Monday, March 28, 2011

Sapling's Digital Content Ecosystem

This week at the ACS Spring Meeting, we are introducing our new general chemistry eBook, Chemistry 5e by John Olmsted and Greg Williams. This book will be available under our new microcontent publishing model. We will be giving two talks at this conference:

  • Tuesday, 9:15 AM, Disney's Grand California Hotel, Trillium B: Microcontent publishing: A new model for development and dissemination of educational support materials (p. TECH-99 of the on-site program, talk 1340)
  • Tuesday, 3:30 PM - 6:00 PM, Anaheim Convention Center, Room 211A: Independent Online Homework and eBooks (a workshop on editing and earning royalties for content in our online homework and eBook system) (p. 29 of the on-site program)

For those of you unable to attend our sessions, this blog gives a brief overview of how things work.

If you have content you'd like to make available to your students, and you think instructors at other schools might like to use that same content, we'd like to let you get compensated for that effort. For questions, we'll pay a royalty based on the percentage of all questions in a course that you provide. In short, if you provide 50% of the questions used in a course, you'll get 50% of the available question royalty. Similarly, for eBook content, we'll pay a royalty based on the percentage of all eBook sections used in each course. The exact percentages can scale depending how much of the work you do, but the idea is to make it easy for people to mix-and-match content to fit their needs.

If you have content that you think would fit this model, let Brian Arneson know at We'll update the blog over the coming weeks with more details about what this means for your courses and how you can take advantage of this model, both as an author and as an instructor. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions you'd like us to answer in those posts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sapling Learning v1.15 Release Notes

At the end of this week we're releasing a huge update to Along with some bug fixes and other improvements, the entire look of the site is changing. We realize it might be a bit of a shock to change the look this dramatically in the middle of the semester, but everything will still be where it always has been (not to mention that there really isn't a time that isn't "in the middle of the semester" for at least one course on our site).

The new look extends throughout the site, and we're hoping it will make everything clearer and easier to use.

In addition to the new look, we're releasing several improvements.

Activities (aka Assignments):
  • Help With This Topic Drawer: We've added a drawer to the Activity Sidebar, containing links to resources related to the topic of the question you're viewing. When these resources are available and resources are enabled for your course, they will appear in this drawer. For example, Marc Loudon's Organic Chemistry textbook is available in organic chemistry courses, with the appropriate sections linked from each question.
  • Activity Sizing: Activities will now properly size to fit your browser window.
  • Sidebar Hiding: You can now collapse the sidebar to give you more space for the assignment itself in small windows.
  • Back-end Improvements: The database structure in which we store activities has been greatly improved. The improvements may not be immediately obvious, but we can now continue to improve the speed at which activities save and load. 
Activity Editing:
  • Improved Conflict Resolution: It is possible, under certain conditions, for the activity editor to get "out of sync," for example if multiple people are editing the assignment. We've improved the checks the activity editor does when you make changes to eliminate the issues this can cause.
  • Authoring Bug Fixes: For those of you who write content for your courses, we hope we've tracked down the last of the issues that cause you to have to log out and back in sometimes while editing your content. If you continue to have issues while authoring, please let me know
  • Cleaner Extension Interface: Adding due-date extensions for groups of students should now be considerably less confusing.
Anywhere Activities:
  • Introducing Anywhere Activities: Last month I mentioned that we had a new feature in the works to allow Sapling Learning assignments to be embedded on any webpage. This feature is now ready. We do not yet have an instructor interface implemented to give you the code to add to your page to use these, but, if you have a use for them, let me know and we can get you started. The instructor interface for creating these links (similar to embedding a YouTube video) will be available in a future release.
  • Instructor Editing of Anywhere Activities: When you embed an Anywhere Activity on your site, if you're logged in with your instructor account, you'll be able to edit that activity wherever you have it embedded (rather than returning to to edit it). You'll also be able to jump right to the gradebook or assignment statistics to see how your students are doing on that activity.
User Accounts and Login:
  • Facebook Connect Account Creation: Students can now use Facebook Connect to quickly create their accounts using their information from Facebook (such as name and location).
  • Facebook Connect Login: Students (and instructors) can also connect their Sapling Learning accounts to their Facebook accounts, speeding up the login process.
If you need help sorting out any of the new features, your TechTA should be able to walk you through them, or ask us in person at the Spring 2011 ACS National Meeting, March 27-31 in Anaheim, California.