Saturday, February 10, 2007

Grade Book Formulas

The fact that WebCT records grades and has a way to download those grades in a format which can be imported into Excel is convenient. However, the gradebook can do so much more. By adding calculation columns, WebCT will calculate grade averages and remove the need to download to Excel all together.

This White Papers details setting up formulas in the grade book:

The Compile Button

In WebCT mail, there is a button allowing you to compile. Compile what? If you have taken any programming courses, you may think of this as a way to create an executable program. This is not the case at all. When mail is compiled it is merged into one printable file.

After a number of discussions with a particular student, you may want to review all the communications between you and s/he for the entire course. You can go through the emails one at a time and read/print them. This is time consuming and there is a possibility of missing one or two.

This White Paper explains how to use the Compile Button:

WebCT Surveys as an Assessment Tool

Most textbook companies supply WebCT quizzes with their textbooks and I take advantage of them. For each chapter I assign a quiz to be taken outside of class and count them as 10% of the students grade. I find it forces textbook reading.

Surveys are something I had not used until last semester. I created surveys for the material being covered in the class and had them take them in class. Surveys are not graded and are anonymous, so there is no pressure on the students. Giving the same survey before the material is covered and again after it is covered allows me to determine how much was really absorbed.

Then I used a survey at the end of the semester to assess my own performance in their eyes and how well they liked using WebCT.

Here are two White Papers on using surveys:

Understanding Surveys

Analyzing Surveys

Friday, February 09, 2007

Streaming Audio and Video in WebCT

Audio and video files are typically very large. A half hour lecture might take up 50mb or more. Files of this size need to be stored on a streaming server and many are available to use. I have been using a free account at They provide 25gb of space at no charge to anyone who registers for their service. They hope you need more space or additional options and will purchase one of their packages. 25gb is more than I will need for my courses.

Sign up for an account and upload your audio/video. Once you have successfully uploaded a file, you are ready to link it to your WebCT course.

Note: There is a 1gb per month limit for downloads, unless you sign up and pay a montly fee

Reducing File Sizes in WebCT

Not too many years ago we were careful about the size of our files. We had to be or they would not fit on a 1.44mb diskette. Now our digital cameras create pictures over 1mb each. But with computer hard drives reaching into the terabytes, it is easy not to pay attention to the size of the files we save.

However, bloated files take longer to open and when located on a network drive they tie up bandwidth on the network as well as being slow to open. In our anxiousness, we often double-click two or more times on the same seemingly non-responsive icon only to wait and have multiple windows open, one for each of our frustrated clicks.

WebCT is a great tool for faculty. It helps us organizers our courses in such a way that we have easy access to class materials and offer the same convenience to our students. Although it was designed to use HTML pages, WebCT accepts and displays all type of files and becomes a repository for all we decide to dump into it.

There is no way for faculty to know the size of their course until they backed it up. Even then we do not know the size of the working files in the course, just the compressed size. My Files does display file sizes, but this is but one of many sets of files stored within our courses.

Why should we be concerned? The more bloat on the WebCT server's hard drive, the slower it runs and the more frustrated our students and we become. We can control the size of our courses and here are some examples of what we can do.

The following describes four ways we can minimize file sizes in WebCT

Content Page Content

The content page in WebCT makes it easy to load a number of useful bits of information for a student to view. And each time they access one of the links, they are tracked so the professor can check up on who linked out to which file and how often.

The one flaw in this approach is that the links must be to HTML files. Most of our work might be saved as Word documents or even PDF files. The links work but the tracking feature does not.

Here is a simple method to use to get your .doc and .pdf links to track.

Too Many Courses

I have many courses listed on my WebCT Welcome page. Many old semester courses appear along with the current semester. I need some of the old courses for reference, so I do not want the to go away. However, the courses are ordered by semester and I have to scroll down to find the current courses each time a open WebCT. Although scrolling is not a big deal, I do stop on the wrong semester more often than I like to admit and this it not helpful.

WebCT does not appear to have a way to open this window at the current course so I looked for a work around. It turned out simpler then I thought. Here is how I solved the problem.