The background

We are serious about improving the learner experience in Saylor Academy courses. While we are pretty good guessers when it comes to the things that ought to change, the most important input of all will come directly from learners.

To play with some ideas, we have created a hosted instance (that is, a Saylor Academy version) of the open-source edX platform with some units from our BIO102 (Introduction to Evolutionary Biology and Ecology) course loaded in.

What we are asking

If you have the right combination of time and interest, we would love to invite you to “register” for our test-version of BIO102, explore the site and features, and provide feedback on an intake survey and on an exit survey. Your feedback on what you like and what you do not, on what works and what does not, will allow us to shape the user experience of the forthcoming version of our site.

Some important details

  • Nearly everything should be covered under ‘How to begin’, below. If you need to get in touch, the good folks behind this project are available at feedback [at] edx [dot] saylor [dot] org
  • This is not an official Saylor Academy course — there is no certificate and no exam. This is just for some (serious) fun for everyone.
  • This is not a full course (we DO have a full BIO102 course on our site, however).
  • This is not an official edX course — it is a Saylor course on a version of the open-source edX platform, hosted on Saylor Academy servers.
  • The test site has bugs, including broken links and placeholder text. It is a “rough draft” and our focus is on the student interaction with the course materials themselves.
  • Registering for this test site is different from the normal Saylor Academy registration.
  • This is utterly and completely optional.
  • The format is fairly loose — how and when you engage with the test site is largely up to you; we will not actively guide or instruct, but there will be a beginning survey and an ending survey to learn your thoughts, and you certainly can send comments our way through other methods, too.
  • The window for this project is about two months — we will shut down access by mid-July.

How to begin

19 thoughts on “Invitation to play-test our Evolutionary Biology and Ecology course

    1. Probably less game and more “study”, although we definitely need more games. You are welcome to take a look at the course, no obligation!

  1. You can’t be serious??? I’ve done a number of courses there (and finished them too). All they have going for them is the marketing power of “MIT” and “Harvard”. Technologically and logistically edx is a HUGE step backwards for online learning. edx is really bad – as a platform. Sure, the courses and instructors still get knowledge across, but:

    edx brings the brick-and-mortar institutional limitations to the web. Timed courses? Limited attempts at finding solutions to problems? All there!

    The forum is the industries WORST! Anything but the latest posts are very, VERY hard to even get to. Even if you “subscribe” to a topic, when you do that a couple of times your personal “subscribed” list is as unmanageable as the entire forum.

    To me, knowing edx and several other learning sites and having been doing all the online learning I can for a while (I already have a graduate degree, don’t care about certification and look mostly at subjects thus far completely foreign to me as an IT person) this sounds like bad news.

    Online learning and CBT (computer based training) are VERY different from how edx does it. What they do is as far as at all possible a 1:1 translation of the mortar classroom and centuries old educational institutions to the web. I am VERY afraid that they will be bale to hamper development of better options merely by existing.

    1. I can tell you feel…strongly…about this issue. I assure you that we are NOT planning to jump on to this platform — our education team is mostly looking to see what features people like (and what they do not), what works (and what does not).

      In that vein, this is valuable feedback, and I will make sure our ed/tech teams see this comment.

      Thanks, Michael, and I apologize if perchance we gave you a fright! I will be interested to know your thoughts when we do switch our tech platforms, however.

      1. Hello Sean,

        I registered for the course and skimmed over the content. To me, at a glance the material does seems more organized than usual Saylor Academy courses and a little easier on the eye. Although, I must add that if one continues to use the website for a while one does get used to it, so it’s not vastly different than before. And as Michael mentions, the Edx platform has its own problems. The biggest that I (and I know of some others at least) have faced are huge video files (a 6 minute video took up 256 MB size!); which is a shame really, because technical problems aside the course itself was good. The youtube links also keep appearing and disappearing from time to time. I have to pay for every extra MB I consume beyond a certain limit to my internet service provider. Added to this the fact that reading assignments are at least as effective as lecture sessions, I fail to understand the recent hype over primarily-video based courses.

        The biggest drawback of all (both on edx, coursera and other place), as Michael says are timed courses and limited attempts. I think Saylor provided a nice solution to the issue – grades based only on a final exam with a high-enough pass-percentage, and the option of attempting the exam again, with more preparation after a few weeks. I think that takes care both of the rigor of the grading process and the leeway that learners need to keep studying on their own.

        My only requests to are these – please do not introduce timed courses and keep your reading assignments intact. The basic nature of your courses is just perfect, please keep it that way.


      2. > I can tell you feel…strongly…about this issue.

        That is an observation, but it has no bearing on the validity (or not) of my message?

        I have an MS degree and I do as much learning often in completely unrelated fields (that I have no practical use for, like medicine and chemistry). The problem I expect CBT and online learning to solve is that 90% of all brick-and-mortar educators are not good, to say the least. That is no fault of their own and not a weakness of those people. It’s just a natural distribution of the ability to teach, coupled with todays climate where university staff gets credit first of all for money-making research and not nearly enough for teaching. I saw postings (reddit) where university staff said their university had told them they will get ZERO credits for teaching.

        I expect CBT/online courses to be developed using THE BEST that all people in the field together can come up with.

        edx attempts to give each and every university a playing field for THEIR course. To a degree it works, because this is new and there are so many different courses, that thus far they manage to actually have only one course for each problem. So right now there only is one course on “Medicinal Chemistry”, only one course on “xxx”, etc. But even if that were to remain so, it would be the course of that one university only! People who have taken many edx courses may have noticed the big difference in quality.

        What I expect from a platform that yes, you have to work with the given constraints of the current system and of having to make ends meet. But as far as possible, keep working on an ideal. There should be ONE great course for a subject developed using the BEST educators and teachers and presenters and materials, in collaboration between everyone in that field.

        It may be tempting, because it’s easy, to go the edx route and limit oneself, as a learning platform, to working with universities to just be a platform where they can present their online activities. It would be sooo much better to try to get them to work together to let them jointly provide one GREAT course (“biology 101”) instead of per-university. I want collaboration, not a continuation of the offline world on the Internet. Not because that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy but because very few professors have the ability to provide a great learning experience even on campus – and that is okay, it is quite natural that *great* educators are as rare as math prodigies. That’s why we have the Internet to make them, i.e. their work, available to many. If instead we make the many available, what’s the point?

        PS: The text field I enter this text into has a light blue background and darker (but not really dark) blue text color while I’m typing, and white text color when the field has no focus. Please change the CSS 😉

        1. Just an observation, indeed, and meant as humor — but lacking the appropriate emoticon: 😉

          One problem with the best-known MOOCs, as currently deployed by the several biggest players in the field, is that they are insufficiently “open” to invite iteration and improvement. Of course, some see that as a feature, not a bug.

          Imagining these ideal, canonical courses as open-source software opens the door to individual academics and scholars — especially those with a knack for both learning and teaching — to tinker and iterate upon and enliven the courses.

          Re: CSS — yes, indeed. Also, paragraph spacing issues and a few div quirks. We are likely to shift to a new blog platform (or hit the reset button, so to speak, on our WordPress instance) rather than shore up the CSS, however.

          Thanks, Michael!

  2. Hello Sean,
    being a huge fan of both Saylor Academy and Edx I can just say I can’t wait to see Saylor courses on the Edx software, it would be a great improvement from the UX perspective. And if I can express a personal preference about the first courses to ‘edxfy’, please.. Mathematics and Computer Science!

    1. Hi Leonardo, very glad to hear! What is likely is that we will port a number of courses over to a new platform, which is not edX but will be, we think, great from a UX standpoint. Many math and CS courses should be among those that are first to upgrade.

  3. great! I started the CS / Math paths here on Saylor some months ago, and the contents are simply wonderful. I’m sure with the Edx software (the opensource platform, not the website itself 😉 ) they will get the light they deserve.

  4. Please redesign the certificates and make them look a little more professional.

    1. We will need to change them shortly. Did you have in mind something close to the Coursera or Udacity certificates? What would you like added or taken away?

  5. okay, here’s a few suggestions – the “Certificate of Achievement” in white over blue background is nice, but it looks ribbon like at the ends which should be gotten rid of.
    the big ‘S’ looks a little odd/kiddish. i think the plainer the cert with regard to unnecessary things the better its looks. you might consider including a couple of sentences about the course in the cert, but then again to do justice to a whole course in just 2 lines probably won’t be possible..perhaps a separate pdf file containing the course learning outcomes.
    the verification code is an important feature and i am glad saylor academy recognizes that, but including signatures or atleast the names of the course makers /professors or someone high-up in saylor academy who oversees the whole thing won’t be a bad idea.
    oh, and yes, the white background is nice.

  6. It would be a valuable enhancement to move the Saylor courses over to an “EdX-like” web platform as this will provide much more functionality and structure to the courseware packages at relatively low cost to Saylor (as I understand the Mooc website host will have relatively low costs). The Mooc website automation features will also assist with lessening the workload for Saylor staff. I agree that the largest audience will come if the first courses to port across are Computing and Economics/Finance/Business subjects. The Cert-accomplishment feature is also useful for students and so will attract more users to the site. I would suggest putting more intricate “watermarks” on the “Certificate” (as other mooc-sites have done) as we’ve all learnt on the “web” that it won’t take long for unscrupulous people to simply mock them up on PDF with simply fonts and copy/paste on clear background (and re-sell) unless this is done.

    1. While the certificates can be authenticated by others using the verification code, certainly we could do more to provide at-a-glance assurance. Others have made similar suggestions — I will pass this along to the teams!

  7. I agree that “go at your own pace” is preferable to a set time window (which just re-creates one of the key limitations of bricks&mortar for set times and place). One of the key reasons that I havn’t started (or finished) some Moocs is because of the time pressures of job/family coinciding with a particular schedule on a Mooc. “Go at you own pace” will also ensure that Saylor has a distinctive character which differentiates it from many of the rest (i.e. Cousera, EdX, etc).

    1. Set times for courses are truly a double-edged sword! The positive pressure can be very useful, but when life intervenes, the course can be very hard to pick back up again.

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