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InfobITS logo, volume 8, number 1, spring 2002.

 

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Enhance Your Class with WebCT
by Linda McConnell

WebCT (Web Course Tools) is a set of online course and student management tools. ITS has licensed WebCT for use at the University of Hawaii and provides support to faculty and staff who use it to deliver their course online or as an enhancement to their traditional class.

This article focuses on how WebCT can be used to enhance a traditional face-to-face course. WebCT is ideal for supporting course concepts, student interactions, and building a stronger peer community through incorporating various online tools. Three of the commonly used tools are Discussions, Mail, and Chat.

The Discussions tool allows for interaction, feedback, and active asynchronous (anytime, anywhere) learning. Interaction takes place as the instructor and students post or reply to messages on a preset topic. Instructors can create specific topic categories based on a course lecture, unit, or activity. These topics can be made private for collaborative group work, public for general feedback, or anonymous, which could be used for student's formative feedback on course structure and pace. Students are then able to reflectively post a reply, comment, or pose a question pertaining to a topic category. Students can make additional comments to any public postings either publicly or privately. This ability for free reflective interaction allows for exchanging and building of ideas in a safe learning environment.

The discussion tool also enables active learning and provides a means through which students can get timely feedback on their class work. For example, an instructor can set up a private topic category for a particular class assignment and assign group members. Members of the group can collaborate on the assignment online without worrying about in-class time constraints, allowing for more in depth, reflective thinking. Once the assignment is completed, it can be turned in to the instructor via an attachment in the Discussions area. The instructor then has the opportunity to provide timely feedback on the assignment through posting to only those group members.

WebCT Mail works much like the Discussions tool in that it facilitates peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction and enhances the classroom's peer community in an online environment. The instructor could choose to incorporate the Mail tool as an assignment drop box. Students would then send assignments, via attachment, to their instructor for grading and feedback. In addition, individual private feedback and reinforcement can be sent via email, as opposed to Discussions which is more group orientated. Community building can be enhanced when students are encouraged to use the mail tool to communicate with peers or group members on a daily basis, outside of the Discussions area.

The Mail tool is internal to WebCT, meaning only students enrolled in the course can send and receive messages. This allows for easier downloading, archiving, and managing of mail messages. All email and discussion messages are stored in a single area and can be searched, compiled, and sorted according to specific criteria.

The Chat tool allows for synchronous (same time, same place) interaction and feedback between instructor and student or student and student. In combination with the Discussions tool, Chat can be used for real time meetings of group members to discuss and work on class projects. For feedback, the instructor can incorporate the chat tool for online office hours where a discussion of assignments, projects, questions, and even testing can take place. Using the Chat tool for specified office hours helps to provide an excellent alternative to students who have strict schedules or jobs making face-to-face meetings difficult.

In addition to the Discussions, Mail, and Chat tools, WebCT allows an instructor to post any materials that have been converted or saved in HTML such as lecture notes, handouts, or even PowerPoint presentations. Links to other Internet sites can be added which reinforce class concepts or topics. For example, if an instructor had just finished a face-to-face lecture on blood flow, a link could be added to their WebCT course that will take students directly to a site using a Flash or QuickTime movie illustrating the actual flow of blood.

The possibilities can be endless when incorporating WebCT as an enhancement tool to your face-to-face class. Using any of the tools mentioned, your course has the opportunity to experience increased interactivity, stronger sense of community, and more reflective learning.

Note: The use of WebCT at UH has been featured in other issues of InfobITS:

 

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Updated: March 26, 2002