About Saylor Academy’s New Look

The website is sporting a very new, very different look — scroll down for a quick gallery of saylor.org over the years! One important note: we are not finished! There remain new features to be implemented, old features to be upgraded, and plenty of minor issues to go around; this is very much an iterative process. Please feel free — indeed, encouraged — to get in touch and let us know your thoughts.

Of course, we are eager to hear what is working better, too; here is what we are looking forward to as we continue (re)building the site:

Courses built around what you want to do with them. Without a doubt, the arrangement of our courses into majors has been popular; that said, over the past four years, we have found that the primary way students interact with our courses is to take those most useful to them at any given time. They have been used for fun, for professional development, for jobs programs, for resume-building, and for advancing within traditional degree programs. Of course, if what you want to do with the courses is to create and follow a traditional-style college major, go right ahead!

Focus on the courses that are most immediately useful. Building more than 300 full-length courses was, if we do say so ourselves, quite a feat; we are presently focusing our efforts on updating 93 of the most popular ones. In the coming months, our education and tech teams will shepherd those courses into a new-and-improved Moodle platform (Moodle is the same software that currently hosts all of our final exams and certificates) and placing a strong focus on student-centered design. Among other things, students will have the opportunity to shape the evolution of those courses through “public beta” phases.

A more unified experience. As of today, and stretching back a few years now, taking a course has meant using four rather different platforms: our ePortfolio, Moodle (for exams and quizzes), discussion forums, and our main courses site (built in WordPress, for those interested in such things). The system works (most of the time), but is not ideal. We are working hard to unify the visual experience and make transitions more seamless, while putting to work some of the great tools in Moodle that have lain unused or under-utilized to date.

So, bring on the comments and questions! We will share more in the next several days about our “featured tracks” and what lies down the road.

Saylor Academy through the years…

39 thoughts on “About Saylor Academy’s New Look

  1. September 8, 2014

    Constantin Reply

    “Of course, if what you want to do with the courses is to create and follow a traditional-style college major, go right ahead!”

    Ok, my question (and I’m certain it is not solely my question) is how to read/understand this above quoted thing. Which one of those is it:

    1. You mean that you do not directly support Majors anymore, so now there are just tons of courses from where students, if they feel inclined, could study several belonging to a specific domain?

    2. You mean you will continue to support all previous Majors, not just Business Administration and Computer Science (the two which are the listed under “Full Curricula” label), and it is just a matter of time until everything will show up on the website?

    Please clarify this confusion. And again, related to the above — suppose Majors are supported, will there be a Final Certificate (like a sort of alternative unaccredited degree…) for Major completion sometimes? What about badges?

    Thanks.

    • September 8, 2014

      Kristin Jones Reply

      Like Constantin, I’m curious about what’s happening with the Majors. I double checked my e-portfolio and my mathematics major is still present there, but it’s not listed among the “Full Curricula” on the main site any more. Is it going away? Or just being de-emphasized within the content on the main site?

    • September 8, 2014

      Paul Morris Reply

      I have to echo Constantin’s comments. By far the most distinctive feature of Saylor was the presence of a structure above the level of individual courses. Even if few students completed an Area of Study, it gave a sequence and guide both for those who did want the ‘full experience’ and for those building a programme of study to suit their own needs.

      What has added immensely to my enjoyment of Saylor has been the ‘requirement’ to study in many areas which I have never previously touched in order to complete a full AoS–after all, my nearly complete Psychology major was a direct result of taking PSYCH101 at the start of a CS major.

      In the response to my comments (now lost in the ‘refresh’) to the previous blog posting (Changes to T&C) it was stated that the changes would be mainly cosmetic and there would be no changes to the existing structures: “Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to complete your Psychology major”, or words to that effect.

      I’ll continue to hope that there is still more to be done on this site refresh. If nothing else, please consider reviewing the font size which, in some pages, is simply massive. The blog posting above is 18pt, according to the CSS, as are a number of other pages–that’s too big!

      • September 8, 2014

        Paul Morris Reply

        Having looked and read all that is available to date I have to say that this seems more like a change of direction than a site redesign.

        For at least the last two years we have been promised certificates for the completion of Areas of Study–they were always ‘just around the corner’. There was also discussion from staff of introducing ‘more granular’ certification and of badges coming in to recognise study in a more open and shareable way. The whole concept of working towards and recognising a structured course of study seems to have virtually disappeared–the two ‘Full Curricula’ seem almost an afterthought and don’t mention or imply any overall certification. Even the fairly recently launched ‘Customer Service Certification’ program seems to have dropped off the radar–the information on the program page removed mention of a certificate some time ago and now the program itself, in common with the Areas of Study, exists only in the ePortfolio.

        Can we assume that the majority of the existing courses (ie those not among the favoured 93) will, insofar as they remain available, be essentially unmaintained? If that is the case then, given the reliance on external resources, it won’t take too long for them to decay and become largely unusable.

        There are five ‘Featured Pathways’. What about other ‘non’Featured choices? For all the site says they may as well not exist.

        Most disheartened.

        • September 9, 2014

          Chris Reply

          Have to agree with Paul. This is a most disheartening change, even if it’s incomplete. This is the sort of work that should have happened on a development server and then rolled out all at once. As it currently exists, the site is disorienting and confusing for long-time users and doesn’t at all convey the grandeur that was saylor.org. I cannot in good conscience recommend my friends to visit as I have in the past. Navigation is difficult when it isn’t awkward; content is uncomfortable to use because of the new design (it feels like I’m browsing a mobile site at 1920×1080; mobile first isn’t supposed to mean “huge fonts and headers”); the structure and guidance that brought me to Saylor in the first place, as opposed to other MOOCs, is entirely absent, replaced by pages that seem to be designed as marketing devices first and educational guidance as a distant afterthought.

          I suppose I should stay positive and remember that archive.org has a copy of the site from the good old days–it’s what I’ll be using henceforth, at least if/until this redesign is reverted.

          Above all, this change hurts. I was wary of it, but I kept telling myself “don’t worry, the Saylor folks are awesome, you have nothing to worry about”. Now I feel betrayed and lied to.

          • September 13, 2014

            Sean Connor

            In addition to your final paragraph, which I take with all due gravity, this stands out as important for us to hear: “…doesn’t at all convey the grandeur.”

            Thank you for all of your feedback thus far, Chris.

        • September 13, 2014

          Sean Connor Reply

          For the non-93 courses, it is in no one’s interest to allow them simply to decay. In plain truth, we have yet to develop a proper solution for that, but we know that in-house maintenance and meaningful improvement of 317 disparate courses is simply unsustainable.

          The plans and proposals listed in your second paragraph have clearly not come to fruition, for a variety of reasons. Among other things, it is crucial not to double-down on unsustainability; those plans, when announced, were just around the corner but have, quite unfortunately, remained so.

          In light of this, I like what Kristin has proposed in another comment — a public roadmap that, even should it change, will at least change publicly and be open for comment. A roadmap that changes, with reasons plainly given, is better than friendly statements of intent that never quite gel.

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Certainly the first, to some extent the second. The majors remain supported in the eportfolio and in the official-but-not-official /majors page.

      Certificates are due for an overhaul, which (clearly) should be done very publicly and with attention to supporting the value of all existing certificates. The listing of courses by AoS on the transcript, introduced some time ago, remains fully in effect.

      Badges have, frankly, been set aside, a fact which evolved over spring and summer. I personally like badges, a lot, and would like to see them surface in the context of the Saylor community — certs for courses, badges for actions and ownership.

      • September 14, 2014

        Paul Morris Reply

        “The listing of courses by AoS on the transcript, introduced some time ago, remains fully in effect.”

        This rather over-states the current position. The transcript does show enrolled AoS with percentage completion but the body of the transcript simply lists all the completed courses (in alphabetic order of course code). If one intends only to work on one field then that might be adequate but for the more active participants the transcript just loses all utility as a way of demonstrating progress towards a specific target.

        Transcripts would be far more useful if it were possible to limit the courses listed to a particular programme, or combination of programmes, of study. For example, it would make sense to be able to produce a transcript showing only the 5 courses of the ‘Customer Service Certification’ or the courses comprising an (ie Major, Gen Ed and Electives).

        In the absence of overall completion certificates this would at least give something presentable and readable to show to others. Although I am also working with Accredible to build a portfolio, in reality, most of those who might be interested would prefer a piece of paper–even though it might convey less useful information.

  2. September 8, 2014

    Trisha Reply

    Okay, I’m going to be INCREDIBLY sad if you take away the majors designation. That was the main thing I liked about Saylor. I just went to the link I always use to get to the classes I’ve been doing, http://www.saylor.org/majors/english/, and it no longer has the list of classes I’ve slowly been working through.

    I understand that you guys want to shift your presence, but I don’t see the harm in still keeping alive the old majors pages. And there IS harm in taking them away. I’ve been a fan of yours for years, have shared the site with everyone and anyone for years, and I don’t know if I’d keep coming back if it wasn’t organized into majors (all majors, not just business and CS) anymore.

    • September 8, 2014

      Trisha Reply

      Also, the majors is what set you apart from all the other free online courses websites. If you just have course lists, what sets you apart from Coursera or Khan?

      • September 13, 2014

        Sean Connor Reply

        Ah, that is always the question. To be blunt, part of what will set us apart is connection of courses to affordable college credit. Although we have not publicized it a great deal, people who have both started and finished degrees with Saylor courses/exams. We definitely need to talk more about that.

        That is still not a full answer to your question, I know :-/

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      That link works again, albeit in a slightly different form; the image is wonky, sadly, because we hijacked pages ruled by an older template…the fix is very temporary.

      In any case, thank you, as ever and as always before.

  3. September 8, 2014

    Simonee Reply

    I strongly agree with the previous posters. To be honest, I actually prefer the previous site. First of all, this site’s font is quite large. Also, I cannot see if a course is in the process of being developed or if it has been completed already. Furthermore, the now non-existent majors gave the site much needed structure, and without them, it is more difficult for me to organize a course of study. Quite disappointed unfortunately.

  4. September 8, 2014

    Scott Hooper Reply

    I feel obliged to throw my hat into the ring in support of those speaking about the now missing Areas Of Study. In the ever growing MOOCs market, it was the Areas Of Study that drew me to Saylor in the first place. I was so excited to be able to begin a Mathematics major a few days ago. I went straight to the Requirements section of the stream outline and enrolled into all of the prerequisite courses. But now that Areas Of Study is missing, I’m not really sure what I’m doing these prerequisites for any more. Sure, I could cobble together a list of courses that would closely resemble the one that caught my eye on day one, after all I know what I want to study, but it will no longer instil the same sense of accomplishment. Please bring Areas Of Interest back or at least further develop the pathways section to add these streams as “under development”.

    It should not be understated though how much I am enjoying the courses I have begun. I’m looking forward to my first assessments soon. In every respect other than the above I am extremely glad to have discovered Saylor. Keep up the truly inspirational work!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Scott, I am glad you are enjoying the courses, and thank you for weighing in. This stands out to me: “But now that Areas Of Study is missing, I’m not really sure what I’m doing these prerequisites for any more.”

      Let me honestly ask: why? And please understand, that is not meant as a combative or adversarial question; far from it. What is it about the program you saw, vs. the program you see, that changes your perception of the work you are setting yourself? Another version of that question is this: how do external structures/motivations relate to your internal motivations? May be hard to put into words, I realize, but clearly there is a difference between undertaking a course with a certificate and one without, even if one never intends to use that certificate for anything. What is the nature of that difference for you?

  5. September 9, 2014

    Effy Reply

    I miss the “majors” outline/view. It created a really nice sense of order and context for the content. In the meantime (or for the future), the Wayback Machine is my friend! http://web.archive.org/web/*/saylor.org

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      The Wayback Machine is always a friend for many reasons. In any case, thank you for the feedback, Effy.

  6. September 9, 2014

    Sayan Datta Reply

    Okay, scrapping the majors does seem like doing away with the USP at first sight but I am personally, not overly concerned about it. Although, I must add, that the reason provided for the same seems unconvincing. Adding the fact that websites like edx.org and coursera.org seem to be moving in the direction of opening up whole fields of study, albeit at a slow pace, this does seem to be a step in the backward direction. That said, I shall be much more alarmed if courses are scrapped wholesale or if too many changes are brought in as to affect the quality of them.

    Speaking of quality, a much more pressing matter, to me, would be to look at and rectify the links within the courses that don’t work. I would also like to know how saylor.org is thinking about improving the quality of the certificates, if at all!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      What will definitely not happen, and this is a concern that has been raised by several people, is that the courses will not become simply a series of bite-sized videos.

      When we talk about improvements, we mean adding in more frequents check-ins and assessments, swapping out materials that have not stood the test of time (or that may not have been very outstanding to begin with), and getting courses into a system — Moodle — that will allow for students to properly track their progress (at last!), etc.

      Certificates are on the list. I know this is an old conversation, but they will get updates at one point, and your thoughts on that are still on file.

      Things like broken links are perfectly representative of problems we were leaving in our wake when we were driving forward with new course development. Just to patch up some courses can take an awful lot of investment, and the final result is a patched-up course, very much showing its scars. What I would like to see, and this is me speaking purely in a personal capacity, is for the community at large to be enabled to do some of the work of patching and re-creating courses. For the 93 courses in the “featured pathways”, we are taking on that commitment. We firmly believe our foundation resources will be better spent for all concerned if we focus on 93 really solid courses rather than 317 basically acceptable courses. For the 200+ others — no one wins if they are left to molder. That conversation is going on in-house, and perhaps it’s time to make it more properly a public one.

  7. September 9, 2014

    David Wilson Reply

    Hmmm… I’m getting close to finishing a ‘degree’ program. With just two exams, I sincerely hope I can complete it, and feel some justifiable euphoria for my achievement. I think what kept me motivated most here was the structure of the AOS. I hope that doesn’t change too much.

    I would like to mention here that I had completed about 50 courses on Coursera before coming to the conclusion that their general lack of structure and 101 courses often covering the same material, over and over again is quite a demotivating thing. For now I’ve pretty much walked away from Coursera, and much prefer Saylor! It is the current format here which appealed to me most.

    Can’t stop change, and we should always embrace change. But, I hope then you can accommodate other learning styles. Some who want to do a single course, or a block of similar topic courses, right up to someone completing something close to a degree program.

    • September 13, 2014

      Kristin Jones Reply

      @David Congrats on wrapping up those final two courses and completing your major!

      • September 15, 2014

        Sayan Datta Reply

        Congrats David. About Coursera, though I haven’t done as many courses as you have (I’ve done about 20) , I agree 100% with what you have said.

      • September 16, 2014

        David Wilson Reply

        Thanks Kristin, I enjoyed the learning experience so much that I don’t intend to stop here. Moving on to the Business Administration Full Curricula course now. Has a combination of both past study and brand new things I don’t know anything about, so should be both interesting and challenging. The Financial aspects of the program will be the harder areas for me. :)

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      All of this is important to know. Regarding your last sentence, I think “on paper” we have historically done a better job with the first and third situations, not as much with the second; more a function of our program than a matter of intent, but worth being aware of.

    • September 15, 2014

      Sayan Datta Reply

      For courses that are NOT among the featured pathways, I hope they will ALWAYS remain even though not looked after. Please NEVER hit the delete button on them…they won’t molder until someone is using them.

      P.S – Sorry for the caps…don’t know how to use italics.

  8. September 9, 2014

    David Wilson Reply

    Just read the Full Curricula page. I’ll probably switch to the Business Administration program from here on…

  9. September 9, 2014

    Nicole Reply

    Where is the K12 subject matter located? I have spend 15 minutes searching all of your links so my 6th grader may continue with her Language arts curriculum here at Saylor.org, and now it seems to have disappeared. Your previous homepage was much less cryptic and easier to navigate. Please help.

    • September 10, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Hi Nicole. I am sorry for the unwanted (and unwonted) difficulty. You can use http://www.saylor.org/majors (just created, not linked from the homepage but very similar to old.saylor.org/courses). You can also use a filtered view from the eportfolio course catalog, here: http://eportfolio.saylor.org/course-catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&aos=18&status=0

      • September 11, 2014

        Chris Reply

        You mention old.saylor.org here. Is this domain and its content going to remain? I, and as you can see many other learners, far prefer the old layout for the reasons we’ve stated–and unfortunately archive.org doesn’t properly render course content so that’s out.

        • September 13, 2014

          Sean Connor Reply

          To put it plainly, there is no plan to maintain old.saylor.org as a permanent public resource, nor is there a plan to shut it down at such-and-such a date.

  10. September 10, 2014

    Terra Reply

    The old site had an easy way to access k-12 courses. I am unable to locate them at all on this new site. Please point me in the direction for this access. Thank you.

    • September 10, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Hi Terra. You can use http://www.saylor.org/majors (just created, not linked from the homepage but very similar to old.saylor.org/courses). You can also use a filtered view from the eportfolio course catalog, here: http://eportfolio.saylor.org/course-catalog?utf8=%E2%9C%93&aos=18&status=0

      • September 11, 2014

        Constantin Reply

        Finally, an answer, even though not a thorough one. And thank you for hearing us.

        Hopefully, the choice for Majors will appear with its proper link from the front page. And well defined, so that newcomers know they have it as a choice.

        What about the Final Certificates? What about an honorary section on the website for our first graduates? With maybe some short interviews? We much more need that for promoting Saylor, not abstract cartoons and heaps of cryptic texts…

        And is it too much to ask to let one choose Philosophy as an AoS in the e-portfolio? As I proved already, one can scrap together a decent enough Philosophy Major with the extra courses available. Even if it is – by its very nature :) – an ever work in progress. Communication has that privilege already….

        • September 11, 2014

          David Wilson Reply

          Interesting points Constantin. Like your suggestion of a Philosophy Major. Although there is obviously some movement away from ‘Majors’ going on here, I personally would like to have seen something along the lines of a General Science Major being offered, even if only at Associates level. Seems to me that all the relevant courses are already being offered here on Saylor! So why not? :)

          • September 13, 2014

            Sean Connor

            Incidentally, Jonathan Haber chose philosophy for his one-year BA experiment (http://degreeoffreedom.org/one-year-ba/). I know the institutional imprimatur does carry meaning, but my question is: how do we bridge the gap between prescribed (if not required) series of courses and the programs of study that so many people are building for themselves?

  11. September 14, 2014

    Constantin Reply

    “how do we bridge the gap between prescribed (if not required) series of courses and the programs of study that so many people are building for themselves?”

    By listening to the people’s needs and by taking what is best from both worlds:

    A. The best from traditional education (with established structures such as paths/majors):

    -the structure built around a specific Major (that gives people a focus and a way of comparing with similar trajectories)

    -the Final Certificate/(alternative) degree (that again gives people a focus, an extra motivation, a symbolic reward for ending an academic journey, a reasonable extra probability of landing the job they want etc; need more reasons?…)

    -the atmosphere of belonging to a sort of structured ‘family/community’ (that gives people the chance to interact with each other directly related to their very similar learning experience and their common Majors; having the chance to say “We graduated together from X college/academy” as opposed to “we accessed the same educational website” etc. Get the difference?)

    B. The best from unstructured education (take only needed courses):

    -having the chance to study what you want, when you want, not on fixed schedules

    -doing away with compulsory (and often debatable useful) assignments of the type: “write an essay of X number of words”; it is proved that students have different learning types, and many times the interactive assignments (like playing an educational video game, one example; some Khan Academy exercises, another example; discussing an idea in a forum, another example…) provide more benefits and results than old systems of ‘same recipe for all’

    -designing custom Majors and study programs (combinations that may not be offered by traditional systems); again, here, a Final Certificate works wonders…

  12. November 4, 2014

    Remy Lang Reply

    The changes to the website are fine, though I think they’re mostly cosmetic. What I would really, really like is for the website to perform much, much better on my tablet and (even more so) on my smart phone. Perhaps a dedicated app? Also, an option to pre-download course material (especially videos) to my smart phone for viewing while I’m on my way would be appreciated. The edX app is in that respect terrific, though I value the Saylor course more.

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