July/August 2000 // Faculty and Staff Development
Creating a Web-based Learning Technologies Degree for K-12 Teachers
by Stephen Kessell
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Stephen Kessell "Creating a Web-based Learning Technologies Degree for K-12 Teachers" The Technology Source, July/August 2000. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Like many of its counterparts worldwide, the Western Australian Department of Education is striving to meet prescribed student-computer ratios and outfit schools with hardware, software, networks, and infrastructure as part of an expensive government funding initiative. But Western Australia is larger than the landmass east of the Mississippi River in the U.S., and its population is only 1.8 million; these facts make it a challenging locale for timely, appropriate, and accessible professional development for teachers, especially those in remote, "Outback" areas.

Following the October 1998 announcement of the government funding initiative, several learning technologies professionals expressed concern that a "boxes and wires" approach (in which funds are spent on hardware, networks, and software rather than on in-service training) was likely to fail if teachers did not receive adequate professional development. This concern is especially valid in remote areas, where access to professional development is inadequate or even non-existent.

In cooperation with the Western Australian Department of Education, we of the National Key Centre for School Science and Mathematics at Curtin University of Technology established a Learning Technologies postgraduate program in June 1999. Currently, 300 K-12 teachers and several teacher-librarians and principals are enrolled in this part-time program, which is taught entirely via the Web and CD-ROM. An additional 500 to 1,000 teachers are expected to enroll in 2000.

Development and Purpose of the Learning Technologies Program

We chose to create a new postgraduate degree that would:

  • meet the needs of all K-12 teachers regardless of prior IT experience;
  • cater to teachers starting the program at different times, proceeding at different rates, and thus finishing at different times; and
  • be taught totally via the Web and CD-ROM and thus require no campus attendance.

The Education Department funded and provided laptops for 100 teachers who began the program in June 1999. Between July and January, an additional 200 teachers—who were self-funded or funded by independent or Catholic schools—joined. The independent and Catholic schools associations in Western Australia will fund another 400 teachers beginning in July of 2000, and the Education Department hopes to fund 1,000 more teachers over the next four years.

The purpose of the Learning Technologies program is to get all participants "up to speed" as competent, confident, and professional users of personal computing hardware, software, and networks. The program encourages them to use these tools to improve:

  • their professional productivity,
  • their preparation for classes and teaching generally, and
  • their abilities to use IT appropriately within the classroom.

An overriding concern in creating and delivering the courses has been how to meet the needs of teachers with diverse backgrounds, IT skills, and teaching responsibilities. A twelfth-grade physics teacher, a junior high social studies teacher, and a pre-primary teacher clearly have different needs, as do an experienced Internet surfer and a novice. Quite simply, we wanted a program that allowed teachers to start at different times, proceed at different rates, study what suited them when it suited them, and study materials relevant to the grade levels and subjects that they teach. Traditional in-service professional development or university courses, which are paper-based and linear, have little hope of meeting such needs (especially for teachers who work in remote areas of Australia and thus are not near a university campus. See Turoff, 2000). Modular, interactive, non-linear multimedia courses available at a distance have a better chance of success.

Successful completion of the courses leads to an award of Graduate Certificate in Learning Technologies from Curtin University of Technology. Alternatively, the credits earned may be applied towards a Postgraduate Diploma, Master's Degree, or Professional Doctorate.

Structure of the Program

The Learning Technologies program includes three one-semester, part-time subjects. The first two subjects provide:

  • a set of core teaching modules;
  • a set of elective streams (specialist minors), with each student choosing one stream to complement the core course;
  • an extensive set of personal computing tutorials;
  • access to a huge library of networked multimedia (both CD-ROM and the Internet); and
  • a suite of communication tools, including e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and hypertext logging.

Detailed information on each subject is available on the program description page (click on the "Course Information" tab).

The elective streams include:

  • Using multimedia and the Internet across general learning areas;
  • Using multimedia and the Internet in a specific learning area;
  • Using multimedia and the Internet in early primary classes;
  • Geographic Information Systems as teaching and learning tools;
  • Creating advanced multimedia materials; and
  • Planning, implementing, and managing school technology.

Sample teaching materials on a (multi-platform) CD-ROM are available from the author.

Concurrent with their studies of core modules, students complete online tutorials appropriate to their own needs; learn effective Internet search and evaluation strategies; locate, evaluate, and use specific resources appropriate to their own teaching; read (primarily online) relevant publications on using IT in the classroom; and most importantly, apply what they are learning to their own school settings.

Formal assessment is continuous and includes a personal portfolio, a written review of multimedia teaching materials, a simple Web site, a written report ("How I am going to use these skills in my classroom"), and ongoing participation (e-mail, bulletin boards, chat, hypertext logging). There is no written examination.

The third and final subject requires teachers to apply acquired skills, concepts, and methodologies in their own classrooms over two terms. This component allows program administrators to support teachers as the latter design, implement, and evaluate IT, multimedia, and the Internet in their own workspaces. Through real-world experience, they find out what does and does not work and what can be done better. Teachers must also explore one of the following technology-related educational research areas via a Web and CD-ROM module:

  • Using technology to promote constructivist approaches to teaching and learning,
  • Developing leadership skills in technology,
  • Assessing and changing IT learning environments, and
  • Teaching and learning principles for technology-rich classrooms.

Other Resources

In addition to receiving personal accounts on the course Web site and all course materials on CD-ROM, all teachers also receive:

  • A paid subscription to Element K (previously ZDU), one of the world’s largest online training sites, which features interactive tutorials and short courses on 400 different information/learning technology topics;
  • Subscriptions to the "guided teacher" Web sites Webivore and CCCnet;
  • CD-ROMs, including the Microsoft Technology Tool Kit for K-12 Schools and the Educational Software Institute’s "Gold Disk" (a database of 7400 educational titles, including reviews, pricing, etc.);
  • Trial and demonstration versions of educational software products; and
  • 80 hours per week of telephone and e-mail access to our course Help Desk.

Construction of the Course: Pedagogical and Technical Issues

As noted above, networked multimedia allows us to offer a flexible course that suits the needs of a very diverse student population. In fact, some students have referred to the offerings as a smorgasbord. On the other hand, we must ensure that all students cover core material adequately. We have attempted to reach a balance between elective and core material in several ways, including the following:

  • By using the full potential of linked multimedia to present each topic at varying levels;
  • By using text, graphics, animation, and interactive (Shockwave) tutorials to present the same topic in different ways; and
  • By replacing the old teaching metaphor of "delivering packages of knowledge" with a more appropriate focus on "purposeful collaborative activity" that promotes interaction, reflection, and active construction of meaning.

Spirited student interaction with peers is a constant in this course. Interaction is facilitated chiefly by communication tools—synchronous and asynchronous (e-mail, bulletin boards, and chat rooms)—that are provided on the Web site. While the course features a Web-CT package to organize multimedia materials, we also use a new tool developed recently by one of our doctoral students. The Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, or Moodle (Dougiamas, 2000), encourages interaction among students, teachers, and course materials by allowing students to interact with the Web site. The students add their own notes and comments, writing directly onto a Web page into a form text field. An individual's notes show up only on his/her Web page; no other student can see them.

Formative Evaluation

Despite the steep learning curve that many new teachers face, only 9 out of 300 have dropped the course to date. When we started the program, we feared the worst: that technologically inexperienced students would give up early in their coursework. To head off this possibility, we made a concerted effort to provide detailed "Getting Started," "Setting Up the Gear," and "Troubleshooting" materials as well as a very detailed "Help" section. Our effort appears to have worked.

Our gravest concerns in presenting such a course exclusively via the Web and CD-ROM, with no face-to-face contact, were student isolation, lack of discussion/exchange of ideas, lack of timely feedback, and technical quagmires (e.g., "My widget won’t work, and I don’t know how to fix it."). But thanks to the course bulletin board, e-mail, chat room facilities, and Moodle, these worries have all but disappeared.

More than 8,000 bulletin board messages have been posted since June in more than 20 different fora; the teaching staff receive around 70 e-mail and telephone messages on a typical day. (The phones, e-mail, and bulletin board are staffed Saturday and Sunday evenings and approximately 8 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday). Most students report that we have been able to solve their problems in less than four hours. The vast majority report that interaction with teaching staff and other students through our course is much better than in any other mode of study that they have ever undertaken! Thus, as Turoff (2000) reported, asynchronous communication tools have facilitated significant communication and interaction amongst virtually all participating students.

Teachers participating in the course have offered a great deal of feedback via the "Feedback Forum" on the course Bulletin Board (a link to sample comments is available at the bottom of the course description page). One student, Rosemary Horton, a teacher-librarian at Trinity College in Perth, wrote a short article on the course for the Catholic Education Office of Western Australia's TechTalk magazine; the article was reprinted in australia.edu magazine. Many more extensive and formal summative evaluations will be conducted when the first cohort completes the course.

Three Lessons Learned

We learned three important lessons while designing the Learning Technologies course. First, we originally planned to offer it on only the Web; providing course materials on CD-ROM was an afterthought. We have since learned that CD-ROMs are invaluable, especially for students in remote areas where Web access is slow, unreliable, and/or expensive. Many students study primarily from the CD-ROMs and go online only when they need to access other Web sites or interact with other students and instructors.

Second, while we knew that developing such a course from scratch and troubleshooting the problems of 300 remote teachers would be time consuming, we did not appreciate just how time consuming it would be! We seriously underestimated the professional, technical, and clerical resources required. As a result, we have doubled our staff over the past few months to the equivalent of two full-time academic and two full-time technical staff members. At these staffing levels, the program remains financially viable.

Third, we have been overwhelmed by encouragement, positive feedback, and word-of-mouth recommendations from participating teachers. Clearly, most prefer our approach to any other form of on-campus or distant study available.

The Future

At the encouragement of current students, would-be students, the Education Department, and independent schools, we are now offering a one-semester "short version" of the course. Incentives for the short version are as follows:

  • Many teachers want to complete our course but are not prepared to invest three semesters of part-time study;
  • Both public and independent schools see this version as a means of stretching professional development funds (i.e., five teachers could complete the short course for the same cost as one teacher completing the Graduate Certificate); and
  • Many who complete the short course will be motivated to pursue further study in this area.

We intend to introduce a similar short course aimed at college and university teachers who wish to improve their use of learning technologies by creating courses on the Web and/or CD-ROM. We suspect that there is a huge untapped audience for courses such as these in other Australian states and other nations.

Editor's Note: This article is a shortened version of Kessell (2000).


Dougiamas, M. (2000, February). Improving the effectiveness of tools for Internet based education. In A. Herrmann & M. M. Kulski (Eds.), Flexible futures in tertiary teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Perth, Australia. Retrieved 30 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/confs/ tlf/tlf2000/dougiamas.html

Kessell, S. (2000, March). Teaching learning technologies to K-12 teachers in outback Australia. Paper presented at the International Conference on Learning with Technology, Temple University, Philadelphia. Retrieved 30 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://l2l.org/iclt/2000/

Turoff, M. (2000). An end to student segregation: No more separation between distance learning and regular courses. On the Horizon 8(1), 1-7.

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