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March 21, 2005

New WebCT Software
More Versatile, Easier to Use

A new, more powerful generation of the course management software WebCT, which offers additional features and will be easier to use, will be available to faculty for their fall 2005 classes.

Beginning in mid-April, faculty who would like to be part of the Fall 2005 Vista extended pilot will be able to request course websites in WebCT Vista.

WebCT has been widely adopted since its debut at UConn in 1999. By fall 2004, an estimated half of all faculty had WebCT sites for a total of some 2,400 classes, sections, and labs. Through these sites, faculty post lecture notes and assignments, and students contribute to online discussions of topics covered in class, or submit their work to the professor.

Haleh Ghaemolsabahi, campus administrator for WebCT in University Information Technology Services, says WebCT Vista is a more robust system that is integrated with other applications, such as PeopleSoft and – soon – the University Libraries. Faculty will no longer have to download or manage student enrollment data from PeopleSoft, as this will be done automatically. As students add or drop a class in PeopleSoft, adjustments will also be made in WebCT Vista.

One of the most noticeable changes in WebCT Vista from a faculty perspective will be the designer interface, says Janet Jordan, manager of the Instructional Resource Center. Many of the functions faculty use in designing their course websites are now more intuitive, and more can be accomplished with one or two clicks, she says. The new system also has a built-in HTML editor that enables faculty to create and edit their website as if in word processing software, without learning HTML.

WebCT Vista is more than just an update of WebCT, says Kim Chambers, director of instructional resources. The new software has an underlying hierarchical structure with levels roughly equivalent to the institution, schools and colleges, courses, and semester-specific classes or sections.

Thanks to the hierarchy, individual faculty will be able to make changes in a number of different sections simultaneously by managing them at the course level. Schools and colleges can make available self-contained learning modules – an animated graphic demonstrating a process such as blood analysis – that can be used wherever relevant by faculty teaching various different courses. And prepackaged modules related to issues in academic administration – such as a policy on plagiarism, with examples and quizzes, or a tutorial on how to use spreadsheet software – can be offered institution-wide for posting to any course website.

Vista also adds new tools to WebCT’s collection (the name WebCT is an abbreviation for “Web Course Tools”):

  • an “announcements” tool for sending announcements to students, TA’s, or faculty at any level in the hierarchical structure;
  • a “who’s online” tool, similar to instant messaging;
  • global e-mail for all users on their My WebCT page;
  • file storage for all students on their My WebCT page.

Del Siegle, an associate professor of educational psychology who has been part of a WebCT Vista pilot project this semester, says another option he finds valuable is a tool that enables the instructor to use the website exactly as a student would. “In the old system, I assumed students were seeing things they really weren’t,” he says. “Now I can see exactly how things are going.”

Faculty in the pilot will have access to WebCT Vista sites for their fall semester classes by the end of April. Training sessions will be offered for those who plan to use the new software.

“We recommend that faculty come to a short training to get started,” says Chambers. “WebCT Vista will look different. An hour of training can save hours of time later.”

Beginning in January 2006, faculty will have a choice whether to use WebCT Vista or the current “Campus Edition,” WebCT 3.8, for courses that are already web-enhanced or completely online. Those who have never used WebCT before, or are developing a new course website, will design their classes in WebCT Vista.

Chambers says there will be a number of ways to transfer materials from existing WebCT sites to WebCT Vista.

“We will work with faculty to figure out the best way to move their materials,” he says. “There are advantages to rethinking and redesigning the course website, but in many cases parts of the existing site can be saved and transferred easily.”

Staff from the Instructional Resource Center and UITS will assist faculty with the transfer. “The transition to WebCT Vista will give faculty a chance to look at their course websites and make decisions about the best pedagogical uses of the sites, including considering whether to take advantage of the opportunity to redesign them,” says Chambers. “This will help promote good teaching and learning.”

To request a WebCT Vista site for a spring 2006 course, faculty should consult the on-line course request procedure, to be announced in late September 2005. To register for training or to request help with site design or transferring material, call 860.486.5052 or e-mail or