Getting Started with WebCT

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1 Getting Started with WebCT Tanya Goette Assistant Professor ISC Dept CBX 12 Georgia College & State University Milledgeville, GA fax: Abstract This paper presents a step-by-step approach to creating a course for the Web. WebCT is the software tool that is used in this case. This paper is not a WebCT tutorial, but rather, a guide to get you started when taking a face-to-face course to the Web. By following the ten steps presented, you can ease your transition into teaching a course in the WebCT environment. Introduction WebCT is a software tool that enables instructors to create web-based courses. This software may be used to supplement a face-to-face or TV-based course or it may be used as a stand-alone course containing everything from lecture notes to tests to student grades. This paper relates the author s experience in attempting to use WebCT. The following steps are designed to take you through the basic areas in order to put a course on WebCT. It is not a WebCT tutorial, but, rather, issues that must be dealt with as you take your face-to-face course to a web environment. Background My experience with using the Internet for class support had previously consisted of using distribution lists, maintaining class web pages where I posted assignments and slides, and employing Nicenet (Goette, 1998) to facilitate out of class communication. I had never taught a class on the web before this one. The class that I needed to put on-line was a graduate database management course. Of the courses I teach, database management would not be the one that I would have selected to be the first one I ever put on-line. It became an on-line course without my consent. A few years ago, a graduate program was begun in Nursing in Informatics. At the time of this program s creation, it was decided that the nurses would take the graduate

2 courses in database management and systems analysis and design already being taught for our Masters of Management Information Systems degree. The Informatics program gradually went on-line as more of the participating nurses came from farther away from campus. Our department was not consulted about these changes, and we managed to avoid going on-line with our two required Informatics courses for about a year. Because I had never taught or taken an on-line course, I not only was unfamiliar with the software that our institution uses to support on-line courses, but I also had no clue how to explain the concept of Entity Relationship Diagrams without seeing my students. I tend to view web-based courses as glorified correspondence courses, so my enthusiasm for putting this course on-line was not high. I received no release time to develop the course, and the course counts the same as any other course does at my school. What is WebCT WebCT is a software tool that facilitates the creation of sophisticated World Wide Webbased educational environments. It does this by providing an interface allowing the design of the presentation of the course, providing a set of educational tools to facilitate learning, communication and collaboration, and providing a set of administrative tools to assist the instructor in the process of management and continuous improvement of the course (WebCT, 2000). WebCT was built by educators at the University of British Columbia as a tool to allow other educators to create complicated Web-based learning environments without a lot of time, resources or technical expertise. WebCT is pedagogically neutral, and its goal is to provide a set of tools useful for a broad range of teaching methodologies while making it easy to experiment with new techniques (WebCT, 2000). As of July 2000, WebCT has more than 6.7 million student accounts in 147,000 courses at more than 1480 colleges and universities in 57 countries. Students spend an average of 243 minutes each, per course, per month, using this Internet-based application to access course content, take quizzes, submit homework and interact with instructors (WebCT, 2000). My institution purchased WebCT software for faculty use several years (and versions) ago. WebCT is maintained and supported on the faculty web server by members of the Information Technology department. Basic training courses in WebCT are provided each year, usually in the fall, by professors that have already used the software. I attended a beginning course in At that time, I had not believed that incorporating WebCT into my face-to-face courses was worth the effort.

3 Guidelines Because I was required to use WebCT to teach a course on-line with no prior experience in on-line teaching or in using the WebCT software, I decided to record my trials and frustrations in hopes that other teachers might find the transition to on-line courses with WebCT easier than I have. The following steps may be used as guidelines when getting started with WebCT. 1. Learn how to sign-on This may seem simple, but it proved to be time consuming in my case. First I had to contact our WebCT coordinator to get a userid & password. This involved going to an institutional web page and submitting information about the course. He set up the class for me & sent me the web address. However, I did not realize that I first had to find my course under the course listings before I could sign-on. After contacting the WebCT coordinator one more time, I was finally able to access my WebCT course. The course, at this time, is only a shell of basic WebCT tools. After you sign-on, you can change your password. WebCT (version 3.0) now lets you use one sign-on to gain access to all your courses. You also have to determine how your students sign-on to WebCT. There are several ways this may be accomplished, but your institution may only allow students to sign-on one way. Our WebCT administrator entered all of our institution s students into the database with the same user ID and password (first initial, complete last name, & last 4 of SSN). Each faculty member must then add the students to their WebCT class (one at a time or as a group). After this is completed, a student signing-on will see the courses that he/she has access to on the main WebCT welcome page. Clicking on a course will allow access to that course. The students are strongly encouraged to click on the Change Password text and change the given WebCT password. If a students later forgets his/her password, the instructor may change the password back to what is was originally. The following screen shot shows the WebCT page that appears after signing-on.

4 2. Search on-line for a similar course If you do this before creating your own course it will give you some ideas and may save you some time. In my case, I discovered that Course Technology had WebCT content for the database management textbook I was using. The content had to be uploaded into an empty WebCT course. I did this, and I then made modifications to the content. If I had spent time creating my own course information first I could not have loaded the textbook content without erasing my own work. The WebCT content for my textbook consisted of information from the instructor s manual. In addition to searching your publisher s web site for WebCT material, the following web sites are a good place to start. lecture.lite.msu.edu/~korte/lon/ - Michigan State University The Learning Online Network with CAPA - California State University Center for Distributed Learning - MERLOT is a collection of high quality interactive online learning materials, assignments, and reviews

5 - WebCT 2000 Conference Papers - The e-learning hub 3. Try it first Go through sample WebCT sites (as a student) to see what features you like and do not like. By gaining access to WebCT courses at your institution or other institutions, you can get a better feel for how WebCT works. Be sure to make notes of the features you like, as well as of those you do not like. I asked for, and was given, access to a WebCT class run by one of the nursing instructors. By going through this class, I got a better feel for what functions the students needed in the course. You should also set up a test student as a member of your course so that you can view your own course as a student whenever you need to. There are certain functions, like viewing grades, that you cannot see unless you are signed-on as a student. 4. Learn basic WebCT tricks and navigation WebCT software allows you a great deal of flexibility. Typically, this means that navigating through it is NOT intuitively obvious. Finding a WebCT buddy really helps. If there is not one available at your institution, then check out conference information for someone with WebCT experience that you can . Asking someone for a few basic pointers can save you lots of time. For example, never delete an icon; hide it instead. It is also much easier to post powerpoint slides to another web site and provide a link from WebCT than it is to post powerpoint slides on WebCT. All the WebCT icons are not needed within most classes. Only show the students what they actually will use. In order to sign-on as a student, you must not only get out of WebCT as in instructor, but you must also close every web browser window that you have open. You may then open your web browser, go to your WebCT sign-on page, sign-on as a student, and access your course. The following screens show the student view of the first page of my course (except students do not see the hidden icons.

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7 5. Deal with curriculum issues This will be very easy or very time consuming depending on how much thought has gone into your face-to-face course. (Please do not agree to teach a course you have never taught on the web the first time you teach it.) You have to determine what the specific objectives and learning outcomes for each chapter or module should be. You also have to determine how the knowledge gained will be tested. You must provide Course Content or Lecture Notes (two icons that seem to do the same thing) for each of the chapters or modules that you will be covering. This is the actual information that your students will be reading in addition to any required textbooks. The WebCT material provided for my course consisted of information taken from the Instructors Manual (a good place to start for your own information). If you have detailed lecture notes from which you teach, this is where you put them. In my case, I do not have any written lecture notes. Therefore, my style of teaching does not readily lend itself to a WebCT format. After the first week of classes, I decided to summarize what I had covered in the faceto-face class session, especially anything students seemed to have problems understanding. I then saved these summaries as HTML and uploaded them into the WebCT file system. Then, I added the file to the Course Content area. My students can go through the Lecture Note pages before the chapter is covered and the Course

8 Content pages afterward. You may type information using HTML directly into WebCT, but I have found it easier to use a word processor and save the file as HTML. I then load the file into the WebCT course area before adding it to my Course Content. Anytime you change your Course Content or Lecture Notes, you must update the entire student view for the changes to show. 6. Get to know your course Evaluate differences between the class offered through WebCT and a face-to-face version of the class. Determine what subject matter will be easily interpreted without a face-to-face explanation and what areas will cause difficulties for students. Decide how different or similar the WebCT course should be to the face-to-face version. How many, if any, face-to-face meetings will be required of the WebCT students? How will assignments and exams be handled? I required all my students to come to the first class night. This gave me a face to go with the WebCT name. It allowed me to state that the course would be taught both on the web and face-to-face and students were encouraged to participate in both areas. It allowed my student groups to meet each other. WebCT has a group manager. You may create your own groups or allow WebCT to generate random groups. I let WebCT generate the pairings I am using for my student groups. I decided that my first exam would be a take home. I posted it on my web page by a certain time and gave the students one week to complete it. They could mail, fax, e- mail, or hand deliver the test to me. 7. Edit your site Now that you have decided what features and organization you prefer, it is time to add the content to your site. You need to organize the icons and hide icons you will not be using. Put in your lecture notes (or, if you are lucky, notes from the publisher). Add links to you other web pages that contain powerpoint lectures. If you are teaching concurrent sections of the class in both a WebCT and face-to-face setting, then you may want most of the common information on your web page with a link to that page on WebCT. This would keep you from having to enter and maintain the same information in two locations. You need to have any information available before the students are ready to start using it or they will get frustrated. Your students need to be able to access the course notes whenever they want to. This means you should have information ready on each chapter several weeks before that chapter is scheduled. It is a good idea to state how far in advance in chapter or module will be available. The following screens show the Designer Map. Using this view to click on what you do is probably the easiest way to navigate.

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10 The following screen shots show the General Tool link in Designer View.

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12 8. Add WebCT information You need to add general WebCT information to the FAQ page of WebCT. Remember that your students will have to navigate WebCT as well as your course content. You need to detail the specifics as far as what PC hardware is needed and how on-line learning works. You need to determine any rules for posting messages and general course etiquette. I did not follow my own advice here. If this is not done before the class actually starts then it is of little use. Because most of my on-line students had participated in previous on-line courses, their knowledge of WebCT was already greater than mine. Our WebCT version was upgraded the week before classes started. The GUI interface was changed so the information on how to accomplish something may have changed as well. Therefore, by the time I was comfortable and ready to post FAQ information, the class was already using WebCT. I have not had anyone send me a message asking how to do something on WebCT. 9. Add grading information Decide how non-webct assignments, if any, will be turned in and returned. You can use WebCT to set up assignments, percentages, and other grading information. By

13 using this, your students can easily check out where they stand without ing or calling you thus saving you from responding to individual queries. My institution does not allow the ing of grades without prior written consent so this feature is a way around that restriction. Adding a quiz to WebCT turned out to be much more frustrating than it should be. I ran out of time before I learned how to successfully add the Quiz. I wound up posting my take home exam on my web page. The students could then download it without using WebCT. They could turn it in as an attachment, by fax, by mail, or in person as long as I received it by a specified day and time. 10. Getting you students started You must disseminate the information to your students about where and how to sign-on. You will need to be very specific if your students have never been involved with an online learning environment. If there are any required face-to-face meetings, you need to let your students know at the beginning of the term. I used asterisks on my syllabus to denote which class sessions I felt needed face-to-face explanation. Let your students know if any credit will be given for WebCT participation in discussions. Conclusion I am still learning new functions on WebCT. Ideally, you would like to be able to access WebCT and begin setting up your course on the version of WebCT that will be used at least three months before your course will be taught. My institution is already talking about moving to version 3.1 (less than one month after the move was made to 3.0)! If your institution uses WebCT, or any other Web course support tool, these guidelines can be followed to get you started in the process of putting your face-to-face course online. It is hoped that by using these guidelines you can save some time and find putting your course on-line less frustrating than I did. Please take advantage of any training offered by your institution or at conferences whether you think you will be teaching online or not. Offering a course on the web may seem like the thing to do. However, it takes a lot of thought and time to design a good course. Ideally, you should get a course release for teaching a WebCT course the first time. You also need to realize that it will take much more preparation time than usual before the class starts to be ready to teach a WebCT course. The second time teaching a WebCT course will be easier provided it is the same class and book!

14 References WebCT.com information accessed on September 4, 2000 from Goette, A Case Study of the Use of Nicenet to Support a Database Management System Video Conference Class", Proceedings of the Ninth Annual International Information Management Association Conference, Oct. 1998, pp

This paper was presented at CUMREC 98, The College and University Computer Users Association Conference. It is the intellectual property of the

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