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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2015)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author

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Integrating CengageNow into D2L: What to Expect

By Connie Farmer, Johnson County Community College

It all started with a question – well don’t most things? I’d just learned from a presentation by Cengage about the new ability to integrate their system into our learning management system (LMS). At Johnson County Community College where I teach, the LMS is Desire to Learn (D2L). [FYI:  They are in the process of rebranding themselves as Brightspace.] It sounded like a great product, and I was looking forward to trialing it in my online Small Business Accounting class. It was the middle of the fall semester that I’d heard about this new integration ability, and I was hoping to run the trial in Spring 2015.

Unfortunately, the textbooks needed to have a different code packaged with the book so that the integration would work properly, and it was too late to make the switch for spring. I’ve since learned that it’s not actually a different code that’s needed; it’s a different set of instructions that need to be included with the text and code as the registration process is different when the systems are integrated. This delay left me time to wonder how well the integration of the CengageNow package worked with D2L and how well integration works in general.

The Promise of More Efficient Learning

Online packages such as CengageNow, Connect and My Lab have developed over the last decade into excellent tools that offer utility to both faculty and students. Faculty benefit by a significant reduction of time spent grading and tracking performance, and students benefit even more from the ability to have immediate feedback on their work. Before, if a student did a problem the wrong way, they might work several assignments incorrectly and not find out until the professor went over the material in class or handed back the corrected assignment. With the online systems students can check their work as they go, get hints as to where they are going wrong and make the corrections in real time and not well after the fact. It saves students a significant amount of time, and it also means a student won’t learn it incorrectly and have to go back and attempt to relearn it the correct way. I believe part of the rapid growth in online classes has resulted from the availability of these management systems. I can’t imagine trying to teach accounting online without the CengageNow and Connect packages that I use.

Integrated Grade Recording

In this new digital age, many schools have adopted learning management systems to meet the increased demand for online instruction. There has also been a push to use the online gradebook not just in online classes but for face-to-face classes as well. The students like having the ability to see where they stand at all times whether they are in a traditional or online class.

Here we come to the stumbling block of having a digital homework package gradebook and a separate LMS gradebook. Up until recently, the scores from the online homework had to be manually transferred into the online LMS gradebook. I teach 50 to 70 students a semester, and this process was tedious and time-consuming and often took one to two hours depending on the number of assignments I needed to transfer and the number of students involved. And I’ll skip over the number of emails to the effect that something must be wrong as they had just completed Chapter X in Cengage, but it wasn’t showing up in the D2L gradebook – no matter how many times I emphasized that I had to manually move the scores. I can’t imagine the amount of time it would take a full time instructor to update grades as they could have upwards of 140 students.

So what does the integration of the home work system with the LMS do? On the student’s side, it gets rid of a separate log in and it eliminates the need for a course key to input when the student registers the first time. The student logs into the course on the LMS and then clicks on one of the links to the home work. The first time doing this, they’ll get a popup allowing them to input the code or buy access to the home work package. Once they have registered the student can click the link in each individual chapter and it takes you straight to that chapter’s homework. In the following screen captures you can see the link in D2L and where the student is taken to in Cengage. Not only does this eliminate the need for a course key code when registering but it also avoids students registering for the wrong section as they are taken directly to the correct course.

The last link above ‘Chapter 1 HW’ is a direct link to the Chapter 1 home work in CengageNow. The first time it takes the student through the registration process but after that straight to the homework.

Below is the homework for chapter 1 introduction page. Each chapter in the LMS contains a direct link to that chapter in Cengage. This is necessary for it to post the grades to the LMS gradebook when completed.

The students do the homework like they normally would but once they hit submit it grades it and records the grades directly into the LMS gradebook. The students are in the correct section, their grades show up in the LMS automatically so that they can see where they stand in the course and they don’t have to have a second web site book marked and a separate log in. Instructors no longer have to deal with students who managed to sign up for the wrong section or to spend hours a semester manually transferring grades from Cengage, My Lab or Connect. It’s also important to note that you can do the same with quizzes and tests in the home work systems as well should you choose to. When it works it’s a win win. I think you can see why I was excited about the option to integrate my classes.

How Does This All Work in Practice?

Now back to my original question: how does it work in practice, how hard was it to set up and what advice would those who had done the integration have? I’ve talked or emailed with about 10 people and of course will include my own experience as well. The consensus was that when it worked like it was supposed to both students and faculty loved it. But the answer to whether or not it works as it is supposed to was often it depends on the homework system and what LMS you are using.

How hard was it to set up? Most of the individuals reported that they had no difficulty setting up the integration on their own with a little trial and error. The only system integration that seemed to have issues is Cengage into D2L. The first time I tried I kept getting an error message, so I went to my Ed Tech analyst and he got the same error message. Mark Orr, Sr. Implementation & Training Specialist from Cengage lives in the Kansas City area and was able to come to JCCC and work with Jeff Kosko, my Ed Tech analyst, and me to set it up. Once he showed me how I was able to do all the chapters but I’m not sure if I could replicate it again for another class as it had several steps that I didn’t find intuitive. Now in fairness to Cengage I’m very cautious when manipulating programs and setting things up on a computer. I tend to avoid trial and error and I could happily go the rest of my life not hearing from tech support that I’m not supposed to be able to do that in a program. My last debacle was several years ago when cleaning out my old emails and files in my OWA account I managed to delete my inbox into the trashcan. That took 4 tech support people and roughly 4 weeks to get my inbox out of the trashcan. So if you are tech savvy you probably can do it yourself but if you are like me you might want help the first time or two.

The other side of the coin is how hard do the students find it to register? The general consensus was that if they waited until the course started, went in via the LMS and read the instructions it was very easy. There seemed to be a bit of an issue of student’s getting the book and code early and going ahead and signing up before the class was opened. That meant the instructor had to contact Cengage to move them into the integrated course. Thanks to that warning I sent out an email the week before classes started to warn students not to sign up with Cengage until they could use the link provided in the D2L class. So far that seems to have worked and I haven’t heard from any student that they accidentally signed up separately from the integrated course.

Grade Posting in the LMS

The other half of the equation is how well do the grades post back into the LMS. Those who used Connect and My Lab reported that it worked relatively well with Blackboard, Canvas and D2L. The only issue was with My Lab one instructor reported that the grades didn’t post until the assignment was due. It was my understanding from her that if you went into My Lab and told it to sync the grades then it would post them before the due date. Those who had Cengage integrated into Blackboard didn’t report any problems.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Cengage’s integration into D2L. The first hint I had that there might be a problem was during a discussion with another JCCC faculty member who had integrated two of her courses this spring. One apparently ran just fine, but all she would say about the other was that it was a disaster that she didn’t want to talk about. As we were both in a hurry and she’s now out of the country, I didn’t get to follow up with her to see how the semester ended. I talked with the Cengage representative and Jeff Kosko and supposedly the problems had been fixed. I decided to go ahead with the integration this summer to see how it worked. With Jeff and Mark’s help I did the integration in early May. Something to note: I tried to get ahead of the game and set up all the assignments in my D2L gradebook before our meeting. That was a waste of time, as in order for the grades to populate back into D2L Cengage has to create the assignments in D2L’s gradebook for you. I ended up having to go back and delete all the chapters so that Cengage could create them.

The Near Future

The summer semester started on June 1st, and of the 20 students signed up for the class 16 have registered with Cengage without any problems, at least none that they have reported to me. On the second day one of my students emailed me that only some of the homework she had done was showing up in the D2L gradebook. I checked in the Cengage gradebook and she had completed 3 assignments but only the second one had shown up in the D2L gradebook. I called Cengage technical support and they said they didn’t know what was wrong but would send the case to the design team. I sent an email to my students telling them about the issue and to please let me know if they had the same problem. I got an email the next morning from another student that her first assignment hadn’t posted either.

I called Jeff my Ed Tech designer about another issue and mentioned in passing that not all the completed work was showing up in the D2L gradebook. That’s when he relayed what he had discovered. There are major issues with the grades posting over into D2L from Cengage. He was teaching 2 classes and none of the student’s grades in either of those classes would post to D2L. They were still in Cengage so he could do it manually but he’d talked to both Cengage and D2L and had worked with Mark Orr and the grades wouldn’t post from his classes at all and he was not the only one having the issue. When I told him that only about 25% of the work done in Cengage wasn’t posting into D2L, he suggested that I try using the sync button in Cengage to see if that would transfer the rest of the grades. It hadn’t worked for him but since some of the grades were posting, it might work for me. It did! So both my students and I are happy because it’s a very quick fix for me to log on every couple of days and just hit sync. Both Cengage and D2L are supposedly working on the issue but some courses are not posting any grades back into the gradebook from Cengage and others require you to sync the two gradebooks for the grades to move from the homework program into the LMS.

I’m planning on integrating all my classes in fall as I’m hopeful that they will have the problem fixed by then. I admit I’m spoiled and would hate to have to go back to manually moving the grades over and it’s only the end of the first week but I’ve heard from several students that they like being able to see their grades show up in D2L. In conclusion, I believe integration is definitely of benefit to both students and faculty and expect to see most homework programs and LMSs integrated in the not to distant future.


Note: I would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable help: Casey Eubank, Ryan Harp, Jeff Kosko, Linda Lynam, Lori Mallory, Linda Merillat, Paula Phelps, Deborah Taylor, Noreen Templin, and Nancy Thomas.

About the Author

Connie Farmer teaches at Johnson County Community College. She has been an adjunct at JCCC for 16 years teaching accounting and business courses. She just finished a three-year term on the Distance Learning Advisory Council for the school and was on the council when it researched and selected the new LMS when the campus moved from Angel to D2L (soon to be Brightspace). She has a Masters in Business Administration, a B.S. in Accounting and is a CPA. She may be reached at 
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