WebCT Integrates Classroom, Internet
October 25, 1999
Faculty and teaching assistants are experimenting this semester with the WebCT software package, a course management tool that further integrates the classroom and the Internet.
Developed by faculty and students at the University of British Columbia, WebCT - Web Course Tools - helps instructors manage their courses in an Internet-based environment.
WebCT enables faculty easily to place syllabi, course content, quizzes and links to other sources on class websites, and will increase the opportunities for students to take practice exams, participate in class discussion and study course content at any time from anywhere on campus.
It also will grade and give feedback on practice tests, manage class records and track student progress. The program allows instructors to keep track of what course content students access and how they are using the online course tools.
WebCT also provides communication tools for out-of-class discussion and student-to-student and student-to-faculty interaction. Students and instructors can send and receive private e-mail within the class site, access the course calendar, and review and post to the course's virtual bulletin board.
"WebCT brings together many different functions into one package," says Kim Chambers, coordinator of the Instructional Resource Center. "Not only are students able to learn course material, but they increase their proficiency using the web, e-mail and discussion lists."
WebCT differs from Virtual Classroom, UConn's other web-based course site, in that it requires fewer technical skills to use, says Chambers.
"Virtual Classroom meets the needs of some early-adopting, very technologically proficient faculty members," he says. "WebCT is going to reach faculty members who have average technical skills."
Chambers says that whereas Virtual Classroom required proficiency in HTML - Hypertext Markup Language - to develop a course site, instructors could set up a site on WebCT without knowing HTML.
Chambers says WebCT is still in a test phase at the University, and he admits that the program has its limitations. "This is still pretty new," he says. He says the developers of WebCT will soon release a version of the software that will be easier to use.
About 30 classes at UConn now integrate WebCT. These include Chambers' University Learning Skills class. Part of the First Year Experience program, the class covers time management, study skill development, and use of academic technology.
"A number of students think (WebCT) is pretty cool," Chambers says. "They can access their course materials from home just by getting on the web."
Chambers thinks that faculty and student participation in the WebCT program will greatly increase in the future. "The thing to keep in mind," he says, "is that we're trying out one of many competing packages to answer the question, 'Are we as a university going to adopt this particular package and support faculty who want to use it?'"
John S. Paulhus