Projects integrate teaching, the Web

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

17 April 2001 | When it came to technology and teaching, Women’s Studies Professor Barrie Thorne was a novice of sorts.

She was aware of the Internet’s potential to enhance her curriculum, but lacked the time and skills to get something going.

Fortunately, the Course Web Site Development Project, run by Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems, came to her rescue.

Helped by tech-savvy SIMS graduate students, Thorne now has a dynamic Web site where her students discuss readings online, link to data-rich resources, or view and comment on special-assignment sites created by classmates.

“I mix the old with the new,” said Thorne, of her approach to the curriculum. “Multimedia tools are not going to revolutionize teaching, but they do add new dimensions that are well worth exploring.”

Thorne’s is one of 102 course Web sites that the SIMS project — an externally funded, three-year program that ended earlier this year — helped create. In all, nearly 12,900 students and 40 departments were served.

“We tried to encourage faculty to consider how technology could boost curriculum,” said Sally Thomas, project director. “For example, online discussions can extend classroom interaction or provide a forum of expression for students who aren’t comfortable speaking up in class.”

A number of faculty involved in the project discovered unique and innovative uses of technology.

The course Web site created for Art History Professor Elizabeth Honig’s “Cities and the Arts” class includes links to maps of the towns on the curriculum. Student can click on specific areas and view the monuments located there.

“It’s a good way to get a visual sense of urban topography,” she said.

Other project clients find the administrative functions of their course Web sites most useful.

“Posting lectures and additional materials on the Web frees up more time in class for discussion and to pursue ideas that arise as we go along,” said Charles Altieri, English professor.

Perhaps the ultimate use of technology is employed by the Chem1A course Web site, which features live “Web casts” of lectures, interactive quizzes and online grading.

“We’d like to add animations and real-time interaction with live streaming video of lectures,” said Chem 1A instructor Mark Kubinec.

“Overall, faculty members were enthusiastic about developing online tools that support teaching and encourage communication among students,” said Thomas.

However, most instructors said their lack of time and technical knowledge were major obstacles in creating and maintaining course Web sites, she added.

“More and more, students are expecting this type of service, and many professors feel they need to provide it,” said Thomas. “Course Web sites will increase as time goes on, but the campus has to figure out the most effective way for them to be created.”

Which is exactly what Christina Maslach, vice provost for undergraduate education, is trying to do.

The SIMS project — which may start up again if funding can be found — is one of many efforts Maslach and her team will consider when developing a campus-wide vision and strategy for classroom technology.

She recently created a faculty assistant position and an advisory committee, both focusing on educational technology. Their charge, says Maslach, is to evaluate current programs, organize a clear structure of support and find the most effective and cost-efficient ways to deliver services.

“We want to develop policy around this important question: how can technology, in whatever form, best support the teaching enterprise,” said Maslach. “Interaction between faculty and students is crucial. We need to enhance that, not replace it.”

Several options are available for Berkeley faculty and graduate students interested in developing course Web sites, said Fred Beshears, assistant director of the Instructional Technology Program.

Among the choices, he said, are specialized software programs that make it easier for faculty to build Web sites themselves.

Information on these systems and other related topics — including training, intellectual property and preparing multimedia content — are available at, he said.

“There are a number of ways for those who aren’t tech wizards to get started,” said Beshears. “We encourage instructors to start small and slowly build. You don’t have to have a full-blown, ultra-sophisticated Web site on the first day.”


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