Site updates, links to all courses and majors

This post is just a quick note to let you know that we are listening and taking action to fix problems that have been apparent to a number of students over the past few days. We have yet to respond to every comment, email, and phone call, but please know that every voice is being heard and considered. We made a number of changes today and queued others up for the coming days; details are below.

Important to say: we are sorry for the surprise and confusion that we have caused some of you. More on that in another post very soon. The majors page linked below is a small down-payment toward making things right.

UX and visual design

We have tamed the page title font size and the body text font size, at least for the non-mobile view. There are more tweaks to be done — in some cases the font size is now too small, but we think everyone prefers too small to huge.

Full course list, majors, minors

We re-created a page with links to every Saylor Academy course arranged by area of study as a complement to the link to the ePortfolio catalog. The heading for each group of courses also links to a “Major” page with a description of the area of study as well as guidelines for completing a simulated major as a program. Those major pages were broken in that they were missing a list of courses and the formatting was odd. The formatting is still odd, but the list of courses is back. That said, these separate major pages were not intended as part of the new site, so we will be working to improve the single landing page by shifting all the currently disaggregated information there. For the moment, please bookmark this page until we park it somewhere useful. Remember, too, that you can use your ePortfolio account to find and launch courses.

Some of what we know needs fixing:

+ Increasing font sizes, e.g. of the drop-down items in the primary site menu.
+ padding
+ Previous Unit and Next Unit links at the bottom of courses advance the units by two at a time, rather than by one.
+ “Course Details” as a title for the course is unnecessary.
+ “Purpose of Course” and “Course Information” links, etc., do not show more information about the course despite being linked; the student must click “show”.
+ Updates to FAQ.

20 thoughts on “Site updates, links to all courses and majors

  1. September 10, 2014

    Simonee Reply

    Thank you very much! Very delighted to know that there is a well organized majors page again. Thank you for listening to our concerns and opinions, and I am excited to see our requests being applied to the new site. Wishing you all the best in updating and improving Saylor!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Thank you Simonee. We are always listening, even if we don’t always succeed in making that clear.

      • September 13, 2014

        Simonee Reply

        Thank you again for putting the majors page back. I do have a few questions though. With the old site, I could see if a particular course was complete or in the process of being developed. With the new site however, I cannot see whether a course has been completed or not and I also cannot see if it has a final exam. Will you be fixing this? Also, do you plan to keep all 300 or so courses or will you will be scrapping the majority of them? I would appreciate it if you could give me an answer in advance. This is because I am in the process of planning my courses and I need to decide if I will continue to use Saylor as my homeschool high school curriculum. If not, then I am afraid I will have to search for and switch to other resources unfortunately. Thank you in advance.

        P.S. In my opinion, and I am sure that quite a number of students agree with me, you already had a great site and nothing needed to be changed. You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In this case, I feel like Saylor unnecessarily broke itself and needs quite a bit of fixing.

        • September 13, 2014

          Sean Connor Reply

          The stand-in majors page still keeps the “no exam” symbol. For completion, I can say that ARTH201 & 301, PSYCH206 & 401, STS101, and K12MATH010 are incomplete to some degree. K12ELA009 & 012 are not present, and MA304 is marked as empty. The more important issue will be (and has been) dealing with broken links — we do not have a system in place right now to immediately indicate that, just the “this course still needs’ language in the course sidebar.

          The best answer I have about the courses as a whole is that they will never simply disappear. I realize there is a big, wide gulf between “will never disappear” and “will live forever proudly on our site.” To be blunt, and I mean this in all empathy, do what you must for your needs! But I will work on putting together a much more useful answer for you.

          • September 16, 2014

            Simonee

            Thank you for your reply. I have a few more questions though. Are you sure K12MATH010 (Geometry) is incomplete? According to the old site, it was K12MATH009 (Algebra I). Also, do you have an idea now about how long the other 200+ or so courses will remain intact? As I said earlier, I need to know as soon as possible. This is because I do not want to plan to use the courses if they will be gone before I graduate. Thank you in advance. I await your response.

          • October 2, 2014

            Sean Connor

            Yes, you are correct about Geometry — I made an error. The other 200 are not going anywhere in and of themselves — but two main problems remain. The first is “link rot” — some courses decay faster than we can really keep up with them. I think the K12 courses are not as susceptible, because they tend to rely more on openly-licensed and/or current materials (e.g. from CK-12 and Khan Academy). Even so, both of those sites rearrange materials on occasion, which can play havoc on our links. The second problem is the nature of the exam and certificate. As courses decay and we scramble (slowly, Entishly,) to repair them, the exam itself falls out of date. Certificates, for their part, rely pretty directly on our commitment to the course — the course itself can be grabbed and carried off to somewhere safe by an interested third party, but the Saylor certificate rises and falls with our commitment to a particular course. Long story short, the courses themselves are pretty safe, if you rely on very particular credentials (as I suspect you might), that is a more complex story that we can talk about. Again, though, I think the K12 courses are safer than certain of the university ones, having a much longer half-life.

  2. September 11, 2014

    Trisha Reply

    Thank you, THANK YOU, for this update. It always feels good to know your concerns were heard. Seeing the majors back–even in this temporary(but hopefully permanent) way–has made my night. And, judging by all the comments in the last few days, it’s made a lot of peoples’ nights/days.

    Thanks! Saylor forever!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Thank you, Trisha. Clearly, there is more dialoguing to do, but this has been an important week, if not an easy one.

  3. September 11, 2014

    Constantin Reply

    I am re-posting this comment here, for fear it won’t be found on the previous older blog page.

    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 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      I agree that a section one our website — or better throughout our site — that features students is something long overdue. I would include not only those who have completed whole areas of study but also those who have completed whatever program they have chosen for themselves; these folks, too, represent a very large portion of our community. I think this was always, will always be, a fundamental limitation of majors — a limitation that, to be sure, nevertheless serves many purposes — namely that they set a standard for success that serves a small portion of the whole.

      As for philosophy in the eportfolio — I will add that to our list, but to temper expectations, the structures within the eportfolio will have to follow the structures we settle on for the program as a whole. Eportfolio IS going to change at some point, although clearly that will best be done as a public, transparent process. Of historical note for philosophy; it had been planned as a full major, along with communications, physics, law, languages, and additional engineering. Many requests have come in for physics, especially. To some extent, we were limited by our creation model, namely finding and repurposing free and open content. In many cases there was some material available, but not enough to build out a major. We also chose to limit ourselves; we were already stretched thin and leaving gaps that we have spent the better part of two years filling in — a process that continues with the ’93’ courses. The languages AoS is a good example of that — others can and already are doing language learning better than we could hope to.

  4. September 11, 2014

    Magz Clifford Reply

    Hi, thanks for taking the time to start sorting out the problems. Including putting the majors back, I was really getting worried there and was wanting to continue on with my course. I still can’t log in via facebook, so hopefully that will get sorted out in the coming weeks. There’s also a problem with CS101 in computer science. Freejavaguide.com is no longer available, I don’t think it’s just me. I will inform the course about that directly when I can log in again, just thought I’d mention that on here now.
    Thanks again, I do like the new look, I’m just confused as to where everything has gone!

  5. September 11, 2014

    Yara O'Reilly Reply

    Hi to everyone at Saylor! I would just like to express my opinion that the Majors and Minors should be a prominent feature on the new website. I am just getting into online self-education and I have been all over the web to many different sites offering this wonderful service. As far as I am concerned, the compilation of courses on one page is a unique and defining part of Saylor.org in my first impressions and a very valuable one. I think many people using this resource find it irreplaceable. I would be very disappointed if it wasn’t a permanent part of the site as a real substitute for formal education. Thank you!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Thank you, Yara. You are not alone in your opinion or in your reasoning for holding it. I very much do NOT want to make promises for the prominence of Majors/Minors. I can, however, promise that we are thinking hard about ways to sustain value for students AND enable people to create their own value out of the courses.

  6. September 12, 2014

    Chris Reply

    Thank you for listening–and better, responding!–to the comments on the prevoius blog post. I was quite concerned that there weren’t any responses for a few days from Saylor. This is definitely helpful, and I think is a good step towards restoring what many of us love abotu Saylor and what distinguishes it from the disorganized collection of courses every other MOOC offers. I’m still a little uncertain about the full details of these future plans, specifically as they apply to how the Saylor courseware will be structured and maintained in future, but for the moment my most pressing concerns are for the visual presentation of the site.

    The font size reduction is greatly appreciated, but many pages still require a large amount of scrolling before getting to the actual content. This machine is a 1920×1080 14″ laptop (so definitely not shabby in terms of screen real estate), and the previous design didn’t have this problem at all. The headers are just too big! They remind me of the “talking heads” caricatures one so frequently sees in political cartoons. If these could be shrunk without compromising the design (I am very much a backend computer person), things would be far more comfortable to me.

    Also, while I’m commenting here, I want to end on a positive note. Ever since I met Jeff Davidson on a northbound Amtrak, I’ve loved what Saylor is doing and have truly enjoyed my time on the site. I hate to sound like I think change is bad; I don’t! I know that change is the only way that things can improve–it’s just that from the outside, from a user perspective, the redesign seemed to remove several of the things I found most valuable about Saylor, and I felt like I needed to communicate that. Thank you for listening and responding by doing!

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      I wish we could both respond faster and do more (also faster…), but I appreciate it, and have let Jeff know that his Whistlestop Diplomacy continues to pay dividends.

      What pages most offend in terms of header height? Is it when the page title is multiple-lines?

      We clearly need to get more details on the future of…everything finalized and published, which is going to take some committee work in the offices. We have always been careful not to over-promise — usually successfully — but that can result in maddening vagueness. That said, the whole corpus of courses will never simply disappear. Development effort is heavily focused on the ’93’ and the various ways those can be combined and leveraged, but the other 200+ courses represent an investment of time and money from all parties that is worth protecting by thinking creatively about.

  7. September 12, 2014

    esteban Reply

    Need a search window on the home page

    Need all courses arranged by major and discipline; those are different.

    Need advice for complementary courses…prerequisites, corequisites, and where can you go if you like this.

    • September 13, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Hi Esteban,

      A search window is on our request list from our developers — we use it from time to time, too. In the mean time, typing site:www.saylor.org your search term(s) into your favorite search engine is an inconvenient but fully functional workaround.

      Majors and disciplines are indeed a bit different, although the /majors page essentially shows all of the courses for an area of study within the context of a major. For the moment, clicking on, for example, The Chemistry Discipline from the /majors page will take you to the description and guidelines for the major and minor.

      This is a good idea; we do not have an engine built to make “if you like X try Y” recommendations, but I have added this to a features request list (perhaps a public version of this list would be a good addition to the /community page?). You can see recommended pre-reqs within the course description on a given course’s page.

  8. September 14, 2014

    Constantin Reply

    “Development effort is heavily focused on the ’93′ and the various ways those can be combined and leveraged, but the other 200+ courses represent an investment of time and money from all parties that is worth protecting by thinking creatively about.”

    It doesn’t sound very practical from where I’m standing. As many have said over and over again, Saylor’s distinction comes from mirroring the traditional college education, not from bringing together arbitrary paths. You need to focus ON THE MAJORS, not on an X number of courses! Not dealing with each Major continuously sounds like favoring some more “marketable” ones in the detriment of the others. That again looks bad on Saylor and sounds like self-defeating your original purpose of free education for ALL…

  9. September 17, 2014

    A_P Reply

    I strongly agree with the other commenters on the importance of maintaining the existence of (unaccredited) University Bachelor’s Degree Majors (and Minors). Also agree with the student who requested explicitly recognizing the completion of a particular Major or Minor on a student’s transcript.

    The following is a long message with my thoughts/ideas, I would much appreciate if Sean Connor, &/or the fellow students could read it to see if any of these ideas could be relevant to Saylor.

    The original vision of Saylor, of including the Majors (in English-language format, this Century’s international language), in a self-paced asynchronous manner, is excellent, & much needed in our world. Honestly, it would be great if some huge organization (government or big multinational company) had already attempted this, it would probably “pay back with large ROI” for their own organization’s worker or citizenry’s training alone. However, apparently these huge orgs at least to date lack the vision or are too corruptly beholden to powerful interests that benefit from the status quo, to do so. Hopefully Saylor can continue to provide Majors.

    If I recall correctly, you gave an example of a woman student in Saudi Arabia, who claimed that in her nation it would be illegal for her to study Mechanical Engineering (or perhaps even attend University).

    Student Paul Morris (IIRC in a Forum post) that he originally intended to pursue Computer Science at Saylor, but has ended up pursuing (a new?) his interest in Psychology.

    A stable (in its ~300 courses with Majors) availability of Saylor is an excellent resource for individuals for Lifelong Learning, so for instance, Paul Morris is free to pursue Psychology, from 1 course up to a complete Major, if/when the situation changes & he has a need &/or interest to do so. This is a tremendous resource for individuals, who at least in the US, are faced with extreme uncertainty (as per Jacob Hacker’s “The Great Risk Shift”) with offshore outsourcing, age discrimination, employers using a tactic of hiring permanent part-time employees, etc. If nothing else, the availability of stable Lifelong Learning resource with majors allows those who involuntarily do not have a full-time job, one productive option for their “free time” to increase their skills for their personal future jobs or their own entrepreneurial company.

    Perhaps Saylor should look at the example of open source software. Many doubters said that open source software is poor quality, but now in many categories (both system software & application software) an open source software is not only free, but of equal or superior quality than proprietary software competitors.

    Sean Connor said “The languages AoS is a good example of that — others can and already are doing language learning better than we could hope to.”

    I disagree that if Saylor does not have the world class free course in each course it offers, that it isn’t worthwhile for Saylor to provide it. Many Saylor students may prefer a “fairly good” Saylor course that is subjectively “~80% as good” as another provider’s world-leading free course, because it allows the student to build upon her knowledge in more advanced courses at Saylor, whereas as in other providers offering atomized individual unconnected courses, it is often unclear “what to do next” after completing a given course.

    However, one approach in this situation Saylor could use the other free-cost provider’s course, as a “black box”. If that provider would allow Saylor to re-use that course, OER-style, on Saylor’s site, that would be preferred. However, if that provider does not allow this, Saylor could
    1 provide a Saylor course number/name for this course, indicating that the course is to be taken at the other provider’s site

    2 state which Saylor courses are required, or merely suggested, (if any) prerequisites to this course

    3 provide Saylor’s own Final Exam for this course, that obviously would count only for a student’s Saylor transcript (and not for the other provider’s transcript).

    A key benefit of Saylor is a allowing for incremental learning over multiple courses and how they relate together via prerequisites. On other course providers like edX or Coursera, it is not clear if 1 has adequate preparation, or the opposite of a given course will have a portion of rework of content you already learned in a prior course.

    The asynchronous nature of Saylor would be also helpful in this case, at least in terms of edX. For example, Saylor does not have an Intro to Comp Sci that uses Python.
    https://www.edx.org/course/mitx/mitx-6-00-1x-introduction-computer-2841

    Suppose a Saylor student has an urgent need to take this course, but say the next time this course will be offered on edX is in 9 months later. This Saylor student could register in Audit-mode for the “old” version of that edX course, and after completing the material, take the Saylor Final Exam.

    On the topic of the time/effort/cost to maintain the ~300 courses that are not part of the 93 “priority” courses, I would think that as long as these courses had the relevant permissions from the course author to ported to the using Saylor’s own links on the Saylor website, this would enable a “mature” course to continue indefinitely (even for 10+ years) with no or minimal annual maintenance costs. There will be some courses, say certain Computer Science courses, where the topic itself could change frequently based on new developments. However, it seems that most courses, say Math Linear Algebra or World History, 1200-1600 CE, would not change at all in years.

    If Saylor’s reason for not supporting Majors is cost driven, perhaps you could brainstorm creative ideas to increase revenue & add capacity more inexpensively to allow supporting of the Majors.

    On the revenue side, perhaps the Partnerships Saylor has, such as the employee training programs from VA Medical or the Pakistani Insurance company, could require some/more contribution from those orgs to support Saylor.

    On the capacity side, I have a few ideas:

    1 Continue prominent acknowledgement of the Course Creator(s) on their contribution, & perhaps on a Course Creator Contributor page available for free to each successful Course Creator. My understanding is that in the US, per this article 70% of University Professors are non-Tenured. This article profiles a PhD English Professor, who if “lucky” enough to get 4 courses each semester, makes $24K annually without health benefits
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/nyregion/crowded-out-of-ivory-tower-adjuncts-see-a-life-less-lofty.html

    Perhaps being a Course Creator at Saylor would be a significant achievement for an Adjunct Professor’s resume that could be possibly used to help gain a tenured Professor job. If (potentially 1000s of) students globally are doing self-paced learning on Saylor of a Prof’s content, arguably that Prof can argue she has a quality course to teach in person in a tenured Prof job. So perhaps giving each Course Creator a page & recognition would be valuable, & could help increase the number of willing Course Creators.

    2 Consider hiring a former successful PhD Course Creator as a Saylor employee Professor, 1 in each the Majors, or at least the most prioritized/heavily studied Majors, to ensure the Curriculum is coherent & the courses interrelate effectively, to supervise/QA the contribution of the contractor Course Creators or to directly create needed courses, to say at least weekly answer the message boards for their academic field, etc

    3 allow for greater Volunteer opportunities in various tasks, be it course quality control (student feedback on broken links or errors in a course), computer programming tasks of the website, fundraising phone calls, etc. Supposedly Wikipedia runs this model, with a relatively small staff, & the bulk of the actual writing/editing of its encyclopedia pages done by a much larger number of volunteers. Perhaps you could set it up such that new volunteers would be given relatively minor tasks, so that a volunteer could “prove quality work” to Saylor before giving more significant tasks. In the wake of this news on Saylor not supporting Majors, it seems many students are offering to volunteer with tasks if that helps continue Saylor providing Majors. This volunteering could also provide Saylor a source of possible employees, as Saylor could decide to interview some experienced volunteers that demonstrated quality performance on their volunteer tasks.

    4 If required to stretch the budget for hiring additional workers, consider opening another Saylor office to add new workers (do not layoff existing US Saylor workers!) in an nation with experience with offshore workers & a significant number of English language native speakers, such as India or The Philippines. Ironically this could be a rare example where USians (as well as any Saylor students anywhere) could benefit from offshore outsourcing.

    Thanks again to Saylor, its workers like Sean Connor, & its experienced insightful students like Paul Morris. I hope that perhaps you find 1 of my ideas here potentially useful. I sincerely echo the other students in strongly suggesting Saylor to continue its original excellent vision of providing complete Majors.

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