12 classes test new version of WebCT

The University hopes it can significantly boost the number of courses using WebCT by fall 2005.

Currently, approximately 15 percent of courses on the Twin Cities campus use the course management system. The University would like to see 50 percent using it within two years.

Over that same time period, the University plans to upgrade to the latest version of WebCT, but that timetable could change depending on how the transition goes, said Linda Jorn, Office of Information Technology digital media center director.

Although WebCT pages will look about the same, they will contain more activities designed by instructors, Jorn said. The new system will also be easier for faculty to use, she said.

“Students are going to see that faculty see this tool as a stimulus to rethink how they teach, and rethink about how students best learn,” Jorn said. “So ultimately, I think they’re going to see a lot of exciting new opportunities.”

If instructors choose, they will also be able to share course plans and material within and between campuses, said Steve Cawley, the technology office’s chief information officer, said.

On Monday, 12 University classes began using the new version as part of a pilot program. More courses will join in January.

WebCT is the only course management system used by all University campuses. Instructors use the system to post course information and quizzes, track students’ progress and distribute grades.

Cawley said the University will offer training for the new system.

Peter Dimock, a faculty member at the School of Social Work, said he had reservations about wider implementation of WebCT but said the new system might solve some common problems.

“To use the latest version in the most efficient way, knowing an HTML editing program is important,” he said. “If you don’t have support, the faculty will get discouraged.”

Dimock said he was concerned support within departments might not be high enough for the University’s plans. Although Dimock praised the University’s technical support personnel, he said people might need them at times when they are unavailable.

Dimock also said WebCT can present problems for students without a high-speed Internet connection.

“Those students who have high Internet access speeds have many fewer complaints about WebCT,” Dimock said.

However, Dimock said he felt students also gain a lot through WebCT.

“Web-enhanced classes really allow students to gain access to information that they wouldn’t normally get, because they can go there any time of day or night,” he said.

Other universities using the new system include Purdue University and Eastern Michigan University.