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Updated 10:00 AM September 12, 2005
 

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Tools developed by partners accelerate CTools growth

CTools, U-M's institutional Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE), was upgraded in July as the next step in building a strong infrastructure for teaching and research at the University, and to enable portability of software modules, or tools, between institutions.

CTools version 2.0 enables U-M to implement major software components, such as assessment tools, e-portfolios, gradebooks, test and quiz systems, and lesson planning and course content building tools that have been developed by other partners in the Sakai community open-source software consortium.

The Sakai organization, http://www.sakaiproject.org, was co-founded by U-M in 2004 with Indiana University, MIT and Stanford University to develop an open-source CLE to capture innovation quickly, and as an alternative to commercial learning management systems. More than 70 major universities around the world are Sakai partners. Many are implementing the Sakai-based CLE on their campuses this fall, and several partners, including Indiana, University of California, Berkeley, Stanford and the Foothills-DeAnza system, also have or are in the process of developing tools to be shared with partner institutions.

"Last year, we laid the foundation for a new generation of collaboration and learning tools on our campus with CTools 1.0. By the end of that first academic year, CTools was being used by more than 28,000 students in 2,000 courses at U-M," says James Hilton, associate provost for academic, information, and instructional technology affairs. "This year, with CTools 2.0, we will begin to benefit from the work of software developers at dozens of other universities who are building on the Sakai platform we helped launch. We can already see that the pace of innovation and development of tools for teaching and learning is many times what we could achieve on our own."

During the summer, the new CTools 2.0 system was load-tested in a rigorous new environment—a mirror image of the production system, accessed at multiples of the highest expected volumes by virtual users. "We also collaborated closely with Indiana, who performed comparable load tests," Hilton says. "The results of these tests look very promising. But there is nothing quite like the real world of 30,000 or more students accessing the system, which is what we expect this semester."

Should the project run into performance issues that the load testing did not reveal, Hilton says the University has a team in place to address issues as soon as they surface. A Sakai-based CLE software, OnCourse, also is running in full production at Indiana this year, with 30,000 to 50,000 users anticipated.

"After one full week of classes they have been very pleased with the stability and the responsiveness of the system," Hilton says.

During the fall semester, a new tool developed at Indiana for creating and posting syllabi to sites—called Syllabus—will be available for the first time in CTools 2.0.

"Additional tools will be available as previews to faculty for evaluation and feedback before system-wide implementation," says Stephanie Teasley, research associate professor in the School of Information and director of the Duderstadt Center's Usability, Support and Evaluation Lab. "The tools we have planned for preview release later during the semester include Gradebook, developed at UC, Berkeley, and Test and Quizzes—also known as Samigo—developed at Stanford."

Joseph Hardin, chair of the Sakai Project board and director of the U-M Collaboration Technology Lab, where CTools development is based, says U-M is breaking new ground in realizing all user enhancements, adding a new tool and previewing several major tools for use in the enterprise CLE in a single year at marginal cost.

"This is the collaboration, the institutional leverage the Sakai partners imagined," he says. "To see it realized with CTools 2.0, with Indiana's OnCourse CLE, and at the other schools rolling out Sakai based systems this fall, all in just 18 months' time, is very gratifying."

In addition to the new tools made available in CTools 2.0, a number of end-user feature enhancements also have been incorporated, ranging from tab management to improved context-sensitive help, and integration with U-M Webmail from within CTools.

CTools also has replaced the collaboration software, WorkTools, widely used for research. WorkTools was retired in August after a planned migration and archiving program for existing sites was completed.

A list of new CTools features can be found at https://www.ctools.umich.edu/portal under "New for Fall05" in the left menu, before users login.

For more information or to request a preview of Gradebook or Tests and Quizzes, send an e-mail to Ctools@umich.edu.

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