1.1 Conception / Need for StudyHub|
StudyHub has been developed over a 2-3 year period in close conjunction with lecturing staff at the University of Sheffield Management School, U.K. It has grown organically into its present form in response to the needs and suggestions of lecturers at the grass roots of teaching. It has gone through numerous reincarnations as particular needs have become apparent and the best way to satisfy them has been found. This is a continuing process and the refinement and improvement of the software is ongoing. A stage of development has now been reached at which we feel confident enough to make the software available for wider use.
The key feature of StudyHub is that the lecturer manages the content of the website without any outside help being needed, and without the need for computer skills. We are acutely conscious that whilst all lecturers use computers regularly, most do not have the knowledge at their fingertips to develop their own course module website without expending a lot of time and effort, and therefore have to rely on more specialist computer staff to do this for them. This results in a static website which will typically be updated infrequently and with significant delays. For the computer specialist this quickly becomes a monotonous and soul-destroying task which tends to get put to the back of the queue. Students quickly lose interest and there is little point in returning to a website which rarely changes. The result is a website which adds little value to the course and is perceived as rather a waste of time.
A website which is actively managed by the lecturer is a completely different animal, which has the potential to transform the experience of giving a lecture course from the perspective of both the lecturer and the student. It gives a feeling of a learning community to those involved, which is open 24 hours every day. The software has been developed to allow anyone with minimal computer skills to use it and most lecturers will be able to do so effectively within a very few minutes.
Why do you need StudyHub? What benefits are gained through using this system? For new potential users it can be hard to recognise that they actually need such a piece of software especially if they have had no previous experience of using the internet as an aid to teaching. In essence StudyHub is a piece of software which has been designed to be a tool that is easy to use and above all useful on a practical level. The following key points will help you to understand more clearly what benefits can be gained through using StudyHub.
- Can be used directly by the Lecturer via the website itself. There is no need for anyone else to help maintain the content of your site. The website can be managed from anywhere with a web browser and internet connection.
- Easy to use and learn – no previous technical ability is needed to start using StudyHub.
- The concept of ‘Zones’ allows a virtually unlimited variety of course website structures to be implemented quickly and easily. You construct a website to suit your needs, not the other way around.
- Helps to consolidate the structure of a course communicates information effectively and rapidly via a professional on-line presence, which will vastly improve the learning experience for Students.
- A very effective tool for two-way communication between the Lecturer and the Students, using the Forums and broadcast email facilities.
- Creates a professional hub of information for your course.
- The system is totally flexible for users’ needs – it can be as large and complex or as small and simple as required.
- Virtual learning communities can be developed, allowing students to exchange ideas and files under the complete control of the course leader.
- Offers an unlimited expansion potential and versatility, with a growing collection of plug-ins available.
- The cosmetic and structural design of the website can be individually styled to suit the needs of the University or Lecturer.
- You have complete control over those allowed to access any or all parts of your website.
- Archival facility allows for unlimited complete website back-ups or archives, allowing past years’ work to be safely stored and reviewed when required.
1.3 System Features
StudyHub has a very wide array of features tailor-made to cover all types of potential
needs that are required for a complete course website. Using StudyHub you can easily deploy a dynamic website for a course module, which could include any type of information you want such as lecture and tutorial schedules, notice boards, downloadable course materials etc. These different aspects of your course can be logically structured into Zones as required. In addition, each Student can register their own account on your website to access restricted areas and contribute to forums and other types of submissions. Every aspect of your site can be easily managed and updated via the web-based Control Panel.
Below is a summarised feature list describing the major aspects of the software:
- Fully-featured web-based administration Control Panel allows complete management control over every aspect of the website.
- Unique ‘Zone’ concept allows virtually any website structure to be achieved to meet the needs of your course.
- Advanced file management facility allows files to be easily uploaded, exchanged and managed via the Zones and Forums.
- Fully featured integrated Forum facility allows unlimited virtual communities to be created, with all the features and management options of other commercial bulletin board systems.
- Automatic awareness of the current week in the semester / term. The system will auto-update to reflect the current period in a term (e.g. through the ‘Website Summary’ plug-in).
- Advanced user account system supports multiple types of user. Registration is automated and can be restricted to particular groups of user.
- Reference manager to organise and integrate hyperlinks and paper references relating to your course.
- Template system allows StudyHub to be placed easily inside a University’s current website style / structure.
- Advanced and configurable website statistics allow in-depth analysis of access traffic to the various parts of your website.
- Broadcast email facility allows users of the website to be emailed individually or in groups via the Control Panel.
- Built-in Archive management facility allows all aspects of your website to be backed up or archived on the website itself. Archives can also be restored or reviewed.
- Plug-in manager enables new plug-ins (‘bolt on’ mini programs) to be added to your website, providing fantastic versatility and expansion.
1.4 System Overview
StudyHub is split into two main parts: The Main website, which is used by the general public / students and the Control Panel which is used by the Course Leader(s). As the administrator, you will be mainly using the Control Panel to manage and add the content to your website. This is a restricted area which is only available to ‘Administrator-class’ users (see Chapter 5.1) and is hidden from the public. The URL address for the Control Panel will be ‘http://yourwebsitedomain/server_path/admin.cgi’ (of course, replacing the domain name and path to your copy of the program with the actual location).
The Main Website side of StudyHub presents the information contained within the website. This ‘public’ side of the website will be primarily used by the students of your course the address of which should be given out to the intended audience (e.g. ‘http://yourwebsitedomain/server_path/studyhub.cgi’). To gain a clearer understanding of the layout of the main website please review Chapter 10.
1.5 StudyHub Manual Guideline
If you are a first time user, at this point you may be a little daunted or puzzled as to how you should go about setting up a suitable website to support your course module using StudyHub. The following Chapters cover all the intricacies and various features of the software but may be a little too much to take in all at once. It is therefore suggested you follow the steps below in order to get straight into using StudyHub and quickly producing effective results with your website.
This should give you a basic idea of the foundation of the system and will enable you to start managing content on your website straight away. You should then make it a priority to read and understand Chapter 8 on forums and Chapter 5 on user accounts. It is important to do this before your course starts and Students are using your website in volume.
- Follow the quick start guide in Chapter 3 to begin using your new website.
- Go through Chapter 6 to get an understanding of the concept of Zones and how to create a structure for your website.
- Review Chapter 7 to understand how content is added to each Zone.
- Review Chapter 10 to get an outline of the layout of the main website that your Students will be using.
The Chapters in this manual have been ordered in ‘chronologically’ according to how the system should be learnt but if you don’t have the time or just want to ‘dive right in’ it is recommended that you tackle the system in the order described above.