Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : MyNorthStarLab

MyNorthStarLab

Components: Online course management tool Series Editors: Frances Boyd and Carol Numrich Published by: Pearson Longman Summary: MyNorthStarLab is a great resource for NorthStar teachers looking to add a customizable online component to their courses. Review MyNorthStarLab is an online course management tool for the NorthStar academic English series. Similar to WebCT or Moodle, it […]
Reviewed for Teflnet by Christine Story

Components: Online course management tool
Series Editors:
Frances Boyd and Carol Numrich
Published by:
Pearson Longman
Summary:
MyNorthStarLab is a great resource for NorthStar teachers looking to add a customizable online component to their courses.

Review
MyNorthStarLab is an online course management tool for the NorthStar academic English series. Similar to WebCT or Moodle, it allows teachers to electronically manage course content, assignments, quizzes, and student grades.

A sleek, streamlined, interface makes MyNorthStarLab easy for students to navigate intuitively. After logging onto the course via the MyNorthStarLab website, students view upcoming assignments and complete them directly on the site. Students can also read announcements, send mail, and respond to discussion topics.

While most of the actual content on MyNorthStarLab comes from the books or from the old companion websites, the lab does contain some new additions. One fun activity is the deck of interactive flashcards-complete with sound and animation-that now accompanies each unit. Another useful aspect of MyNorthStarLab is that students can use it to record and submit open-ended oral responses. This recording feature, meant to give students extra speaking practice outside of class, is probably the best thing to happen to the NorthStar series.

From an instructor’s perspective, MyNorthStarLab goes a long way toward eliminating the paper trail. Assignments with objective questions are graded automatically, and the grades are entered into the course’s online grade book. Open-ended oral and written work still needs to be marked by a real person, but the marking/written feedback is done directly on the site. MyNorthStarLab’s recording feature also makes it possible for teachers to record and upload oral feedback on assignments.

Instructors hesitant about using a series-specific management tool will appreciate the high degree of control they have over the functionality of MyNorthStarLab. There are folders upon folders of course preferences, making virtually every aspect of the course, including the grade book, customizable. Teachers can also add their original content to MyNorthStarLab, which is an important factor when deciding between the ease of a series-specific management tool versus the freedom of a non-specific tool.

Although the user interface is relatively intuitive, instructors using MyNorthStarLab for the first time should plan to set aside the better part of a weekend to familiarize themselves with the customization options. The “student view” is a helpful way to see how the course looks and functions from a student perspective.

The main shortfall of MyNorthStarLab is its lack of compatibility with certain operating systems and browsers. Don’t expect to access MyNorthStarLab on a Linux machine or using the popular Firefox browser. Another letdown is that while instructors can add their own content to the course, adding content is a time-consuming process. It’s possible to simply upload a text document, but students wouldn’t be able to do much besides print it out. In order to produce interactive questions, each question has to be entered manually using MyNorthStarLab’s authoring program.

In summary, despite its few shortcomings, MyNorthStarLab is a useful course management tool that also succeeds in livening up students’ self-study time. Instructors save huge amounts of time otherwise spent marking papers and manually calculating grades while students get instant feedback, extra speaking practice, and all the fun and games of computerized learning. MyNorthStarLab works best for classes using NorthStar Listening & Speaking or NorthStar Reading & Writing as their main or only text. To get the most out of MyNorthStarLab, students should have their own computers or, at the very least, plenty of access to a multi-media lab.

Reviewed by Christine Story for Teflnet April 2009
Christine Story is an EFL teacher currently based in Muscat, Oman. She has been teaching academic English, with and without the NorthStar series, since 2003.

One Comment

  • Debbie Anholt says:

    I’ve been trying to get MyNorthStarLab running for two weeks, and I think it’ll work now, so I agree with Christine that there are a few shortcomings, and instructors should plan to spend several hours setting up their courses.

    I ordered the textbooks with the Lab before realizing that if you have a Mac, it only runs with Mac OS10.6. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have ordered it–my dept had to pay $160 to upgrade my Mac’s system because I’m not due to get a new college provided computer for another 2 years.

    The Lab requires several plug-ins, which I didn’t realize had not all been installed on the computers in our computer lab. So I had a whole class of students who could do some exercises but not others. That was frustrating because the exercises had worked on my computer in my office and I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t appear.

    However, after all that frustration, I contacted my Pearson rep who gave me the direct line to the very helpful Pearson Tech guy, and he explained about the plugins. I contacted the lab coordinator here, and she’ll try to get them all installed by Thursday. I showed my students how to verify on their own computers that they have the plugins, so they can work at home. (Look at the “sunburst” icon on the MyNorthStar Lab home page)

    So, I’m optimistic about this working out. But be sure to reserve several hours to set up your course, and go to the lab and actually do the exercises before you take your whole class there. I’m looking forward to having my students do the interactive exercises that are not duplications of the pages in the textbook.

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Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : MyNorthStarLab