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  September 25, 2000

More Faculty, Students Using WebCT

Ann Ferris answers student e-mails more efficiently; Kay Ratcliff's students carry on discussions outside the classroom; Hedley Freake loads class notes and posts announcements. These professors are among the growing number of faculty who are using WebCT, course management software that helps instructors manage their courses via computer and the web.

Go Here for WebCT

The use of WebCT has grown considerably since the software package was introduced in a pilot program a year ago. A significant reason for the expanded use is that it has become easier to access since then: some 22,732 student accounts and 399 courses and designer accounts have been created and entered into WebCT by the University Computer Center.

"This is a big development," says Kim Chambers, coordinator of the Instructional Resource Center. "During the pilot program last year, faculty members had to add students into their courses themselves and explain to students how to create their own WebCT accounts. This was a laborious task. Now we have automated the process: faculty have been given their courses preloaded with student names, and any student can open up MyWebCT with an ID and a password," he says.

Staff at the computer center, headed by Haleh Ghaemolsabahi worked around the clock during August to automate the process.

Some 9,077 students now have active accounts. Another 13,655 students have inactive accounts that can be activated as soon as the students enter their ID and password.

Faculty can use WebCT in a number of ways: They can put syllabi, lectures, quizzes and links to other sources on their class websites; have students participate in discussions; and post grades. All these resources can be accessed through WebCT from any place at any time. The software also allows faculty to monitor when and where students have accessed the site.

Students taking courses in the First Year Experience Program are being introduced to WebCT early on. Instructors who teach First Year Experience learning skills courses or faculty seminars were invited to be trained in how to develop a WebCT course, says Dave Ouimette, director of first year programs. "We put together topics that are usually presented in class, developed a model, put it on WebCT and trained as many instructors as had the time to do it. If students need extra help beyond the 50 minutes in class, they can explore further topics on their own," notes Ouimette, who teaches one of the learning skills courses. "We also want to hear from students so we can address some of their issues."

As the new semester unfolds, more faculty are trying their hand at WebCT. Many say it is easier to use than the virtual classroom, requiring fewer technical skills. "I've used the virtual classroom for two years. This is so much easier," says Ann Ferris, professor of nutritional sciences.

Ferris, who is now using WebCT in two of her courses, finds it particularly helpful in her course on community nutrition. "We meet only five times a semester, so this becomes a vehicle for me to correspond with my students in a very efficient manner," she says.

She also likes the fact that WebCT e-mail is separate from her own. "I go to the web classroom and answer the mail, rather than going through my own e-mail to find a student message, and then 10 messages down find another student question on the same topic," Ferris says. Now, with student messages in the same place, if they're on the same topic, she'll compose a response to the group. "It's much more efficient for me and I think my response is of a higher quality," she says.

Hedley Freake is using WebCT for the first time in an introductory nutrition course he has taught many times. "I've been putting up announcements about the course and I'm now loading my course notes," says the associate professor of nutritional sciences. He also plans to use it for class discussions and for posting grades. "As soon as something is graded, it can be entered into the database and students can log on to see their grade or their progress in the course. I think that will save time, rather than having to respond to individual requests. Faculty should be aware, however, that it takes considerable time to learn the software," he cautions.

When faculty need help with WebCT, Chambers, who fields about 20-25 questions a week, is there to help. "Once faculty become more familiar with the software," he says, "it will become easier."

Sherry Fisher