Time to Make Public Education Public?

This is an exciting time for intellectually curious and resourceful students. An explosion of web-based educational materials has made detailed instruction on many topics easily and freely available to anyone with internet access. However, the vast majority of course materials, even from public universities, are still not available online. Some dedicated faculty have developed their own methods to share their course material with the world. More do not, however, because building one’s own course website can require esoteric technical knowledge. The systems that most universities provide for putting course material online do not allow public access. Instead, courses are hosted on proprietary, closed platforms like Blackboard that restrict access to enrolled students. In fact, even students who pay tuition but are not currently enrolled in the class cannot view the material.

Should course material be open-access?
Making educational materials more available has wide-spread benefit. There is a national push to make educational resources open and accessible to a broader audience. Encouraging public institutions to move their courses toward an open-access system would give students, the public, and other instructors access to the best that our higher education systems have to offer. For example, a high school science teacher who wants to enrich her curriculum by including contemporary research that goes beyond the textbook can find a rich set of university-level lectures to draw from.

In fact, the closed nature of many universities courses strikes us as downright odd. Many university courses are developed by state public employees, whose salaries are funded by a combination of state tax dollars, federal grants, and student fees. Traditionally, an academic’s work consists of research and teaching. The National Institutes of Health introduced a policy specifying that all research funded by NIH must be made available for open public access within a year of publication. Shouldn’t there be a similar standard for the classroom work done by instructors as well? After all, this work has arguably as much public benefit as the product of their research.

It is sadly ironic that a student paying full tuition and fees at a University of California campus has no access to the course material for on-campus classes they are not enrolled in, but can view many of the classes offered by MIT at no charge. Why are private institutions (such as MIT, Stanford and Yale) and independent websites (such as the Khan Academy) leading the way toward open-access courseware? Clearly they see an institutional and public benefit to putting their material online. Then why aren’t public universities, whose mission is to support education and the dissemination of knowledge in their home states, contributing in the same way?

We think the time has come to move toward an open-access policy for course materials created by public employees. Good idea? Bad idea? We would love to hear what you think.

We built thiscourse.com because we believe instructors should have a fast, easy way to get their course material online. Instructors using thisCourse can choose to make their courses open-access, with a stable, permanent URL that is easy for students around the world to find.

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Grading support is here!

thisCourse now provides a secure, simple and fast way to get grades to your students. You can enable gradebook support for your classes right now by clicking “Enable gradebook” on the options tab.

To add grades, visit the Grades tab and upload an excel file (.xls). This file just needs to have:

  1. A first row containing columns names (e.g. Exam 1, Homework 2, etc.)
  2. One of these columns must be titled Email and contain student email addresses.

That’s it! Grades are securely uploaded to the server and only instructors can view the gradebook. Students can view their own grades by creating an account with their email address and a password they choose. We verify that the email belongs to them and then students can log in to view their grades.

We’ve created a one minute tutorial video—take a look below. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. Thanks for using thisCourse!

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Improved document handling is here

We’ve just released a new interface for handling documents. Posting readings and assignments is one of the most important aspects of a course website and thisCourse has the simplest interface around for quickly uploading and organizing documents for your students.

Add categories (Readings, Assignments, Lecture notes, etc.) appropriate for your course. You can then drag and drop individual documents or entire categories to re-organize them.

Once a document is uploaded, you can add a link to it anywhere in your syllabus page by clicking the “Add link to document” button. We are continuing to update thisCourse and would love to hear what we can do better. Your feedback is essential as we design thisCourse to be the online course management system you actually enjoy using!

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New site design

We’ve just rolled out some major improvements to the thiscourse.com homepage. The new design better highlights the benefits of using thisCourse, and brings the design of the site to a new level.

The syllabus pages haven’t changed for now, so you may notice differences in design as you move around the site. We’ll be making some slight changes to the syllabus pages over the next couple of weeks to make the look and feel more consistent, but your content and the overall site features will remain unchanged.

Thanks for using thisCourse–we would love to hear what you think of our new look!

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How is thisCourse different?

When we talk to people about thisCourse, they often wonder how it’s different than what they currently use to teach their class. I’d like to outline some of the advantages of thisCourse, and then discuss how it’s specifically different than what you may use now.

  1. thisCourse is designed to be so fast and easy that you can have a course website constructed in less than 10 minutes (really!).
  2. Building a site using thisCourse instantly provides you with a rich set of features. You can upload documents, manage student discussions, and easily add announcements.
  3. You are completely in control of your class website. There’s no need to get IT staff involved to add an instructor or to build an entirely new class site.
  4. Your site is easy to navigate. Most of the crucial information is on a single page (like a syllabus) including links to readings, lecture notes, etc.
  5. Students love thisCourse since it allows them to subscribe to the schedule on their smartphone, and keep track of announcements via email or RSS.
  6. If you choose to password protect your site, only your students will be able to access it. However, if you choose to leave it public, you have an easy to remember URL that you can give to anyone who is interested in your class, including friends and colleagues. They won’t need an account with the university to view it.

But what if I…

use Blackboard, Moodle, or a service provided by my university? For some professors, these services will be fine choices. Many others, though, are frustrated by how time consuming it is to construct a simple, reusable course website using these programs. We encourage you to give thisCourse a try for a simpler, faster alternative which lets you stay in control.

build my own course site using HTML? You are highly technically competent and clearly know what you want in a course website. HTML is flexible and lets you stay in complete control, but can be very time consuming. Did you know that thisCourse lets you use HTML tags directly? In any of the syllabus editing boxes, you can click the “HTML” button and edit the source to customize the look and feel of your website. This is just one example of how thisCourse provides both simplicity and flexibility.

We’re excited to have you as a user of thisCourse! Please let us know how we can help.

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Welcome to thisCourse!

Welcome to the thisCourse blog. We’re aiming to make thisCourse the easiest way available to create a full-featured class website. On this blog, we will keep you updated with the latest features as we introduce them.

We hope you find thisCourse useful as you teach your classes this term. We are interested in your feedback. Please let us know how we can help!

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