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Can Enhance Your Teaching

How a Supplemental Course Website

These notes are intended for a live workshop in which the scenarios are illustrated by course worksites on the WyoSakai platform. Each contains teaching materials and student activities that illustrate how a course site can be configured to meet that scenario's specific pedagogical needs. Each site's home page includes a link to "Faculty Demo Notes" with further information about the online teaching paradigm the course section exemplifies.

You are meeting in a classroom, on the regular academic schedule. Why would you need a course website?  Using a series of versions of the same example course, let's consider a variety of answers to that question. Although the implementation details differ, the following options (along with others) are available in most course platforms. 

  1. You don't.

    You want the No-Tech option.

    Your class is going fine, you carry on lectures and discussion in the classroom, students are interested in the material, and work is done on paper and on the chalkboard.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-01, on paper only.  Materials and records kept in notebook.

    Notes on Pedagogy: We have little reason to believe that learning is carried on more productively over the Internet. Classroom instructors should, of course, take full advantage of a face-to-face setting, facilitating interaction, monitoring and measuring student learning, devoting attention to issues as they arise.  In short, you never need a course website for its own sake.

  2. You want to give students permanent access to written materials, e.g., the syllabus, lectures, or summary materials.

    You want the Cornerstones option.

    You can get a course site for display purposes only, and let students see the syllabus, the critical definitions, your periodic reviews of the material, and even your lecture notes, online. You can set up these materials well in advance, and open them at the start of the term, on a predetermined schedule, or manually as desired.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-02, with Syllabus, "Representations" lesson, and "Definitions and Notations."

    Notes on Pedagogy: Beware putting all lecture materials online, possibly attenuating motivation for class attendance. Remember that you are directing student learning in the classroom.  And refrain from changing the online documents without warning (in spite of the ease of doing so).  

  3. You want reliable, preserved communication from you to your students throughout the semester, or controlled submission of student work.

    You want the Paper Trail option.

    You can post announcements prominently in an online course, and also use the e-mail tool to email participants through the course site. In this version, you can also enter, maintain, and distribute grades so students can access them anytime. Students can submit assignments to the instructor, as files of various formats, which are stored in the course space for your retrieval.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-03, with Announcements, an Assignment for distributing and collecting submissions, and an active Gradebook.

    Notes on Pedagogy: Plan the administrative message location (course e-mail or course announcement?) and deliver it consistently. Archive old e-mail and announcements, and figure out how to do so before the class starts.

  4. You want to provide extra materials, including websites, pictures, audio files, and references for further exploration of the subject.

    You want the Features option.

    A course website can host pages of supplementary notes, written, audio, and visual, and also provide a convenient place to put links to interesting websites that expand upon the subjects of the course.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-04, with Representations lesson, links to ancient numbers systems websites, "Amazing Grace" (text and audio) references, for the purpose of describing infinity, and other tantalizing items.

    Notes on Pedagogy: Use reputable websites, of course, organize them into groups and provide annotations. Limit the sizes of media and image files, especially if they are used for required work. Ask students for suggestions and assessments gleaned from their own web surfing.

  5. You want to increase participation and interaction.

    You want the Web 2.0 option.

    To foster more collaboration and social networking in and out of the classroom, in the Web 2.0 style, you can set up discussions in a course website for students, and you, to share reflections on topics. Course platforms also allow you to define of groups for collaborative projects and exchange of documents.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-05, with collaborative groups defined, a Discussion on everyday computation, a Research Project assignment grid, and a Wiki.

    Notes on Pedagogy: Cultivate discussion as an intermediate between talk and writing; it's more contemplative than classroom discussion but less so than formal composition. Ask "intermediate-level" questions with some structure, not open-ended questions; provide example answers. Consider requiring discussion (by factoring it into the grade), with more than one contribution, at different times. Try out collaborative document development with some trivial task, so that your students can practice the procedure.

  6. You want better assessment of student learning.

    You want the Progress-Tracking option.

    For formative assessment, use a course site to give ungraded quizzes, where you can view the results and some statistics, and students can see feedback from you on both correct and incorrect answers. For summative assessments, such as exams that count toward the grade, course platforms can score the multiple-choice and other machine-gradable questions.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-06, with "Representations" lesson, links to ancient numbers websites, an ancient numbers self-assessment quiz, and a discussion integrated with the Gradebook.

    Notes on Pedagogy: Online quizzes, taken outside class, are best used for self-assessment. If the system allows it, grade one question at a time, across all quizzes. Use the feedback options to explain common misconceptions and to redirect study. If you give graded exams online, provide a practice exam first.

  7. You want to defer some administrative work to a Teaching Assistant.

    You want the Off-Loading option.

    Add an assistant in the Teaching Assistant or designer role for such tasks as entering grades and monitoring discussion. Use the online gradebook to display student grades and current standing.

    Example: COSC/MATH/PHIL 2010-06 (as above); note that Velma Dinkley is a TA.

    Notes on Pedagogy: Do not use the online course to keep your students at a distance.  Encourage face-to-face discussion of grades. Check records regularly so that you don't inadvertently lose touch with your students' performance.

The bottom line: Let your teaching needs drive the technology!

For more information, come to a technology workshop or contact ECTL Instructional Computing Services at 307-766-5499 or email


Last Update: 5 August 2011; RKH

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Robin Hill, Coordinator
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