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Campus Computing News

UNT upgrading to WebCT Vista!

By Jennie Vautrin, Center for Distributed Learning Instructional Consultant, Jenny Jopling, Center for Distributed Learning Associate Director and Dr. Maurice Leatherbury, Executive Director of Information Technology and Academic Computing

As the University of North Texas’ population increases, the management systems that support our university must match that growth. Our online course management system, WebCT, is one such system: it serves more than 15,000 different students each long semester, and it is being upgraded to the latest version of the company’s software, “Vista.” We’re upgrading to Vista because the new version offers greater flexibility and usability to faculty who design, manage, and teach online courses as well as to students who take online courses. In addition, it provides better reliability and expandability than earlier versions of WebCT. Some of the many Vista upgrades are described below.

 Vista upgrades for Faculty

  • Content sharing: You can now share content between your own multiple sections or courses, or with other faculty members and colleges. You no longer have to download and upload similar files into individual courses because you can access files from a centralized file management system. For example, you can access course templates that contain a set of pre-designed teaching and learning tools. Or you can create a template for a large multi-section course and automatically share content across the sections of courses. In addition, you can still maintain a specified level of security for your own content.
     

  • Selective release options: The enhanced selective release options allow you to dynamically direct students' progression through course content based on multiple pre-defined criteria. For example, you can set the options to specify that all students who receive passing grades on an assignment will move on to the next course concept, while all students who receive failing grades will automatically be directed to remedial materials.
     

  • Efficient design access: You can now add specific components, such as assignments, discussion topics, self-tests, or multi-media clips directly to the table of contents, organizer pages, or content pages. Instructors will no longer have to include complicated instructions directing students to a particular tool – students will be able to simply proceed through lessons completing assignments and tasks as they go. In addition, you can use the embedded HTML editor which saves you time as you avoid using a separate editor outside of the WebCT system.
     

  • Integrated teaching tools: The learning tools within Vista work in conjunction with each other. For example, you can now add a dated assignment to the course syllabus, and Vista will automatically add the assignment to the central course calendar.
     

  • Extensive management and research capabilities: You can now more closely track activity within multiple sections of courses, departments, programs of study, or colleges through a centralized management access point. You can monitor and analyze factors such as student usage patterns, individual and class performance on tests and quizzes, or how students navigate through online materials. You can also access cross-sectional student performance data.  

Vista upgrades for Students

  •  Efficient Learning Process: Because instructors can now present course materials in a streamlined layout, selectively releasing components independently from “parent” components, students will meet required learning objectives according to the instructor’s preference. A student’s individual learning mode is enhanced with this capability.

  • Centralized access point: Students can now access information for multiple courses from a centralized access point. They can view calendar and email information for multiple courses from one login page. Students can also view and communicate with faculty members or other students that are logged into the course with a tool called “Who’s Online.” In addition, they can receive university-wide announcements when logged into Vista.

 Vista Tool upgrades for Everyone 

Mail Features

You now have a global view of your email within all courses.  

 

Calendar

You can now access your calendar entries for all courses from one access point.

 

Learning Modules (formerly Content Modules)

You can now add additional types of components to the Table of Contents in a Learning Module, including specific discussion areas and topics, chat rooms, assignments, and assessments. 

 

HTML Editor

You can now create and modify single content pages using an embedded HTML editor.  

 

My Files

Faculty and students now have a personal My Files folder for uploading, creating, organizing or maintaining their own files.

 

File Sharing

You can share selected content or templates within your own separate courses or with other instructors for use in their courses. 

 

Chat

Instructors now have the option of controlling the flow of participation during a chat session by granting permission to one user at a time with the new hand raising tool. 

 

Schedule of the Vista Upgrade

We have already installed the Vista software and hardware needed to support it and are ironing out a few problems with getting it running on the rather complex environment that is designed to provide failover if a single machine breaks. By the time the full implementation is operating, we’ll have three Sun Microcomputer servers running one “layer” of the Vista software and two additional, larger Sun servers supporting the back-end Oracle database.

Current plans call for pilot training of faculty and testing of the Vista implementation this Fall (2003), with “production” training and conversion of courses in Spring and Summer 2004. We hope to have all current WebCT courses (and new courses) running on Vista by the end of calendar year 2004, at which time we’ll decommission our current WebCT server and rely solely on Vista.

Questions? 

Questions about WebCT and/or Vista can be directed to the Center for Distributed Learning, extension 2708, or by e-mailing Jennie Vautrin, Robin Bartoletti , or Jenny Jopling.