"Do-It-Yourself Creation of Internet Courses of Instruction"
W. R. Klemm
"I'd rather do it myself!" is the cry of frustration. And frustration is first cousin to teaching, especially teaching in high-tech environments. Soon after I got the notion of creating an Internet course, the emerging frustrations led me to decide to do it myself. Let me share with you what I learned along that journey.
Why Create An Internet Course
If you cannot answer this question, don't create a Web course. Sometimes, professors create Web courses because it is a "hip" thing to do, or because administrators pressure them to do so. At the University of Washington two years ago administrative pressures to create Web courses caused 900 professors to sign a protest letter to the Governor. At York University in Toronto, Canada, professors went on strike for two months over the same issue.
As these professors correctly perceived, creating Web courses can be a burden. Just to do it for its own sake is insufficient reason. Internet courses take a lot of technical support and more than the usual amount of professor time in interacting one-on-one with students. Also, teachers have to change their style and basic ways of teaching.
Legitimate reasons for Web courses do exist. They all begin with an identified clientele. Certain expertise may be needed by people who otherwise have no access; for example, oil workers in Venezuela need petroleum engineering courses, in-service K-12 teachers need formal course work in their subject-matter disciplines, ranchers in West Texas need agribusiness courses. In short, the justification for Internet courses is to provide access to those that do not have it.
Another reason for having an identified clientele is that the course has to be marketed. Given the thousands of on-line courses available, the competition is fierce. Cataloging and publicity are also problems. There is no national registry for on-line courses. Typically, a student has to check out the Web sites of universities one at a time. On-line courses often cost more than regular courses, because distance education technology fees are tacked on to the regular tuition charges. In my case, I created a course "Science and Technology Practices and Policies in Biomedical Research," mainly because I thought it would be a neat thing to do. That was not good enough. Where was my market? Twenty students did sign up, but all but one were resident students who had schedule conflicts or who took the course out of curiosity. Now, I am homing in on K-12 science teachers, who should have the interest and motivation to pursue more science literacy without leaving home and work to do so.
Why Do It Yourself
In my experience, a main reason to do most of the work myself in creating Web courses is that I ended up having to do a lot anyway. Having a third party involved is inconvenient. They are not always around when you want them. The time it takes for you to explain what you want them to do can be as long as the time it takes for you to do it yourself.
Then there is always fine tuning of the Web-site content. A conscientious teacher continuously finds things to add or modify. Running to a third part to get all these little editing touches accomplished is a nuisance.
The most important thing about getting started is to get started early. When I created my course, it took the better part of a year. It was a part-time effort, sandwiched in among all the other things I have to do. But those constraints will probably be yours too. AND my course was converted from an existing course. It did not have to be built from the ground up. Also, I already knew, more or less, how to build Web pages, and I had a student helper.
Thus, the other point about getting started is to start learning a Web site creation and management tool, such as Front Page. You can learn details as you go along with the course creation, lest you be overwhelmed with the process. Notice that I do not mention using the "turn-key" systems, such as Web CT, because these are usually licensed and maintained at the institutional level, and thus you are not really "doing it yourself." In my experience, mastery of Front Page or some equivalent Web software gives the teacher a lot of freedom and control that are not available in the turn-key systems.
Finally, you have to make arrangements with a Web host, either one at your institution or a commercial Internet Service Provider host. Typically, a Web Master will provide space on the server and create the login access, with the rest being left up to the teacher.
Among the things you should think long and hard about are:
- The activities you do in the existing course and the ones you want in the Internet course. These will probably include: