Course-specific Library Links in Blackboard, Moodle, or any LMS you can name

Screen-scraping is a fantastic tool.  It allows your webpage to react to other elements on the page.  This is particularly useful when you only have editing privileges on specific parts of the page – and this is the case in many learning management systems like Blackboard.

This project is about getting relevant library research guides into course websites with minimal to no faculty effort and minimal to no librarian effort.  It is one part javascript and one part politics.  Here’s how it works, with details to follow.

Overview

If your LMS displays a course ID, or a department name, or any other kind of information that would indicate the subject area of the course, you're in business.

First, look at a course site in your learning management system.  Is there any information on the page that would give you a clue as to what subject the class is about in a controlled-vocabulary kind of way?  The most obvious candidate is a course number, which usually includes a three-letter or four-letter code for what department or major the course is offered in (e.g., “BIOL” for Biology, “ENG” for English).

If that information is there, you’re good to go.  You can use Javascript to pull out that course code, match it against a table that specifies which library webpages are associated with which codes, then display the associated web page. You write this Javascript in a new blank page in your LMS.

Then comes politics.  I’m very lucky to have an IT unit on campus with a pedagogical focus.  They are also extremely friendly to the library.  I’m hoping it will be easy to convince our Blackboard administrators to include this page in the shell of every new course created at the University.  I also plan on approaching our University’s Faculty Senate, who were also instrumental in providing feedback on our new library’s website.

The result?  Every course site comes standard with a Library Resources link that points to the most relevant research guide for their class.  I would like it to be in each course by default, and give faculty a choice to opt-out.  This is how it works with our current link to “Ask a Librarian”.  Courses that do not have a specific research guide are directed to the library home page instead.

Details for Blackboard

Here is the javascript code for Blackboard.  This assumes that your course IDs all begin with a four-letter school or major code, and it is commented.

Download the Code in .txt format

Please remove ALL COMMENTS from this code before you paste it into Blackboard.  For some reason, Blackboard does not like to have comments in your code, and it will break the code.  I have also discovered that Blackboard hates loops, which would have made it easier to find a four-letter code anywhere in the courseID, not just at the front.

Paste this code into a New Blank Page (video on how to do this) in a blackboard course to try it out and customize it.

Once you’ve tested it, added all your links and link labels, ask your Blackboard administrator to add this page to the shell of every new class that is created.  Be prepared with a demonstration (video of a demonstration) of how it works and describe how this eliminates any friction with faculty.

Moodle, Sakai, other LMSs

The concept remains the same for other LMSs.  In Moodle, there is no div tag with the id “breadcrumbs”.  The closest you can get is the “header” id tag.  This is fine – grab that.  Then you’ll have to identify a way of telling javascript where to find the course number.  In Simmons GSLIS’s Moodle implementation, it’s always the second li tag within the “header” div that contains the course number, so we can use that.

The only think that changes are two lines of code near the top.

Code for Moodle in a .TXT file (untested – I don’t have edit privileges in that Moodle)

I’m sure it will be very similar for other LMSs.  If your pages are embedded in an iFrame, you might have to add window.top. in front of the document.getElementById function in the code.

Project To-Do List

Standardize LibGuides

Currently our LibGuides do not have any standard feature.  Even LibGuide landing pages vary greatly from Subject to Subject.  If this is to be some student’s primary access point to library resources, some standard features should be on the landing page from Blackboard.  Our library has not had this discussion yet, but I like UT Arlington’s LibGuides pages.  Each subject guide has standard library services links, librarian profile, and major resources for the subject (example, example, example).  Kudos to them for having such consistency!

Usability Testing

After standardization, I want to know if the LibGuides they hit from their course pages makes sense.  Would it be more appropriate to send them to the general library page?  What are they looking for when they click the link that says “Library Resources”?  What do they expect to find when they click on it?  Does the link live up to expectations?

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4 Responses to Course-specific Library Links in Blackboard, Moodle, or any LMS you can name

  1. Tina says:

    Why not do some usability testing before trying to standardize? It would tell us what to work on.

    • efrierso says:

      Definitely! I think the questions asking students to describe what they expect ill be useful at figuring out what we should have on our pages, but I wonder if they’ll even know what to expect if they’re unfamiliar with library resources. Half-n-half would probably be a good approach – ask them what they expect to find in a LibGuide, then show them one and see if it meets expectations. It would be cool to have some samples they they could be shown, and then observe which tools they use.

  2. It's me says:

    Thanks for the nod to UTA. Also, we are embarking on some Libguides usability testing!! Prayers are welcome….

  3. Pingback: Research Guide Recommendations | The (Third-)Party Librarian

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