Using WebCT in teaching Economics

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Contact: Guglielmo Volpe
University of North London
g.volpe@unl.ac.uk
Published August 2002

This case study is included in the guide Virtual Learning Environments prepared by Ros O'Leary and Andy Ramsden for our Handbook for Economics Lecturers

WebCT is a popular commercial software product that supports learning and teaching on the internet. I've been using it for two years now. During this time my practice has evolved from passive, simple way of distributing course materials and course administration, to a more active one of providing various computer assisted learning resources and self-assessment tests for my students. Recently I have started using WebCT for conducting virtual tutorials. I post questions and problems on the Web and students send me their individual answers. Students were very positive about it. Many of our students are part time workers, so they are not always able to attend the face-to-face seminars. The freedom to participate at their own time in the virtual tutorial is very helpful to them. Students have spoken highly of the opportunity for creating their own sites and possibility of communicating among themselves and with the teaching team, which WebCT provides them. That means that in the future it could be also used as a platform for students' group work.

I have been using WebCT for all my courses: Introduction to Macroeconomics in year 1, Business Economics in year 2 and Economic Growth in year 3. Lecture notes, seminar problems (with solutions) and past exam papers are available for downloading on all modules. The macroeconomics module allows students to access multiple choice questions to test their level of knowledge. Links to helpful websites are available on all three websites. The virtual seminar is used in particular by the Business Economics and Economic Growth students to submit their case studies analysis. I am thinking to scrap the seminar hour in the final year module and to support students only via the virtual seminar. This will give me and the students greater flexibility in the management of our time.

The use of WebCT has benefitted all the students, but I think first year students found it most useful. They were impressed by its possibilities and tried to use it more often than other students. It has also helped them to get better integrated into university life by being able to interact with other students on the module even if (due to work or other commitments) they can spend less time at university. The students appreciate the lecturer's effort and develop a feeling of gratitude for being looked after and cared in a professional way.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to use WebCT for conducting exams. Though its facilities allow students to submit their work on line, university regulations makes it impossible, as all the work must be personally delivered to the assessment unit. Besides, posting students' end of semester results also contravenes university exams regulations.

My personal experience with WebCT has been positive. However, if you are planning to use it you must be aware of some costs you will experience. You will need to dedicate time to learn the various features available in WebCT, to keep the site regularly updated and to check on a regular basis whether students have posted any queries or work. In general your way of interacting with students will change and will require some adjustment cost on your part. However, you will soon come to realise that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

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