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Classroom management techniques: effective use of electronic applications and tools.

Thanks to the rapid development of personal computers and the Internet, today's academicians have an abundance of resources available to help them improve course content and delivery. Those in higher education during the past 20 years have seen their role as educators evolve from one of lecturer to one of learning facilitator. In addition, as students enter the accounting profession, they must be prepared to adapt to ever-changing technologies. To meet this demand for technological expertise, the AICPA recently began offering a new certification to its members--Certified Information Technology Professional. This designation will be granted only to individuals who achieve at least 100 points under a new point system, based on business experience, lifelong learning and examination. No more than 55 of the 100 points can be earned through examination.

Taxation

The field of taxation has long been driven by technological change. Research has moved from databases made available on CD-ROM, to the current situation, in which all the major tax services, legal treatises and Federal and state court cases are available through the Web. Certainly, computerized tax return preparation was at the forefront of technological change. The phenomenal success of the IRS's Website (http://www.irs.gov) and the ability of the average taxpayer to use the Web to prepare and transmit his tax return electronically to the IRS also indicate that tax educators must become managers of technology rather than lecturers of content.

Remote Learning

Today, students can take remote-learning classes from traditional, fully accredited colleges and universities, as well as online universities (such as Jones International University, http://www. jonesinternational.edu/academics/cour ses/index.html) or colleges and universities offering degree programs (such as E-college, http://wwe.ecollege.com/ student/ courses/degreesearch.cgi#). Although most of these institutions offer general degrees in business administration, Golden Gate University in California offers an online master's degree in taxation (http://www.ggu. edu/ schools/tax/home.html).

Currently, over 1,350 colleges and universities are using WebCT (http:// www.webct.com), Web-based instruction developed at the University of British Columbia. More than 3,300 colleges, universities and K-12 schools are using Blackboard, another Web educational product (http://company. Blackboard.com) developed at Cornell University. There are several online software products to choose from. The list of vendors changes almost daily, as new products enter the market. In addition to the vendors mentioned, Embanet (http: //www.embanet.com/), Top Class (http://www.topclass.com/), IntraLearn (http://www.intralearn.com/), Convene (http://www.convene.com/) and others offer similar Web-based courses. Most faculty use these products to enhance traditional courses; only a minority exclusively use remote learning and never meet students face-to-face.

Asynchronous Learning

Most faculty are familiar with the term "synchronous learning" which is face-to-face learning. In this situation, instructors can rely on students' facial expressions (such as a confused look) to determine whether they comprehend a discussion.

Remote synchronous learning takes place between an instructor and his students in real-time, but not necessarily at the same place. Students and instructors can be at different locations, connected through two-way video or audio or both. For example, Deloitte & Touche LLP has used remote synchronous learning for many of its introductory tax training modules. Jim Hamill, from the University of New Mexico, and Bob Gardner, from Brigham Young University, have both taught in this program. These professors would commute to a facility similar to a television studio, while their students would travel to designated locations around the country that would have the capacity to send and receive live transmissions. This type of delivery requires a significant investment in facilities. Thus, it is not feasible at most universities because of budgetary constraints.

On a much smaller scale, Professor Sharon Lightner, at San Diego State University, uses the Internet to conduct a remote synchronous accounting class internationally. She uses inexpensive video cameras, portable microphones and free software. Most of the expense is for a server and T-1 line, and technical support, who ensure that the system is up and running. Professor Lightner also faces the additional challenge of teaching the class across multiple time zones, with the majority of her students in Asia and Europe.

Unlike remote synchronous learning, asynchronous learning is around the clock. An instructor and students interact, but not in real-time. Most asynchronous learning is written communication between professors and students, which includes posting lecture notes to a Web page or using e-mail and bulletin boards. A student can view a lecture at his convenience. Colorado State's Distance MBA program (http://www.biz.colostate.edu/), for example, sends students course videotapes or attaches video or audio clips or both to a course's Web page. Asynchronous learning can be merged with synchronous learning if an instructor chooses to schedule segments of class time in a chat room.

The fully asynchronous course places the burden of learning on the student, but not all students are self-motivated. Some students thrive in a self-paced environment, while others do not. The Keller Graduate School of Management On-Line Education Center (http://online.keller.edu/) urges potential students to take online assessment tests to determine if online learning is for them.

The Duke University MBA, Global Executive program (formerly GEMBA program) (http://www.fuqua, duke. edu/mba.html) uses a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning, by permitting working executives to travel to different continents for two-week sessions each semester and then to complete the remaining coursework via the Web. Tuition for this program is in excess of $89,000, while the traditional MBA program is under $53,000.

The AICPA uses asynchronous learning to offer its members online courses. This allows members to improve their careers and business practices, while fulfilling their CPE requirements--at their own convenience. The AICPA library consists of one-and two-hour modules that can be accessed for $95 (http://Infobytes.aicpaservices.org).

Course Delivery Methods

Asynchronous learning includes vertical portals, computer-aided learning (CAL) and Web-based instruction (WBI).

Vertical portals. A vertical portal is a multi-function Website that provides information to specific groups. It is like an intranet or close-ended network with password protection. Early examples of vertical portals include Lotus Notes and Microsoft's Outlook. Faculty can communicate with students through e-mail or messaging, creating class folders with access limited to enrolled students. By attaching files to posted messages, information can be quickly and effortlessly sent and received. While this method of communication lacks the pizzazz of a Web page, it gets the job done when users need only to transfer documents or spreadsheets.

Computer-aided learning (CAL).

Computer-aided learning (CAL) is a wide area encompassing any application of computers to the education process. Examples include simulation software (such as flight simulation), computer-based testing (such as for a driver's license) and online courses. While many examples of CAL exist, few entire university-level courses are being delivered using CAL (http://www.about.webct. com/library/#a1).

The advantages of CAL include:

* Simulations can replace traditional lectures;

* Experts develop courses only once, and these are repeated at low cost to any size audience at any location;

* Learning is learner-driven;

* Course delivery is self-paced, and

* Instant self-evaluation is available through online testing.

Web-based instruction (WBI). In

Web-based instruction, the entire course is asynchronous in nature and delivered on demand. The advantages of Web-based instruction are:

* Courses can be delivered remotely through a modern or network;

* Material can be updated once, without having to redistribute every change;

* Networks permit communities of students to form and communicate; and

* Developing Web documents does not require expensive software. Some of the disadvantages include:

* Hypertext mark-up language (HTML) as an authoring tool generally results in a less polished presentation than one prepared using a more sophisticated authoring tool, such as ToolBook II Instructor (offered by click21earn.com, formerly Asymetrix, http://www. asymetrix.com/products/ instructor.html).

* HTML is static, with pages read from a disk and transmitted to a browser for display. Software programs that generate interactive examples and exercises must be written.

* Networked access to a server may be slow, especially when using a modem.

Both CAL and WBI require documents in HTML format. Mastery of HTML coding can be both time consuming and frustrating. Software programs (such as Front Page) can be used to create Web pages in HTML format. Unless a university's information technology (IT) manager creates standard Web-page templates, the look and functionality of faculty Web pages can differ widely. Computer science professors at the University of British Columbia and Cornell University have developed software that has both CAL and WBI applications. These applications are known respectively as WebCT and Blackboard.

WebCT

World Wide Web Course Tools (WebCT) facilitates creation of sophisticated Web-based educational environments. It can create entire online courses or be used to publish supplementary materials to a traditional course.

WebCT courses are written in HTML. Course designers do not have to manually generate HTML, but can instead rely on WebCT HTML templates. To develop a course using WebCT, an instructor must connect to a server, on which the WebCT software is installed. The instructor can download various templates (such as the quiz generator) and work offline, but the material must eventually be uploaded and stored in an appropriate course folder on the server. Although notebook.txt pad can generate text, it must be copied and pasted into the appropriate file on the server. Material prepared in WebCT is not easily transportable to other course applications (such as Blackboard, its main competitor).

Once a university chooses an online course application, it should plan to support it indefinitely, as there is a fairly steep learning curve for developing acceptable course content. Because WebCT was faculty-developed, there are no published texts explaining how to use the software--no "WebCT for Dummies" books. However, enthusiastic users of WebCT frequently share their experiences and materials (see Prof. Amy Dunbar, University of Connecticut, http://www, sba.uconn.edu/users/ adunbar/webct/usingwebct.htm).

Generally, a university can obtain a site license from WebCT for $3,000 for an unlimited number of users. The major cost is for a server and adequate storage space for course files. At present, WebCT files for each course are separate directories, so users cannot "share" files among courses. Thus, if an instructor teaching an undergraduate WebCT tax course posts a set of multiple choice test questions, another instructor teaching an online graduate tax course cannot create a link to these questions. The test questions would have to be uploaded to the graduate class's course folder.

A course developed using WebCT is organized around a homepage. It has links to various course tools, such as:

* Password protection of course materials. An instructor may either enter students' names, login IDs and passwords, or create initial student logins and access codes, which students change at initial login.

* Course bulletin board, which allows communication among all course participants or within small groups. WebCT can randomly generate any number of groups with any number of students. This is a handy tool, especially for courses with large enrollments.

* E-mail, which allows one-on-one communication.

* Online chat, which permits multiple public or private chat sessions.

* Student self-evaluation, which includes multiple-choice, matching, computational and short-answer questions. The grading option permits timed tests, immediate feedback and descriptive statistics measuring a student's performance against the class average, minimum and maximum.

* A glossary of terms, which is searchable and linkable.

* Student presentation areas. WebCT allows a Web-page designer to designate icons that link to student-generated Web pages or presentation areas.

* Grade book. A student can view his grades and the class average, minimum and maximum scores.

* Student profile and tracking. This feature permits an instructor to identify each student in a course, maintain a log of the number of times students logged into the course, which pages they accessed and how much time they spent on each page.

Student perceptions of WebCT. A survey of312 graduate students enrolled in online courses at Marshall University revealed:

* 91% rated the quality of the WebCT courses as good to excellent;

* 80% indicated that the instructional value was equivalent to a traditional graduate course;

* 94% indicated a willingness to take another WebCT course, and

* 93% indicated they would recommend a WebCT course to others. (See http://about.webct.com.)

An analysis of WebCT course usage by 273 students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute revealed that:

* Working professionals taking WebCT courses access Web pages significantly more often than on-campus students;

* A strong positive correlation exists between grades and the number of times students accessed WebCT pages;

* Overall satisfaction with WebCT pages is positive; and

* Older students more likely prefer online quizzes than younger students. (See http://about.webct.com.)

Faculty training for WebCT. Developing an online course using WebCT is not for the faint of heart. There are no training manuals, although there is excellent online help and an introductory online guided tour (http://about. webct.com/try/).

Instructors can instantly create a trial course using WebCT's server, which permits them to register up to 50 students for a six-month trial period. Any material saved to the WebCT server will be lost at the end of the six-month period. If instructors want to keep the course material, they have to first enter all content into a text editor and save the files to a hard disk, as well as to the WebCT server.

A second option is to download the WebCT software. A course must be hosted and administered by an instructor's institution on its server. It is a good idea to back up the fries in case the university's server goes down. Students cannot access accounts until the university purchases a WebCT site license. WebCT requires either a Windows NT or Linux server, with an Internet protocol address.

The best way for instructors to learn WebCT is to use it. Many institutions that have adopted WebCT offer intensive training courses. At California State University at Chico, faculty attend a two-week training course. Staff in the Technology and Learning Program (TLP) also provide an open WebCT lab each Friday for faculty to share insights and ask questions. TLP staff is available to answer questions, solve problems, demonstrate WebCT features and provide technical support. There is also a student-training program for students enrolled in courses using WebCT. To cope with the demand for WebCT training and support exceeding available resources, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has developed the following strategies:

* Provide self-study learning materials for instructors and students;

* Design simple, generic course templates for creating new courses;

* Offer an "express course design session" for instructors;

* Train instructors first in how to use a bulletin board;

* Devise shortcuts for developing course content, such as:

--Pointing to files already on the Web, rather than moving them to the WebCT server;

--Accessing existent content in its current file format;

--Developing new content pages using easy-to-learn authoring tools; and

--Editing content directly on the server using Netscape Composer;

* Permit students to create their own accounts;

* Hire students to enter course-developed content (i.e., do not require faculty to do their own typing);

* Create a help site offering fast and up-to-date support and training materials;

* Start a WebCT user listserv for distributing news and helpful hints about WebCT; and

* Form a WebCT user group, featuring regular presentations by experienced users.

(See http://about.webct.com.)

Like any other software, WebCT is continuously being revised and upgraded. As new versions become available, it is imperative that an IT professional at an instructor's institution be placed in charge of evaluating the upgrades and determining when and whether they should be installed, and what additional training users should have.

Blackboard

Blackboard.com is a free service that enables instructors to add an online component to their classes, or even host an entire Web-based course. Without knowing HTML, an individual can quickly create a course Website--with content, discussions and even tests online (http://company. blackboard.com/Bb/ index.html.)

Blackboard has capitalized on the perception that WebCT is hard to learn and use, stressing its quick mastery. Because Blackboard is free, it made significant inroads into the K-12 market, a market that WebCT simply ignored. Blackboard offers the following features:

* Asynchronous communication (threaded discussions);

* Synchronous communication (real-time chat and whiteboard);

* Assessment tools and grade book;

* Collaborative workgroups;

* Content creation (e.g., syllabus and course description pages);

* Electric Blackboard[R], for taking notes and filing them for future use;

* Database reporting and course statistics;

* Messaging system;

* Online file exchange (between instructor and student);

* Online tutorial; and

* User tracking. (See http: //company.blackboard.com.)

Instructors can create a course site for free and receive unlimited use plus 5 MB of storage space for course materials, provided they access the site at least once every 30 days. For a registered course (which costs $100), there is unlimited use for one year, 10 MB of storage space, technical support, the capability to charge student enrollment fees and an optional featured-course listing on Blackboard.com. Blackboard has a template for creating a course site (http://www.blackboard.com/bin/courseinformation.pl).

Although the features of WebCT and Blackboard are comparable and both offer frequent upgrades to "thwart the competition" consumer preference will continue to revolve around personal preferences. In addition, instructors should consider which platform IT supports at their institution. It is unlikely that IT staff are willing to support two platforms. Instructors want to avoid responsibility for their own technical support, if possible.

Choosing the Best Course Delivery Option

There is no right answer for deciding whether a vertical portal, CAL or WBI is best, or whether WebCT, Blackboard or another is preferable. It also depends on how an instructor plans to run a course. Many courses can be managed very effectively with only e-mail and file attachments, while others may require sophisticated graphics and presentations using audio and video components. Instructors may be able to accomplish what they need using Front Page to create and maintain a course Web page.

Instructors who decide to develop full-blown Web-based courses must consider ownership and copyright issues. If their university is providing the software and hardware, it may "own" the course. This could cause complications if an instructor decides to leave the university Developing an entire course for asynchronous delivery is a significant time investment. The result may be equivalent to publication of a textbook--an electronic one--except with uncertainty about rights to royalties or fees generated.

Web-based instructional tools can take advantage of the many fine Websites maintained by publishers of financial, managerial and tax texts. Instructors can choose from one of several popular texts on the market that offer online content using the WebCT platform. They can gain a feel for the kinds of materials disseminated via the Web, without investing a lot of time and money to develop online materials.

Faculty who invest a lot in developing online courses may be reluctant (or not know how) to share the fruits of their labor with others. To encourage faculty to share, Joshua Kim, a sociology professor at West Virginia University, started Lectures Online (http://www.lecturesonline.org), a nonprofit site modeled after traditional lending libraries. However, currently no accounting or tax materials are available at this site.

Educators can manage the explosion in information technology and its impact on teaching by becoming part of a learning community. Instructors' satisfaction will come from their roles as mentors and counselors, as well as from being managers of technological change.

Editor's note: For more information about this column, contact Ms. O'Neil at Cherie.OneilWren@mail.biz.colo.state.edu.

Authors' note: This column is based on the authors' presentation, given at the AICPA Tax Education Symposium, held in Arlington, VA, on June 9-10, 2000.

Cherie O'Neil, Ph.D., CPA Professor

Beverly Rowe, Ph.D., CPA Professor

Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO
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Author:Rowe, Beverly
Publication:The Tax Adviser
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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