Course Management Systems: Integrating Library Content, Panel Discussion

Elizabeth Black, Ohio State University

Don Kim, Murray State University

Kim Duckett and Jason Casden, North Carolina State University

Session Summary: A great sampling of creative tools and solutions! Anyone looking to find innovative ways to push library content through course management systems will find great ideas from these presentations. Note: any reference in this post to “CMS” indications “course management system,” NOT “content management system” (i.e., Drupal).

Elizabeth Black, Ohio State University:

The CMS in use at Ohio State is called Desire2Learn. It’s made by a Canadian vendor, and as at many institutions, the course management system is run by a University IT department (educational technologists).

It was important that the project was a true collaboration between campus IT and the library; commitment and maintenance were very important, with mutual authority and accountability given and expected from both parties. The project was designed by a cross-departmental team.

The team decided to create a suite of tools to achieve their goals; the biggest impression this left on me personally is how much integrating these resources could create significant efficiencies for staff in other areas of the library, particularly reference and reserves.

  1. eReserves: all course reserves were delivered in the CMS; access limited to students in that course, scanned files were put into learning object repositoty; ereserves branded Carmen this is great, as it is one less place for students to go to get course materials. For the library, it’s great advertising for reserves. Storing the articles in a learning repository greatly reduces workload for reserves staff!
  2. Creation of Librarian role in the CMS: named roll w/ certain “powers”; all the powers of an instructor, can email students, etc., just can’t see the gradebook—requires good working relationship; instructors give the role to the librarian; replacement for one-shot bib session: this is particularly useful for reference staff who are looking to increase the impact of instruction beyond; reduces teaching load by not requiring
  3. Seamless authentication: OSU fully Shibboleth! This makes linking to resources easier, as librarians know how to code proxy links; “library links”—library links in CMS: replacing static class guides: sends XML document to web service: for libraries (like mine) who still create static course web documents on the library server side, this is a much more efficient way of delivering info

Don Kim, Murray State University

Don’s institution uses Library on BlackBoard (Bb). The Virtual Library integration service is cleverly taglined: “Information: where you are, we are,” and it was designed with simplicity in mind.

Project timeline was short: a quick two-month development time; marketed to patrons. Groups involved were library systems and reference staff, as well as two focus groups of students and staff. Tools used: xhtml, css, js; Camtasia, Meebo, Google Custom Search Engine and Google Analytics.

The index page for the collection of resources developed lists everything by college and department, but with acknowledged limitations—students don’t know their colleges and departments—this got some laughs, but sadly, it’s true! The index page was therefore changed to subject list: will this be efficient as well? Students hate lists of subjects…but, it’s good to provide more than one point of access (by subject AND by college).

Great use of Google Custom Search to offer a metasearch of vetted resources, and Meebo for IM chat puts a lifeline to info experts when the students are. Essentially, this relocates traditional subject guide/pathfinder pages into a more useful space: a space where students already HAVE to go, if the CMS is required by instructors. Google Analytics provides usage patterns so that staff have hard evidence about what’s getting used (or not). Don provided very impressive use statistics that show much higher use than we’ve seen of “traditional” pathfinder/guide resources.

Don and his colleagues recognized the importance of marketing, knowing that not all faculty use BlackBoard. Overall, it’s great to see that we, professionally speaking, are getting better at marketing all of this great stuff that we’re creating! Don and his colleagues are also pondering allowing instructors to customize their own links/content. Would they be able to do it? Or should librarians maintain control of this aspect of the product?

Kim Duckett and Jason Casden, North Carolina State University

Product=Courseviews: a combination of BlackBoard Vista; Moodle Pilots; “WolfWare” locker system (plays on the school’s “Wolfpack” mascot)

“Course pages”: reference and instruction staff put great care into these, but the audience is limited; how many students do you actually reach? How to best redirect this staff effort to make it more efficient: 6,000 courses, but only 200 pages—pages that go outdated unless the course is requested again.

How to create a scalable, sustainable solution? A “distillation of the most student-centric stuff”? Goals: course view for every course: scalable, sustainable, content customized. Campus partners, like at Ohio State, were the learning technologists.

What went into this CMS-bound content? Lots: Widgets: course reserves, citation tools, project tools, technology lending; Quick article search/metasearch (EBSCO) available; highlights databases by subject; tabs for catalog and Google Scholar, too.

Library staff wanted also to provide a basic “default” set of links/info for instructors who have not yet created a set of tools resources in the CMS. This could perhaps also work very well for 101 level-courses?

Like at Don’s institution, a chat widget was used to provide the lifeline to help, but they used Libraryh3lp rather than Meebo.


The widgets that populate page are very impressive; “cascading selection” creates content dynamically in a much better, more efficient presentation of this kind of info than in static guides. The whole project was creaed as a stand-alone system, but integrated into Bb; Moodle trial (PHP-based) easier to integrate into, however.

Usage analysis in custom logs and log analysis of widget shows that reserves are more than half of usage; other two types of content in the top three accessed are “search” and “recommended.”

Weiling Liu, Building Collaborative Web Applications with Drupal

Weiling Liu, University of Louisville (Kentucky)

Session summary: An excellent demonstration of the modular and flexible nature of Drupal, an open-source web content management system. Drupal has featured prominently in library conferences recently; however, one of the strengths of Liu’s presentation was in the two project examples she used: managing news and events web content that comes from a variety of library staff; and creating a library conference application that collected conference proposals, turned the accepted proposals into a conference schedule, and provided a place to link to conference presentations after the conference. Also useful are her “Lessons Learned the Hard Way” (near the end of this post).

Liu began by describing Drupal and showing examples of Kentucky-area library sites that use Drupal. She then described two projects that used Drupal to solve what were complicated projects with poor workflows: enabling library staff to post content about library news and events : enablinposting library news and events to the library’s web presence

Example 1: Library News & Events

Before using Drupal, library staff posted information about library news and events in static web pages. Disadvantages of static pages include low visibility and difficulty in managing them. Static pages become outdated and need to be weeded; often, it’s not clear to the person maintaining web files when news-y types of information should be removed from the web site. Some items are relevant to users for only a day, while an exhibit announcement should remain present until the exhibit is removed.

Desired features for a new means of posting this important content to the library web presence included ease of use for library staff; maintain a separate presence for multiple libraries adn departments; RSS feed to get users to subscribe; Drupal’s built-in features satisfied these requirements.

Liu also created help files for staff who were using Drupal to post this kind of content

Example 2: Online Proposal Submission Form for a local Kentucky conference

Previously, proposals were emailed to committee organizers, who then had to coordinate distribution of the proposals, their review, and then creation of a conference schedule–clunky to say the least.

Goals for a project that would streamline this workflow included a system that would: collect and review proposals and then turn the proposals into both an online conference schedule and a place to link presentation repository come conference time

Users of this system could also manage their own contact information, relieving the conference organizers of maintaining email addresses and other contact information.

Technical Information: How did Liu build the system?

1. Define needs/needs assessment

2. Install/configure application–“the cool part” (design, modules, permissions)

3. Testing

Notes: Liu stated that configuring and testing were the most time-consuming phases of the project;

If more customization is required, PHP programming knowledge is necessary

Liu described Drupal as a highly modular system; there is a good deal of flexibility offered for those who do NOT have programming (PHP) skills, yet is is scalable/extensible with a number of add-on modules, and it can be developed further by those with programming skills.

Drupal terminology: pages are called “nodes;” nodes have types that describe the type of content contained in them; “teaser” is a short form display; “roles” are groups in the sense of permissions, etc. (See Liu’s slides for a more complete list)

Design: Themes can be assigned to people in different roles, easily offering control of design elements in a flexible manner.

Access control: there is an add-on module that allows much finer control over permissions than the default admin module. User experience can be customized to direct users directly where they need to go to create their content, preventing them from getting “lost” in the CMS.

Module tips (Lessons learned the hard way):

-If you can do what you need to do with the core module, stick to the core module. Add-ons are kewl, but when you use them, it can make upgrading Drupal to a new version more difficult.l

-When installing add-on modules, put them all in the same directory so that they can easily be located and upgraded all at once. This allows you to keep better track of them.

-Read the README file. Pay attention to the warnings and recommendations about modules.

-Always BACK UP your system before adding a new add-on module so that you can restore if something bad happens during the addition/upgrade

-Add modules one at a time, test, and check them before adding another. Allows for easier troubleshooting if there are problems. Avoid impulse shopping: “Ooh, I want this module…and this module…”

Be sure to view Liu’s slides of Drupal site examples and interal Drupal screen shots, which demonstrate many of the concepts covered and offer a glimpse into the administrative side of things. Her slides are available on the conference USB drive and will be posted in the LITA site after the conference.