Today we released a major update to our classroom environment that will make HeatSpring courses better. After eight years of experimenting with our own software and trying every LMS under the sun, I can confidently say it’s a game changer.
Here is what makes the new HeatSpring learning platform great:
- It’s easier to use and and navigate on all devices from large monitors to mobile screens.
- Each individual assignment now has its own dedicated page. This allows instructors to build more robust content.
- A new notification system helps students and instructors stay engaged with their course content. We’ve tailored our notifications to the individual and try to show activity that’s most important to them.
- Students will learn more. All assignments are now required, so there’s no way to avoid being fully engaged. We are getting more rigorous because it’s better for learning, the industry, and the world.
- Students will receive a certificate of completion instantly after completing all of the course requirements, signing our honor code, and passing a final exam or receiving instructor approval on a capstone project.
Tour of the New Learning Platform
HeatSpring co-founder and platform engineer Duncan Miller is behind the latest changes to our course delivery environment. Here is Duncan’s commentary on how things work now and why we made the choices we did:
I want to focus on 5 main topics:
- Look and feel changes as well as organizational changes to courses
- Feature Upgrade: File Submissions
- New Feature: Notifications
- New Feature: Certificates of Completion
- Extras just for our instructors
While our new structural changes are solid, we are still actively working on the user experience on these pages and will continue to release new and improved features. If you have any issues at all, or want to provide feedback, please contact us.
We realize we’ve made some big changes, and that change is intimidating. There is always something new at HeatSpring, and that’s what we think makes us great. We are extremely excited by the possibilities these changes open up for improving our course experience.
1. Look and feel changes to the course and assignment organization
The main thing you’ll notice is that assignments are now buttons instead of links. This is better for mobile touch but also makes it easier to select an assignment with a mouse. The experience is better on all devices but significantly better for mobile users.
When students click on an assignment they are now taken to a separate page where they can complete the assignment. This allows us to make assignments more robust, with more room for longer text descriptions, embedded videos, quizzes, file submission assignments, and certificates of completion.
Students can navigate through assignments by clicking the ‘Next Assignment’ and ‘Previous Assignment’ links from within each assignment. This helps us create more of a flow to our learning path. It’s also intended to help students feel more immersed in a course experience.
Students also have a link in every assignment to the discussion board topic for that week. We continue to work to encourage more students and instructors to use the discussion boards as a resource.
2. Feature Upgrade: File Submissions
This relates to a particular type of assignment on HeatSpring called a File Submission where students upload a file to complete the assignment. Instructors use this feature to collect a wide variety of file types as homework assignments.
We changed two simple but very important things related to file submissions:
- Students can now upload multiple files to a file submission assignment. Upload as many files as you want and also manage the files you’ve uploaded.
- We’ve overhauled the comment system and added a more robust commenting area for file submissions. This allows students and instructors to interact privately and comment back and forth about a particular submission. Both students and instructors get notifications about file submissions and their comments.
3. New Feature: Notifications
We’ve created a new activity notification system and migrated all of our existing email notifications over to this new system. This includes quiz result emails and a variety of discussion board activity emails. We’ve revamped how those work, and we’ve also added in more activity which generates notifications.
Here are some examples of activity that generates notifications:
- Quiz results
- Discussion board
- New comments on posts you author
- New instructor posts (announcements)
- Comments on a file you submitted
- File submission results updated by the instructor
Notifications: Manage Email Frequency
Notifications are intended to be primarily used within the platform, so you can track new activity in the course and ‘mark as read’ notifications you’ve seen. In addition to the in-platform notifications, we’ve also added a variety of email alert options to choose from.
To manage these options go to the settings tab in your course. You can choose from the following frequencies to receive emails about new notifications:
Regardless of which option you choose, you can always visit the course page to manage your new notifications under the ‘Notifications’ tab, even if you don’t want any emails at all.
4. New Feature: Certificates of Completion
Before officially completing a course, students must complete all the assignments, receive a passing score on quizzes, submit all project files, and receive approval from their instructor. They must also sign our honor code.
Every HeatSpring student can now generate a certificate of completion instantly once they have completed these course requirements.
5. Extras just for our instructors
We love our instructors and always listen to their feedback. Many of these changes are due to direct instructor feedback about the existing features. We think these changes will make the teaching experience significantly better for instructors. We work to continuously improve, so please keep sending feedback and we’ll keep listening.
- Instructors get notifications for all discussion board posts and comments, so they can better keep track of what’s going on in a course session. They can manage their email frequency using the Settings tab. (See details above in #3.)
- Instructors get notifications when new files have been submitted by students or when new comments have been made about those files.
- Students are now surveyed on their experience automatically for every course. Instructors can see survey results via notifications.
- Instructors can now upload videos directly in the course building environment, instead of the two-step process of uploading to a video hosting service and linking to the video in the course.
- Assignment labeling is now standardized and should be easier. Instructors now just create an assignment title. A standard label (e.g. “Video”) is added to the assignment based on the assignment type.
- Course module labeling is also standardized. Instructors now just create a title for the week. A standard week label (e.g. “Week 4”) is applied based on the module’s placement in the course.
HeatSpring’s Approach to Online Learning and Teaching
Tom McCormack is HeatSpring’s Student Advocate. He has a master’s degree in Teaching and manages the student experience for all HeatSpring courses. Tom helped make critical design decisions based on pedagogical theory; basically, Tom knows what helps people learn. Here are some of the foundational concepts driving Tom’s approach to online education:
The Internet has brought about major changes to that way we consume information, do business, interact socially, and view the world. There has been a shift toward constant information access, a “sharing economy,” and a more level playing field for competitors to established institutions. Think Uber, Airbnb, Twitter, and Amazon.
The evolution of online education has paralleled these trends, and we’ve been studying them and applying as much as possible to our learning platform.
Online education allows for students and experts from around the world to connect, share ideas, and learn. Anyone with in-demand knowledge can teach. There’s no longer a need for a university classroom, conference room, or rented classroom. It’s also much easier for students to access the knowledge they seek. All that’s required is an Internet connection and an up-to-date web browser. Online education is radically democratizing access to information. HeatSpring has students from all over the world enrolled in courses. This was not possible a generation ago.
Time can be used much more efficiently. All content is available 24 hours a day. Students can tailor their learning schedule to their specific situation and needs. We call this asynchronous learning. Students and instructors engage with the same material during the same week, but no one needs to be logged in at a specific time. Spatial barriers no longer exist. Work can be completed at the office, at home, on the subway, or anywhere else where there’s Internet access.
One drawback to online education is that the face-to-face component is difficult to simulate. We attempt to address this by encouraging discussion board interaction, scheduling group conference calls for some courses, and providing a Student Advocate as a support person for students in all our courses.
We expect our new platform to improve student outcomes for several reasons:
- A simplified, more intuitive interface will streamline movement between assignments.
- Customized notifications (similar to those seen on Facebook) will remind students to complete work and engage with fellow students and instructors.
- Description text for each assigned item will help students understand how to properly complete and submit their work.
- Automated emails will re-engage students in the course each week. In the future, students may even receive emails when they have fallen behind.
- Improved analytics will allow instructors to see each student’s progress.
- New labeling and naming conventions will make it easier for students to find specific assignments.
Moving courses online was our first step. Now, we’re working on identifying and minimizing any “friction” in the online learning process. We’re making the user experience as intuitive and simple as possible. We’re ensuring that students and instructors have timely, customized information about their courses. And, we’re creating an attractive alternative for people who are tired of teaching and learning in a drab conference room for 8 hours straight wishing they were at home.
See for Yourself – Take a Course
We have over 140 courses live on the HeatSpring platform with more than 70 free courses. Sign up for a course today and check it out for yourself.