March/April 2001 // Faculty and Staff Development
The Role of Education Faculty in Choosing Web-based Course Management Systems: An Interview with Nancy Cooley
by Charles Ansorge and Nancy Cooley
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Charles Ansorge and Nancy Cooley "The Role of Education Faculty in Choosing Web-based Course Management Systems: An Interview with Nancy Cooley" The Technology Source, March/April 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

How can education faculty members take the lead in integrating technologies such as course management systems into teaching and learning? And how can they help their colleagues in other departments implement the same kinds of systems?

These questions were posed recently by Steve Gilbert, president of the TLT Group, to Nancy Cooley, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Ferris State University in Michigan. The thinking behind the questions was clear. According to Gilbert, whose group helps colleges and universities develop centers for teaching, learning, and technology, there is "an increasing shortage in resources to help faculty think about the educational possibilities technology offers them." To address this shortage, Gilbert thinks it will be valuable to use the resources available from schools of education (Gilbert, 2000).

With that in mind, I followed up on Gilbert's interview, as part of an online course I taught sponsored by the TLT Group and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The course was designed to help colleges and universities learn more about course management systems. This article is a modification of that interview (Ansorge & Cooley, 2000).

Charles Ansorge [CA]: Nancy, we are interested in how Web-based course management systems (CMSs) may be used to promote good teaching and learning. As Dean of the College of Education at Ferris State, you are in an excellent position to talk about that. What role does a CMS play in enhancing teaching and learning?

Nancy Cooley [NC]: Like any other medium of instruction, the success of a CMS in promoting good teaching and learning depends on how well it is used; there is nothing inherent in the technology that facilitates teaching and learning. However, since any medium has specific characteristics that influence its potential to transform teaching and learning, it is possible for technology to lead faculty to an entirely new type of pedagogy. There's quite a range of ways that computer technology can be used to promote teaching and learning in new ways. Web-casts and online courses are two examples. To see that potential, we should consider three different pedagogical principles and how CMSs support them.

The first principle is that good instruction starts with the learner. Good instruction makes learning relevant by building on students' prior knowledge and experiences, and it adapts to their individual needs, learning styles, and interests. It might give students extra practice in weak areas, or, on the other hand, help them extend their knowledge beyond the course requirements. Course management systems do this through online assessment of achievement levels, determination of a student's needs, and links to content areas that promote further learning. CMSs may also simply automate routine administrative aspects of teaching, freeing the instructor for more one-on-one help. One of the advantages of CMSs is that they organize multiple sources and modes of delivery in the classroom. Logical sequencing, branching, and hyperlinking is a snap. Complex processes that are difficult for students to grasp in traditional, text-based instruction can be made clearer and more accessible through computer simulations, easily linked in the classroom using a CMS. I've seen several such examples that supplement text-based descriptions, including a video clip illustrating blood circulating in the human body.

The second principle is that good instruction promotes active engagement. Content represents only the opportunity for learning. Real learning happens when students engage that content in meaningful ways. As Kent and MacNergney (1999) point out, "We don't turn students loose in the library and expect them to benefit spontaneously from the vast resources that are contained on the shelves." Similarly, we can't expect students to shape their own learning just because they have access to a digital network.

CMSs provide opportunities for students to do something with content. Often, instructors will pose a broad question or problem, and students will work individually or in teams to access, synthesize, and interpret information, and to present their findings to real audiences. Although active learning can take place without technology, Web-based instruction provides students with instantaneous access to current content and gives instructors more time to interact with students by freeing them from mundane, repetitive tasks such as transmitting content to students and grading exams.

As when using any learning medium, faculty using a CMS must plan to promote students' active engagement with content. Instructors facilitate this engagement when they help students view real-life problems from multiple perspectives, guide them to a larger body of content knowledge, encourage them to pursue alternate pathways to learning outcomes, and push their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, and Rasmussen (1995) urge instructors to engage students in meaningful activities; to include real-life tasks; to promote discourse, critical thinking, and problem-solving necessary for understanding; and to facilitate opportunities for students to respond to complex issues in changing environments. A CMS can support new models of teaching and learning such as project-based or problem-based learning, thematic or interdisciplinary instruction, personalized instruction, and academic service learning (Johnston, 2000).

The third principle is that good instruction promotes communication and interaction, both among students and between the instructor and students. Course management systems provide a forum for that. Some of the features that are attractive to faculty members and students are white boards, chat rooms, and threaded discussion lists. Although many courses are augmented by the use of e-mail, instructors often complain that it takes an inordinate amount of their time. WebCT features a discussion database, in which multiple discussion forums can be set up automatically. Instructors can easily select and compile the contributions of individual students to those forums as one component of student assessment.

CA: Based on what you've said, I presume you use a course management system at Ferris State University.

NC: Ferris's administration has been working with faculty members to move materials to WebCT, under the direction of Henryk Marcinkiewicz, Director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development. Approximately 200 faculty members now have materials online. That's roughly 40% of our faculty, and that's happened in 18 months. Over 6,000 students have used the online materials since they became available. One indirect result we've seen is that faculty development in general has improved. In fact, we learned on April 3, 2000 that Ferris received a Theodore M. Hesburg Certificate of Excellence for faculty development training.

CA: Describe WebCT's impact on instruction at Ferris. What changes may be attributed to the course management system you selected?

NC: By supporting WebCT, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development wanted to increase reflective teaching as well as communication among faculty members about the development of Web-based instruction. The center circulated a survey asking faculty members how they might use WebCT to support their instructional goals. This forced instructors to think about goals and how technology might enhance them. The center has conducted follow-up surveys that show that faculty members are enthusiastic about integrating technology into instruction, either by using a personal Web page or by offering a more full-blown Web-based course.

CA: Colleges of education are not always seen as campus leaders in using instructional technology, despite their pedagogical expertise. How is this changing?

NC: Education faculty members are increasingly valued as the focus of instructional technology moves away from personal productivity tools to the pedagogical aspects of integrating Web-based tools. In the early stages of computer-based technologies, business faculty were the logical ones to teach spreadsheet, database, and word processor use. They often had computer labs and sometimes leveraged their resources to make money from computer training workshops. Colleges of education typically had neither the equipment nor the entrepreneurial inclinations to follow this lead. And because the early emphasis was on technology rather than teaching and learning, many education faculty were reluctant to get involved (see Cooley & Johnston, "Beyond teacher bashing," 2000 and "Forces in P-16 education," 2000). However, the focus of instructional technology has more recently shifted to the Web, the Internet, and collaborative software, which can be used more readily to support teaching and learning. With this shift has come the recognition that college of education faculty have significant pedagogical interest and expertise.

At Ferris State, many education faculty members are campus leaders in educational technology. In 1995, education professor Kitty Manley was one of the first Ferris State faculty members to have her own course Web page. At the time, our university did not put personal Web pages on the Ferris server, so Manley paid to have her page hosted on a commercial server. She also used her own computer and projector to deliver PowerPoint presentations, since the equipment was not available on campus. She still maintains that page and links it to the Ferris server. Since the implementation of the technology initiative at our university, Manley has found that she spends less time teaching students how to use the Web because they have used it in other courses. She no longer has to transport her own equipment to class, and the installation of new technology in classrooms means she can demonstrate real-time Web applications in class. Manley now provides leadership for curriculum development focused on incorporating technology into teaching and learning, such as the new art technology educator's graduate certificate program. Similarly, Thomas Anderson, also in the School of Education, produced his own Web page prior to the decision to adopt WebCT. Since WebCT has been implemented, Anderson has spent personal time helping other faculty members across campus learn to use it.

At your university, the University of Nebraska, faculty in the Teachers College are highly regarded for their contributions to instructional technology. Some faculty members are exploring the use of wireless notebooks while others are helping to establish educator competencies in technology. In addition, the Teachers College is a partner in the High Plains Regional Technology in Education Consortium, where faculty work with the consortium to develop interactive educational Web applications and use IP-based video to enhance learning and professional development. College of education faculty take pride in their ability to teach with technology, and their passion for teaching extends beyond official class lists.

CA: Please talk about how faculty members in a college of education could help select and implement a CMS for their campus.

NC: As a campus prepares to select a CMS, faculty members in the college of education can help develop and conduct a needs analysis. Education faculty have frequently been involved in K-12 technology training projects and are familiar with content and pedagogical standards for teacher certification. They can help with the design and development of a product rating scale, e.g., Marcinkiewicz (2001), so that people can compare one CMS against another and help in product review and selection. Once the selection has been made, education faculty members can help with initial faculty training, continuing training and support, and assessment.

At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, teams of faculty members put together materials for a course. College of education faculty members can be a valuable part of teams for Web-based course development. They can provide peer demonstrations and modeling, teach undergraduate and graduate-level courses on education technology, and encourage faculty members from other departments to observe their classes. They can also provide peer critique and feedback on the materials developed by others, particularly from the perspective of pedagogical and technological standards (such as determining the appropriate font size for text in an overhead projection).

CA: How does Ferris State encourage its faculty to start using WebCT and other educational technology?

NC: In addition to the intrinsic rewards, I am working to develop other incentives to integrate technology into the classroom. For example, our college recently submitted a planning proposal to develop a strategic business unit for campus-wide Web course development. Because I recently aligned the Dean's recognition award with our strategic goals—one goal is the use of technology in teaching and learning—it will now be possible for faculty members to get recognition (and a cash award) for their work in this area.

CA: What final considerations do you have for those involved in selecting a course management system for their campus?

NC: In the past, faculty members preferred low-tech tools because they were simple and responsive to problems in daily instruction. Instructors rejected some high-tech tools because of their inflexibility. But course management systems give instructors the control and flexibility these other tools lack. Previous generations of educational technology, such as radio, filmstrips, and instructional television, were simply educational content delivery tools. Their classroom use generally required that the teacher stop teaching and that all students listen to or watch the same thing at the same time. It was difficult for the teachers to preview the materials or customize them for their students (Kent & McNergney, 1999). In contrast to those tools, course management systems dynamically support learning. Instructors can create customized learning activities and assessments that align with course objectives and learner outcomes. Students can construct knowledge as they follow individual pathways to a larger body of content. They can work at their own pace, at times convenient to them, and both instructors and students can communicate and share resources with others. Because course management systems are not "teacher-proof," we're finding that faculty members are increasingly open to and enthusiastic about them.


Ansorge, C. J., & Cooley, N. (2000). Promoting teaching and learning with technology: Role of colleges of education in the selection and implementation of web-based course management systems. An interview presented in an online course sponsored by the Teaching, Learning and Technology Group. Retrieved February 15, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Cooley, N., & Johnston, M. (2000, July/August). Beyond teacher bashing: Practical, philosophical, and pedagogical influences on educators' use of educational technologies. The Technology Source. Retrieved February 15, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Cooley, N., & Johnston, M. (2000, September/October). Why can't we just get on with it? Forces in P-16 education that complicate the integration of technology into teaching and learning. The Technology Source. Retrieved February 15, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Gilbert, S. (2000). Steve Gilbert interview with Nancy Cooley. An interview conducted by Steve Gilbert, president of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group. Retrieved February 15, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Jones, B.F., Valdez, G., Nowakowski, J., & Rasmussen, C. (1995). Plugging in: Choosing and using educational technology. An EdTalk published by the Council for Educational Development and Research. Retrieved February 20, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Johnston, M. (2000). Using technology to enhance new models of teaching and learning. The Informed Educator Series. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.

Kent, T., & McNergney, R. (1999). Will technology really change education? From blackboard to Web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, p. 59.

Marcinkiewicz, H.R., & Ross, E.M. (in press). Planning for Web-based course management. In B. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training.Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

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