Using WebCT for the first time: off to a (kind of) bad start

I know it’s Christmas and all of that, but around here, the big celebration night is Christmas eve, so really, this is the night after Christmas (as I indicated on yesterday’s post). I’ve been doing “family fun” all day long, so I don’t feel too bad about doing a bit of work tonight.

Anyway, one of the things I have to do is plan for three different classes for winter 2005, two of which are completely new preps and one of which is kind of a new one. One of the “completely new” is a class called “Writing in the Professional World,” which is a class that focuses on writing things like memos, letters, reports, and the like. One of the many experiments I’m going to attempt in this class is using WebCT. You would think that someone like me– teaching with things like email and web sites for about 10 years now– would have used WebCT or BlackBoard or something like that by this point. But I haven’t had a reason or an opportunity yet. This semester and for this class (just this class), I decided to take the plunge.

So far, the results have been less than, er, excellent.

For starters, the server isn’t responding right now. I don’t want to be too critical about this because it is Christmas day, but there’s no reason why the server should be down at all, in my opinion. And it bugs me because I was going to monkey around on it a bit tonight.

But okay, I’ll let that slide.

The main problem I have with WebCT so far is it doesn’t strike me as all that “user friendly.” It has some features that would be hard for me to pull off on my own (a grade book, a chat feature, the ability for students to log into their own accounts, etc.), but the process of uploading and manipulating files seems to me to be pretty cumbersome and not any easier or more difficult than learning some simple HTML, a bit about an HTML editing software, and the means of uploading it to a server.

The other thing I worry about is some of the technical issues in making the software work for many of my average (less than techno-savvy) students. Long story short, there are some issues with WebCT and javascript that requires students to install MS Windows Service Pack 2 (which is notoriously horrible) and installing some Sun javascript software, and doing all this before they can use WebCT. None of this is particularly difficult, but it is just the kind of complication that might make this a problem for students, and which, in turn, might make it a problem for me.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give it a chance.

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