A Case-Study for Online Courses in Operating Systems
Félix Buendía García
Depto. de Informática de Sistemas y Computadores, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain
Antonio Hervás Jorge Matemática Aplicada, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain
Keywords: Online learning, e-learning platforms, online courses, evaluation surveys.
Abstract: In the context of the Bologna process, e-learning experiences are being promoted in many European
universities. Recently, the Universidad Politécnica of Valencia (UPV) has implemented the Poliformat
platform that is based on the Sakai environment. Last year, a pilot experience was developed to test this
environment for undergraduate courses in a Computer Engineering degree. The current work describes an e-
learning application of the Poliformat platform in an Operating Systems online course. The experience has
been evaluated using survey techniques that analyse online learning issues and also technical aspects related
to the Poliformat platform. Globally, the experience was rather positive although some problems were
detected in the evaluation process that revealed that e-learning methods and tools have to be improved.
E-learning platforms are “shaping” the future of
higher education in the context of the Bologna
process. Many European universities have promoted
in the last years several actions to introduce these
platforms in their academic activities through virtual
campuses and online courses. Recently, the
Universidad Politécnica of Valencia (UPV) has
implemented the Poliformat platform that is based
on the Sakai environment (Mengod, 2006).
During the 2005-2006 academic year, a pilot
experience was developed to test the Poliformat
platform for undergraduate courses in a Computer
Engineering degree. The current work describes
such experience and the e-learning application of the
Poliformat platform in an Operating Systems online
course. The experience shows interesting aspects of
online learning and some problems that occur when
e-learning courses are delivered through the
Poliformat platform.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows.
Section 2 describes the Sakai environment used to
implement the Poliformat platform. Section 3
illustrates the current e-learning experience under
the Poliformat platform and section 4 reports the
evaluation of this experience. Finally, Section 5
gives some concluding remarks.
Sakai is a consortium of universities, colleges and
commercial affiliates working in open partnership
with standards organizations and other open-source
initiatives to develop “community-source enterprise-
scale software applications to enhance collaboration,
research and teaching within higher education”
(White, 2005). The core members include MIT,
University of Michigan, Stanford, Indiana
University, and uPortal.
Buendía García F. and Hervás Jorge A. (2007).
AN ELEARNING EXPERIENCE USING THE SAKAI ENVIRONMENT - A Case-Study for Online Courses in Operating Systems.
In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies - Society, e-Business and e-Government /
e-Learning, pages 352-357
DOI: 10.5220/0001285603520357
Figure 1: Poliformat main screen.
The Sakai environment is based on an extensible
service-oriented architecture for building and
deploying enterprise-scale collaboration, teaching
and research tools and services. Sakai uses Java-
based technologies that enable teaching tools such as
a complete course management system, support for
collaborative activities and a services-based portal.
The UPV became a Sakai partner in 2005 and
adapted its environment to produce the Poliformat
platform. Some of the Poliformat contributions are
the integration within the corporate systems and
applications, the customization of appearance and
the internationalization, including the translation to
Spanish language.
Figure 1 shows an example of Poliformat
screenshot that displays the main window in the
Operating Systems course. The Poliformat window
is structured into several areas:
The head area displays the available course
sites (e.g. Operating Systems).
The left area shows the main subject options
such as Syllabus or Schedule.
The central area displays the subject
The right area displays other site sections such
as announcements, forums or chat messages.
3.1 Teaching Context
“Operating Systems” is present in most of the
computing curricula of both undergraduate and
Master’s programs. At the Computer Engineering
Department of the UPV more than twenty instructors
teach Operating Systems courses to about a thousand
students. Table 1 shows the organization of the
Operating Systems courses.
Table 1: Operating System courses.
Course name Type #Students
Operating Systems I
Introductory 567
Operating Systems II
Intermediate 650
System Administration
Advanced 187
Operating System
Study (ESO)
Advanced 84
Each course involves both a theoretical and a
practical part. The percentage of the practical part
varies depending on the learning goals of each
course. Introductory courses such as SO1 require
students to acquire a solid theoretical foundation,
thus the teaching methodology favors the theoretical
part. Intermediate and advances courses (i.e., SO2,
ADS, or ESO), try to balance this percentage by
covering new conceptual topics and performing
some practical activities. This methodology allows
students to learn how operating systems are designed
and how to use their services.
Unfortunately, this teaching methodology
becomes inefficient in mass courses because when
the student/teacher ratio increases, the traditional
relationship between the students and the instructor
becomes affected so that it is more difficult to
provide right feedback and to monitor students’
In order to alleviate the problem of mass courses
and to study the requirements and benefits of
distance learning, the Computer School at the UPV
started in 2002 an innovative experience providing
students with distance learning for some Operating
Systems courses, including SO1 and SO2.
Web repositories and e-mail tools were used to
provide remote assistance and automatic assessment.
These courses were aimed at students who were not
able to attend traditional courses for any reason
whatsoever. During the 2005-2006 academic year,
the Poliformat platform was used to support a SO2
course that was taught to 48 students (about 650 in
classroom-based courses). The students joined
voluntary the course and they knew the general
conditions (e.g. the assessment system was the same
for all students either in classroom-based or in
online courses)
3.2 Online Learning Method
The current e-learning experience is based on an
online learning method to organize the course items
and control its delivery (Anderson and Elloumi,
2003). This method must be independent from the e-
learning platform that supports the specific course.
In this case, the proposed method combines several
techniques from self-paced autonomous learning for
theoretical issues to programmed instruction used in
practical activities. Figure 2 shows a flow chart that
displays the main steps in the course organization.
In the current approach, a preliminary evaluation
step is required to test the students’ goals and to
check if they are able to meet the course conditions.
If the stated conditions are accepted then the student
is enabled to join the online course (a kind of
“learning contract”) but if students do not “sign” the
contract they are recommended to join the
alternative class-room based course.
The next step consists of scheduling the course
items using agenda services and assigning a calendar
of recommended tasks and activities by weeks. From
this step, online learning issues are planned
according to two different “parallel paths”:
The acquisition of theoretical knowledge
(concepts, facts…) is based on a self-paced
learning in which the student decides what
concepts are interested in and the way and
time to get them. A collection of resources and
material about the target subject are available
in the Resource repository.
The practical skills are obtained by performing
activities that involve the working with real
systems or simulations (Buendia and Cano,
2006) in the case of technical subjects (e.g.
Operating Systems). These activities also
require some theoretical fundamentals but
they have to be acquired under the student
responsibility. Nevertheless, the achievement
of practical activities is based on a paradigm
of programmed instruction. Students receive
assignment information about the proposed
activities and they have to deliver results in a
tightly scheduled way.
After theoretical concepts have been acquired
and practical activities performed, a formative
assessment is performed in order to evaluate the
student’s knowledge and skills. This evaluation is
only informative and it has not a grading purpose.
Once learning activities have been finished, the
next step is a post-course evaluation that queries
students their point of view about the course
delivery. Finally, all students either in online or
classroom-based courses perform the final
examination for getting their grades.
Figure 2: OS Course flow chart.
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Figure 3: Example of Poliformat repository.
3.3 Implementation Details
The previous online learning method has been
applied to the course of Operating Systems using the
Poliformat platform. After the student accesses the
platform, he or she views the course site as displays.
The course site provides information about the
course items although a specific learning path is not
forced to the student.
From this point, the student can select the
different items that compose the course. The
Poliformat platform provides a Schedule service that
allows instructors or site organizers to post items in
a calendar format. The calendar has day, week,
month, year, and flat list views.
The information about events, notifications or
programmed activities is organized by means of the
Announcement service that is used to inform site
participants about current items of interest. Other
kinds of information related to the course subject are
provided by the Resources service. Different types
of resources include documents (e.g., word
processing documents, spreadsheets, slide
presentations, plain text), links to websites, and
simple text documents. Figure 3 shows a screenshot
that displays a repository of resources related to the
Operating Systems course.
There are other services mainly addressed to
provide communication facilities such as
Discussion, Email, Chat or News, or to manage
learning information such as Modules, Quizzes,
Assigments or Gradebooks. In the context of the
current experience, the next services are of particular
The Assignment service that implements the
practical activities provided in the course. This
service allows instructors to create, distribute,
collect, and grade online assignments.
Assignments are private; student submissions
are not visible to other users of the site. Figure
4 shows a screenshot that displays some
settings about a practical activity in the course
The Tests & Quizzes section that allows the
instructor to create online assessments for
delivery via a web interface to the course
students. They are used in the formative
assessment of the course (see Figure 2).
Figure 4: Example of assignment features.
This section describes how the current e-learning
experience has been evaluated in the context of the
Poliformat platform. This evaluation is based on
subjective methods such as surveys and checklists.
In this experience, two different evaluation
processes were performed as Figure 2 shows.
A pre-course evaluation reviewed the students
profiles (e.g. how the student was reported about the
online course or if he/she joined the course
voluntarily) and asked them if they are able to carry
out the proposed course activities. The Survey tool
was not available in the Poliformat platform at the
beginning of the course and a (quiz) questionnaire
was proposed to the students. The evaluation
questionnaire was based on “true/false” questions
and most of the student answers agreed with the
course conditions.
A more detailed evaluation was performed at the
end of the course and the Survey tool developed at
the UPV was used to elaborate the proposed
questionnaire. The evaluation questionnaire was
based on “Likert-scale” questions (from strongly
disagree-0 valued to strongly agree-10 value). Table
2 shows a set or questions related to general issues
of the course evaluation (independent from the e-
learning platform) that were submitted to the
Table 2: Post-course general issues.
Issue Question
Prerequisites Do you think that the online course
would need some prerequisite to join
Expectations Does the course address your
Scheduling Has the course scheduling been met?
Goals Are the course goals adequately
Resources Are the available resources adequate
for the course?
Do you think that programmed
activities are the expected one?
Timing Is the time assigned to activities
Is the academic level of activities
Assessment Is the assessment system adequate to
the course activities?
Methodology Do you think that the course
methodology is adequate?
Assistance Is the teacher assistance adequate?
Satisfaction Do you think that the course
experience has been satisfactory?
Post-course evaluation (I)
01 23 45 67 89
Prereq uisit es
Exp ect at io ns
Sched uling
Exp ect ed act ivit ies
A cademic level
Figure 5: Evaluation of general issues.
The obtained results are displayed on Figure 5
that provides a view of the weak aspects detected by
students. The evaluation shows that prerequisites
were not mainly considered by students as a crucial
aspect and some complaints were stated about the
online e-learning methodology and the academic
level of practical activities. Globally, the degree of
satisfaction with the course was acceptable.
Table 3: Post-course technical issues.
Issue Question
Is it easy to interact with the
Is the user interface of the platform
Are help options in the platform
Does the platform operate as
Are serious platform errors
Are communication tools
Do you think that the platform
would need other tools?
Is the platform support enough for
practical activities?
Is the platform support enough for
Table 3 shows some technical aspects about the
Poliformat platform that were asked to students. The
proposed questionnaire was also based on “Likert-
scale” questions that checked the effect of the e-
learning platform in the course example.
WEBIST 2007 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Post-course evaluation (II)
Handi ness
Interf ace
Hel p
Op erat io n
Co mmuni cat ion ef f ect iveness
Additional tools
Act ivit y support
Assessment support
Figure 6: Evaluation of technical issues.
The results about the evaluation of technical
aspects are displayed on Figure 6. Students were
particularly critical with operation and reliability
issues. In the first year of the Poliformat application,
there were several system crashes and login failures
that were noticed by students. Another complaint
was focused on the handiness to interact with the
platform. A common student point of view was the
demand of additional tools for communication
The current work has described an e-learning
experience under the Poliformat platform that is
based on the Sakai environment. The experience has
been focused on a technical subject (Operating
Systems) that is part of a Computer Engineering
degree. An online learning method has been used to
drive the e-learning experience and some
implementation details about the role of the
Poliformat platform in the experience have been
Finally, the experience has been evaluated using
a two phase approach (before and after the learning
activities) and considering, on the one hand, the
general issues about the online learning method and,
on the other hand, the technical issues introduced by
the Poliformat platform. The obtained results reveal
that methodology aspects have to be improved in the
course delivery, mainly, the lack of support for
teaching theoretical issues, and special attention
must be given to system maintenance, avoiding the
platform failures and improving the user interaction.
Further works are addressed to take advantage of
the evaluation results in the management and
delivery of future courses. Another aspect to
improve is the systematization of evaluation
procedures that will help the generation of survey
questionnaires. In this context, the use of learning
standards such as IMS Learning Design will
contribute to facilitate the evaluation of online
courses in e-learning platforms.
This work has been partially supported by the
Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Spain, under
Grant TIN2005-08788-C04-02.
Anderson, Terry D., Elloumi, Fathi (Eds.), 2003. Theory
and Practice of Online Learning Athabasca: Athabasca
Buendía F., Cano J.-C. WebgeneOS: A Generative and
Web-Based Learning Architecture to Teach Operating
Systems in Undergraduate Courses. IEEE
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