Web-Based Course Management Software: An Empirical Study of Faculty Usage

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

There is no question the Internet can be a valuable educational resource. As the U.S. Congress' Web-Based Education Commission project director extols:

"In the course of our work, we heard from hundreds of educators, policymakers, Internet pioneers, education researchers, and ordinary citizens who shared their powerful visions and showed us the promise of the Internet ... We heard that the Internet enables education to occur in places where it normally does not, extends resources where there are few, expands the learning day, and opens the learning place. We experienced how it connects people, communities, and resources to support learning. We witnessed how the Internet adds graphics, sound, video, and interaction to give teachers and students multiple paths for understanding". (Fulton, 2001, p. 1)

But how can such promise be realized? One type of system designed to assist teachers in harnessing the Web's capabilities is Web-based course management software (course management software). CourseInfo, WebCT and similar commercial software teaching aids provide teachers the ability to design and maintain advanced Web components for their courses with minimal Web design experience and negligible knowledge of hypertext markup language (HTML). "The software's ease of use is the biggest thing," stated Aaron Goldstein, a Client Relationship Manager for Blackboard. "We have a vision of helping universities and faculty focus on education so that as we come out with [new features], it allows other things to fade into the background and education to step forward. That's always been the center of Blackboard. It's a really powerful vision and it's something that we really try to focus on" (A. Goldstein, personal communication, December 17, 2004).

Business Wire, July 14, 2004, summarized the results of a WebCT survey conducted by Boston-based Atlantic Research & Consulting in April, 2004 as follows: "Thirty-seven percent of the survey's 416 respondents say they have implemented e-learning institution-wide, up from 25 percent in 2002 ... Student participation in e-learning is growing at a 31 percent clip, and faculty members are catching up to the demand with a 44 percent aggregate growth rate in c-learning participation, according to the survey. The survey results indicate e-learning is no longer a peripheral part of education at colleges and universities around the world" (WebCT, 2004, p. 1). The educational technology research company MDR stated in its 2002-2003 College Technology Review: "Contributing to the increasing use of electronic communication on campus, course management systems are present in virtually all (94%) of colleges." (MDR, 2002-2003, p. 3).

Considering the vast amounts of money, time, and energy being invested in Web-based teaching programs across our nation's educational institutions, a greater understanding of their use by faculty is needed. Which features do faculty find most useful and which capabilities, if any, are being virtually ignored? Such knowledge can aid university software implementers and support staff. It can help software designers build more effective systems. It may also be useful to faculty considering adopting this software for their classroom room as well as new faculty users. It is certainly of interest to university administrators who are, have, or might be responsible for approving the purchase of course management software. The purpose of the present study was a preliminary determination of faculty usage of the CourseInfo instructional technology package at a Midwestern regional comprehensive university.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Oliver (2000) surveyed Virginia Tech faculty using CourseInfo to supplement on-campus courses to determine how faculty were using this tool (Oliver, 2000). Sample findings from 38 survey respondents showed 82% placed content online for students to access, but only 29% grouped students in electronic teams for document sharing and cooperative tasks. …