the Web to Enhance a Traditional Course
by Jennifer Merlic and
Web and Your Class
Report of the Commission on Technology and Adult Learning (2001) entitled,
A Vision of e-learning for America's Workforce, recently defined
e-learning as, "instructional content or learning experiences delivered
or enabled by electronic technology. Functionally, e-learning can
include a wide variety of learning strategies and technologies, from CD-ROMS
and computer based instruction to video conferencing, satellite-delivered
learning and virtual educational networks." Our work
in this section addresses the use of web based information in your classes.
For purposes of clarity we use the following definitions to describe the
use of the web in your class:
- Web presence
- information about the
course that has traditionally been in the course catalog is placed
- information about the
faculty who generally teach the course, course outlines, bibliographies,
and course requirements appear in a website
- comments and evaluations
from students who have taken the course may be included in the website
- Web-enhanced course
- class continues to meet
during regular classroom time, but has significant ancillary materials
on the web
- makes use of Web technology
and services to support distribution of course materials and student
access to the resources on the Web
- may employ online discussion
software for virtual office hours
- Web-centric course (hybrid
- makes significant use
of Web technology to facilitate access to class materials and support
communication between faculty and students, among students, and
between students and resources
- the communication hub
of a course may have shifted from the physical classroom to the
Web through the use of a asynchronous discussion board or real time
- Options for structure:
- courses can be cohort-based,
- courses can be limited
to a geographic area, such as a campus or a city, but attract
more students with needs for flexible schedules and fewer class
- intensive location-based
launching activities, weekend seminars, and other special
- courses can meet
50% online and 50% in the classroom (or use another division)
- Web course (also commonly
called an Online Course)
- A full Web course is
a course that can be accessed anywhere and anytime via the Internet
and a Web browser (please see module 3 "Distance Learning for
more on web courses")
- These courses do not
typically meet face-to-face at any point during the course.
Students may, however, be required to take a final exam on campus
(or have it proctored elsewhere)
If you are intrigued by the
learning opportunities now available using the Internet, you may wish
to consider one of the form of web courses above. It is important
to keep in mind that the web has two key educational purposes:
- To improve the quality
of education by providing resources or learning processes not available
in the traditional classroom
- To improve access to education
for those who might not be able to advance their educations without
ease of access and the absence of time constraints.
If your purpose is to improve
access you will likely wish to think about creating a fully online course.
If you purpose is to improve the quality of your course you will most
likely be interested in web enhanced or hybrid course. If you
are uncertain of the value of the web for your course, begin with a
web enhanced course.
- Create an online syllabus
- Make your handout available
- Offer recommended links
for future research
- If you are interested
in enhancing communication add an e-mail or discussion board option.
Keep in mind that you will have to monitor the bulletin board and
answer e-mail questions. You may wish to carefully define the
limits of discussion, and tell students that you answer e-mail three
times per week to avoid creating a 24/7 course that also meets face-to-face
as it traditionally has.
If you are interested in
creating a class that utilizes the web as an important means of instruction
you may wish to consider a hybrid course. A hybrid class should
retain the best of what you do in the face-to-face environment in the
classroom. If you are a brilliant lecturer who keeps students
hanging on every word don't put your lectures on line, move your discussion
online instead. If students fidget during your lecture and you
recognize that monotone is a good word to describe your speaking style
moving it online as written material, a PowerPoint with audio (be sure
to consider the deaf if you do this and create explanations of the slides),
or editing streamed video. This will allow you to use class
time to focus on discussion, group projects or presentations.
In short, it is often wise
to think about what you would most like to improve about your course
and then ask yourself how you might do that using the web.
Since a hybrid course meets only part of class time face-to-face it
offers you the time released from the classroom to answer the discussion
board or plan new lectures. It does take more time to design and
update a hybrid course than a traditional course, but it may be well
worth the effort for you and your students if the course is carefully
If you are having trouble
imagining what you might do with your hybrid course, think about some
of the features of this class that have worked effectively for you.
Could you put those same aspects online for your students? Yes,
there is a learning curve and significant time investment upfront, but
the payoff in terms of your increased skills, options and job satisfaction
in the long run can make that investment well worth it.
Course management tools
With the increasing popularity
of online learning has come a new breed of software packages.
Course Management Software (CMS) is now available from dozens of vendors.
Most of this software was developed to support online distance education
courses so they tend to include web-based versions of all the functions
provided to students in traditional courses. However, many faculty
use CMS packages to enhance their traditional courses, picking and choosing
from the variety of features offered until they find the right blend
of live and online resources to suit their needs.
A typical CMS package includes
the tools that most instructors use in teaching online courses:
syllabus, calendar, gradebook, email, discussion forums (both synchronous
and asynchronous--see below for the distinctions), student enrollment
and tracking facilities, mechanisms to link to other sites or to modules
on CD or DVD, mechanisms for including streamed audio and/or video,
online assessment tools, and some sort of system for organizing content
including file uploads and a mechanism for organizing content according
to a course outline or schedule. Other features are often available
The University of Illinois
has prepared a basic introduction to course management packages, their
features, administrative issues, and examples at http://illinois.online.uillinois.edu/Presentations/Integrated/
that improve communication
Communication tools fall
into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous
tools require that the participants be logged in to their computers
at the same time. Thus, geographic constraints are removed,
but not scheduling issues. Synchronous tools can be very powerful
when you want your students to respond to each other's ideas promptly
or "think on their feet", but you must schedule them into your class
prior to the first meeting, just as you would for any mandatory classroom
time. Asynchronous tools do not require simultaneous participation
and are available to students and instructor at their convenience.
This eliminates scheduling issues and has the additional benefit that
students can take as long as they need to compose their responses.
Many instructors have noted that students who are timid about participating
in live discussions often blossom into active participants when online.
of us now use email as frequently and comfortably as we use a telephone.
Email software is now so well-developed and user-friendly that even
new users need very little training to get started. The widespread
use of email makes it a common first step for instructors venturing
into the world of online communication with their students.
Unfortunately, many faculty suddenly find themselves swamped with
email messages from students and the time required to read and respond
to them all becomes overwhelming. There are, however, strategies
that experienced email users have developed to manage their email:
- Use email only for confidential
communication! Many faculty instruct their students to use
an alternate communication method such as a discussion board or
listserv for all questions or comments that are not too private
to share with the rest of the class. If a student sends a
nonconfidential message to your email, simply reply with a brief
request that the student post the question to the discussion forum
or listserv instead. In case of urgent but nonconfidential
questions (i.e. what's on the exam tomorrow?!), you can also
copy and paste the message from the student's email to the discussion
forum and answer it there, sending a quick message instructing the
student to check the forum for his/her answer. Either method
will quickly teach the students not to send you email unless a private
issue arises, and use of the bulletin board or listserv will eliminate
redundant questions and comments.
- Organize email using
folders! Many email systems will allow you to have incoming
email automatically routed to a special folder based upon what the
sender has entered in the subject line. This is especially
helpful if you are using email to receive assignments. By
requiring that students' use a particular subject line (i.e.
assignment 3), you can have your class-related email organized into
folders automatically, keeping your inbox free for your other messages.
- Set limits! Feel
free to set limits, and indicate them right on your syllabus.
For example, you may wish to check email messages only on certain
days or at certain times (i.e. MWF at 9:00 a.m.). If you stick
to your schedule reliably, students will learn not to expect responses
until your posted times. They may also save up their questions
for a day or two and send them all in one message just prior to
your posted time for email.
Email Proís and Conís
- easy to use--most
students already know how
- in common use already,
so students and instructor receive messages any time they check
email--they don't have to make any extra effort to check for
- instructor often
receives redundant questions since students don't necessarily
see each other's messages
- time consuming to
write individual responses to students
cumbersome to keep list of email addresses up to date
- topics are often
not well organized so it can be hard to find older information
Recommended uses for email
include personal communications and, for those who do not have access
to course management software with an assignment drop box, receipt
of electronic documents from students. Other uses tend to require
overwhelming amounts of the instructor's time except in the case of
very small classes.
Listservs are really another
form of email, but they address the entire class so the instructor
is less likely to receive redundant messages from students.
There are many manufacturers of listserv software and it is likely,
though by no means assured, that your college supports listservs of
some type. Listserv software allows you to create an email address
for a list, similar to an email distribution list that you might set
up in your own email address book except that all members of the list
have access to the address for the list. Thus, any time a member
of a listserv posts a message to the list, all the other members receive
it. While listservs have the advantage of addressing the entire
class and allowing each member to do so as well, they do not provide
a mechanism for organizing the messages by subject. In fact,
listserv messages usually appear in your email box along with all
your regular email. For that reason, most instructors find discussion
forums preferable to listservs. It is worthy to note, however,
that one benefit of listservs is that they are hard to ignore.
The participants must make an effort to visit a threaded discussion
forum, but listserv messages just show up in their email whether they
are working on the class at that moment or not.
Proís and Conís
- all messages appear
in email--no need to check website for new postings
- everyone receives
- everyone receives
- some students have
difficulty if self-subscription is necessary.
- administratively cumbersome
to keep list of email addresses up to date if instructor handles
Recommended uses for listservs
include classes where students are computer-savvy and can easily set
up email folders to organize their messages, and when the members
are particularly busy (or traveling and limiting their time online
to downloaded email) and might not take the time to check an asynchronous
discussion forum regularly.
Discussions and Bulletin Boards
Threaded discussions and
bulletin boards are both examples of asynchronous discussion forums.
An online bulletin board is simply a web page where viewers are able
to post comments of their own. A threaded discussion is one
specific type of bulletin board--the type is that is used most commonly
by educators. In a threaded discussion, each "thread"
is a distinct topic. Rather than posting all comments in the
order received, they are organized by topic or thread. Thus,
an instructor can have several simultaneous discussions going on--maybe
one on general course questions, one on a current reading assignment,
and a third dealing with a specific question the instructor has posed.
The threaded discussion software keeps the threads separate so it's
easy for the participants to read through the discussions topic by
topic. For those of you who are avid email users, it's a bit
like having your messages organized into folders based upon their
forums are currently the most popular means of communication in online
and web-enhanced courses, and for good reason. Because they
are asynchronous, there are no scheduling issues to consider and everyone
can participate as long as they have Internet access. Most are
text based so even those with slower modem connections can participate
comfortably. Participants can also take as much time as they
like to read the comments of others and compose their own replies.
Students who feel inhibited about participating in live class discussions
often bloom in asynchronous discussion forums where only their words
count, not voice, appearance, or other potentially biasing attributes.
It is also notable that many instructors often prefer online discussion
forums over email because all students in the class have access to
the discussions, reducing redundancy, saving time for the instructor,
and benefiting all students in the class, not just those who actually
ask the questions.
Discussion Proís and Conís
- topics are well-organized
- all students in the
class can benefit from each exchange of information
- participants must
remember to check the web site regularly for new postings--there
is often no notification of new postings via email.
Recommended uses for asynchronous
discussion forums include:
- virtual office hours
(general "ask the professor" types of questions)
- small group discussions
(organize your class into groups, then create a discussion thread
for each group, then pose a discussion question or even ask the
students to do so)
- full class discussions
(if your class is relatively small, you can involve them all in
your favorite discussion topics)
- peer-to-peer evaluation
or support (create a thread where students help each other--have
them post a writing sample and ask others to provide constructive
criticism, or simply ask them to share their favorite study techniques)
- study groups (allow
students to create their own threads for studying, then stay out
A tip for any of these
applications--you'll probably find that you have a handful of students
who will jump right into your discussion forums simply because they
are "webbies", but many will not participate unless you
encourage it. Instructors often make posting to discussion forums
a required part of the class by creating assignments that involve
posting comments. This is a great way to give credit for class
participation since each student's comments are there in writing for
you to evaluate at your leisure.
To see examples and learn more about discussion boards click here.
Chatrooms and whiteboards
are synchronous communication tools that allow members of a small
group to have a "live" discussion without having to be in
the same place. Chat rooms require the participants type all
of their comments and questions, while a whiteboard also allows them
to draw pictures with a mouse, or specially designed pen.
rooms are very common, much more so than whiteboards. Chat rooms
are a component in every major course management system and are available
for free on many web sites. Whiteboards are usually seen only
in some course management software packages. This discussion
focuses primarily on chat rooms simply because they are in much more
In a chat room or whiteboard,
all participants plan in advance to go to the same web address at
the same time. The address must be for a chat facility of some
sort. Some chat rooms are open to all, while others require
a password. Most educational chat rooms do use password protection
to ensure that only registered students are participating.
Each participant in a chat
room sees a window where all comments and questions from all participants
appear. In addition, each individual has a field in which s/he
can enter comments or questions of his or her own. When the
participant finishes typing a comment, s/he must then click a submit
button. At this time, the comment is sent to the window where
all comments are displayed. Since it takes some time to type
a comment, and then another moment or two for it to appear after the
submit button is pressed, it is easy for the conversation to be a
bit confusing. People tend to interrupt each other simply because
they are typing and submitting at the same time. Therefore,
some simple rules of etiquette for chat room use have been developed
and are demonstrated at the dig deeper link below.
Many chat software packages
allow the instructor to set up several simultaneous chat rooms.
The students can then be organized into small discussion groups and
each group assigned to its own room. Later, they may regroup
in one room where a spokesperson for each group can share a summary
of that group's discussion. Because most chat software maintains
a log of each discussion, the instructor can review each student's
contributions to a discussion. This is a very valuable tool
for instructors who wish to grade student's participation in discussions.
Because chat rooms are
popular on commercial and social websites, some people think of them
as vehicles for frivolous discussions or worse. It should be
noted, however, that they are simply a means for communication and
that the instructor can control the content of the discussion just
as s/he would do in a live classroom discussion. Many instructors
have found chat to be a very valuable tool!
Chatroom Proís and Conís
- synchronous - requires
that students remain actively engaged, "think on their feet"
- allows a written log
of participation in discussion for use in student assessment or
for students to review
- students are not seen
by peers, so sometimes feel relieved from biases of others (i.e.
due to physical appearance, gender, or ethnicity).
- synchronous - limits
- can intimidate students
who respond more slowly - limited time to compose thoughts
Recommended uses for chatrooms
and other synchronous discussion tools:
Chat rooms are most valuable
when the instructor wants the students to engage in a lively, fast-paced
discussion or debate. They are an excellent way to simulate
a face-to-face discussion when people cannot be in the same place.
In fact, the written logs of all comments and questions even give
them some advantages over face-to-face discussions.
Virtual office hours are
another popular use for chat, though asynchronous tools can also be
used effectively here, too. The advantage of the synchronous
chat rooms for office hours is that students can count on immediate
responses from the instructor. In an asynchronous discussion,
students need to wait for the next time the instructor logs in.
Thus, chat is preferrable for last minute questions--i.e. the night
before the big exam!
To see examples of effective use of chat rooms click here.
E-conferencing allows faculty
to collaborate with students or other colleagues online using voice,
data and video. E-conferences are usually established in advance via
e-mail, or through the course syllabus. Participants are given a URL
and a password to the conference which occurs in real time. Most participants
connect through their computers. Using either telephone or voice over
IP technology, they can participate in an audible conversation. Those
with net cams can be seen during the conference. Those connected via
telephone, without benefit of computer can hear the entire conference.
Often their phone call is to an 800 number that provides free access
to the conference regardless of their location. Participants with
older computer systems that have speakers can hear and see the conference,
but their participation is limited to typing in their comments.
can be given with the use of an online "chalk board" which
can allow freehand drawings to be seen. In short, anything you can
do on your computer can be done in the e-conference and viewed by
all participants. At this writing e-conferencing is in limited use
in the California Community Colleges and tends to be limited to administrative
and economic development venues. Palomar
College was awarded an e-conferencing grant by the Chancellor's
Office in early 2001. If you are interested in using e-conferencing
as part of your class look for announcements from Palomar in 2002.
Proís and Conís
- synchronous - requires
that students remain actively engaged
- allows a written
log of participation in discussion for use in student assessment
- Allows for voice,
net cam and telephone participations
- Allows for viewing
of documents and online editing
- synchronous - limits
- can intimidate students
who respond more slowly - limited time to compose thoughts
- advanced features
may be problematic for those with old systems, or for visually
or hearing impaired students.
of e-Conferencing in education is very new. Check back for more
information on this topic. In the meantime you can explore e-Conferencing
sites in the Explore section.
that Increase Student Access to Learning Resources
Publisher prepared materials (CD or website)
There is already a wealth
of publisher-prepared materials ready for you and your students to use.
Much of it is located online and organized according to:
- textbook--many textbooks
have websites and/or CD ROM's available containing practice quizzes,
problems to solve, discussion topics, animations, simulations, tutorials,
and even discussion forums with the textbook author(s).
- discipline--in addition
to textbook supplements, many publishers offer websites to support
entire disciplines. The homepages of such sites generally direct
students to appropriate level materials, then provide links to online
resources that may help them with drill and practice, research, and
- course management software--publishers
have been very busy partnering with the most popular course management
software packages (such as WebCT,
many others). On these sites, you'll find content related to
your discipline that has already been formatted to "plug-in"
to the course management system your college is using.
As a final note on publisher-prepared
materials, it should be mentioned that some academics view publisher
content as being inferior to that generated by the instructor.
However, this view is rapidly fading and rightly so. Just as with
textbooks, some are very good and some are not. Instructors should
exercise the same care when selecting publisher-prepared electronic
content that they do when selecting the text itself. And don't
assume that it's always better to build it yourself. Remember
that publishers have entire teams of graphic artists, instructional
designers, and programmers who work with faculty to develop their supplemental
materials. If you're in the market for a good simulation of a
complex process, or high quality streamed video/audio, you may find
that your publisher has what you need in a quality that you cannot match
using your campus resources. Save your time and effort for those
topics that publishers have not yet tackled. See the Apply
section for more ideas.
2) Instructor prepared
A great way to help your
students find additional learning resources is to create your own webpage
where you can provide links to the resources you've already created,
and others you find on the web and really like. This gives your
students a "one-stop shop" for information to help them in
your course. The design and content of faculty homepages
varies as much as faculty do, but they do have a few things in common.
They usually have a homepage that gives the instructor's contact information
and links to each course he or she teaches. It is on these course
pages that syllabi and other course-specific information is posted.
They also usually contain a list of links to websites that the instructor
recommends. These may be on the instructor's homepage if they
are relevant to all the courses s/he teaches, or may be listed on the
course-specific pages instead. For many wonderful examples (and
to submit your own) see the explore section.
Faculty Webpage - Sample Template
(To save this template,
right-click on the link and select "Save Target As" or
"Save link as". You may use and edit this template
to create your own webpage.)
Given the availability of
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web editors like
Dreamweaver, creating a website is now a relatively simple process.
Check to see if either package is licensed for your campus (most colleges
have a license to Frontpage thanks to a great deal on the software that
was negotiated by
CollegeBuys and Microsoft)
and, if so, ask to have a copy installed on your computer if you don't
have it already. In the Apply section you will find information
about ordering software for your home computer.
tutorials, animations, simulations, and real audio and video content
The power of the computer
for learning is truly captured by well-designed interactive multimedia
modules. Animation and simulation can make complex, dynamic, three-dimensional,
abstract concepts tangible for students. A complex mental image
you may have spent years refining can be brought to life with the right
tools. Dangerous and/or inaccessible processes and equipment can
be made available to students virtually without risk or tremendous expense.
How else can a student perform experiments using high energy particle
accelerators, or perform a risky medical procedure?
Multimedia, including audio
and video, is also capable of capturing the attention of your students
in ways that traditional lecturing or text-based materials cannot.
Interactivity makes the learner a participant, rather than a passive
observer. Audio and video appeal to those who learn best by these
methods and who find reading less effective.
So why don't we all use these
"techie," cutting-edge techniques for all of our teaching?
There are a few key drawbacks that you must understand. First,
producing such materials takes a lot of technical know how and a lot
of time. Many campuses have created teams of instructional designers,
graphic artists, and programmers to assist faculty in such endeavors,
but the production of one learning module can take weeks and is certainly
not practical for every lesson. You need to seek out those topics
that are the best candidates for these approaches--typically, those
that are difficult for your students to understand or remember, dull
to teach by conventional methods, or very abstract and therefore difficult
to teach by conventional methods. Second, once you've got a great
interactive, multimedia module to share with your students, you need
to consider an effective means to deliver it. If you put it on
the web, students with slower Internet connections may have trouble
viewing it. If you show it in class, you'll need a projection
system and students won't have the opportunity to view it again later.
Burning it onto a CD is a popular option, but will likely require assistance
from your technical staff to make enough copies for all of your students.
Remember that much of the
material being produced by publishers involves this high-end technology
and instructional design. Many faculty are finding an increasingly
broad array of modules ready for use in the ancillary materials provided
by their textbook publisher. Often, student materials are placed
on a CD and sold along with the book. When bandwidth permits (Internet
connection speed), many of these materials are also available on the
Community Colleges have a legal and ethical mandate to ensure their
courses are accessible to all students. This includes universal access
to web-based resources. Achieving universal web access demands our attention
because web pages can inadvertently create accessibility obstacles for
students with disabilities. For example, websites with no audio equivalent
for information presented visually (e.g. images, graphs, videos) exclude
people who are blind. Similarly, web sites with audio content exclude
people who are hearing impaired if there is no text equivalent for the
We can provide universal
access web access if we design our web pages according to universal
design principles. This means we design our pages to accommodate the
broadest range of users regardless of disabilities. This often means
implementing electronic curb cuts, i.e., methods of enabling people
with disabilities to access electronic information. Whenever possible,
these electronic curb cuts should be thoughtfully incorporated at the
inception of every aspect of course design, not added as an afterthought.
These electronic curb cuts will eventually be as ubiquitous and universally
appreciated as physical curb cuts in our streets.
Please refer to the
High Tech Center Training Unit's Resources for Designing Accessible
Web Pages for links to more information on universal web design.
For more information and
support on creating accessible web pages, contact the Disabled Students
Programs and Services (DSPS) office on your campus.