What is JLI!

The software we are developing is known as JLI!, from "Just Learn It!", a name that paralleled the Region of Lombardy's "Participate: Just Do It!" initiative aimed at fostering the adoption of information technology among small and medium enterprises. The initiative called on the University of Milan Information Science and Communication Department to undertake the development of e-learning tools for demonstration purposes. A primary requirement was that these be integrable with existing online community systems employed in the public and private sectors in the Northern Italian region. Once that initiative had run its course, we realized that we had the basic workings of a tool for managing distance and blended e-learning offerings.

The JLI! learning management system was further developed to overlay onto existing distributed architectures so as to integrate three main functionalities:

  • support for teachers and students in interactive learning processes,
  • facilitating and automating student-performance assessment,
  • using learning-process feedback to build online community.

The choice of a system based on the open-source development model was a foregone conclusion, given the situation. Aside from the obvious ethical obligation of an Italian public university to implement, insofar as possible, public-domain, non-proprietary, and European-made solutions, budgetary constraints would have made any licensed-software option prohibitive. These considerations led to an initial decision to develop JLI! using an adaptation of the Adept project source code. The architecture of the Adept prototype was completely redesigned to enable integration with other, external, platforms.

JLI! runs in an Apache/PHP environment, using MySQL database management. The database structure was designed for easy and flexible integrability through an LDAP directory. A JLI! system can run handily on even a modest GNU/Linux web server with up to more than 100 students logged in at a given time (with the practical limit more likely to be determined by the size of the audio and video files and the available bandwidth rather than by server resources).

JLI! provides teachers with a user-friendly interface to write quizzes, as well as upload or link slides, texts, and recordings. To create HTML content, it is set up to incorporate any of several WYSIWYG rich-text editors. It provides tools for the guided creation of FAQ and glossary sections internally and prefab links and forum integrators. When students log on, they first see a list of "courses" in which they are enrolled. Each of these courses consists of as many modules as the teacher chooses from a set of 15 different learning-module templates that fall into five essential types:

  • teacher-supplied learning materials,
  • machine-corrected quizzes,
  • human-corrected coursework,
  • interactive self-access units,
  • online questionnaires and polling.

Because much of the experimental use driving development efforts has involved taking advantage of the community-management efficiency that JLI! brings to large university classes, especially the software's automated correction facilities, a fair amount of effort has been put into processing on-screen test results. JLI! gives teachers a wealth of statistics both at the class level and more particulate levels. Grading essays written or tests taken on the platform can follow the individual student, much as one would on paper, though with added hope of anonymity. Perhaps more interesting is the other particulate level at which JLI! provides teachers a view. For each single question on a multiple-choice or cloze quiz, the teacher can call up statistics showing what percentage of students gave a certain answer to a given question.

Our main purpose in requesting hosting on SourceForge is to establish contacts with others who can provide feedback, especially from the teacher's point of view. Of course, in addition to seeking a base for participatory design, we welcome any opportunities for spreading out the load through collaborative development work.