So, I spent couple of days in Edinburgh and participated the 5th Annual WebCT European User Conference. The visit was fruitful, I acquired important information and got some new ideas too. Not forgetting to mention the nice people I met and the town Edinburgh and its cosy pubs (I don’t think we really have a Finnish counterpart to an adjective “cosy”..)
Besides the merger with Blackboard, I consider the WebCT’s plans to develop their products with application packs and extensions as most interesting news I heard in Edinburgh. Basically these WebCT’s new tools are aimed to shift the focus from teacher-centered view to supporting different student driven activities. These include the forthcoming (targeted release: summer ’06) Portfolio tool as well as “Application Pack 1” which will include “Active learning tools” like:
- Journals and blogs
- Student contributions
- Peer review
- Learning objectives
In other words, WebCT starts to build an “integrated learning community”. The community can also publish their material to public web, which means that the nowadays quite restricted learning environment can be extended. Many details are not clear yet, and a lot of suspicion is in the air. Is it really something valuable and concrete happening or is this only “marketing mumble” aimed to calm down the critics towards WebCT? Something similar is happening with Blackboard too so the future product (would it be “BlackCT or WebBoard”? 😉 is probably going to have some student-centered tools also.
If you are suspicious about WebCT’s ability to develop their products themselves, you should take a look at couple of interesting integration possibilities, Elgg and PmWiki. There was a presentation of both in Edinburgh. If you are not familiar with Elgg or PmWiki I suggest you to visit their websites for further information.
About a week before the conference, I heard the news about the integration of WebCT and Elgg which was a suprise, I’d except the Moodle-Elgg integration happen earlier. But anyway, Sasan Salari’s presentation was one of the most interesting in the conference. As a co-founder and former employee of WebCT, Sasan pointed out very clearly the strengths and weaknesses of WebCT:
- Full campus integration
- Robust course management
- Rich assessment tools
- Natural extension to classroom
- Course centric
- Instructor driven, not student driven
- Closed environment
- No automated external content
The integration goal is to combine the formal learning (WebCT) with informal learning (Elgg). By the integration, the different approaches (formal/informal or teacher-centered /student-centered) are not seen as opposites anymore. We could have a set of tools that supports the learning in its various forms. I look forward to hear further news about this integration. Sasan promised to release soon the Powerlink needed in integration. And I hope the developers of Elgg could publish the first beta version (1.0?) soon ( not to mention the first stable release!)
Integration with PmWiki was another interesting integration introduced in Edinburgh. I consider the Wiki tool very handy for supporting the student collaboration within a WebCT course. The only restriction is that instructors have to add the Wiki tool to an existing WebCT course. So it’s teacher driven tool again! All wikis created by WebCT get their unique URL’s and instructors can manage the access rights by passwords (read,write,upload,attr) It is quite flexible, I see. For example, writing to Wiki could be restricted to the students of certain course but the reading could be open to everyone. The integration requires the PmWiki to be installed separately, but you are also able to use the installed PmWiki independently, without WebCT.
I hope the developers check out the wish presented in the conference – we’d really benefit from the ability to transfer the Wiki between courses or sections. That would open up quite many possibilities to enhance student-driven creation of learning material. The students could, for example, continue the work started in previous section.