Jitka Brandejsová, Michal Brandejs, Ľuboš Lunter

Presentation for ICTE 2009 conference (15. – 17. September 2009)

Abstract: The Masaryk University teachers use various e-learning tools enabling them to post teaching materials on the University’s Information System. In addition, they utilize the System to create the so-called Interactive Syllabi, examine their students electronically and collect their assignments via Homework Vaults. Students can also share their specialized knowledge without their teachers’ intervention by, for instance, posting their own materials in File Vaults, bookmarking electronic sources, tagging the bookmarks thereby specifying the fields of study they are related to, and, finally, sharing them with one another. Moreover, every user can start his/her own Thematic Discussion Group and thus establish a community of people of similar interests. Last but not least, the application called Drill, a comparatively novel tool working on the principle of the so-called spaced repetition with intervals between the individual learning sessions, enables the students to learn large amounts of information by heart. Using Drill, every IS user can also create his/her own electronic textbooks and make them available to the others, who, while working with the application, acquire the information provided by the tool without their teachers’ assistance. Not only does the article tackle the ways the users can utilize the tools, but it also discusses the principles of their deployment in the context of a large institution as well as the obstacles that had to be overcome during their implementation.

Keywords: e-learning, e-learning 2.0, Drill, Information System of Masaryk University, file vault.


1.1 E-learning

Since 2004, Information System of Masaryk University has been hosting tools that can be used to design and administer electronic courses. Utilizing this tool, teachers can create a wide range of learning materials as well as electronic tests (these may be deployed in a variety of modes ranging from practicing to examinations) and make them accessible to their students. Links to the materials, tests, discussion groups and Homework Vaults are inserted in Interactive Syllabi, which, together with all the related instructions, make up comprehensive e-learning courses. These courses represent traditional e-learning, where a teacher designs an electronic course (thereby guaranteeing its quality), provides it to his/her students and subsequently motivates them to use it.

1.2 E-learning 2.0

E-learning 2.0 represents a new trend originating in the Web 2.0 platform based on the idea that Web is not there just to be browsed, but also for people to create as well as use for the purpose of expressing their own views and starting a dialogue. Therefore, Web 2.0 benefits from the students themselves as these design their own learning material and share it with their schoolmates. In such a process, a teacher only plays a passive role of a supervisor keeping track of his/her students’ activities and, possibly, intervening as a consultant when a need to do so arises. As a result, large communities with each focusing on a certain topic come into existence. These communities are usually made up of people with common interests discussing the topic with one another, sharing the latest findings as well as references to information sources related to the topic, auxiliary and supplementary material, etc.

As the IS MU development team keep track of the latest developments in the field of e-learning, they have enabled the IS users to participate in the aforementioned activities by creating applications based on Web 2.0 such as File Vault, Thematic Discussion Group, Bookmarks, and Drill.


2.1 File Vault

File Vault represents an IS section students can upload learning materials into when they want to share them with the others. These may be lecture notes, audio records, articles, Internet links, images, etc.

Each course listed in the Masaryk University Course Catalogue has its own section in File Vault (one per each term) allowing all the students enrolled in the course and all the teachers linked to the course to upload files into it. The person doing the upload can (but does not need to) have his/her identity displayed. Although it is not a teacher’s duty to review the contents uploaded or ensure that students follow the rules governing the File Vault use, he/she can go through the contents and thus stay informed about what materials his/her students share and, provided he/she encounters inaccuracies or mistakes in them, point these out to the students. Unlike the file-sharing systems outside IS MU utilized by students in the past, which teachers often could not access, File Vault enables the latter to keep in touch with what they really use during their preparation phase.

Benefits of File Vault:

  • building team spirit among students (cooperation, mutual preparation for examinations)
  • enabling teachers to monitor what materials their students share and allowing them to present their views on these in, for instance, discussion groups
  • enabling teachers to see what students have posted what materials and then involve the best of these students in the preparation of learning materials in the future

2.2 My Web

My Web provides every IS MU user with some free Web space that he/she can use to design his/her own Web site. Moreover, he/she can upload into it files to be shared (containing, for instance, some project-related data) and assign to them appropriate access rights to make them accessible to certain individuals or groups of people (students enrolled in a course or a seminar group, faculty staff, department staff, etc.) only. This section also enables users to design electronic questionnaires and opinion poll forms, create practice tests and other material, all of which can subsequently be uploaded into File Vault.


Thematic Discussion Group allows every user to start and moderate his/her own discussion group on a topic of his/her choice. When starting the group, the user delineates the topic in its header section, specifies the rules of discussion and sets its access rights (those of reading and posting). There are also some other features supporting the e-learning character of the group that can be activated such as:

  • posts can only be read by those who have made at least one contribution to the discussion
  • everyone can only make one post
  • post rating enabling users to sort out posts and separate the informative ones from annoying
  • use of a thematic discussion group for the purpose of communication among members of a certain closed group (e.g. people working on a common project) [2]

A user can mark the thematic discussion group he/she finds interesting as favorite causing the System to display the group (including the numbers of new posts and reactions to the user’s ones made in it) amongst those listed on the main Discussion Groups page.


The Bookmarks application allows users to store and organize links to various Web sites. The individual bookmarks can be tagged, placed at the bottom of every IS page that the user visits, and made accessible to the other IS users.

4.1 Use of bookmarks in e-learning

In the past, teachers usually provided their students with references to the sites they found interesting in the form of a file uploaded into the IS Study Materials section. The Bookmarks application made handling favorite links entirely different in that it enables users to edit, tag, and sort them. Moreover, it is also students that can post their own bookmarks on the System.

4.2 Social bookmarking in the university environment

Although services akin to IS Bookmarks can be found elsewhere on the Internet, deployment of the application in the university environment has its own merits and idiosyncrasies such as the following:

  • It is also people who do not use the other similar services elsewhere, but utilize IS, that participate in sharing bookmarks.
  • The service is not anonymous, i.e. every user can see who has added a bookmark and its tag indicates what his/her opinion about it is.
  • Compared to the broad Internet community, the university one seems to be somewhat homogeneous as regards, for instance, its members’ interests in the university life, studies, the fields they teach and study, etc. In this respect, sharing bookmarks inside this specific community proves to be an asset.
  • The application groups bookmarks related to individual courses, which enables the students enrolled in these to get acquainted with their schoolmates’ ones and teachers with their students’.


Drill represents a comparatively novel application integrated in IS. It allows students to memorize a lot of information simulating the so-called card method and uses the principle of spaced repetition with intervals between the individual learning sessions. While using the application and answering questions it generates, the student provides the System with some feedback on the grounds of which the application determines when the item previously displayed should be displayed again.

The application is based on the psychological finding stressing the fact that a certain item (for instance a word) gets acquired more quickly and effectively when revised for a long time (with long intervals between the sessions) than when revised often (with short intervals between the sessions), but for a short time. That is, psychologists came to the conclusion that every item is first stored in a short-term memory and then, when revised after a certain period of time, it gets pushed into the long-term memory. [1]

The algorithm behind the application tries to minimize the student’s learning load by setting itself a certain desirable success rate average (e.g. 90 percent). Subsequently, it displays items to the student the way that strives to reach the point where there is a 90-percent probability that the student will still remember the item.

Students use Drill voluntarily and independently of their teachers. They make their own textbooks aimed to teach them, for instance, vocabulary of a foreign language, and they make these accessible to their schoolmates and the other IS users. Thus new communities of people eager to learn new things the way that seems easy and effective come into existence. In putting the application into operation, the IS developers reached the point where an e-learning tool is not only being used by students, but also produced by them. [1]

Over the past six months of its operation, the application gave rise to 137 textbooks (35 of these are publicly available) focusing on various issues most of which are language-related (e.g. the Faculty of Medicine uses the application to teach its students anatomy Latin).


E-learning 2.0 has recently become part and parcel of university education. It enables to satisfy the present-day information needs and facilitates creation of large students’ communities making studies or research more social and enjoyable. Masaryk University represents an innovator in the field of new information trends and in putting these into operation in the academic environment (Drill, e-learning applications integrated in the information system utilized for managing study-related records, etc.). The aforementioned efforts contribute to the good reputation the University enjoys and its popularity amongst those applying to it.


[1] Brandejs, Michal - Brandejsová, Jitka - Misáková, Miroslava - Kasprzak, Jan - Keder, Daniel - Lunter, Ľuboš. Inteligentní Dril: studenti méně opakují a více si pamatují. In 7. ročník konference Alternativní metody výuky 2009. 1. vyd. Hradec Králové : GAUDEAMUS, 2009.

[2] Nové možnosti a atraktivní tvář diskusních fór [online]. 2009. Available from www: http://is.muni.cz/info/nov_20080708_nova_df.pl [cit. 2009-04-23]

This project is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic.

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