Volume 37 Number 1 | February 2023
The is the second half of a two-part article. Read Part 1 here.
Do We Have Enough Bandwidth as it Relates to the University Course Management System and Ancillary Systems?
Elizabeth A. Gockel-Blessing, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM
Amanda Reed, MAE, MLS(ASCP)CM
There are several areas related to information technology (IT) infrastructure that must be considered when starting an online medical laboratory science (MLS) program. In this article we turn our attention to the issues surrounding the Saint Louis University (SLU) course management system (CMS) and ancillary systems.
Communication is Key!
Per the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt, “a course management system (CMS) is a collection of software tools providing an online environment for course interactions.” It was determined at the outset that the CMS for the online program would be Canvas. It just so happened that the university was amid changing over to Canvas around the same time. This scenario set the stage for identifying and analyzing both pros and cons regarding the development and implementation of the online courses in Canvas (Table 1).
Table 1. Pros and Cons Regarding the Development and Implementation of the Online Courses in Canvas
All university courses will be set-up and run through the same course management system (CMS) and thus for units on campus that have standard templates, all their course offerings will be standardized.
Once the system is up and running, there will be adequate CMS/IT support.
Students will only have to learn one system while attending the university.
Instructors new to the Canvas system will have the opportunity to gain experience in a new system to add to their resumes/CVs.
There will be a learning curve for instructors new to Canvas, a process that can take valuable time away from other instructor-required tasks.
There is no indication that the Canvas/IT support team will be expanded to manage onboarding of new faculty and troubleshooting problems.
Ancillary systems utilized by the MLS program do not communicate directly with Canvas.
Addressing the “Cons”
- Assumption #1: There will be a learning curve for instructors new to Canvas, a process that can take valuable time away from other instructor-required tasks. The University Center for Teaching and Transformative Learning (CTTL) developed and continues to provide online teaching training. The program secured assistance from instructional designers with the course builds on Canvas.
- Assumption #2: There is no indication that the Canvas/IT support team will be expanded to manage onboarding of new faculty and troubleshooting problems. Instructors and online students have access to University IT Support if they have any issues with Canvas or other university systems. No extra staff have been hired to accommodate the possible increase in work tickets. Fortunately, the program is launching with a small cohort, so we do not expect an immediate issue.
- Assumption #3: Ancillary systems utilized by the MLS program do not communicate directly with Canvas. As this process unfolded, questions arose regarding the integration of Canvas into other university systems and ensuring that these programs communicated with each other. Areas of interest were Banner, ExamSoft, Media Lab, Skillsoft, and eValue. A description of each system is introduced in Table 2 and described in the sections that follow.
Table 2. Description of the Banner and ExamSoft Systems
This online portal is used by students, faculty, and staff (i.e., online counselors) to access important documents and processes. Specific to students, Banner allows students to access their personal academic records, access course and academic calendars, register for classes, and make updates to personal information.
It was important that Banner and Canvas talked so that appropriate information out of Canvas, such as final course grades, were automatically populated into Banner, thus reducing the chances of grade entry error.
As the name implies, ExamSoft allows users (instructors) to create, import, and bank exam questions in an online format so students can take online exams in a secure setting.
A provider of cloud-based software for the clinical laboratory industry that offers a plethora of online laboratory-based courses.
Provides corporate training in an online environment.
This is a healthcare education management system that we use to track information as it relates to clinical rotations.
Fortunately, communication between Canvas and Banner was not an issue since this line of communication was already established when other units of the university made the switch to Canvas.
ExamSoft is a separate system that does not communicate with any of the university’s other systems. Students must be given access to ExamSoft. This is a manual process that takes place once a semester. A staff or faculty is assigned the task of entering student information and giving them access.
Instructors can watch a series of video tutorials to learn the basics. All exams are built by our subject matter experts and instructional designers and are administered by adjunct instructors. The MLS program director (PD) and program manager (PM) decided the exam settings, parameters, and policies to ensure consistency throughout the course. Once an exam has been given, instructors simply hand-enter exam grades retrieved from ExamSoft right into Canvas. If students have an issue while taking or uploading an exam, there is a 24-hour help number they can call to troubleshoot any issues. Other items to consider before choosing ExamSoft were its system requirements. The students are made aware of the specific software requirements when they are admitted to the program.
The MLS PD and PM also had to decide which exams, if any, were to be proctored and what type of proctoring was to be implemented (live or AI). The midterm and final exams in each didactic course are proctored using a screen recorder, camera, and microphone through ExamMonitor. Student lab courses will have one proctored exam using ExamMonitor.
We utilize Media Lab in both our in-seat and online programs. We decided that the MLS PD would be the person responsible for determining the number of subscriptions needed each semester, tracking when each subscription expires, building groups within Media Lab, adding/removing users, and giving each user appropriate access to the various subscriptions.
Media Lab does not communicate directly with our CMS, so students are asked to either upload their certificates of completion/screenshots of scores directly into an assignment that is built into Canvas, or the adjunct instructor manually enters the grades from Media Lab into a Canvas assignment.
The online MLS program at SLU has a Canvas course called “Student Resources.” This course contains the MLS Student Handbooks, Clinical Rotation Handbook, Lab Safety Manual, safety and bloodborne pathogen training modules, as well as general information about SLU, Canvas, and ExamSoft.
Each new cohort of students is required to read all handbooks and manuals as well as sign an “Acknowledgement and Receipt Statement” in which the students acknowledge that they have read, understand, and agree to the policies contained within the handbooks and manuals. Students must also complete online safety and bloodborne pathogen training on an annual basis. In addition, students must complete HIPAA training before starting their clinical rotations. Saint Louis University utilizes a program called Skillsoft for these trainings.
The MLS PM makes sure the online students have access to the Student Resource course and the training modules, as well as tracks all acknowledgement and receipt statements and training module certificates of completion. Unfortunately, Skillsoft does not communicate directly with Canvas, therefore all certificates must be manually uploaded to Canvas for tracking. Technical issues that arise are addressed by the MLS PM or diverted to the IT team at SLU.
eValue is a healthcare education management program that we use to schedule clinical rotations, track timecards and evaluation forms, and compile documentation, including immunization records, drug screens, and criminal background checks. The PM onboards clinical preceptors and students, updates contact information, creates the rotation schedules, as well as tracks all documentation and evaluations. eValue does not communicate with any other systems at SLU. Therefore, graded evaluations must be manually uploaded into the corresponding Canvas course. Since Canvas and Banner can communicate with each other. Final grades can be directly transferred from Canvas to Banner, minimizing grade entry errors.
Summary IT Infrastructure
“Any problem, big or small, always seems to start with bad communication.” ~ Emma Thompson
Most of the problems we ran into within the realm of IT infrastructure centered around communication. Communication breakdown occurred between the MLS program and the Offices of Admissions and Registrar, or communication between the CMS and ancillary systems at SLU. Decisions made at the highest levels did not always trickle down to those doing the work, thus creating frustration, confusion, and extra work.
Therefore, having clear processes for admission, registration, student and adjunct onboarding into SLU’s ancillary systems, administration of exams, subscription management, and collecting and storing information for clinical rotations is key. In addition, ensuring that there was dedicated faculty/staff to conduct these functions is also essential. Looking back, had there been open communication from the outset, the problems we experienced would have been nonexistent at best or minimized. Lessons learned.
Elizabeth A. Gockel-Blessing is Associate Professor, Medical Laboratory Science Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs at Doisy College of Health Sciences at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Amanda Reed is Assistant Professor/MLS Program Director at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Read additional articles in this series: