May 13, 2008

Paperless Course Websites

More than ten years ago, I realized that I was going to be seriously behind the times if I didn’t learn about IT in education. Technology, however, was not my strong suit, and I needed to find an easy way to present course information and material usually distributed in class to students on line. As I knew nothing about web site creation, my wife and son accepted to help me with my first steps in that direction over most of a summer. Word was indispensable as a tool to organize information and then save it for web publication.

Over the years, my course websites have all come to have the same layout:

  • my contact information;
  • targeted skills and objectives;
  • a brief presentation of the course content;
  • a table organized by weeks which is a schedule of events for course and extracurricular activities. Students can learn about major content elements within the course as well as critical dates such as exams and oral presentations;
  • a bibliography relevant to course content;
  • my office hours;
  • details on both summative and formative evaluations;
  • convenient links to services within the college such as Bleu Manitou and the library.

It is wonderful for students to be able to access course content, exercises and procedures directly without my intervention.

My operating strategy is simple – when a recurring activity occurs, I ask myself if my site can save me time. If the answer is yes, I add a section or add the information in question. This is why I make my PowerPointpresentations available on-line as well as my course notes and formative evaluations for students who are absent or need to review. It is wonderful for students to be able to access course content, exercises and procedures directly without my intervention. When students lose documents, all I need to do is refer them to the course website.

I now couldn’t imagine not using IT in education given the number of positive results:

Pedagogical Planning

  • When I get a new course, I use the template created by the old course and modify information as required.
  • At the session’s start, I can just modify those portions of each course’s site as required. As all the material is saved on the college’s server, All I have to do is transfer material that is pedagogically pertinent for the session in question.
  • Before my course, I look at what is on schedule and adjust according to the needs of my group. I can always count on the material on my site because everything is there. I can even use different presentation formats (PowerPoint, course notes or exercises) because I’ve developed different approaches in different years to attain the same objective.

Pedagogical Approach

  • It is important for students to be able to access course material anywhere. There are automatically advised of changes that I make along the way and know what is required to succeed.
  • From the beginning of the semester, students are informed that the questions on the final exam count for 60% of the final grade. As my course is organized around these questions, students clearly how their answers relate to the target sklls of the course.
  • Students do exercises at home which I correct with them in class. The answers are available on site and this has increase the success rate in my course by 15%.
  • A weak student can access exercises and formative evaluations on-site.
  • Similarly, ambitious students can work at additional exercises to strengthen their skills.
  • If a student is absent from an exam or a course, they can look at the presentations available and do the required reading. I don’t do make-up exams, but students can answer questions that are posted on the course website.
  • My contact information allows the student to contact me by e-mail. I receive around ten messages weekly and do my office hours on-line.

Technology has changed the way I teach, but I find the ecological ramifications important as well. Not only is the course paperless, but I have total access to my course material on-line. My students seem to appreciate this approach as much as I do.

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