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WebCT aids ND academic quest

John-Paul Witt | Thursday, February 15, 2007

After supplementing classroom education at Notre Dame for seven years, WebCT will soon have a new image.

Assistant director of the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning Chris Clark said the internet-based course software system has been purchased by a competing company.

In addition to a new name, Clark said, “WebCT will either be known as the Blackboard Learning System or we may rename it the ND Course Pages.”

The changes, however, might not end with a simple renovation.

“In several years, we may replace WebCT with one of several new, open-source, free programs that accomplish the same thing WebCT does in new ways,” he said.

WebCT currently is used most by the psychology, music, mathematics, theology and language departments, according to statistics provided by Brandon Rich of the Office of Information Technology.

“This semester, 388 sections are being taught using WebCT. That represents 20 percent faculty usage, reaching 73 percent of students,” Rich said.

The major consumer of WebCT is Math 10260 – Calculus II for Business – directed by Professor Alex Himonas.

“The problem with homework is that students cannot see their mistakes – WebCT corrects this,” Himonas said.

WebCT informs users instantly when they have made an error.

“We like the trial and error element of the class,” Himonas said. “Students can see where they are making mistakes, and can practice until they get it right.”

WebCT has also found novel applications in the foreign languages. Professor Maria Coloma uses WebCT to post handouts, visual aids and multimedia for her spanish classes.

“I love it. It lets me keep in touch with students – there’s even music we can sing on WebCT to help with pronunciation,” Coloma said. “I encourage all foreign language professors to use WebCT.”

Students like sophomore Marcela Monsalve appreciate the broad applications of WebCT.

“I used it in my pre-med science classes, but also in Democracy in Africa,” Monsalve said. “All the lecture notes were posted, as well as the syllabus. I like the convenience of it.”

One of the most popular applications in WebCT is used for multiple choice questions based on an assigned reading, Clark said.

“Students say on TCEs that classes with WebCT are better because they do the reading for quizzes, which leaves them more prepared for exams at the end of the semester,” he said.

WebCT appeals to many of its users, but also comes with its fair share of criticism.

“It allows us to do very basic things, but students still have to type in an answer at the end,” Himonas said. “We can’t test [students’] ability to draw graphs or determine mistakes in each step of the process, only the solution.”

Clark said the system is seen as “clunky” and difficult to use, but said a new version of WebCT would be implemented soon to fix this problem.

“The new version will add a more advanced discussion tool, the ability for students to keep an individual online journal and a class web log feature, as well as a scoring rubric,” he said. “The rubric will allow students to grade their own work before turning it in to see if they have met their professor’s expectations for a given assignment.”