What’s in a name? and where am I?

A little over a year ago, the LMS I use (Moodle) was hooked up via a tool called Conduit to our college’s online enrollment system (SURF).

This meant that when a student enrolled for the class in SURF, their information would automatically appear in my class roster of participants in Moodle. Blackboard had been connected for awhile, but I hadn’t used Bb. I had been using self-enrollment with Moodle, where I gave students the URL and they made an account for themselves. I liked it this way, but the college decided on integration, so despite my protests, we integrated. There were major technical problems at first, but those have been resolved now. The more serious problems, however, remain.

A student’s name appears as their college-registered name, and cannot be changed. If they prefer to be called Jake instead of Jacob, or use their middle name, they can say so in the introduction forum, but everything they post will still say Jacob. Every message they send to each other and to me through the system calls them Jacob. The name they prefer to use (the one we ask for a write down when we take roll in a physical classroom) disappears in an obscure forum. Their very name is taken away.

A lesser, but annoying, problem is that the “short name” of the class has to be set as a series of numbers for the system to work. This changes the breadcrumb navigation so that users must click on the numbers to get back to the main page of the class. Before SURF integration, I used a shortname that made sense, like “Main Page” or “History 103”. But now it’s “0807895”. Imagine being deep in the class and wanting to get back to the main page and seeing navigation that says


And on top of that, if you accidentally hit the back button in the browser in a frantic attempt to get, you know, BACK, you get popped out of the system and get this:


You have instantly been thrown an error by a system you’ve never heard of, represented by a griffin who looks upset with you.

The other advantage to the self-enrollment practice was that students had to enter their own information. Although many refuse to recognize it, the fact is that few students use email to communicate. They use texting and Facebook, and rarely check their email. Thus the emails they entered in SURF way back four years ago when they first registered are often invalid, and they don’t get the emails asking them to update their email address. If they do check their email, they don’t know that spam filters could be throwing everything from MiraCosta in the trash. So if there’s a problem and you need to connect with them by email, it’s been made harder with the integration. With self-enrollment they at least entered their current email, increasing the chance that they’d see mine.

So despite Moodle’s wonderful nested forums (the reason I use Moodle), the system can now dehumanize, frighten, and disconnect students within minutes of starting a class. I can’t see that as progress. Yet another case of administrative efficiency (in this case, authentication and standardization) trumping both the affective and organizational needs of students and teachers, and making things more unfriendly.

6 comments to What’s in a name? and where am I?

  • YES!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you again for this post. Desire2Learn also insists on using the students’ official names ONLY, no way to change it – even for those students who NEVER use their first name. I’m not just talking about nicknames (Jacob v. Jake) – I’m talking about those students who, for quite personal reasons, prefer not to ever use their first name and go by their middle name instead. My husband’s first name is Gail (a family tradition; both his father and grandfather have the same) – no surprise that he goes by his middle name and 99.99% of the people he knows do not even know what his first name is. But if he were forced to use Desire2Learn, lo and behold, he would be Gail.A.White-1 (yes, the awful number becomes part of your name in my school’s system)… with NOTHING he could do about it.

    One of the things I love about the Ning (which is where I do all class interaction – no interaction at Desire2Learn, just quizzes and gradebook) is that the students get to create their own screen name. They get to be THEMSELVES.

  • Hi, Lisa and Laura… I use also Desire2Learn at the university where I teach. What you point out about the name is a problem, sometimes you are not able to identify the student when they do not use their first name. Desire2Learn is a great and powerful LMS, but MOODLE is more easier and friendly and the most used worldwide, I think.

    Lisa, yes, that is a great problem, and they never check their mails… I always open a forum called ‘workshop’ where they can ask questions and the teacher answers asap or another peer… and Laura, in D2L this forums work as good as with MOODLE, there you can have interaction, you can make studying groups too.

    YOUR NAME IS WHAT YOU ARE, I know that, because I do not use my first name, and it is a problem always.

  • Jay Hurvitz was unable to leave his comment, but here it is:

    Distressingly, the hooking up of the online enrollment system and the LMS shows the extent to which the System focuses more on Management than on Learning. If learning were the goal, after completing his or her studies we’d expect the student to still have access to materials – both the files he or she contributed to the course, and the study materials posted by the instructor. But once he or she is no longer in the student database the username and password aren’t recognized, and access is denied. It’s (sadly) true that few of our students express much of a desire to review the course materials once the course is over. Still, some will, and these students will discover that they can’t. Our society pays a great deal of lip-service to “Life-long Learning”, but by locking students out of their former study materials we convey a very different message.

  • Gavin

    On your point about the shortname.

    Courses actually have a field that is specifically used for integration with 3rd party systems – which is distinct from the course shortname. It is The Course ID field.

    But this will depend how they do the integration.

    So if they built an integration which used the shortname they could look at moving to using the Course ID Field instead and making the course shortname be more reflective of the course full name. Requires coding changes, but certainly would address your issue.