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The Proís and Conís of Web CT

Mohammed Shamma
April 2, 1998

Information about Web CT can be found at: http://homebrew.cs.ubc.ca/webct/
 
Proís Conís
Web CT is a course Web site management tool that allows users who know almost nothing about Web publishing to create and manage sophisticated Web sites. If you are new to Web publishing or have very little knowledge about it, then you might not be aware of the limitations of Web CT. One main limitation is the software requirement of having a Javascript enabled browser. In addition to that, this may disenfranchise some students who do not have home computers with Internet access or who do not have the means to access campus computer labs, if any.
Web CT comes with a user interface that allows the user to simply issue commands to a Perl and Javascript implemented application through a series of form that are intuitive and easy to use. The form command interface is too rigid and linear that makes it about as useful as a command line one. Users must perform tasks in a set manner and have no freedom to "get comfortable" with the application.
Web CT initially sets up course Web sites with instructor e-mail, a course calendar, a class bulletin board for group discussion, an on-line chat feature, password protection, on-line quizzes and surveys, and a grader and student tracking database. Even though Web CT accounts come with several features, they may be more, less or none of what you need.  In the case that these features are not what you need then you can choose to leave them alone or to remove them.
The course calendar is a great way of displaying class schedule and syllabus information in a traditional month- by-month format. In order to load the dates and information users must use the form interface, "keying in" or "cutting and pasting" the data, which can be very tedious.
The course content area allows the instructor to post course content such as lecture notes, course handouts, images, "mpeg" video files and audio files that students can interact with. Again, the form interface is too inflexible. The information must be posted in a very specific and linear manner. This is good for lecture notes, but Web CT offers no solutions for content that is not linear in nature (ex. Multimedia files)
The class bulletin board (Web CT newsgroup application) is a great way of letting students carry on discussions outside of class. Users are forced to view the newsgroups from within Web CT. Other newsgroup viewer applications are not compatible with Web CT formats. This also applies for the chat feature.
The password protection feature is an effective tool for securing controlled access to sensitive or non-public information. This feature is a mandatory feature and it cannot be removed. If an instructor does not see the need to password protect their course then they will have to set a "global" password and post it on the "welcome page" that Web CT makes available to everyone.
Web CT offers on-line quizzes and surveys which it grades or tabulates, thus saving the instructor time and costs (in some cases) in printing, grading by hand or hiring a grader. While this may ease the burden of quiz making for the instructor, it does not necessarily ease the burden on the student. In fact, if the student is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with basic computer operations their performance could be affected. 
The features of Web CT emulate a distance learning model that attempts to supplant the "paper-and-lecture" type of course.  Indeed the features of Web CT are very powerful, but what about students who are expecting the traditional "paper-and-lecture" style of course. They may be the ones who find themselves behind in coursework, even though computer skills were never a prerequisite to the course.
 



SIMS Web Pages Project
Last updated: May 15, 1998