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Archive for the 'communication tools' Category

What your colleagues from U Carleton are doing.

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

The University of Carleton has a teaching and learning blog, with some postings on WebCT use.

This postings discusses the use of educational technology as a means of acheiving (or at least approaching) a paperless classroom.  Instructors at the University of Carleton and at SFU post classroom materials online: syllabus, lecture outlines, links to readings and weblinks and assignment descriptions and guidelines online. This gives the student just one place to look for these materials (instead of coming through past emails, or stacks of paper). Online quizzes can also be a means of implementing regular assessment (graded or self-testing) and feedback into the course without contending with mountains of paperwork.

Another posting is more general, talking about creating learning opportunites using technology.  This is an opportunity to look at three different courses who use the WebCT online environment to:

  • create long term resources
  • reducing trivial emailed students from students
  • fostering an online learning community
  • create a common look and feel for the course
  • using images on the course content home to reinforce key ideas and concepts from the course
  • importing other tools (Google Calendar or Picasa photo management) into WebCT, to combine those tools ease of use with a central online location for the course materials and community.

We are planning on having some SFU faculty demonstrate their use of WebCT in the new year. Keep an eye on the LIDC calendar of events for dates and times.

Pilot: when Wiki met WebCT

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Wikis are online, editable pages that you and your students can use to collaborate on group projects or the development of course notes.

We are currently piloting a means of adding wiki functionality to WebCT. If you would like to add a wiki to your course container, please email instructional_support@sfu.ca and we will be happy to set it up and discuss it’s implementation and management.

This would act as a “plug-in”, much like the integration of Elluminate Live! software and Turnitin software. SFU currently uses the MediaWiki platform, and this plug-in allows you to have a wiki in WebCT. Currently, you would not be able to access the wiki outside of WebCT (that will require further work), wiki pages would be editable to all persons registered in the WebCT course and you can only have one wiki (put multiple pages in that wiki) per course.

Add lecture recordings to your WebCT course

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Create a seamless link between large class lectures and your WebCT course container to provide learning opportunities for students outside the classroom.

If your lecture hall lectures are recorded, you can now place a quick link to the recording in your WebCT course. Check here for instructions: http://wiki.sfu.ca/webct/index.php/External#adding_SFU_lecture_recordings


  1. Open the BUILD tab in your WebCT course container
  2. Add the WebLinks tool (go to Manage Course, click on Tools, select “WebLinks” and click save).
  3. From Home Page or any Learning Module or Organizer Page, Expand “Add Content Link” drop down menu
  4. Select “Web Link”
  5. Click “Create Web Link”
  6. Enter a title (e.g. SFU Digital Lectures)
  7. Enter the URL: http://podcast.sfu.ca/mylectures

Editing announcements

Friday, December 7th, 2007

When creating an announcement, there are two items that are worth noting.

1. You cannot edit an existing announcement. If you make a spelling mistake, your only option it to delete the offending announcement and post it again.

2. Later announcements appear at the bottom of the announcements list, not at the top, in reverse chronological order (which would make more sense).

Both of these observations have been sent to the developers at WebCT/Blackboard. They are aware of the issues, and the development team is looking at them.

Public and private entries in the calendar

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Currently, instructors are unable to prevent students from making public entries in the calendar. This is due to a small big in WebCT – in rare instances, if students are allowed to make private entries only, the entry can appear in the institutional calendar, and viewable to all. To prevent this from happening, the WebCT administrators at SFU have changed a setting that means instructors cannot prevent students from making public entries.

The work-around is to advise the students not to make public entries in the course calendar.

This bug has been reported to WebCT, and they are working on it for a future release.

Add RSS feeds to your WebCT course section

Friday, July 20th, 2007

For more information on what an RSS feed is and it’s role in education, download the Seven Things you Should Know About RSS], or go to http://www.weblogg-ed.com/ and click on the RSS tab near the top to download Will Richardsons introduction to RSS. For quick browsing, go to the ”Finding and Adding Feeds section”

How to add an RSS Feed Reader to your WebCT course section.

  1. Log in as a Section Designer and go to the section.
  2. From Course Content Home, click Add Content Link and choose RSS Feed Reader from the dropdown menu.
  3. Click Create RSS Feed Reader.
  4. Add the RSS URL in field #3
  5. Click save and preview in the Student View

The settings
The easiest way to add an RSS feed is to use the default options available. Just remember to add your RSS URL in field #3. For more information on how to find an RSS URL, please consult the resources listed above.

Advanced setting changes

If you are an advanced user of RSS feeds, there are other settings that you can change for your own needs.

The proxy tool settings consist of the following:

  1. Title: The proxy tool title that appears in the Course Content Home.
  2. Operational Timeout: Leave this set to the default (10).
  3. RSS/RDF URL: This must be set to the URL of the RSS feed. (e.g. http://feeds.macworld.com/macworld/all, http://rss.cnn.com/services/podcasting/newscast/rss.xml))
  4. XSL Transform Can be set to:
    • Default RSS: use the built-in RSS transform to convert the RSS to HTML. If this is selected, the XSL URL setting is ignored.
    • Default RDF: use the built-in RDF transform to convert the RSS to HTML. If this is selected, the XSL URL setting is ignored.
    • Custom: use a custom transform to convert the RSS to HTML. If this is selected, you must also set the XSL URL setting.
  5. XSL URL: If XSL Transform is set to Custom, this setting must contain the URL of an XSL transform capable of converting the RSS feed to HTML.
  6. CSS URL: Can be used to specify a custom cascading stylesheet (CSS) file. If empty, the built-in CSS is used.
  7. Window title: The text to display in the title bar of the popup window (when applicable).
  8. Title contains HTML: Set this to true if item titles in the RSS feed contain HTML (otherwise the HTML code is displayed).
  9. Description contains HTML: Set this to true if item descriptions in the RSS feed contain HTML (otherwise the HTML code is displayed).
  10. Custom parameter x: These five settings can be used to set parameters for the XSLT engine. This is only useful if you have a custom transform.-The format of each Custom parameter setting is:
    -So if you want to pass the current username and the learning context name to the transform, you would enter
    Custom parameter 1: username=$USER$.name
    Custom parameter 2: lcname=$LC$.name
    -In your XSL transform, you’d have something like this:
    <xsl:param name=”username”/>
    <xsl:param name=”lcname”/>

    <xsl:template match=”channel”>
    <p class=”channeldescription”>Hello, <xsl:value-of select=”$username”/> from <xsl:value-of select=”$lcname”/>!</p>
  11. Open in new window

Suggestion: Tracking responses to my postings in the discussion board

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Today’s suggestion to the developers at WebCT/Blackboard:

 I’d like to be easily track and see responses to my postings in the discussion area or blog. For example, in Facebook, if someone writes on my wall, or comments on a photo of mine, or comments after I’ve made a comment on someone else’s photo, I get an email notification of that, and I can go check this new activity. In Flickr, there is a link to instantly track who’s made comments on your photos, and another to instantly review who’s made comments after comments you’ve made on other people’s photos.

How this could work in the discussion area is: one link to track new responses in a thread that you’ve started, and another link to track new comments in a thread you’ve already contributed to. This should also include comments made on a blog posting, or comments made after your comment on a blog posting.

Today I had to go through several threads to remember which ones I’d contributed to, and which ones had responses, which is what had prompted this suggestion. 

Remember that you can make your own suggestions to them here.  The more suggestions they get, the more likely they are to implement it!

Wrapping up your web-supported course

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

part three: wrapping up

By default, your students will have access to their WebCT course discussions, content and grades until the last day of the semester. After the next semester starts, the course container is closed to them, but they retain access to anything in their personal WebCT File Manager. You’ll still be able to access the course content.

If you have used the discussion forum, post a “good bye” message to students. You can later “lock” discussion forums so that students can read, but not post new messages, but give your students a chance to wrap up their online thoughts. If you are going to grade student postings as part of their participation grade, have them compile and email their top five postings to you. This will save you time, and they’ll be able to revisit and review some of their past contributions.

The assessment tool can be used to survey your students at the end of the semester. They’ll have formal course evaluations, but you can check how they liked the web-supported course forum. Which tools or content supported their learning, and how did it extend the classroom environment. Use the same survey to ask yourself those reflective questions. What worked, what didn’t, and what would you do differently?

The gradebook tool can give your students an overview of their semester grades. Create a calculated column to calculate and distribute provisional final grades. There are instructions available to help you move grades seamlessly from WebCT to SIMS.

Streamline things for the next time you teach: store files that you use in multiple WebCT course sections in your File Manager – you’ll be able to link to those files from any WebCT course.

Delivering your web-supported course

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

part two: delivery

Your delivery will depend largely on the communication, administrative, assessment and content-driven tools that you have chosen to use.

Write expectations and guidelines for your students and the communication tools available. Use the discussion, mail tool, chat or announcements to give and receive regular feedback. Promote the the discussion forum as a place for student collaboration or the journal function to introduce reflective practice.

Use the goals tool to remind students of the expected learning outcomes. Attach different content, communications and assessments to specific goals to reinforce how goals and assessments connect to the syllabus and the whole semester.

Create formative evaluations to track student understanding or surveys to request feedback. When using the assessment or assignment tool (for small quizzes or homework), create a test quiz or assignment to reduce student anxiety. Create a rubric to attach to the assessment or assignment, and read all the options available. When you are done, use student view to complete all assigned assessments as the demo student.

Encourage student community by setting it up so that students can contribute URLs to the weblinks tool, add the roster tool or ask students to publish their assignments to the class.

The gradebook is a quick and secure tool to provide grades and feedback to students. Give the demo student grades so you can preview in the student view, release each column as you finish adding grades, and download grades into a spreadsheet for backup or to enter grades offline.

Keep your course design simple, so students can easily navigate it, and be consistent in your communications, grade delivery and content release.

Planning your web-supported course

Friday, June 8th, 2007

This is going to be part one of a three part series: the planning, delivering and wrapping up a web-supported course.

With some simple planning, you can reduce the basic administration associated with the classroom and connect with students. Alternative texts, video or audio can provide depth or context to student learning. Extending the classroom discussion to an online environment or reinforce concepts with regular assessments and feedback. How might this save you time in basic tasks, help you connect with students, recognize diverse ways of teaching and learning, and increase student learning?

part one: planning and setup 

To start, get some inspiration by looking at other web-based courses (http://www.webct.com/exemplary), attending a workshop or asking colleagues.

Advance planning will help you set your objectives, manage expectations and prioritize your time. What do you want your students take away from this course? What materials, approach and assessments can help you reach these objectives? Incorporate ideas that you’ve seen in other web-supported courses or that your colleagues have told you about. Which administrative tasks take up time in the classroom? How can a web-supported course help?

Write a list of the content, links, resources, and media that you currently use or would like to use for a course. Use this content to reinforce concepts, use different learning and teaching styles or to provide alternative resources and viewpoints. Review the tools available – is there anything new you’d like to try? Take the content, the communications and the assessment and put it in a logical order.

Write a welcome message using the announcements tool or the discussion forum to state your expectations, and what students can expect from you in this environment. Describe to your students the learning path this course will take and how the combination of the web-supported and face to face classrooms will support their learning.

When you are ready, request an online course section using the form at http://webct.sfu.ca

Your course container is yours to customize. Start by adding the tools you want to use. Add your syllabus and any course material – you can hide it or set release date to manage student access. Using the assessments described in the syllabus, setup the gradebook, and give your “demo student” some grades. Use the student view tab to see how the content appears, which grade columns are visible and which tools are available. Reinforce the prerequisites needed for your course by creating a low-stakes quiz to bring students up to speed, and help connect your course with the prerequisites.

Students are added to your web-supported course section automatically at SFU, as they register in SIMS. By default, students will be able to access the online materials in WebCT on the first day of classes.