Symposium Explores MyUCDavis, Other Course Management Options
National Experts Visit the Campus
On October 3, 2001, the Academic Computing Coordinating Council and the Office of the Provost sponsored a one-day symposium on course management systems. This free event, held at the Buehler Alumni Center on the UC Davis campus, offered a unique opportunity for the 80 attending faculty, students, and staff to hear from national experts with experience in the development and deployment of course management systems. Attendees focused on those systems that are comparable to the versions of course management systems that are piloted on our own campus, such as WebCT or the featured set of e-tools in MyUCDavis. Participants at the symposium had the opportunity to engage in extended discussions with the panel of experts who presented information about various course management systems.
What is a Course Management System?A course management system is an online suite of tools that allows users to develop and deliver web, web-enhanced, or web-assisted courses. Course management systems allow teachers and students to interface via a Web browser from any physical location. The learning experience can be enhanced with the particular tools course management systems offer. Teachers can create, customize and maintain automated administrative functions such as class lists, grade books, posting of lecture notes or supplementary materials. Communications are enhanced by some systems which offer the ability to chat simultaneously, or thread continuing conversations between large groups of students. Users can also view text or visuals that accompany conversations. Some systems include the capability to provide students with online self-assessment tools, storage for online research materials, and the posting of animated learning content (such as an instructional video an instructor might post on a Web site). Ideally, a course management system should provide a forum for the optimal learning environment; it should encourage collaborative learning, administrative efficiency, and productive inquiry or discussion among students and instructors.
There are many course management systems available across the country, many having originated at universities. They are often used in distance education programs and to automate administration of on-campus courses. The presenters at the UC Davis symposium helped attendees to understand the needs, integration, effectiveness, cost, and outcomes of various course management systems in use around the country. MyUCDavis, the campus web portal, houses the course management system which most Davis folks know of. Karl Kocher, a UC Davis librarian, got a sense of the broad uses of MyUCDavis at the symposium. "MyUCDavis and WebCT offer faculty a range of capability - from simple setups to full-blown course management software" Kocher felt the symposium was "particularly helpful in explaining what people at other campuses and universities are doing with course management technology and what specific tools are judged most valuable elsewhere." To view the presentations given at the symposium, visit the Symposium's Web site. This site also offers information about different course management systems used at other universities.
Course Management Systems at UC DavisThe symposium was part of an important stage in the discussions at UC Davis about the future of academic computing on our campus. Since the implementation of a course management system presents great potential for simplifying - and even improving - the way we teach and learn, the symposium provided an important forum for discussion and exchange about the changing computing landscape at UC Davis.
MyUCDavis, now in its second year of use here on campus already offers course management system functionality by offering tools that allow instructors to create course Web sites, download class rosters, submit grades via the Web, manage grants and contract information, set up course email lists, create class newsgroups where students and instructors can post messages with questions or comments about the course, create course-specific chat rooms for out-of-class discussions, and obtain additional web- accessible file space which allows instructors and students to exchange and share large files. WebCT is another course management system serving Davis instructors.
Now, as MyUCDavis is beginning to be used as a daily web portal with multiple functions for multiple members of the campus population, faculty and staff are rightly concerned about the personal investment of time and effort required to assimilate the new course management tools it houses. As a librarian , Kocher is particularly interested in ways that course management systems might be used by instructors to bring published literature into the course. Library Reserve Services have always helped and continue to help faculty with obtaining and making published materials available for class use and will even create a course reserve page with links. Course Management Systems make it technically easy to place electronic copies online, but faculty must now work to sort out the interaction between copyright, licensing agreements, permissions, payments, and "Fair Use". If faculty hyperlink to the article at the Publisher's web site, instead of using an electronic copy, there is no need to seek permission and faculty are relieved of a lot of work. Symposium attendee and Economics Professor Colin Cameron explains that "in many disciplines, implementing new methods may well be labor-investing rather than labor-saving." Cameron, who maintains an elaborate Web site for his courses, is encouraged by the symposium's presentation of the capabilities of MyUCDavis. "Since I have an extensive Web site already, I thought MyUCDavis would offer little added benefit to me. But, the symposium helped make it very clear that MyUCDavis is at the cutting edge and is an outstanding investment for the campus." Cameron remarks on the collaborative effort behind MyUCDavis: "There was and continues to be considerable faculty input in the development of MyUCDavis."
Integrating Academics with AdministrationAnother hot topic at the symposium was the issue of integrating course management systems with campuswide computing systems and applications (known as Enterprise Information Systems). With the University of California's push for a streamlined coordination of all computing systems under the New Business Architecture Initiative, the symposium raised questions of how the UC Davis enterprise portal (now MyUCDavis) could best integrate both academic and administrative functionality. The UC Davis New Business Architecture Implementation Workgroup has been tasked with addressing these issues.
The Future of Online Course ManagementThe symposium discussions highlight the fact that UC Davis has already made great progress toward identifying ways in which technology can be used to enhance learning. This is only the beginning of what promises to be a very important tool for faculty and students. "What is left to be determined," Cameron suggests, "is how faculty collaboration in the planning and implementation of such systems can contribute to the refinement of MyUCDavis so that its features best serve the campus." Cameron looks forward to a campus where many faculty members have a Web site which they can utilize as a teaching portal and an appropriate site for the posting of the research which helps keep the UC Davis academic mission alive.
For more information on course management systems on the Davis campus, a good reference is the March 2001 report by the Academic Computing Coordination Council.
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