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What are the session and activity time outs for Plato Courseware?

Explanation

Plato Courseware has both a system and activity timeout that occurs after a pre-defined period. These timeouts cannot be changed.

Resolution

A Plato Courseware session times out after 60 minutes of inactivity for all user roles if they are not running an activity from PLATO content. All activities (tutorials, applications, mastery tests, practices, assessments) have a two hour time limit. Learners can launch an activity and work on it continuously for two hours. When the activity reaches the two hour time limit, Plato Courseware will stop recording progress. The time limit is defined as one continuous launch session that is two hours in length.

 

Additional information is located here:

Time on Task in Plato Courseware

 

Since both of these time values are used in varying reports and leveraged by customers to provide critical data to State and Federal agencies, it is important to understand how Plato defines and calculates them, and what can lead to confusing numbers within the reports.

Definition and context:

Time in System is the duration of time between the user logging into the Plato platform and logging out of the Plato platform and is generally represented in reports as a SUM of all values within the date range of the report. Example: if Susan logs into Plato Courseware at 9:00am and logs out at 10:00am, her Time in System is 1 hour. This is irrespective of anything else Susan did while being logged in. No assumptions can be made about what Susan did during this time except that at 10am she logged out.

 

Time on Task is the duration of time between the user launching an activity (tutorial, mastery test, etc…) and exiting the same activity and is generally represented in reports as a SUM of all values within the date range of the report for each activity (per tutorial) or all activities (per course or all assignments). Example: if Susan launches an English 9 tutorial at 9:05am and uses the exit button to close the tutorial at 9:35am, her Time on Task is 30 minutes. For reporting purposes, a summary report will add all ToT for one activity and report that total along with the number of "tries" the student made on that activity.

Timeouts and Inactivity:

Time in System is based on an active session with the Plato LMS (not lessons, but the actual system). If you login with valid credentials, you have an active, valid session. Once anything breaks (or interrupts) the validity of the session, the session ends and Time in System stops being recorded. This can happen in several ways:

  • The user click the “sign out” button and gracefully exits Plato. This is the preferred and most common way to end a session.
  • Logging in on another computer as the same user.
  • Abruptly closing the browser window.
  • Using the back button in the browser to navigate to another website
  • Losing internet connection.
  • Being inactive on the LMS for more than 60 minutes. The footnote here is that this applies only if the user is not running an activity. For instance, if a teacher is logged in looking at users or classes, they have 60 minutes of “sitting there” before the next click will prompt them to log back in. As long as they keep clicking buttons or moving to other pages, the session will remain active until it gets timed out by 60 minutes of inactivity. For a student with an activity launched, see the next session.

 

Summer Release 2015 Time on Task Changes

  • Previously, when a learner abandons their computer while working on a piece of courseware, the clean-up service cleans it up in 2 hours (ends the courseware session) and that time gets recorded in the database and is used to calculate time on task. For most of our content, we record when a significant action has taken place while the learner is taking the content (navigating from one page to the next, for example). As of Summer Release (7/13/2015), we calculate time on task using the last recorded significant action rather than the 2 hour clean-up time.
  • To accomodate the need to know if a learner is still working on content in our HTML content, the end time will reflect the last time a student interacts with the curriculum (i.e. advancing to the next slide), regardless of how the session is terminated. For example, if the student is working in an activity and walks away without exiting or logging out, the end time will reflect the last time they advanced in the activity. 
  • To accommodate the need to know whether a learner is still working on content in some of our older content, we added a dialog box that pops up every 15 minutes, with 5 minutes response time that allows us to record the learner’s time on task based on them telling us they are still working. If they do not click on the dialog box, we will close their session and record their time on task from that point
    • This dialog has only been added to the flash/shockwave player only
    • Dialog will show up when learner has not had a significant event recorded for about 15 minutes 
    • If learner clicks OK – a significant event is recorded, life goes on.
    • If learner does not click OK within 5 minutes, we send a Lesson Termination message, and redirect the learner back to their assignments page (NOT logged out)
      • If a learner launches old courseware and walks away (leaving browser open with no network issues), about 20 minutes of TOT will be recorded (the 15 minutes waiting for the dialog to show up + the 5 minutes for the dialog to time out)
      • If a learner launches old courseware, works for 14 minutes (without seeing dialog), and then loses network connection and gives up, 0 minutes of TOT will be recorded
      • If a learner launches old courseware, works for 15ish minutes, clicks OK on the dialog, then walks away (leaving browser open with no network issues), about 35 min of TOT will be recorded (the first 15 + 15 more for the dialog to show up a second time + the 5 waiting for the dialog to time out)
      • If a learner launches old courseware, works for 15ish minutes, clicks OK on the dialog, and then loses network connection and gives up, about 15 minutes of TOT will be recorded 

 

Key Points

  • Time on task will now reflect the time a student is actively working with Plato curriculum. 
  • The time will reflect the last time a student interacts with the curriculum, regardless of how the session is terminated.  

  •  This update will work with all updated curriculum built in HTML5 and in the new player. For legacy flash content, this update will work differently. If a learner sits idle for 20 minutes, a pop-up asking if the learner is still there will occur, and the learner will have 5 minutes to confirm they are still working on the assignment. If they do not click yes, the state will be saved and it will be exited.

 

Time on Task is based on an active lesson session (tutorials, mastery tests, etc…). If you are validly logged into Plato (as described above) you are able to begin a valid session to record Time on Task by launching a lesson (Ie.g. a tutorial). Once anything breaks (or interrupts) the validity of the session, the session ends and Time on Task stops being recorded. This can happen in several ways:

  • The user clicks the “exit” button on the tutorial. This is the preferred and most common way to end a lesson session.
  • Launching another activity simultaneously (e.g. opening a tutorial to find answers to a mastery test you currently have open). This can be within the same browser or with another browser or on the same or different computers. The rule is that only one lesson can be open at one time for the same user.  Plato secures the integrity of the content by preventing the student from having more than one lesson opened at a time.
  • Abruptly closing the browser window.
  • Using the back button on the browser to get back to the assignment page.
  • Losing internet connection.
  • Leaving the lesson open for more than 2 hours. This is very important to understand. Regardless of mouse clicking or moving from page-to-page, the absolute time limit in a lesson is always 2 hours. No amount of “activity” will extend that time. If a student does not complete the lesson within the 2 hour limit, all work on that lesson will be lost and Time on Task will be recorded as 2 hours. This rule applies to all student-launched activities, including tutorials, mastery tests, and all assessments (Pre-, Post, End of Semester, and Test Packs).

 

The best way to accurately record TiS and ToT is to follow this formula:

  1. Meet all System Requirements.
  2. Open one browser window.
  3. Login to Plato.
  4. Launch a lesson.
  5. Exit the lesson when you have reached the end and before 2 hours have passed.
  6. Launch another lesson.
  7. Loop through steps 4-6 until you are done working.
  8. Sign out of Plato.
  9. Close your browser window.

 

When can erratic student behavior lead to strange reporting of TiS and ToT?

On rare occasions, customers will report TiS being higher than ToT. This is plausible and generally explicable.

  • If a student closes their session browser window (Plato Courseware) with a lesson open (mastery test), the TiS will end gracefully, but the ToT session will faithfully continue until the student exits or times out.
  • Another case is students trying cheat for each other by sharing logins. If two students login to separate computers with the same user, or one student opens multiple browsers to launch content, this can throw off both values.
  • Technical issues, like pop-up blockers, can prevent the graceful closure of a session and freeze the screen, causing the student to force-close the browser and restart. This will not end the current ToT and launching another lesson will cause double time to be recorded.

 

Why is all of this important to know?

This process can be difficult to understand since there is no timer running that the student can see. Also, the knowledge articles above, along with this explanation can be daunting to understand as a student or instructor. Since may customers rely heavily on accurate reporting, and the Plato system is very specific about how it treats a session and will not waver from applying its rules, understanding these rules will empower you to interpret the data correctly and guide your users on how to properly navigate the system for accurate data reporting.

 

Here is your cheat sheet to easily remember how this works:

  • In Plato, without running lessons, Time in System ends after 1 hour of inactivity.
  • When running lessons, Time on Task ends after 2 hours, regardless of activity.
  • Ending your session gracefully is the best way to accurately record any of these times.

 


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