Building Communities of Teachers & Learners:
The WebCT E-Learning Hub
M.E. Sokolik, Ph.D., Jim Duber, M.A.
University of California, Berkeley
Since its inception, the web has been used for content, research, and publishing in educational contexts. In the beginning, resources were limited, but excitement about the possibilities was great. Resources now have reached proportions only dreamed of, but the excitement has perhaps diminished in some ways due to the overwhelming amount of information now online. Instructors often have insufficient time and resources to assemble meaningful materials, and students often lack the skills to evaluate web-based materials critically or find appropriate materials for their work (cf. Berghal, 1997). One answer to this dilemma is the development of learning portals, online locations that offer searchable indices of discipline-specific data, downloadable learning modules, including syllabi, examinations, slide shows, and so on, and areas for ongoing discussion of academic issues.
As more and more courses throughout higher education include web-based components, the goal of e-learning hubs is to:
- make it easier for faculty to offer pedagogically meaningful web-based experiences;
- make it easier for institutions to support faculty members creating and delivering web-based course; and, to
- ensure that students gain the advantages that having the web available to them should bring.
We have been working with WebCT's e-learning hub (WebCT.com), which launched in January 2000, to build such a portal. WebCT.com's purpose is to provide a place where students, faculty, and web education professionals can go to find content and community to support them as they teach and learn using the World Wide Web. WebCT.com enables faculty and web education professionals and institutions to:
- offer and gain access to high quality content created by publishers, faculty and institutions that they can use in their courses thereby leveraging valuable course development time;
- give and get advice about teaching using the web from others who are actually doing it, in their discipline, in their subject, with their class size or their teaching style--practitioners helping practitioners; and,
- provide students with educational experiences and practical support beyond a single class experience therefore enriching their educational experience overall.
WebCT is a robust platform that enables instructors and schools to build database-driven courses and course supplements.
The strong focus of this experience is community. From the beginning, faculty and users of WebCT's platform have created a wide network of support through discussion groups and conferences. The WebCT.com e-learning hub extends the reach of support within the disciplines by providing additional functionalities, namely:
- A library for each community where web content and courses can be placed in downloadable form. (WebCT will also centrally host web content so that it can be previewed and linked to.) The library is searchable using metadata tags taken from the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) set--i.e., using search criteria specific to standards established for the field of education;
- Discipline targeted web search--a unique capability that allows students and faculty to search the web within a discipline area.
- A directory of useful, educational websites for each community. These websites have been reviewed by professionals in the discipline for quality and relevance;
- Ability to sign up for community specific newsletters;
- Ability to participate in community forums using bulletin board technology;
- Ability to find discipline-specific WebCT resources from publishing partners;
- Ability to recommend and purchase tradebooks of interest to community members;
- Ability for students to purchase access to publisher materials online.
There are currently ten discipline-based communities:
- Computer Science
- Life Sciences/Biology
- Health Sciences/Medicine
Each community is led by one or two community leaders who are experts in the discipline together with a team of forum leaders who are specialists in sub-disciplines of each community. This poster highlights the functionality of WebCT.com and its developing communities of teachers and learners.
- Berghel, H. (1997, Feb.). "Cyberspace 2000: Dealing with Information Overload," Communications of the ACM, p. 19.
- IMS Global Learning Consortium, http://www.imsproject.org/
- The WebCT E-Learning Hub, http://www.webct.com
- The WebCT Platform, http://about.webct.com