News and Updates: Summer 2013
During the summer of 2013, the Writing@CSU site was substantially recoded and redesigned. As part of efforts to release the site as an open-source project, it was revised to allow any institution or group to customize it for their local contexts. Using the free Raillo ColdFusion server, we created a test server, recoded the site from the ground up, and added tools that allow for extensive customization. Then we have tested it for compatibility with commercial ColdFusion servers. The new open-source version of the Studio is slated for release in the fall of 2013, once the documentation has been completed. The site will be available through GitHub (and most likely on open-source sites specifically for the ColdFusion development community).
In addition to changes supporting the open-source project, we added new tools to the site
- Peer-Review Tool: Within the class pages, we've added a new peer-review tool. Files can be attached to the assignment (or text can be written or pasted into the editing boxes). Students can upload documents for review or copy and paste them. And comments can include both written comments and files (should an instructor want students to follow a rubric).
- Class Posts: A new class posts tool has been added to the main page of class pages. Any member of the class can post a comment.
- Shared Documents: We've added a simple tool to allow sharing of any documents (such as Google Docs) that can be shared with a URL. To use the tool, create a document on a site like Google Docs, click the share by URL button, copy the URL, and paste the URL into the Studio's Share Document Form.
- File Uploading: You'll find a new file-uploading tool that supports dragging and dropping of files. You can also upload files in a normal manner, one at a time. However, the new tool allows you to drag multiple files into folders, significantly simplifying the work of uploading files.
- File Management: We've improved our file and folder management tools. In the Class Files, you'll find new tools for managing individual files and folders. In all of our file folders, you'll find the ability to delete multiple files. You'll also find a new tool that allows you to copy a folder and its contents from one class to another. Finally, you'll find a download tool on your personal page (manage your account / advanced options) that allows you to create a zip file containing all of the files you've added to the Studio.
- Improved Groups Tool: The functionality of the groups tool has been improved. Groups of any size can be created by assigning students to group manually, automatically, or alphabetically. Students within groups now have the ability to create their own forums, add files to a shared folder, create group wikis, share documents on site such as Google Docs, and view group peer-review activities.
- Text Messaging: We've added a text-messaging tool. This uses an opt-in mechanism, so instructors who wish to use it should encourage students to enter a phone number and enable sending of text messages.
- Email: The email tool has been updated. You can now send email through your own email program or use the older SMTP-based program available through the Studio.
- Chat: We have added an improved Chat tool for those who wish to use it.
- Gradebook, Assignments, and DropBox: We've completely recoded the assignments tool and the gradebook. Now, instructors can decide where to display an assignment and whether to include it in the Gradebook.
- Current Classes List: We've added a new tool that allows you to designate one or more classes as "current classes." Instructors can move easily between current classes through the class menu. In addition, the current classes are displayed in a list below, for example, the Add Calendar Entry form, allowing you to copy the new calendar entry to more than one class.
- Hidden Classes List: Instructors will find a simplified means of hiding classes.
- Social Links: We have added links to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Now people will be able to share, like, or comment on particular pages or the site as a whole.
- Syllabus Improvements: You can now upload a file to the syllabus page. You can still copy and paste your syllabus. You can also use both methods at the same time.
Overall, you'll see a new, modern design that moves the navigation menu to the top of the page. The customization tools take advantage of new banners, color schemes, and simplified layout options. To support use of the Studio in older browsers, we have enabled fall backs to simpler layouts and older tools should the Studio detect a browser that cannot use the newer features of the site.
As part of the design updates, we have also created new navigation tools for the class pages. The new, simplified navigation menu is available through the top menu and through a new menu icon () located on the upper right side of each of the class pages.
A significant part of the efforts to update the site and prepare it for release as an open-source project was provided by Gavin Miller, an undergraduate at Colorado State University who works at the Institute for Learning and Teaching. Gavin has taken the lead on several new features, including the file tool, chat program, and text-messaging system. He has done a significant amount of quality assurance and is taking the lead on developing the documentation for the project.
Please look for news and updates about the open-source project. Our goal is to have the Studio available for use on both Windows Web servers and LAMP servers.