What’s So New About New Courseworks?

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New New New New New Courseworks

After a night of interminable logging back into New Courseworks, Bwog started to wonder how it all started. We interviewed the Columbia Center for New Media and Teaching and Learning’s Dan Beeby to learn the what, how and why of New Courseworks. 

Bwog: What does New Courseworks have that Old Courseworks didn’t? Why did you decide that an update was needed?

Dan: The old CourseWorks system was based on software called Prometheus, which was originally developed by The George Washington University in the late 1990’s. Moments after Columbia adopted the system in 2001 it was bought by BlackBoard (they intended to move all of Prometheus’ clients into BlackBoard). Along with the Business School and Teachers College, Columbia continued to run and develop the Prometheus-based CourseWorks over the ensuing decade. Prometheus became outdated and the hardware and software that ran it became harder to acquire and support. The aged features and dwindling industry support for the hardware and software compelled the University to find a new option.

The new system is based on open-source software called Sakai ( that is being used and developed by a community of hundreds of higher ed institutions around the world. It is constantly improving and changing to meet the needs of educators and students. It has many robust tools and it promises to be an excellent platform for integration with other tools like WikiSpaces and (hopefully) some Google tools going forward.

B: What was the process like for developing New Courseworks? How long did it take?

D: Since CourseWorks’ inception in 2001 there has been a CourseWorks Advisory Committee comprised of library staff, faculty, and administrators. In 2008 that group made a strong case to the University administration that Columbia needed to change its course management system.

The project was approved and, once funding came through in 2011, the CourseWorks Team (CUIT staff and members of about a dozen other administrative units) quickly began to roll out the service under the name “New CourseWorks.” The Medical Center (CUMC) and a handful of Morningside departments moved in Fall 2011. In Spring 2012, the School of Social Work (CUSSW) and a number of Arts and Sciences (A&S) departments began the move. In Fall 2012 all of the remaining schools and departments moved into New CourseWorks.

B: Columbia students are especially excited about the new roster feature, because everyone likes to keep tabs on their classmates. Was there a specific reason that this feature was introduced?

D: The roster tool has been available to faculty for some time. In the past, it was restricted from students because of privacy concerns — primarily around a law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, after consulting with the University’s attorneys it became clear that students could be allowed to opt in (to allow their profile photo to be available within the roster tool). And CUIT began work on rolling that out.

B: Do you have any secret Courseworks tips or tricks?

D: Secrets? I do have a few tips, but hopefully they’re not secrets. First, I hope that students and faculty realize that their course sites are directly addressable–so bookmarks to course sites will work in any browser. Additionally, the “My Workspace” (on the left side of the “My Courses” page) is potentially very useful to faculty and students: there are unified calendar and announcements pages, and each CourseWorks user gets a small, UNI-authenticated “Files & Resources” space for their personal use.

B: Is there any sort of inspirational vision about the role of Courseworks as a tool for students and teachers at Columbia?

D: We at CCNMTL hope that instructors and students encounter CourseWorks as a useful tool that helps them in their teaching and learning. That said, we’d never claim that any course management tool offers some sort of magic elixir that can fix any classroom experience.

As some instructors begin to rethink their teaching and adopt new techniques, we hope that CourseWorks will play a positive role in that evolution. If there are other tools that can help in the process, we at CCNMTL are prepared to discuss curricula with faculty members and departments and work to improve teaching and learning across the board.

Futuristic space ship via Shutterstock

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  2. Anonymous  

    a bunch of my professors have stopped using courseworks because they liked the old one more than the new one. now they just maintain their own website or use some other site like piazza.

  3. GS '14 [JAL]

    Most of the CS department?

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