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SloanSpace, an online course management system, has just rolled out a new version that makes it easy for MIT faculty members to get their courses online without learning new software - and gives them 24-hour access from the Internet.
Version 2 of SloanSpace is based on dotLRN, an MIT-designed open-source course management system that has recently been adopted by the Berklee School of Music and the University of Heidelberg as the platform on which they will build their own course management and learning management systems. SloanSpace is a set of web-based modules that store course materials and allow students and research groups to have discussion forums, group e-mails, news, surveys and file storage, for example.
"The majority of faculty who have put their courses online have been doing this by creating web pages in an ad hoc way," said Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and co-chair of the MIT Council on Educational Technology. "By using a course management system, faculty can place their course materials online and have access to other features that create a more integrated electronic learning environment.
"MIT now has two course management systems: SloanSpace and Stellar," Abelson continued. "They differ in that Stellar is designed to support individual courses, while SloanSpace is designed to support research and learning communities. SloanSpace is an important experiment because it fully integrates course managment with collaboration support for online communities."
Using SloanSpace, instructors can place courses on the Internet and control access with secure logins. They can put tests and quizzes online, provide chat rooms and shared whiteboards, and send internal course e-mail and threaded discussions within the course.
SloanSpace has been in use since fall 2000 and is now an integral part of the Sloan School of Management. There are now more than 9,000 registered users and 100 courses (about 74 percent of all Sloan courses) included in SloanSpace each semester, as well as courses from other MIT departments, including physics, aeronautics and astronautics, mechanical engineering and the Engineering Systems Division.
In addition to the online courses, there are some 240 other online communities, such as student groups and industry partners, that use SloanSpace for their activities.
"SloanSpace is an indispensable tool for getting teaching materials to students," said Richard Frankel, assistant professor of economics, finance and accounting, who teaches 15.515 (Financial Accounting), one of the MBA core subjects. "Prior to the web, if I wanted to give my students a handout outside of class, I had to have someone manually put it into 330 mail boxes. Now I can simply post it on the web. SloanSpace allows me to organize the materials so that students can find them easily and intuitively. It has also helped me coordinate handouts with the six TAs and two professors who co-teach the class. By placing materials in a section of SloanSpace only available to us, we can correct handouts, homeworks and homework solutions. Access is as easy for me as accessing my C drive."
Stellar, the Institute's other course management system, was developed by MIT's Academic Media Production Services and is being used by the Singapore-MIT Alliance and other faculty members. DotLRN is one of several MIT efforts that support open source knowledge, all under the strategic guidance of the Council for Educational Technology in the Provost's Office. Other open-source initiatives include OpenCourseWare, the Open Knowledge Initiative (see related article), DSpace and MIT World.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 30, 2002.