What is ALEX? ALEX (http://alex.med.nyu.edu) is a Learning Management system that serves as a central resource for online medical education content and computer-based learning activities. Every course, clerkship, and elective in undergraduate medical education has an ALEX site that supports teaching, learning and collaboration through a series of integrated web-based tools. ALEX replaces the Curriculum Materials Management System and Curriculum Web Sites and includes many new features and functionality.
ALEX empowers faculty and students to have greater control of their course content and gives them new tools to extend their teaching beyond the borders of the traditional classroom. The system upon which ALEX is based (Sakai, http://www.sakaiproject.org) was developed by a consortium of Universities and is specifically designed to support the needs of higher education.
ALEX includes several internal tools to facilitate our learning and teaching:
Learner and Teacher Portfolios: ALEX includes an extremely robust, standards-compliant portfolio system, the OSP ePortfolio. Individual learners, teachers, and professionals can create electronic portfolios to represent themselves using web-based software.
Our ePortfolio harnesses the creative work of ‘folio thinking’ thought leaders into a set of powerful tools that interoperate in the ALEX framework. Individual learners and instructors use the electronic portfolio system as a repository to store and organize digital evidence of teaching and learning. Like a web-based file system, users can upload files of any type, organize them in folders, and then reference them in presentations or compositions they design to share with a particular audience or multiple audiences. For individual students and instructors, the portfolio system provides a convenient and accessible space and the tools to represent individual learning and competencies.
Instructors can use the system to design guided reflective processes which help learners integrate and enhance what they have learned. Further, it provides a rich set of tools to design formative and summative assessments. Administrators use the enterprise electronic portfolio system as a data-driven decision making and reporting tool. Configured and customized to align with institutional goals and objectives, an electronic portfolio system collects real evidence of teaching and learning that can be correlated with and assessed against course, program, department, and institutional objectives.
Announcements Tool: Announcements are used to inform site participants of current items of interest. Announcements can have multiple attachments, including documents and URLs. It is possible to draft and save an announcement before sending it out to site participants or posting it on the site. Announcements appear in a list when you are in the Announcements Tool. They also appear on the home page of each course or project site. Site owners and instructors can choose to have an announcement automatically emailed to all of the site participants by using the "required notification" setting shown below.
Discussion and Private Messages: The ALEX Discussion Tool allows structured conversations that are organized in categories. Site participants can post replies to a topic (a "flat" discussion) or to other replies (a "threaded" discussion). The site owner can also choose whether or not to allow site participants to post their own discussion topics. You can view Discussion in a row or column layout.
My Workspace: ALEX provides each user with his or her own individual online worksite which functions as a private workspace. Your workspace includes several features, including Resources, Schedule, Worksite Setup, Announcements, News, Web Content, Preferences, Help and Membership.
News Tool: The News Tool allows a ALEX worksite to display an RSS feed. RSS is a data format that allows users to view continuously updated content from another site. In addition to news, some websites use the RSS format for information that is updated often, such as blogs, events listings, or the revision history of a book. Worksite owners can customize their News feature by putting in a web address for any RSS feed.
Permissions and Roles: When you create a course or project worksite, you choose which tools (e.g., discussion, schedule, resources, etc.) you want the worksite to have. For each of these tools, you can set permissions that allow or prevent users from seeing or performing certain tasks depending on a user’s "role." In ALEX, the various roles are given default permissions, but worksite owners can change these as desired for their site.
Post’Em: Post’Em supports providing feedback and grades from an Excel spreadsheet saved in CSV format. Some useful features of Post’Em include: multiple files can be uploaded, participants only see the files that contain feedback, and Instructors can see whether participants have read their feedback. Post’Em is a ALEX provisional tool — it is not a core component of ALEX Releases, but it is relatively well-developed and is in use at multiple ALEX Installations.
Resources Tool: Resources is the most widely used tool in classes and collaborations. In Resources, you can make many kinds of material available online. There are three main types: documents (word processing documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, plain text, etc.); links to other websites; and documents that are created and displayed right on the ALEX page. Users can post up to 10 resources at a time, post items outside of folders, create folders in folders, and create html documents in ALEX. Using the Permissions feature, worksite owners can control which types of users can post, delete, and read documents in specific folders.
Schedule Tool: Schedule allows instructors or worksite organizers to post items in calendar format. The calendar has day, week, month, year, and a flat list view. Any Schedule item can have multiple attachments. All Schedules on worksites you have access to are merged in your My Workspace Schedule. In a worksite, you can also selectively merge Schedules from other worksites you have access to using the Merge feature. You can print an Adobe PDF file of any view of a Schedule by clicking the "Print PDF" button while in the desired view.
Syllabus Tool: The syllabus is the official outline for your course. As an instructor, if you or your department has prepared an online syllabus already, you can direct the Syllabus Tool to link to it. Otherwise, you can enter material directly in your Syllabus tool. As you create a syllabus, you can designate that it be viewable by the general public or just to members of your course. Some features of a traditional syllabus are divided between the Syllabus and Schedule Tools. Some instructors use the Syllabus area to display the department’s official online syllabus, and use the Schedule as a detailed resource for students. You have the option to format your syllabus content in HTML instead of plain text.
ALEX allows us to integrate several innovative tools for computer-assisted instruction:
iTunesU (http://itunes.med.nyu.edu) is a free, hosted service provided by Apple for universities that provides easy access to educational content, including lectures and video. Through iTunesU, our learners can download and view that content on their Mac or PC, or transfer it to an iPod for listening or viewing on the go. It provides us a mechanism for providing offline multimedia content with minimal technology overhead. It allows us to distribute selective content without constraining our bandwidth.
Virtual Patients: Computer-based simulations of patient encounters are recognized as a valid and effective way to improve our learner’s clinical reasoning skills. VPs can also help us address the challenge of case diversity and patient contact time for our learners. We have already established NYUSM as a leader in this approach and are participating in the developing international standards for these technologies. A key technology that we will be collaborating on over the next two years is a novel web-based Virtual Patient application that we are developing and will integrate the system into our ALEX framework, described below.
LAMS: The Learning Activity Management System is a revolutionary new tool for designing, managing and delivering online collaborative learning activities (http://www.lamsfoundation.org/). It is an open source Java-based application that provides teachers with a highly intuitive visual authoring environment for creating sequences of learning activities. These activities can include a range of individual tasks, small group work and whole class activities based on both content and collaboration. LAMS has features we have long sought, such as an embedded living notebook and will enable Faculty to create complex web-based module without the development resources we have had to invest in the past.