Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Teacher professional development via the WWW

Stephen R. Kessell
Science and Mathematics Education Centre
Curtin University of Technology
Over the past year, I have introduced four new professional development courses, for secondary science and computing teachers, that are presented entirely via the WWW. Formative and summative evaluation of these courses has demonstrated that the vast majority of teachers prefer this presentation method to both traditional paper-based distance education formats and on-campus classes. This research vignette briefly describes the rationale and content of these courses and the results of the evaluation. It also discusses the fundamentally different nature of non-linear, multimedia WWW courses (in contrast to traditional "linear" courses), the value of such an approach in meeting the needs of teachers with diverse backgrounds and needs, and the steep learning curve encountered by both teachers and students.

Introduction

Providing post-graduate courses and professional development opportunities to working teachers is never easy, and can be especially difficult if they reside away from urban campuses. There has been a great deal of hype about using communication and information technologies (CITs) and the World Wide Web to deliver such materials (Cunningham et al 1998; Luke 1996; West 1998). At the same time, others decry the loss of face to face interaction between lecturer and student (Ryan 1998; Birkerts 1994) as well as the cost of preparing sound multimedia courses for WWW delivery (Ryan 1998; GAL 1997). This paper relates some personal experiences in developing and delivering four such courses during 1998.

Designing and implementing a WWW course

The rationale behind developing the four new WWW courses: was to meet clear needs of secondary science and computing teachers seeking either university academic credit or simply studying for their own professional development. The "needs" arose from radical changes it the secondary computing / IT syllabi in Western Australia over the past two years (Curriculum Council 1998a, 1998b), the desire of many science teachers to utilise WWW sites and multimedia CD-ROMs more fully, and the motivation of a subset of both groups to create their own multimedia sites on their school's local area network.

Motivation for utilising electronically delivered multimedia, rather than traditional paper-based "distance ed" materials, included:

A WWW course allows the author to cater for a much greater diversity of needs, interests and backgrounds by providing both "introductory" and "advanced" links from a "middle of the road" path through the syllabus. [On the other hand, it is easy for students to become lost and/or overwhelmed when thousands of pages of linked materials are available.] For example, in Using Multimedia and the Internet in Secondary Science Education, I was able to provide: Similarly, in the two courses aimed at computing / IT teachers, a wide range - some would call it a "smorgasbord" of options - could be provided. The lack of personal contact between lecturer and students was compensated by regular use of a course Bulletin Board and email.

Perhaps the most useful feature of these courses was the provision of downloadable teaching modules on a range of topics, from "Design an Information System" and "Creating your own WWW Site" to "Using the Exploring the Nardoo Package" and "How to Write a Report". I have personally trailed these modules in six Perth secondary schools, and my students have trailed them in their own schools worldwide. As discussed below, many students found the availability of such teaching modules, which they could download onto their own school systems, modify as required, and provide to their own students, to be the best feature of these courses.

I also provided a free "demonstration" WWW site, that includes some modules from each course and several downloads, to show interested (but perhaps reluctant) teachers what multimedia course delivery is all about. Anyone may create themselves a free account on this site by following the instructions provided at:

The learning curve for WWW course developers

Despite the rapid improvement in html (hypertext mark-up language, the language of the WWW) editors and WWW course packaging programs, creating a new multimedia course is a huge amount of work. There are several reasons for this: When I designed the first course for delivery in first semester 1998, I assumed that a traditional linear, paper-based version would require about 100 hours to prepare, so I allowed 200 hours for writing a WWW course (I have a good background in computing). The actual time requirement was closer to 600 hours, and included perhaps 250 hours learning how to use all the multimedia authoring tools effectively. The course materials themselves include about 400 pages of primary text, 400 pages of optional text, several hundred graphics, and links to an additional 300 WWW sites. The other three courses, introduced in second semester 1998, required from 250 to 700 hours each to develop.

The issue is not merely becoming a "web authoring wizard". Creating a multimedia course for WWW delivery requires a very different thinking process - how I accommodate both the novice and advanced student, which of these hundreds of potential links should I include, how do I ensure that neither the students nor I get sidetracked or overwhelmed... I would have spend nearly 400 hours simply finding, reading, testing and evaluating nearly two thousand WWW sites for the multimedia in science course before I selected about 400 to include; I would have spent another 200 hours reviewing and evaluating about 30 CD-ROMs. Even if one uses a commercial "WWW-course packaging program" (I used Web-CT) to provide the structure, Bulletin Board, chat room, internal email, etc., it still is a monumental first-time effort to put one of these course together. The author of a multimedia course must also strike a balance between a slick course with lots of graphics, animations, and "bells and whistles" (which may be very slow for students to download) and a "bare bones" delivery which is not very pleasing aesthetically. [One slowly learns how to compromise, such as by using small "thumbnail" graphics which, when clicked, retrieve the full screen pictures.]

There are, however, huge advantages to building a course using these media:

In my experience, the pros greatly outweigh the cons, but I advise you to allow a lot of time to establish a new multimedia course on the WWW!

Another issue that must be addressed is intellectual property rights and copyright. If I wish to print an anthology for distribution to students, I can do so legally by paying each copyright owner a small fee; to date, this is NOT legal if the same material is being distributed via the WWW. [However, the federal attorney general announced, on 9 June 1998, proposed legislative changes that will (if passed) allow placing up to 10 percent of a copyright work on the Internet - but beware, it's not law yet!] On the other hand, the Australian Copyright Act of 1968 (as amended) does allow, under sections 40 and 41, a reasonable right to "fair dealing" of copyright material for the purpose of study, review and criticism (and suggests that the amount that may be used depends on the impact said review will have on the copyright owner - presumably a favourable review can use more material than an unfavourable one). It has been my experience that if one wishes to use more than 10 percent, it is not difficult to obtain the copyright owner's consent if he is told you wish to write a review praising his product and urging others to purchase it! That aside, copyright issues are still a nagging problem.

Evaluation of the four courses

Both formative and summative evaluations were conducted for the single course offered in first semester 1998, and are being conducted for the four courses offer in second semester 1998.

Evaluation instruments and methods included:

The weekly feedback centred mainly on "how should I present this", "can you provide more details / examples", "I don't understand this - where can I find help", especially "can you add some material on {such and such}", and "where can I find a site that...".

The on-line end of course questionnaire was completed by 15 of the 30 students who studied in first semester, and (to date) by 15 of the 43 second semester students. Each questionnaire contained from 22 to 38 multiple choice and open-ended questions.

The questions addressed many issues, including:

Several issues stood out in the "please write comments / suggestions" questions. Individual comments included: In summary, features that students like most about the Internet format included: Features that students like least about the Internet format included:

Conclusion and outlook

I am not quite sure where all of this is going. Quite to my surprise, my use of the WWW for course delivery - a medium that some might see as isolating and reducing contact amongst lecturer and students - has done a great deal to promote collaborate curriculum development and delivery, especially with the rapid trial, evaluation and revision of new downloadable teaching modules.

While it is still "early days", I am now developing more and more on-line, downloadable modules as we go, encouraging the participating teachers to trial them, give me feedback, and share their own materials with the other participants. With a bit of luck, I think we can develop a fair range of useful materials, which will be available to all, over the next year or two.

Literature cited

Birkerts, S. (1994). The Gutenberg elegies. Boston: Faber and Faber.

Cunningham, S., S. Tapsall, Y. Ryan, L. Stedman, K. Bagdon and T. Flew (1998). New Media and Borderless Education: A Review of the Convergence between Global Media Networks and Higher Education Provision. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Evaluations and Investigations Program, Higher Education Division. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Curriculum Council of Western Australia (1998b). Information Systems (Year 12) Syllabus (E238). http://www.sea.wa.edu.au/

Curriculum Council of Western Australia (1998c). Technology and Enterprise Area: Syllabus Manuals and Common Assessment Tasks Booklets. http://www.sea.wa.edu.au/

Global Alliance Limited (GAL) (1997). Australian Higher Education in the Era of Mass Customisation (Appendix 11). In R. West (Chair), Learning for Life: Review of Higher Education Funding and Policy. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Luke, T. (1996). The politics of cyberschooling at the virtual university. In G. Hart and J. Mason (eds), The Virtual University? Symposium Proceedings and Case Studies. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Ryan, Y. (1998). Time and tide: Teaching and learning online. Australian Universities Review, 41(1), 14-19.

West, R. (1998). Learning for Life: Review of Higher Education Funding and Policy. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Please cite as: Kessell, S. R. (1999). Teacher professional development via the WWW. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 194-199. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/kessell.html


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