5 favorite tools for using Sakai as a course management system (CMS)

by Annelie Schmittel, PhD Student Mass Communication,  University of Florida

Course management systems (CMS) have undergone steady transitions ever since the birth of the World Wide Web. These transitions certainly impacted (and still impact) many college campuses in the country. The progression towards online teaching and even the expectations of use of technology in regular classrooms only fuels the need for professors, instructors or teaching assistants to become familiar with course management systems and the tools within.

Here at the University of Florida we recently switched from Blackboard to Sakai. While Sakai may not be the most intuitive or user-friendly CMS out there, it does offer a variety of tools that can be of great benefit to instructors.

My TOP 5 Sakai tools are:

1. Site Info

When your course site is first set up, a few features are automatically included on your left-hand navigation. Site Info allows you to customize your left-hand navigation bar, both as far as content and order of navigation links. You can include tools that you will implement in your course, while at the same time eliminating tools that you will not use. This will help students and instructors in terms of organization and clarity.

2. Sign up for office visits

This is a great tool that allows students to sign up for slots during your office hours, thus avoiding either no shows during or multiple students showing up at the same time.

3. Calendar

The calendar is yet another great organizational tool that can certainly help students (and instructors) stay organized and on top of things. Anything from lecture or lab meetings, exams, due dates and special events can be added onto the calendar in Sakai and be viewed by students.

 4. Gradebook 2

Perhaps the most confusing part of Sakai is the fact that there are two! gradebooks. While both of them work fine for basic grading, Gradebook 2 offers many features that the regular Gradebook cannot. Gradebook 2 allows instructors to set up extra credit and dropping of lowest scores so that these tasks do not have to be completed by hand at the end of the semester.

5. Lessons

Yet another wonderful tool when it comes to organization. Lessons allows instructors to create modules for the entire semester while at the same time hiding unwanted content for students. Content only unlocks when the instructor wants the students to see it. Often times instructors either post everything at once in the beginning of the semester or they have to do it on a weekly basis. The lessons tool can eliminate that stress.

Of course there are other useful and fun tools such as blogs, wiki or assessment. If you are interested in exploring some of these options, please visit the UF e-learning wiki: https://lss.at.ufl.edu/help/Main_Page or watch their tutorials online: https://lss.at.ufl.edu/training/tutorials/elearning.shtml

Instructors or TA’s who have little experience with Sakai should consider taking part in the numerous e-learning workshops that are hosted each semester. For a list of workshops, visit their website: https://lss.at.ufl.edu/training/events.shtml

Annelie Schmittle is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930). Her teaching presentation was on using Sakai.

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