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Web Course Tools at UH
by Linda McConnell and Yves Sakai

In a world where computers and technology are commonplace, education and learning are taking on a whole new style. Distance and time have been essentially nullified by the presence of the Internet. Technology is being used in new and exciting ways, allowing instructors and students to break out of the brick and mortar constraints of the traditional classroom.

Online or Internet-based teaching has become an increasingly popular form of education, mainly due to the fact that students and instructors have access to their course at their convenience, anytime and anywhere. At the University of Hawaii, students find that online courses allow for more flexibility in their schedules. Many feel they have more control over their time and learning, in that they can work at their own pace and schedule studies around other activities. These factors make online classes especially helpful to non-traditional students who are returning to school or juggling education with work and families. Students on the neighbor islands or those who are far from campus also appreciate the convenience of being able to take a class without having to travel to any particular location.

Some people may feel that online courses, with no face-to-face contact between instructor and student, are impersonal. Yet, many are surprised to discover how much interaction is possible online. The technology that allows courses to be taught over great distances can provide the tools for interaction via online communities -- fostering a sense that your instructor and classmates are not too far away.

Web Course Tools, otherwise known as WebCT, helps the educator place course materials online in a structure and format that can be readily accessible by students. WebCT also provides tools such as chat sessions, discussion boards, and e-mail that can be used to enhance student and instructor interaction. In chat sessions, participants meet online to exchange ideas, ask questions, and have interactive study groups. Chat sessions can also take the place of office hours, as they allow for real-time meetings between students and the instructor. The discussion board tool can be used to submit questions or respond to inquiries posted by students or instructors. E-mail allows for communication between two or more individuals and can be the means to hold online private discussion groups. E-mail can also be used by students to send pertinent questions directly to their instructor. As these tools are used, online student communities are nurtured, and rapport is developed with the instructor.

Instructors can deliver assignments using the WebCT drop box tool. They can provide examples and directions for the assignment online. Students, using their own word processing program, complete the assignment and return it through the drop box tool for grading. Since the course is online, turning in an assignment can take place any time of the day or night. A calendar tool can also be made available to aid students in keeping track of class schedules and deadlines.

In WebCT courses where no face-to-face contact is made, exams do not have to be administered in a classroom, but can be taken online. Using the WebCT quiz and survey tools, students complete and submit tests directly to the instructor for grading. Instructors have the option to either return a grade for immediate feedback, or view each test submission before students have access to their grades. Many educators like the idea that WebCT student assessment and course management are just a button click away.

For a list of online courses, click on "Course Listing" at webct.hawaii.edu, then select a campus category. For additional listings, click on "New WebCT version courses" and then select "See courses on this server". Once enrolled in the class, students will receive individual WebCT student ids and passwords from instructors.

UH faculty who are interested in teaching fully online, or using WebCT to enhance a course, may apply for a WebCT account by clicking on "Request A Course Designer Account" at webct.hawaii.edu. WebCT workshops are available to help instructors put their course online. These workshops are provided each semester through the TALENT (Teaching And Learning with Networked Technologies) series of workshops. WebCT tools and features are covered, along with discussions on how to adapt course materials to fit an online environment. Information on support and workshops can be found at www.hawaii.edu/talent.

WebCT also has a support site at webct.com. This site is for students and instructors and is dedicated to providing the latest information, articles, course materials, and discussions on WebCT and distance learning.

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