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.
Motivation for utilising electronically delivered multimedia, rather than traditional paper-based "distance ed" materials, included:
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 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:
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 instruments and methods included:
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:
Questions about specific content, modules, examples, difficulty level, breadth, depth, workload, etc.
Design / quality / inclusiveness of the WWW site and its links.
Utility of on-line, downloadable teaching materials (which they could use in their own classrooms). Should some be removed? Should others be added?
Should it be taught again? With what changes? Best features / worse features? Should other courses be offered in this format?
Only one student (of the 30 who have responded to date) had studied previously via the WWW (and that was only part of a course). All but one preferred a WWW course to attending weekly classes. Two of the 30 would have preferred a traditional paper-based course; five were not sure, and the rest preferred the WWW over paper.
Questions about the inclusion / emphasis / depth of specific modules produced an agreement rate which ranged between 82 and 100 percent, depending on the module. All students found the on-line hyperlinked reading, and the "useful links page", to be useful.
All students stated that the courses should be taught again, in more or less their present form. Nearly half of the students in the multimedia science course requested a follow-on course next year. All but one thought more of SMEC's courses should be offer entirely over the WWW.
Several noted that they did not have time to do justice to all the optional material. [NB This led to my extending their access for an additional semester.]
More on-line, downloadable teaching examples, exercises and modules were desired. [One added: But that means we have to get our act together.]
I thoroughly enjoyed this unit. The material was interesting, the assignments flexible, the assignment turnaround from Steve was excellent. If all the SMEC units are as well presented and carried out as this one I can see myself having a great time learning.
Thank you, Steve, for your efforts on behalf of computing teachers.
Thank to Steve K for his venture - it is only the beginning
I enjoyed the course. I could see that Steve spent 100s of hours putting it together.
I did not see the lecturer at all but I liked his way in teaching very much. Simply, because I am very busy but his interesting stories about the teaching points attracted me to study all the topics of the subject. He must be a great teacher with a great sense of humour.
Tremendous planning and effort to get it right.
The flexibility of being able to "select" own topics for additional study.
Relating the material to the Yr 12 Information Systems course.
The course modules were very easy to read and absorb, and had good links to external resources.
Thank you from myself and my students for a heap of good teaching resources and ideas.
I found the course really worthwhile and realised how much work had gone into it when I tried a little Web based project on my own. Thanks very much!!
I enjoyed doing the course. It was great to be directed to articles which were relevant to the work that I do. I appreciate the prompt replies to any questions I had. There is an enormous amount of material available, I wish I had more time to access it all. I hope it is available for some time as I would like to be able to revisit it and go over some of the modules in more detail. Actually studying a course via the Web was a great experience in relation to developing Web materials for my own students.
The diversity of material presented and the practical way it was organised. I have already used many of the concepts and ideas, and have purchased two CDs. I really appreciate the sifting of sites as this has made preparation of a site for my own students much easier. It is an extremely time-consuming activity and your generous use of your time has saved us much both in terms of time and expense. Thanks.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the course and have gained great benefit from it. While the formal side of things may soon be over, I believe that I will continue to refer to the site, use the techniques I have learned, and the sites I have explored, for many years to come.
Thank you for your obvious prodigious efforts on our behalf. I've enjoyed it immensely as a learning experience, not just for academic credit.
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.
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|