Some tangled and lost in CourseWeb’s web

Kelly Cernetich, Editor-in-Chief

While CourseWeb is an online learning tool available for all professors to use in their classrooms, some find the service more useful than others.

Adjunct English instructor Lance Harshbarger said he uses CourseWeb to post supplementary readings from class discussion, and has students submit papers in a “digital drop box” to avoid wasting paper – which saves money and is eco-friendly.

But he also said he finds CourseWeb to be unnecessarily difficult to use.

“I’ve used three platforms: CourseWeb, Jenzabar e-Racer and Angel,” he said. Janzabar e-Racer is the program used at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. Angel is used at Pennsylvania State University.

“Angel is by far the most user-friendly and (has a) clean interface. I can download and unzip essay files by actual student names – not by usernames as in CourseWeb.”

Harshbarger said he finds CourseWeb hard to learn and navigate, given the number of system updates and instructor options.

“There are 23 options on the ‘Course Tools’ drop down menu alone,” he said.

He said he would like to have fewer editing options, and for menu options to be renamed so they are less confusing.

“While CourseWeb used to have a simple drop box, it now has the ambiguous ‘Create Assessment’ option which leads to ‘Assignment.’

“All I want to do is set up an essay repository to unzip files – not spend 10 minutes trying to remember the steps from the tutorial.”

Associate biology professor Stephen Kilpatrick said while he also likes CourseWeb, and being able to get extra information or announcements to students outside of class, he also said it requires adjusting to when new versions are created.

“There are little tech tricks you have to learn,” he said. “It’s easier for students (to use) than professors.”

Kilpatrick also said that he finds CourseWeb useful for posting grades and out-of-class assignments for students to complete on their own time.

“It’s a good way to get grades disseminated and is not a violation of (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act),” he said. “I’ve used it for a number of years.”

A male employee at Pitt’s Center for Instructional Development and Distance Learning who declined to give his name said Pitt has been using CourseWeb since 1999, when the program was in version 5; it is now in version 9.1.

The center’s website lists CourseWeb as being an instructor tool used to communicate performance expectations, incorporate digital media and include discussion forums. CourseWeb can also be used to give feedback to students and provide grades.

Some professors, however, have found their own way of providing out-of- class information to students.

Associate psychology professor Reece Rahman said that, while he first created a website for personal purposes, he soon realized he could use it as a means of providing students with various academic and relevant professional interests.

“Students would be able to see the variety of educational, academic and clinical experiences I have previously had, as well as various activities in which I continue to be involved,” he said.

Rahman said that listing his interests on his website could generate a conversation with a student about their future career goals, allowing him to better advise them.

Rahman said using his Mac and iWeb software allowed him fl exibility in his Web page’s design, and ease in updating information.

“I review exams in class, and I do not assign homework to be graded or evaluated in any of my classes. As such, I do not feel there is anything provided by CourseWeb that would serve to supplement the classroom experience for my students.”

Sophomore mechanical engineering major Justin Harold said that too few professors use CourseWeb for it to be useful, and that many don’t update his information often enough.

“Some teachers post grades, but it shows up too late,” he said.

Harold said that classes he had taken several semesters past still show up when he logs in.

“Classes from previous semesters that you don’t need stay up there. It’s kind of annoying.”

Sophomore nursing major Addi Watters said she finds CourseWeb easy to use and likes being able to access her grades and lecture notes.

She said most of her instructors post information on CourseWeb, but she wishes there was an all-or-nothing policy.

“It’s really helpful… it’s just when (professors) don’t update grades that it annoys me.”

Watters, like Harold, said not enough professors take advantage of CourseWeb to provide information and up-to-date grades.

So, while the program may be in demand on students’ end, professors struggle with the learning curve of constant updates and a reliance on tutorials to do their job.

“What’s the difference between ‘Build Content,’ ‘Create Assessment’ and ‘Add Interactive Tool’?” Harshbarger said. “A course -management system should make learning easy and intuitive – not require learning just to use it.”