Students, faculty reflect on a year with Trunk
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 20, 2012 10:04
When students returned to the Hill in September, they encountered the newest member of the Tufts community — not University President Anthony Monaco, but Trunk. The learning management system (LMS) made its debut amid much debate, with both students and faculty unsure of how to approach the transition.
University Information Technology (UIT) announced in October 2010 its selection of of the open−source platform Sakai to replace Blackboard as its new LMS.
Director of Educational and Scholarly Technology Services Gina Siesing said that the decision came after years of planning. UIT was given the go−ahead from the university during the last academic year, leading to its announcement of the planned turnover in the fall of 2010, she said.
“Blackboard was an end−of−life product, so we knew we had to replace it,” Siesing said.
She added that the decision to go with an open−source system came from looking at salient trends in educational technology.
“We really looked toward peer institutions to see what they were using,” Siesing said. “We wanted to be in good company,”
The open−source nature of Trunk is one of the attributes that many find appealing, according to Janet Hill, the manager of LMS Services at UIT. She pointed to its ability to integrate with various tools, such as math editing software, i−Clicker compatibility and a Turnitin.com feature.
“It’s nice that there’s a platform where we can offer up these kinds of tools in one place,” Hill said.
However, some think that the university has not done enough to make use of the possibilities presented by the open−source software.
Sophomore Amelia Cohen said that Trunk’s interface could be improved.
“I think the layout could be more efficient,” she said.
Senior Lecturer of Economics Anna Hardman also said Trunk’s interface lacks attributes that were seen in its predecessor. According to Hardman, the wider array of formatting selections on Blackboard made it easier for users to find resources.
“On Blackboard, you could use different colors on the text to give people a signpost that there are different tabs,” Hardman said.
Beyond Trunk’s interface, Cohen identified other difficulties she has had with the system.
“I’ve never understood the difference between ‘announcements’ and ‘messages’ and why both are a function,” she said.
Trunk has posed difficulties for students uploading assignments, according to Hardman, which has led to miscommunications with her students about the completion of those assignments.
Sophomore Kelly O’Hara also cited issues with the site’s functionality with regard to uploading documents.
“A lot of times things wouldn’t go through, and we had a lot of deadlines that got messed up,” she said.
Kristina Aikens, the associate director of writing resources at the Academic Resource Center (ARC), said that trouble arose when adapting Trunk course sites to the ARC’s Writing Fellows program. Because fellows are not enrolled in the classes for which they consult students but are not officially teaching assistants, professors have struggled to give them access to the appropriate information, Aikens said.
Hardman, who utilizes the writing fellows program for her courses, agreed that this is an issue.
“I want my Writing Fellows to be able to access assignments,” she said. “I certainly don’t want them to be able to access grade information.”
Hill explained that UIT has worked to accommodate these complaints, including a ticketing system for Trunk incident reports that was rolled out last November. She said this system allowed UIT to organize and respond to student and faculty problems with the site.
But Siesing said it is more difficult for UIT to address the rumors of displeasure that are not communicated through this resource.
“It is hard when the unhappiness proliferates in the community, but we haven’t officially heard about it, so we can’t address it,” she said.
That said, Siesing and Hill maintain that the turnover was generally a success for UIT — a sentiment shared by most individuals.
“I love Trunk. I didn’t find Blackboard very user−friendly, but Trunk was so intuitive, and I’m not a computer specialist by any stretch,” Gail Bambrick, a senior marketing communications writer for Tufts and a teacher at the Experimental College, said.