The WAC Clearinghouse

Results of the Survey

The instructors in my survey are in agreement about the effect adopting WebMC had on their courses: almost all of them said that WebMC hadn't changed a thing. The majority of the instructors used a "delivery of information" model in their courses prior to adopting WebMC. They lectured to students and then tested them on how well they had taken in the information. What was the primary change a web-based component brought to these courses? A more efficient way to deliver lectures and test students. Consider these quotes from the email interviews I conducted with the instructors:

"I have put all of my lecture notes on the web and so I no longer spend so much time making sure students get everything copied down."

"I have added all of my powerpoint lectures to the web so students can review them after or before class."

"I like WebMC primarily because it forces faculty to logically layout their lectures."

"I use the website primarily to post the syllabus, course schedule, and lecture outlines."

"I primarily use the web to post an outline of my lecture, so that students can download this outline."

The web is seen as a site for posting information that students can simply "download." Instructors who used what Paulo Friere (1993) calls the "banking" model of education, where students are seen as empty vessels to deposit information in, continued using this method as they adopted web-based components. Only seven of the instructors in my study even use the electronic discussion board and class listserv. And of these seven, five see the communication tools as means to deliver information to students or to test them. These quotes exemplify the ways these instructors use the "communication" components of WebMC:

"I do communicate with the listserv. I remind students of due dates for assignments and bring other information to their attention."

"I have used the email list quite a bit to send assignments and announcements."

"I've attempted email tests."

"I usually use the discussion board just to post announcements for the class."

The irony of this final quote is, of course, that the instructor is using the "discussion board" to post information. Only a few instructors in my study actually ask students to discuss essays or readings on the discussion board. Although listservs by their very nature should encourage discussion between members, these instructors also see the listserv as a way to deliver information.

One of the reasons these instructors aren't using WebMC to its full potential has to do with the traditional "sage on stage," teacher-centered pedagogy they had before adopting the new technology, but another reason has to do with the technology itself. A number of instructors said that they had tried to use the discussion board or listserv and had little success, or that the students had difficulty learning the technology:

"Students routinely complain that the telephone support provided by ACNS is insufficient."

"I have yet to participate (or teach) in a course where the discussion list has received more than desultory responses."

"I've participated in some lists which are very informative and entertaining. How one gets such a list going in a class I have not yet discovered."

"I don't know how to use the discussion boards so I haven't done that--I hope to take a workshop this summer so that I can learn more."

Florida State has a mandate to improve our use of technology in the classroom, which is one reason we adopted WebMC. Unfortunately, as so often happens when institutions make technology initiatives, teacher training was not included in the mandate. The summer workshop that's mentioned in the previous quote is offered by Academic Computing, which focuses on the nuts and bolts of technology rather than effective on-line pedagogy. Other than departmental workshops which I offer through the Writing Center, Florida State does not have an established Writing Across the Curriculum program, so there are few places these instructors can turn to for help as they adopt WebMC and attempt to use the communication tools.

Adding to this difficulty is the fact that electronic teaching tools change rapidly, especially at institutions such as Florida State which invest heavily in technology. In the spring of 2000, after only a few years of using WebMC, Florida State decided to switch to a new course-in-a-box system: Blackboard. Instructors who were just beginning to get comfortable with WebMC now have to learn Blackboard, which offers more options for teachers but is also more complex than WebMC.

Time is another factor that affects the way these instructors use WebMC. Some of the instructors mention how time consuming it is to move from a conventional course to a web-supported course, both in terms of course design and assisting students with the technology:

"The students enjoyed the online discussion, but there were some drawbacks. Most of the students had no idea how to use the webboard, even after taking a full class period to explain how to use it. Some, frustrated, refused to use the technology and took an ‘F' on the assignment. Others I had to personally walk through the webboard on my own time."

"The web page has changed the way that I think about constructing my course and the types of interactive activities that I envision for the students. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the time to integrate these new pedagogical ideas into the reality of working with WebMC."

Anyone who has taught in a computer classroom or designed a course website knows that teaching with technology can be exponentially more time consuming than teaching in a traditional environment. Some instructors, however, expected just the opposite to be true when they adopted WebMC. One instructor, upset with how much more work using WebMC turned out to be, said, "In my mind, technology is supposed to speed things up and reduce work." Even though Florida State is pushing instructors to go on-line, there are no rewards for instructors who put time into designing effective websites or making good use of electronic discussion boards. Instructors at Florida State are rewarded for research and publication, not website design and effective on-line pedagogy.

This does not mean, however, that all of the instructors in my research refuse to invest time in the technology, or simply use WebMC to deliver lectures and tests. There are a handful of instructors who use the web and communication tools in inventive ways:

"I have them post their essay on the discussion board and the students respond to one essay. Part of their participation grade is how effectively they respond."

"I have found that the discussion board is very helpful, and we have used it in place of in-class discussion on occasions where we don't have time to give a topic full treatment in the classroom."

"I use the web to make Internet-based research assignments and to create more dense, interconnected course materials by means of links. The biggest change in my teaching has come, however, with the use of the discussion boards. I now divide students into small groups to discuss outside readings. Now students can test out ideas in small groups before coming to class. They are more comfortable, and the level of discussion has raised considerably. My next goal is to have on-line discussions with scholars at other institutions as invited ‘guests' to the seminar."

These three instructors use WebMC as a tool for communication, not just information delivery. They use the communication tools for student response, invention, and collaboration. In order to promote this kind of active, collaborative learning in electronic environments, WAC practitioners need to play a role in electronic pedagogy at their institutions, as I argue in my conclusions.