I’m involved in a trial program using Microsoft Scholaris, an online educational management and teaching tool. There are some issues I’ve come across as I work on it, and I’ll keep a bit of a record of them as part of this blog.

  • The first, most obvious one is that it doesn’t work correctly on a standards compliant browser. You guessed it, it only works well on Internet Explorer, and only on a PC. IE mac is pretty ordinary anyway, btu Safari and Firefox both have some serious display issues. It’s almost like it’s been deliberately coded to not work properly.
  • econdly, I’d like tools to work with tables better. HTML is notoriously hard to work with tables under. Surely a WYSIWYG editor that can do tables acceptably well isn’t that hard to include.
  • Third: I don’t want the students to be able to enter styled text unless I deem that it is necessary. I am interested in content, not style.
  • Finally, it takes so damn long to set up one assessment task. To do one questions, where the students have to enter five words, and five descriptions (Electrical Safety/First Aid, DRABC), it has taken me about 10 minutes to set up, and it still isn’t looking right. When I choose not to have a line break, don’t keep on inserting one!

I would love some software like this, that makes it easy to set up online tests and the like, but at this stage, Scholaris isn’t easy. I don’t know who Microsoft bought Scholaris from, but I think they should have waited a bit longer before doing so.

Scholaris Training Day

I had a training afternoon on Friday with Scholaris, and came across a few issues I found hard to work with.

  • The first thing I noticed was that in lots of cases there were 2 buttons with the same name (usually Add) in the one window - when you said “click on Add”, I (and others) invariably clicked on the wrong one some of the time. Whilst most of the time this can be fixed, there was at least one instance where all settings could not be changed once this had been done. (Virtual Classrooms, cannot change theme once Add has been clicked). I think that more specific buttons names (“Add User”, “Create Virtual Classroom”) would create less confusion than relying on positional context alone.
  • Another issue I came across was that in the Assignment Manager, it’s possible to drag one Target Group ‘into’ another. This results in some weird behaviour, that is difficult to describe. Basically, the top-level target group is then given a name that is a number, and contents are not accessible. You can delete this top level group, and then everything seems to be a bit more back to normal.
  • The biggest issues for me were in the Content Editor, specifically to do with Images. When you insert an image, and then resize it, pressing Control-Z deletes the image, rather than un-resizing it. Secondly, I feel that the “Lock Ratio” button images should be reversed - it would make more sense that the image reflected the state of the function (ie, a locked image indicates that the aspect ratio is locked, not that clicking on the button will lock it). Another alternative would be a checkbox with “Lock Aspect Ratio” as the label. (I have written down that this function didn’t work anyway, but I can’t remember for sure).
  • I also think that all windows should be resizable - in a couple of cases I had editing windows that only allowed me about 4 lines of text entry - which is generally not enough. Having to scroll all of the time, especially when I have a large monitor and this window takes up a small fraction of the available space, seems silly.
  • Finally, I think that all “Preview” windows should have a “Close Preview” button. At times I wasn’t sure whether to click the close box or not: sometimes a new window is created, sometimes one isn’t (in the general context of Scholaris), and it would be much easier to see when in a Preview window if a specific “Close Preview” button/link was in these windows.

First Student Scholaris Trial

I’ve just finished my first trial of Scholaris with real students. I have a year 9 Electronics class, who attempted to complete a single activity on Diodes I had created for use in Scholaris. The kids really enjoyed it, but there were a few technical issues we came across. The first was the general slowness: I think this was because everything needed to be downloaded for each kid, rather than having some caching in place. Once each kid got onto the right stuff, it seemed to be faster the second time around. This would result in a fairly serious amount of data transfer, as a caching proxy is likely to determine that https: data is different for each user - and it probably actually is, considering that it is encrypted! This resulted in each student using up about 6Mb of their download allowance for one double lesson. And many of them ran out of internet data during that lesson, so only two were able to submit the work for marking. And that’s when the real problem started. Because I hadn’t assigned a FrameworkID, since previously there had been no inclusion of Design & Technology SACSA Framework data, the work that was submitted didn’t come through properly, and I wasn’t able to assess and then return the data to even these two students. I did spend the last 15 minutes having a group debrief, which was really valuable. Basically, the class came up with the following

Problems encountered:

  • Too slow in loading up.
  • Some issues with not loading for some students
  • Lots of Internet usage – which students had to pay for.
  • Work lost when ran out of internet.
  • Want more fonts to choose from.
  • Spell check
  • Feedback as to when page is finished loading

Advantages of this system:

  • Don’t lose your homework
  • Don’t have to carry books everywhere
  • Typing easier than writing (and neater)
  • Don’t forget to bring homework to school.
  • Easier for teachers to check/mark
  • Helps with knowing when work is due.

Disadvantages of the system:

  • Some people might not have internet access at home
  • Disadvantages people without broadband
  • Sometimes internet breaks
  • Power loss is damaging
  • Internet costs money

Ideas for improvement:

  • Reminders of when work is due
  • Automatic saving of work while working

I’ll repeat what I think I said last time I’d spent any time doing Scholaris work: they should be using AJAX, like Gmail does, rather than relying on page refreshes when sending data to the server. Gmail does this, and then it allows for autosaves, which can be life-savers. The same with the content creation process. It’s too cumbersome, with different dialog boxes and windows opening up, and then waiting for these to load. I’d almost rather the flexibility of coding in raw HTML, rather than their user-friendly format. At least some sort of an offline content creator. Export from Word? Actually, I’ll take that last one back. I just tried Word’s _Web Page Preview _option, and the code it generated was cluttered. I didn’t have any changes of fonts, or any styling other than just plain bulleted lists, and yet it managed to create style and class tags on each element. At least this is better than the font tags I remember seeing on other web page export/previews.

Scholaris FrameworkID Error

When I try to Assess student work using Scholaris, I come across the following error:

Class: Assessment Function: GetAssessmentVerbages(ByVal FrameworkID As String, ByVal SchoolID As String) As DataTable

* * *

Current function cannot be executed due to the following reason: *FrameworkID is empty Please take a screen shot of this error message and send it to

* * *

It then doesn’t display the student work that was submitted, and I can’t mark it, or return it to the student. I get several other functions giving the same error, two on the way in, and three on the way out. Very annoying, as it means I can’t complete the full cycle of assessment using this tool, which means I’ve hit the limits of it’s usefulness for now.