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Carmen issues lead to some Ohio State students’ frustration

The new Carmen logo features a sneaker as an attempt to draw attention, said Valerie Rake, the Carmen support team leader for the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

The new Carmen logo features a sneaker as an attempt to draw attention, said Valerie Rake, the Carmen support team leader for the Office of Distance Education and eLearning.
Credit: Courtesy of OSU

The online service Ohio State pays more than $300,000 a year to license has been a source of frustration for some students since its update over the summer.

Carmen, OSU’s online learning management system, includes functions for students to submit homework, take quizzes, view grades and participate in online discussions. The program is managed by the Office of Distance Education and eLearning.

“While ODEE is a relatively new unit at Ohio State, the team who supports the service has been essentially the same since Carmen came online in 2005,” Carmen support team leader Valerie Rake said in an email.

The Carmen software is licensed from Desire2Learn, a vendor OSU starting working with in 2005.

“Our contact with D2L is multi-year, but the comprehensive annual license fee is $310,248,” Rake said in an email. “This covers the application itself was well as updates and support.”

One of the issues the ODEE office hasn’t been able to fix is with documents that won’t load from class content folders.

“At the start (of the academic year) Word, PowerPoint and PDF would not actually load into content; you would get an error. Right now we can’t fix that because that is how it is coded and written.” Rake said on the phone.

Desire2Learn temporarily adjusted the settings to push those files to an automatic download while people work on a permanent solution, Rake said.

She added that the time needed to fix problems varies for every situation, but there are certain times when one problem will be fixed faster than others.

“There are many other universities using Desire2Learn,” Rake said. “If a problem affects a number of schools and is a high impact tool, then the solution is going to be faster, then if only a few users are going to have this problem. It also depends on the nature of the problem and if it’s hard to fix.”

According to the ODEE Terms of Use, maintenance and updates are usually scheduled Sundays from midnight to 3 a.m.

Some students, though, said the ODEE schedule of maintenance and updates conflicts with the time they study or complete homework.

“I think we need to question why maintenance is done so frequently,” said Ashok Talluri, a fourth-year in logistics management and marketing. “I have friends at other universities, and they do not experience these types of outages on a weekly basis, multiple times. Once a week is understandable, multiple times a week sometimes. It is right around when you have projects due. They do not take any of that into account.”

Erika Hopkins, a third-year in psychology, however, said the Carmen maintenance periods have not been an issue for her.

“I am a morning person, so the maintenance does not conflict with my schedule,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said she thinks OSU should work on striking a compromise.

“You can’t cater to everyone … I think the best way is to ask people to see when they are working,” Hopkins said. “I can see it being a problem for other students.”

Hopkins added that she thinks while the ODEE office posts notifications on the main page of Carmen about scheduled maintenance and updates, it may be more beneficial for students to receive this information via an email.

Talluri said she, too, feels ODEE does not advertise its down periods well enough.

“If they had a web page to let us know what was happening, at least people would understand what was happening and they would not be so frustrated,” Talluri said. “If they let us know what improvements they are making instead of just shutting it down for maintenance … and had a little more transparency so that we know why it’s shut down so often.”

When it is feasible, ODEE schedules maintenance during times of relatively low system usage, preferably avoiding the start of the term and around midterm and final exam times, Rake said in an email.

The ODEE office can’t predict how many times during an academic year it will need maintenance work, Rake said on the phone.

She said in an email since May, there have been four maintenance windows — a major update May 3 and 4, a minor update Aug. 11 and file storage capacity updates Aug. 24 and Sept. 15. She added on the phone ODEE will likely close Carmen for maintenance three or four times before the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Some of the updates are feature requests and some are bug fixes, while there are also changes made to keep up with browser changes, Rake said.

“You really can’t go back, you just have to look for user education and helping people understand these changes have these advantages,” Rake said. “It is kind of frustrating to have to re-learn something, but that is the way software works.”

A Desire2Learn spokeswoman referred The Lantern to OSU for comment.


Correction: Oct. 14, 2013
The Lantern originally said Carmen’s software was purchased from Desire2Learn, however it was leased.

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