Thursday, June 11, 2009

Angel in Use at SJSU-SLIS

by Jennifer Davis

Have you logged into Angel today? If you're an SJSU-SLIS student, you probably have, because Angel is our new Learning Management System (LMS). How did you feel about the experience? An informal poll, discussed in this article, attempted to measure our first encounters with this application. The transition from Blackboard and other applications started in the Spring 2009 semester after the school conducted an evaluation of the best solution for our online program.

The decision to use Angel as our LMS was a carefully considered one, taking into account both the availability of as many features as possible and accessibility that meets CSU disability guidelines. Debbie Faires, Assistant Director for Distance Learning, explained that Moodle and Blackboard were also considered; Blackboard didn't have the desired features, and Moodle would have required that SJSU hire programmers to customize it.

As a result, students and faculty have found themselves immersed in learning Angel while using it for their classes. A brief poll was conducted to get a feel for how students were reacting to Angel so far. An invitation for the web-based poll was posted on the school's "quickslis" mailing list; students and faculty who were subscribed to the mailing list and were interested visited the site anonymously. IP addresses were not collected, nor were names or email addresses. The poll was set up on as a free poll, which cut off respondents after 100 people took the poll. (Student Services Coordinator Scharlee Phillips says that there are 2,700 students enrolled this semester at SJSU-SLIS, making the sample size relatively small.) The poll questions were written casually. There were multiple choice questions about Angel features and about the respondents' backgrounds, as well as open-ended questions that invited respondents to write freely about their opinions about Angel. Two faculty members responded before the poll was cut off; the other 98 respondents identified themselves as students.

Who answered?

Most respondents rated themselves as having moderate computer skills, defined as: "I Know What I'm Doing (I blog, I read newspapers online)", at 78%; 20% rated themselves as experts, defined as: "Expert (I can create a directory listing in an operating system, I know how to set my own cookies, I've written wiki pages with native wiki formatting)". Of these respondents, 78% had used Blackboard and were indeed making a transition to Angel (as opposed to learning an LMS for the first time).

What did they think?

40% of respondents found email the easiest feature to use (out of chat, discussion boards, email, IM, and wiki); 52% found the discussion boards to be the hardest to use. Respondents answered in a rough bell curve on the question "On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the EASIEST and 5 being the HARDEST, how easy would you say Angel is to use, overall?" with 42% choosing the middle ground, a rating of "3." 84% of respondents said they had worked through some or all of the SJSU-SLIS Angel tutorial; 16% had not worked through it at all.

What does it all mean?

One disappointing result is the evaluation of discussion boards being the hardest to use; I know that in the class I am taking, the discussion boards are the core of the classroom activity. Having only 2% of respondents define themselves as computer novices indicates that most of us should be in a reasonable position to learn a new system; however, the fact that 16% of respondents hadn't worked through the tutorial indicates that we could do more to educate ourselves about how to use Angel.

Respondents were allowed to add comments if they wanted; 68% took advantage of this. People were frustrated that the discussion board, and Angel overall, loads slowly compared to other tools. There were multiple complaints about the small size of the discussion board display and about the bottom line of the discussion board being cut off. (The SJSU-SLIS Angel FAQ has suggestions for mitigating both of those problems.) Also, students talked about the confusion caused when two professors set up their classes with different designs in Angel; if navigation between two classes is different, the student has to learn two different configurations of Angel. Several people suggested that there might be benefits from the faculty agreeing on a general design standard for classes to make it easier for students to navigate.

Most respondents had pretty strong opinions about Angel. Some people had definitely made up their minds against Angel after five (5) weeks of use: "To date, this is the worst software that I have experienced since I began using computers in 1983." Other respondents were more positive: "I haven't used many of the functions available because I'm only working on my e-portfolio this semester but I've found the Angel interface easy to use...I like that everything is one place (wiki, discussion boards, and e-portfolio) and think this is a really neat system for student's [sic] starting the program."

How will we feel about Angel after using it for a semester? By Fall 2009, we'll know better how much dislike for Angel is based on our learning curve--on not knowing how to use a tool very well when we're under pressure with classes--and how much is based on genuine problems with the tool. At the end of Spring 2009, SJSU-SLIS is collecting tips and tricks for using Angel that will help us adjust. In the meantime, Angel will continue to be part of our lives at SJSU-SLIS. Maybe we can remember that however much we are struggling with Angel, we can use these experiences to empathize with the library users we will meet in our future who may struggle with computer applications in general.

Jennifer Davis is in her second semester at SJSU-SLIS and is looking forward to changing her career from software testing to something in the information science realm.

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