Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quick Tips for Improving Your Sakai Site for Students

Now that the semester is underway and much of the heavy lifting of creating and populating your Sakai course site is complete, perhaps you’re ready to consider some fine-tuning to improve your course site for students. One option to consider would be to review your course using the Quality Matters Rubric Standards checklist, but that may take more time than you have to invest right now.

Alternatively, what are some relatively quick adjustments you can make to improve your Sakai course site for students? Below are two tips you might consider for improving your Sakai course site for your students, along with actionable links on how to implement them. Applicable Quality Matters standards are referenced for each tip.

Tip 1: Remove or Hide Tools Students Don’t Need (QM 6.1, 8.1)

In the summer of 2013 the Sakai Support team interviewed several students to find out what they liked and disliked about how Sakai was used in their courses. All students interviewed said they had taken courses where some tools on the Sakai site menu were not used. They described their frustration as a scavenger hunt where they clicked on the tool menu item but found a dead end with no content, wondering why the tool was even there or if they had missed something.

When you create your Sakai site, it includes a default set of commonly used tools that appear in the left menu. But you can easily remove tools that you’re not using or hide tools that students don’t need to see. Both of these tasks can be accomplished via the Site Info tool.

Remove Tools - Use the “Edit Tools” button to remove tools. Simply uncheck the tools you want to remove, click the “Continue” button, then the “Finish” button. Detailed instructions can be found at:

Hide Tools
- There are some tools that students don’t need to see, and you can hide these tools to declutter what student see in their menu. Examples include the Site Info, Roster, and Statistics tools. Use the “Page Order” button to hide tools. Here you’ll see each tool and you can hide a tool by clicking on the light bulb and toggling it to the off (gray) position. You (in the course Instructor role) will still see the tool in your menu, but it will be italicized as a cue that the tool is hidden to students. Detailed instructions and other options can be found at:

Tip 2: Organize Your Site with the Lessons Tool - (QM 4.2, 8.1)

Another common theme from student interviews was confusion in navigating through the course content by using the tool-centric approach of the tool menu. For instance, some assignments were located in Resources, others used the Drop Box, and still others used the Assignment tool. Students had to move in and out of the tool menu to search for relevant resources and activities.

The Lessons tool allows you to create pages, provide a context and navigational flow for an instructional unit, and combine materials such as text, resources, assignments, and assessments into a smooth sequence for students. Students appreciate the organization and flow that lesson pages can provide.

Students taking online courses in the summer of 2015 were asked what they liked best about online courses and nearly a third responded that they liked the organization of the courses (most courses used the Lessons tool). In particular they liked the clear expectations, to-do lists, self pacing, and easy navigation -- all features that can be implemented in your course with the Lessons tool.

Check out the following video for an overview and quick-start for using the Lessons tool:

Detailed instructions and other resources for using the Lessons tool can be found at:

If you need help with any of these tips or with fine tuning your Sakai site, don’t hesitate to contact to set up a consultation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer Renovations 2015

For most people, the beginning of summer signifies the start of barbeques, campfires, and lazy river rafting. Unlike most people, the beginning of summer marks the start of something else for Instructional Technologies: install season.

Every summer, a few classrooms are selected for media technology upgrades. Unlike many universities in the area, these upgrades are performed by in-house staff as well as a student workforce. Over a few days the room’s outdated equipment is dismantled, and replaced by state-of-the-art equipment which has become standard across campus. This equipment includes a wide-screen projector, screen, and media podium.
Updated media podiums were installed in six rooms
across campus this summer.

This season of installations marks the start of a new era for Instructional Technologies. While three of the six rooms (Ramstad 202, 203, and 205) received our standard equipment, the other half (Ingram 116, Rieke 210, and Garfield 102) have been outfitted with hybrid digital systems. The details of  “hybrid digital systems” may be rather boring, but the results may be exciting for users across campus. In addition to VGA inputs, these new podiums now have HDMI inputs for laptops, so users will be able to connect their digital devices.  Even the installation was easier: rather than pulling six 30 foot cables through the ceiling, this new hybrid system requires a single ethernet connection to the projector

We hope people will enjoy these upgrades and have a wonderful start to the semester!

Finished installation in Ingram 116

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fall 2015 Technology Workshops

Check out the schedule of Fall 2015 Technology workshops at along with full workshop descriptions and registration information. Workshops include a diversity of topics such as: 
  • Flipping vs. Blending: Course Design Options
  • Engaging Students Outside the Classroom with Google Blogger
  • Collaboration with Google Docs and Drive
  • Sakai Lessons Tool
  • Recording Weekly Videos with iMovie
  • Easy Steps for Making Your Course Content Accessible
  • Backups and Data Security at PLU
  • And more...!

For a complete listing of workshops, see the workshop listings page.

If you have a particular need for specialized and customized technology workshops for your class or department, contact Layne Nordgren (, 253-535-7197) and we'll do our best to meet your specific needs.

Need one-on-one assistance with technology? Contact to schedule a consultation. We'll find the right staff to assist you with your specific needs. In addition, Instructional Technologies provides a design lab with computers and software for digital editing projects. The Digital Design Lab is located on the first floor of the Library near the Help Desk.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sakai Rich-Text Editor Upgrade on Aug. 8, 2015

On Saturday, August 8, 2015, Sakai will be out of service from 7:00AM to 7:30AM PDT in order to upgrade the CKEditor, the rich-text editor in Sakai. The CKEditor is embedded within many Sakai tools including Lessons, Mailtool, Assignments, Announcements, etc.

Click image to enlarge.

As a result of this upgrade, the new CKEditor will have a new look-and-feel, most noticeably with updated tool icons. However, the current ordering of the CKEditor’s buttons and drop-down menus will remain the same. Furthermore, many of the quirks users experience with this editor will be resolved as a result of this upgrade.

For a closer look at each of the new CKEditor buttons and menus, see the document What is the purpose of each of the CKEditor controls? If you have any questions or concerns please email

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunset for ½” VHS Videotape Players

For over 25 years Video Home System (better known as ½” VHS) players provided access to analog video recordings in classrooms. But as technology continued to improve, this format was gradually supplanted by DVD players. What this means at PLU, is that what was once a standard component of classroom podiums, is now obsolete.

In May of 2013, Instructional Technologies emailed all faculty to let you know about the sunsetting of the ½” VHS video format. Since the Spring of 2013 we have not been able to purchase new ½” VHS players because they are no longer being manufactured. At this time we have only a few spares left to replace players in the classroom that become inoperable. If you're still using 1/2" VHS cassettes in the classroom, please be aware of the following change that will take place this summer and learn what you can do to make this transition as smooth as possible.

Removing ½” VCRs from Classroom Podiums

To address this issue and conserve our remaining VHS player spares, Instructional Technologies plans to make the following changes in classroom technology this summer:
  • Remove all remaining ½” VHS/DVD players in classrooms and make them available for faculty checkout as needed.
  • Replace ½” VHS/DVD players with region free DVD players that play NTSC, PAL, and SECAM DVD formats.
If you still use ½” VHS videos in your classes, you may check out a VHS player that can be easily patched into a podium or even stationed in a classroom for the semester if used frequently. You can reserve a ½” VCR from Instructional Technologies by emailing

Replacing ½” VHS Videotapes

Ultimately though, you will need to take action to replace these videotapes or find alternative instructional content.
  • Un-copyrighted ½” VHS tapes may be converted to the DVD format using commercial conversion services. 
  • Copyrighted ½” VHS tapes might be available for purchase. Contact your department/school faculty library liaison for assistance in researching options for purchasing videos in DVD format.

If you have any questions or concerns about this transition, please contact either of us at Thanks!

    Layne Nordgren, Director for User Services/Instructional Technologies
    Travis Pagel, Classroom and Event Technologies Team Lead

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Exploring “GradeMark” for Sakai Turnitin Assignments

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

Most faculty are familiar with the software Turnitin for its Originality Check of student papers, but it also offers a grading tool called GradeMark. On May 30, PLU will upgrade its Turnitin service in Sakai and with it receive improved access to the GradeMark tool. For student work submitted through Sakai Assignment’s Turnitin service, faculty will now have access to GradeMark’s grading functions. I am always keen to explore ways to streamline the time-consuming and arduous process of reviewing student work, so I have been exploring some of the new features this tool can bring to the grading process.

GradeMark is probably used most often for the evaluation of student papers. The digital grading process can be more efficient while also providing an electronic record of feedback, benefiting both instructors and students. Here are a few features I thought provided the most potential for faculty:

Quick Marks: Grademark allows you to highlight and easily insert feedback on students assignments. Comments can be personalized or you may utilize a library of comments created to reflect the needs of a specific course or assignment.

Rubrics: Using rubrics during the evaluation process helps to encourage clarity and specificity. GradeMark rubrics can be easily created and added to an assignment review. With the rubric and assignment side-by-side, the grading process moves much faster.

Voice Feedback: Recorded messages hasten the feedback process while providing a personal touch. GradeMark allows you to record up to 3 minutes of feedback for the overall assignment. However, the feature does not allow for feedback pointed to specific parts of student work.

If you are interested in trying GradeMark, Turnitin has an interactive tutorial that allows users to simulate the grading of a student paper while exploring the tool. You may even want to explore mobile grading using Turnitin on your iPad. Keep in mind that specific uses of GradeMark in Sakai might vary from what is presented in the videos and tutorials on Turnitin’s website. Also, because the integration between GradeMark and the Sakai Assignments tool is not entirely seamless, please refer to the Sakai help documentation, or schedule a consultation with Instructional Technologies ( for more information.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Helping Students “Stay Connected” This Summer

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

You may have noticed PLU promoting a new summer session campaign called “Stay Connected”. The campaign hopes to improve retention, decrease time to matriculation, and increase enrollments in summer session courses. 

A February 2015 survey of PLU students found:

    86% have never enrolled in a PLU summer course.
    76% plan to work over summer break.
    59% plan to return home over summer break.

To meet the challenge of staying connected to students during the summer, PLU will be offering twelve fully online courses taught by PLUTO trained faculty. Courses range from Christian Ethics to Beginning Watercolor Painting and allow students to fulfill general education requirements. Enrollment and budget challenges provide PLU with an opportunity to consider the evolving needs of our students. Pioneering faculty are helping PLU to explore how online learning might offer a high quality, engaging PLU experience when students cannot come to campus. Registration is right around the corner, and the PLU community is interested to see whether these new online offerings will entice students to give summer session a try.

     40% are undecided about whether to enroll in summer session.
     31% are interested in online summer courses.
     25% are interested in blended summer courses.

Summer is a great time for faculty to begin thinking about whether teaching an online or blended summer course might be something they want to consider. PLUTO trained faculty report gaining skills in pedagogy and technology that not only prepare them for online teaching but improve their teaching in traditional courses as well. Information sessions for the next PLUTO Institute during JTerm will be offered in the fall. This is an exciting time to be teaching at PLU. We would love to hear your ideas for summer session in the comments section below. For more information, check out the websites for PLU Teaching Online (PLUTO) and Summer Session.