’s incentive to work harder and make what you say sound good.”