Tools for developing online courses

Experience

Svein Nordbotten & Associates has since 2000 been offering online courses to universities, colleges and research institutions on web technologies. The courses has been offered with and without instructor, and ready to run from the firm's server without any installation or operational obligations for the clients.  All courses has been designed to record as much as possible of data to feed back for improved future courses.

Approach

The justification for online interactive courses is that the students can be anywhere and attend the courses anytime convenient for them.

The philosophy on which such online courses are built is that the best way to serve many of the needs of educational clients is by offering online course services on the net. Online courses do not require downloading and updating software, recruiting instructors, acquiring hardware resources and reserving teaching locations.

This is also true for support tools supporting the development of online courses.

 

ALN Course Architect

In 2004, a prototype tool for supporting migration of traditional courses to the web called ALN Course Architect was developed. It aimed at courses to be run with support from Adobe/Macromedia ColdFusion server, and was written in CFML, the markup language for this server.

The ACA prototype was used to develop a 10 session introductory course in PHP which was run for a client in the Spring of 2006 on a ColdFusion server.

The ALN Course Architect will be further developed in the fall of 2006.

Online Course Architect

Experience from the use of the ALN prototype was used in 2005-06 to developing the Online Course Archtect which was written in the PHP scripting language for creating courses which run in a PHP environment.

The OCA represented a significant extension of capabilities compared with the ACA.

The principle on which OCA is created is the idea of a very general course model from which the developer can extract the characteristics and features appropriate for her special course. The restrictions are therefore the general model and its characteristics since no OCA developer can move outside the model. In this session we shall investigate the general model and argue why certain characteristics were included and other possible not included in the system. As pointed out in the previous session, the drawing of the limits of the OCA model was to a large extent based on experience with manually created courses since 2001.

OCA presumes that course attendance is subject to an approval process. Students accepted will be registered and each assigned unique username and password (PIN). Email address is used as username, and OCA checks that no students are sharing email address. Then a random unique 5 digit PIN is assigned to each student being registered.

The general model of OCA contains 3 modules, the Information module, the Sessions module and the Communications module. The developer can select the modules relevant for her particular course. In some applications the Information module is not needed, in other, the Communications module can be left out.

In addition to the tutorial material, OCA model assumes that general background information about a number of different information categories may be needed. A number of different categories are present in the general model and from which the developer can select those relevant for her course.

The overall assumption of OCA is that online courses should be organized by building blocks referred to as sessions. Each session assumes the knowledge of the previous sessions. At this point of development, the maximum number of sessions is 20. If experience should indicate that a higher number of  sessions should be desirable, this limit can be extended.

Each session has several components associated. These are: Assignments, Examples, Images, Sounds, Tests, Text and Videos  among which the developer can select those needed for each particular session. Most courses are based on texts, but courses based on images, speech, music, animation or videos or any combinations from these, are possible.

Assignments and tests are usual pedagogical elements in courses. OCA permits assignment reports to be uploaded to the system and made available to the instructor and co-students. Quiz type tests can be selected for each session, and the course system can automatically administer the tests and check for correct answers.

By means of a control table, the course instructor can time the general access to each course to restrict a rush through the course. It is also possible to restrict the individual student access to a session to those having completed previous tests and assignments.

In the previous session, it was pointed out that student as well as instructor may miss the possible face-to-face contact of traditional lectures. To compensate for this, several means for communicating with the instructor are available including chats  for instantaneous, online discussions, discussion boards  on which participants can contribute their opinions about topics selected by the instructor, email for bilateral contact between instructor and student, message board at which the instructor can publicize messages to the students, progress report permitting the individual student to obtain a confidential report on his/her course work status, and questions and answers for general questions from students with answers from the instructor.

The OCA model course also includes a wide set of tools for the instructor.  By means of these tools, the instructor can register students, upload pictures of herself and the students, retrieve lists of students, tables of test and assignment results, tables of test questions with associated, multiple answers, modify student profiles, tables and test questions, answer public questions, administer chat sessions and discussion boards,  set course control table, etc.

The tools available are limited to the components selected for the particular course.

The OCA model environment includes a number of construction programs for selecting the infrastructure of a particular course, uploading text, illustrations, sounds, videos, tests and videos for the course, modifying the infrastructure and content, exporting the course to an area for operational use, importing a previously created course from an operational area for maintenance and updating, etc.

It is also possible to preview a course being created at any point of development, and the above described Instructor's tools are then available to the developer.

Please, send inquiries by e-mail.