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February 28, 2002 More faculty are using Web teaching tools



by Roger Kenner, WebCT Administrator, IITS

As we read the debate over the future of the Web in university education and marvel at the latest innovations, a significant portion of the faculty of Concordia University are quietly adopting, and in ever-increasing numbers, various Web-based support tools for their courses.

The latest user statistics from Concordia’s WebCT server, for example, just one of such tools available to instructors, shows a marked increase in usage. The winter semester started off in its first week with numbers equal to the highest usage attained in fall 2001, and have since climbed to even greater heights.

Based on the student activations of their WebCT course accounts, it would appear that instructors of roughly 400 current-term Concordia courses have chosen to use the tools of WebCT in some fashion. These numbers are spread across all faculties and include some courses from nearly all departments.

For many instructors using WebCT means posting course notes, or perhaps Powerpoint lectures, on-line in a closed environment where only their students have access to them. Posting on the Web used to mean converting documents to HTML, but an ever-greater number of instructors are now posting materials in their original formats, for nearly all students have access to the common software tools of today.

Some instructors, especially in disciplines involving complex equations and diagrams, have taken to scanning their handwritten notes directly into Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format. The latest statistics show that roughly 6.5 gigabytes of data are being downloaded from WebCT each week.

Quite a number of instructors have discovered the communication tools of WebCT, including the class bulletin board, which can be used to extend class discussion throughout the entire week. Others use the bulletin board as a tool for posting and receiving assignments, often making use of the “attachment” tool. Still others use the ‘private workgroup” feature to give groups of students an on-line, all-week-long location to work together on course projects.

The group calendar is a popular and easy-to use tool which many instructors have made use of. Another very popular feature of WebCT is the on-line class grade book. Besides providing faculty with an up-to-date class list, it serves as a tool for distributing interim grades to students in a private, secure manner. Even class statistics on a particular assignment can be released.

A smaller number of instructors have explored the more involved features of WebCT, such as electronic on-line quizzes and electronic assignment “drop-off” boxes.

Statistics show that about 3,500 people are actively using WebCT so far this term. There are roughly 6,000 log-ins to our WebCT server each week, which translates into about 860 a day. Discounting the midnight-to-6 a.m. crowd (actually fairly numerous), these numbers translate into a fresh WebCT log-in every minute and a quarter.

Concordia is not alone in adopting WebCT in Montreal. The third meeting of local WebCT users, held at McGill in November, showed that all universities in Quebec have adopted WebCT and have quite healthy track records with it.

A survey taken prior to the conference indicated programs involving from 50 to 500, with weekly student access ranging from 100 to 5,000. The next such local meeting of WebCT administrators is scheduled for Université Laval in April.

Having a common interface with all Quebec universities, and most Canadian universities, has proven to be a bonus for a number of new professors, who have arrived with their WebCT course backup in hand, ready to install it here.