eLearning vs. iLearn

By Jennifer Hill

By the Fall 2009 semester at Marist, there will be a complete transition from Educator eLearning to iLearn. A majority of students have already begun to use iLearn or otherwise have seen the many Frisbees and flyers that iLearn is advertised on. Many students and professors alike have mixed reactions to the new system and the advantages and challenges that it brings.

However, Josh Baron, the Director of Academic Technology, as well as  eLearning and the rest of the team are making tremendous efforts to ease the transition for faculty and students.

The first question that most people want to ask is why Marist is transitioning from one system to another. The assessment of the technology needs of the college began about three years ago, where it was decided that Marist was outgrowing the eLearning system. ILearn has a wide range of capabilities that eLearning will not be able to offer.

ILearn is an open source project produced by the Sakai consortium. This group includes institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stamford University and Oxford who believe that they can create a product that is better than one available for purchase.

Since iLearn is not developed by a commercial company, the members have a great influence over what the system becomes in the future. Therefore, if users, including Marist students and staff have complaints about the system, the faculty can work to make changes.

At the end of the semester a survey will be produced to collect feedback from students and faculty.    “Dr. James Regan and some of his graduate students are to implement a college-wide survey on iLearn sometime towards the end of the spring semester. It is going to be a great way for students to give us feedback on what they would like to see in the future,” Baron said.

The new iLearn interface is shown above.

The new iLearn interface is shown above.

ILearn also includes many additional features, one of the most significant being the electronic portfolio. “It is a powerful way of giving students something else to leave Marist with besides a diploma and a transcript,” said Baron. The portfolio can be made available to people outside of Marist to show accomplishments that students have completed during their four years.

Another important feature of iLearn is iCollaborate sites that are designed to support an informal collaboration, which the Habitat for Humanity Club has already begun using.

“As we expand services such as this I think students will really start to see why we opted to choose this system over others because of capabilities such as these,” Baron said.

The system also includes features such as podcasts, wikis, and blogging.

However, even with all of the new features and benefits of iLearn, complaints are continuing to be heard around Marist campus. “ILearn is really hard to navigate,” said Lisa Odoardi, a sophomore at Marist. “Last year so many of my classes were on eLearning,which had a much simpler and straightforward format. It’s hard to make the transition.”

Tim Wall, a senior at Marist, says that he prefers eLearning to iLearn. “ELearning has a very basic format and at times iLearn is overwhelming. It’s difficult to transition after using eLearning for three years.”

Baron and the rest of the technology staff are prepared for comments like this one. “It would be shocking if people didn’t come forward and say it’s confusing,” Baron said. “Frustration and other negative reactions are a natural response to changing technology.”

Thus far, most of the reactions of students and teachers have been positive.  “We have not had anyone say that they want to return to using Educator which I think is another good sign,” Baron said.

Some students are discovering that Baron is right. Junior Trey Savage likes iLearn better than eLearning. “The interface looks more modern and easier to use. Marist made the transition simple,” Savage commented.

Many professors are also having mixed reactions to the new system. Professor Shannon Roper uses both eLearning and iLearn. “I see pros and cons for both systems,” Roper said. “Once you are familiar with one format it is difficult to get accustomed to another but iLearn will help Marist continue to develop.”

Multiple efforts are being made by Marist to try and make a smooth transition. For example, for faculty there are support materials, a help guide, and many workshops to introduce the new system. For students there is a web tutorial and a FAQ to guide them in using the program.

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