The Adoption and Diffusion of Web Technologies into Mainstream Teaching.
With the ever increasing acceptance and availability of the web medium, various web-based teaching initiatives are either being developed or are being adopted by educational institutions or by individuals inside the institutions. The forces driving this perceived need for adoption (Frances, Pumerantz, & Caplan, 1999), include:
* responses to government programs, initiatives, and directives;
* the perceived need for competitive advantages with other institutions;
* results of individual champions (agents for changes);
* the general promotion/ exposure of the Web in the mass media; and
* the perception of savings.
Web-based teaching activities include:
* development of complete web-based courses;
* support for existing distance education courses;
* support for traditional classroom-based courses; and
* developing various mixed mode, flexible delivery (and by analogy flexible learning), environments.
Further, there is increasingly institutional awareness of the developing "global" projects/standards such as Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe (ARIADNE)(2001)-Instructional Management Systems (IMS)-in terms of potential resource sharing and overall management. Also, educational institutions, in line with information system advances, have started to make use of the Web as a convenient medium for conducting various staff and student administration tasks from online registration and enrolment to information regarding courses and student progression. Traditionally these two areas, namely the educational delivery and the university administration have been viewed and implemented as being separate, distinct, and basically mutually exclusive, with separate staff, buildings, and computer information systems.
This article examines predominantly, from an institution's viewpoint, issues, requirements, and methodologies for the rapid mass or bulk adoption and diffusion of web technologies into mainstream teaching. The scope of this article covers an overview of theoretical frameworks in terms of current diffusion theory models, a suggested set of specifications for these web technologies, and various adoption strategies for the uptake by staff. Supporting this are the results of an 18-month project in implementing these ideas being currently conducted across the University of Western Sydney, a medium-sized Australian university (approximately 18,000 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 staff, of whom 900 are academic staff).
An underlying premise put forward in this article is that the institution already has the necessary technical Internet supporting infrastructures that can support the web medium (such as Internet access, ability to support current or additional web servers, existing e-mail and technical support structures). In Australian Universities this is evidently the case (McNaught,
Phillips, Rossiter, & Winn, 2000) and similarly in the USA (Persichitte, Tharp, & Gaffarella, 1999).
The first section of this article outlines a descriptive and theoretical framework for the adoption and diffusion process. This is based on the work of Rogers (1995) in the diffusion of innovations and the related areas of technology transfer, communication research, and sociology diffusion. From this, the second section presents various criteria and methodologies for the development of appropriate design specifications for the web technology. Also developed is a methodology for implementation and staff acceptance. In particular, an adopter-based model for systems development is presented.
The third section presents how this has been applied as a case study at the University of Western Sydney, in a project called the Platform Web (2001) project. This project was initiated to determine the environment, requirements, and means to accelerate the diffusion of web use into general teaching delivery. The overall objective was to provide an environment for mass movement of staff into using web-based education. To test these ideas, an integrated teaching! administration web information system was developed in-house, with the specifications being generated from applying survey-generated inputs to the adoption model. Besides the specification and operation of this project, the implementation at the organization level is discussed. The final section covers a summary of the current adoption results of the Platform Web project and the resulting changes to the institution.
DIFFUSION AND ADOPTION MODELS AND PRINCIPLES
This article posits that diffusion processes are occurring in the uptake of web technologies in main-stream teaching at four levels: global, institutional, teaching staff, and students.
Overall a global uptake of web access has been occurring over the last five years. Second, there is the uptake process at the institutional level. This is now substantial; tertiary institutions have already built up considerable network and Internet technical infrastructures necessary for the adoption of web technologies (McNaught et al., 2000). Third, there is the uptake process with individual staff, either in terms of complementing traditional teaching or in the development of new flexible delivery modes. Last, there is the uptake by the student body of online and web-based learning. Although this article examines the adoption process predominantly at the institutional and individual staff level, the inter-relationship and action of the global and student diffusion processes need also to be borne in mind.
Descriptive Framework for the Diffusion Process
The value of using the Rogers descriptive framework (Rogers, 1995) is in providing a dissection of the diffusion process, giving the ability to analyse the components and then to develop adoption methodologies. The main elements of the diffusion process of new ideas and innovations are that an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among members of a social system. In the adoption of an innovation the characteristics of each of these elements needs to be considered.
The innovation. The characteristics of an innovation that are relevant to its adoption are its:
* relative advantage, the perception that an innovation has an advantage over its predecessor;
* compatibility, the perception that the innovation is consistent with the existing needs and values of the potential adopters;
* complexity, the perception of the ease of use and understanding of the innovation;
* trialability, the degree that the potential adopter may experiment and make use of the innovation on a limited basis; and
* observability, the visibility of the results of the innovation to others.
The communication channel. The communication channel is defined as the means by which knowledge of innovations travels throughout the social system. This can be by making use of mass media that broadcast the knowledge from a central point to many "listeners," or by the passing of knowledge from individuals to individuals. The channel can take the form of formal communications such as "advertising," training, or organizational directives; or by informal methods such as personal contact, individual example, or social chat. In this process the Rogers model brings out the importance of peers and "near-peers" in the communication channel and their status and standing in the perceptions of the potential adopters.
The innovation adoption process. The Rogers model has the innovation-decision process being made up of phases: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. According to this descriptive model, potential adopters of an innovation:
1. learn about the innovation;
2. are persuaded as to the merits of the innovation;
3. decide to adopt the innovation;
4. implement the innovation; and
5. confirm (reaffirm or reject) the decision to adopt the innovation.
In addition, the uptake of an innovation may be influenced by the inherent "innovativeness" of the individual or organizational unit, the prediction being that individuals/ organizations who are predisposed to being innovative will adapt an innovation earlier than those who are less predisposed. On one extreme of the distribution are the "innovators," who are the risk takers and pioneers who adopt an innovation very early in the diffusion process. On the other extreme are the "laggards" who resist adopting an innovation until rather late in the diffusion process, if ever. The diffusion process typically following an "S" curve as shown in Figure 1. The Plazform-Web project aims at compressing the time scale.
The social system. This is defined as the set of interrelated units with a common goal (such as an educational institution) and a structure. Rogers argues that the social and communication structure of the system can help or impede the diffusion of innovations. The social system will have its:
* norms, its sets of behavior patterns;
* opinion leadership, the degree an individual is able to informally influence others;
* change agents, individuals who attempt to influence others innovation-decisions;
* change agency/agencies, a unit or units whose purpose is to use change agents; and
* aides, individuals used by change agents to intensively interact with the clients.
Finally in a social system, Rogers classifies four main type of innovation-decisions. These represent the various ways decisions are accepted by the individual.
1. optional innovation decisions, the choices made by individuals are independent of others;
2. collective innovation decisions, the choices are decided by consensus and then adopted by all in that consensus;
3. authority innovation decisions, choices made by a few with power and are then adopted by the whole (usually by some form of directive); and
4. contingent innovation-decisions, choices made by one or more of the above, but only after a prior innovation-decision.
Organizational model for the adoption of innovations. In terms of organizations, the Rogers model for the innovation process consists of two broad phases, initiation and implementation. The initiation phase is defined as all the information gathering, conceptualization, and planning for the adoption of an innovation, leading up to the decision to adopt. This phase involves agenda setting where general organizational problems are articulated and matching where these problems are matched with potential innovations. The implementation phase involves processes of redefining, restructuring, clarification, and routinizing.
Adopter- and developer-based instructional development The Rogers descriptive framework for the diffusion of innovations has been used by a number of researchers as the basis in developing instructional development models and methods for developing actual products. These are either developer-based or adopter-based models (Surry & Farquhar, 1997).
In the developer-based model, the assumption is that a top-down approach of a developer with a supposedly "superior" technological product will increase the diffusion, along with the assumption that potential adopters are viewed as predisposed to adopt innovations that are quantifiably superior. These models are usually based on either an organization or the developer choosing the authority innovation decision process outlined above.
The assumption is that the client will either adopt through the power/authority social structure or will "intuitively" recognize the relative advantages of the innovation.
In contrast, the adopter-based models, such as from Andrews and Goodson (1991), focus on the human, social, and interpersonal aspects of innovation diffusion. Adopter-based models view the end user, as the individual who will ultimately implement the innovation in a practical setting, as the primary force for change. In particular, these models reject the assumption that superior product and practices will automatically be attractive to potential adopters. In terms of the Rogers framework, the innovation decision is a combination of the optional innovation decision (independent individuals) and the collective innovation decision (decisions made by a collective of individuals).
In particular, researchers such as Burkman (in Surry & Farquhar, 1997) have developed particular development models based on the "individual," which can be readily applied to a collective and indeed to an organization when taken as an "individual unit." The Burkman model makes use of a combination of elements as identified by Rogers, of the "adoptiveness" of an innovation, the channel, and the social structure to develop a practical developer model with the needs and perceptions of the potential adopters as being the primary forces that influence adoption. This model consists of five steps each of which is concerned about the characteristics of the individual adopter:
1. Identify the potential adopter.
2. Measure the relevant potential adopter perceptions.
3. Design and develop a user-friendly product.
4. Inform the potential adopter (of the user-friendliness).
5. Provide post-adoption support.
In pragmatic terms, these user-centric models when applied to the adoption of web-based delivery, predict that for all the advantages the adoption theoretically can bring, and regardless of the technical superior of any particular product, the primary force for adoption is the end users, that is the staff and students involved.
Putting it All Together
In considering the adoption process of web technologies, on mass, by staff inside an institution, a combination of factors may need to be considered.
From an institutional level, the innovation-decision process has to occur, where a perceived need is recognized and by various decision-making processes results in an institutional adoption. In addition, at the individual level, the innovation has to also be accepted and put into use. The specifications and characteristics of the innovation, at least initially, combined with a suitable adoption strategy need to be carefully considered to aid the adoption process and to minimize the "discontinuance" or the rejection after use, of the innovation.
The approach presented in this article is two-pronged. At the individual level, a user-centric specifications and design is developed to aid the adoption by staff. At the institutional level, the agenda setting, matching, redefining, clarification, and routinizing of the innovation process is addressed by again developing specifications that address the institutional perceived needs.
Further, the innovation itself, namely the adoption of web-based teaching delivery on mass by the institution, has been broken into a hierarchical set of modules and "shells" to provide an ongoing development. From the surveying of both individual and institutional perceived needs, the integration of the institution's administrative and teaching areas became very apparent. From this a specification of the innovation into an infrastructure shell with integrated components, was developed along with a modular approach to cater to changes and developments as perceived to be needed in the future. Also, as part of the innovation process, the need to present to the institution an evolving framework for institutional changes that would support the routinization of the innovation was considered important.
SPECIFICATIONS AND A DEVELOPMENT METHODOLOGY
In the development of the Platform Web project, a number of factors from these models were considered. The user-centric development (Burkman) model was used to develop specifications for the actual innovation product (the web information system), in conjunction with aiding the innovation-decision process of the organization to produce an overall adoption methodology. Adopter (or staff) perceptions were sampled in terms of real or perceived problems first in existing traditional teaching delivery, and second in moving to web-based teaching. A summary of these surveys is presented.
Real or Perceived Problems with Traditional Teaching Delivery (as seen by staff)
The main concerns are grouped into three main areas.
1. general administration problems in subject delivery dealing with student enrolment, timetabling, and resource availability;
2. general and specific communication to/from students resulting in student (and staff) confusion of procedures, requirements, and where to obtain needed information; and
3. student participation and attitudes towards attendance at lectures and submission of assignment work.
From this survey work, the significance of the administration information systems in supporting existing traditional teaching methods became apparent. The survey also indicated that some (if not many) of the attitudes students develop regarding their learning experiences (particularly in large subjects) are influenced by administration-related problems encountered in the first few weeks of their studies, particularly regarding communication with the staff and administration. This integration of activities goes beyond the integration of just teaching activities as recommended by Zhao (1998) to include fundamental administration information systems.
Real or Perceived Problems with Moving to Web-based Teaching Delivery
The main concerns for this area were grouped into three main areas:
1. Developing and learning web technology. Except for a few innovators the bulk of the teaching staff were reluctant spending time and effort in learning how to produce and author web-based material.
2. Making use of existing materials and resources. Since most staff had developed considerable amount of material in traditional form (typically quizzes, notes, and slide presentations) over the years, a major concern was how these could be easily incorporated into web delivery.
3. Technology and network issues. The typical concerns being student access, bandwidths, multiple passwords to access various websites, and available computer facilities.
PlatformWeb Project Specifications
Based on the survey work, the infrastructure needed to provide up-to-date, automatically provided student enrolment information, since staff balk at entering up to 700 student names and details into a system manually (Sawers & Alexander, 1998). Further, the infrastructure needed to incorporate the uploading of a wide range of legacy material formats in an easy manner. To facilitate communication, the infrastructure also needs to have a single entry point for students and staff, from which subject delivery, messaging and other information can be accessed. To cater for the wide range of web and technical experience of academic staff, it was proposed that a range of activities at different levels of complexity be incorporated rather than fixed methods and activities. Finally, the infrastructure needed to be able to accommodate future changes and developments in the web medium.
The PlatformWeb specification was drawn up as:
* single home page entry for staff/students into all functions of the system;
* automatic setup of the background 'housekeeping' for staff to use the system;
* ability to upload resource material and have it automatically entered and tied into the system;
* targeted delivery access based on a student authentication/ registration system integrated into the existing information systems;
* ability to fully and automatically report on student responses for all elements in the system, including date stamping, elements visited, number of responses, entry into results databases, and statistics of responses for the online packages;
* ability to integrate automatically into the system other developed HTML/XML applications;
* a flexible builtin component for online quizzes that incorporated legacy material particularly in the form of word processor documents. Besides automatic marking, review, and progression reporting, the quizzes needed to be flexible to cover a wide range of use and methods of administering;
* secured, online uploading of student material;
* secured reporting to students;
* simple online messaging system to students;
* forum, discussion, and group components for staff and students;
* online tutorials on how to use the system for both staff and students;
* modular and extendable system design;
* ability to incorporate other and future web-based products, in particular to accommodate teaching delivery packages such as WebCT, TopClass or Blackboard;
* integration with the institution's administration to provide up-to-date student data and supporting information (such as online tutorial registration, enrolment data, student results, staff intranet facilities); and
* integration into the institution's resource units to provide access to these resources (such as library, student services, career, course, and subject information).
The above specifications, being generic in form, can also be used to assess various vendors' web-based education products for suitability for mass use. In particular, without the last two specifications plus the incorporation of legacy material, from the survey work, it is proposed that there will be a resistance from the majority of teaching staff to move into web delivery.
Although some assumptions were made as to the nature and components for web-based teaching delivery, the design approach concentrated on the adopter's perceptions. The importance of providing an administration infrastructure along with the use of legacy material is paramount. The design methodology was based on evolutionary, tailorable system development (Salter & Hansen, 1999). It is an ongoing process and makes use of the feedback and requirements of the users. In particular, the experiences of staff, who had already been using a LAN or the Web for teaching activities, for large (200 plus) class sizes, were incorporated as in the administration of online quizzes and online student assignment submissions (Davies, Hansen, Salter, & Simpson, 1999).
THE PLATFORMWEB PROJECT
A pilot implementation was conducted in the second semester of 1998 with 19 subjects and over 800 students (Hansen, Deshpande, & Murugesan, 1999). This was followed up with a major trial in the first half of 1999 and a general implementation for all staff made available in the second half of 1999. Staff participation has been purely on a voluntary basis, with staff workshops being run from staff demand (24 workshops were run for about 200 staff at the start of the second semester 1999). Raw statistics of the use of the system are given in Table 1. Some staff have more than one course and some courses have more than one staff member. There are currently over 120 support staff included in general administration, timetabling, results processing and with the help desk.
The functionality of the system progressed from the pilot study through to the main implementation. The actual server-side coding has grown from a few thousand lines for the pilot to be currently over 30,000 lines. Table 2, gives a summary. A graphical overview of the various modules is in Figure 2.
Initially, the pilot study was implemented to test the Burkman adoption methodology and to assess the viability and scalability of the web technology. At this time, there were no off-the-shelf products that fit the desired integration specifications, so the product was produced in-house. The success of this bare-bones implementation was then followed up with further in-house development. It has always been the proposition by the project team, that the "teaching delivery" component would eventually be satisfied by propriety vendors. This is slowly happening with products like WebCT, TopClass, BlackBoard, and others, as they develop administration interfaces to their databases. At the time of writing, the desired functionality for full integration as this project wishes does not seem to be there. However, when it does occur, the philosophy of this project is to provide the overall infrastructure and include these products for the desired teaching delivery functionality.
In conjunction with the adoption by staff, the members of the PlatformWeb Project also worked with the university on the innovation-decision process at the organizational level. This involved many meetings, seminars, and workshops both formally and informally with senior staff from the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Registrar, and heads of the IT and Student Services. Following the Rogers innovation-decision process previously outlined, the following table summarizes the various steps that the University of Western Sydney took in this process. In this process, the PlatformWeb project has acted as the initial and prime change agency, making use of existing "opinion leaders" in the university. Over time, various change agents and aides have been recruited. In particular, the attempt has been to make use of the participating staff to enhance the peer-peer communication channel for the diffusion, with support from the organization rather than an authority decision being imposed from the hierarchy.
The application of the Rogers innovation-decision model in the case of the PlatformWeb project fitted well with the actual response of the University. In particular, the movement into the routinization stage has now occurred with resources being allocated and the actual project being integrated in the IT corporate applications area. In particular, the fitting of the project to the perceived administration needs of the university, was rapidly adopted and taken up by the institution. In terms of academic staff, use of the system has also reached the routinization stage with students now pressing the "laggards" into adoption.
This article suggests that a two-pronged approach will assist the adoption process of web technologies by teaching staff. One prong addresses, from adopter-based instructional development models, the perceived needs of staff in complementing traditional teaching delivery with the Web and the perceived needs in moving to flexible delivery web-based modes. The other prong makes use of the organization models for innovation-decision making to provide the institutional framework for the adoption. In particular, this article determines, with a case study for support, that these processes are enhanced if the integrating nature of web technologies is used in the integration of an education institution's administration with the teaching delivery activities. In doing so, a "one-stop-shop" or single entry point system can be provided. Also, in the adoption process, an incremental approach both for organization agenda setting and for staff adoption, is recommended.
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Table 1 Summary of Platform Web Usage Pilot, 1998 Semester 1, Semester 2, 1999 1999 Staff (including support staff) 15 55 220 Subjects 19 50 200+ Students 800 2,500 4,500 Items Accessed [sim]1/2 meg [sim]1.5 meg [sim]8 meg Student Visits mean mean mean 4.75/week 5.2/week 5.1/week Semester 1, 2000 Staff (including support staff) 430 Subjects 300+ Students 7000 in online courses (except for 300-400 students, all students have accessed some part of the system, for results, tutorial registrations, etc.) Items Accessed [sim]30 meg Student Visits mean 4.8/week Table 2 Functionality of the Platform Web Web-Based Information System Function Pilot Trial, Sem Sem Sem 2, '99 2, '98 1, '99 Single entry system for students & staff * * * Integration with the campus student databases for automatic inclusion, deletion and management of the students in the teaching delivery databases * * * Integration with staff databases * * * Integration with program & course databases * * * Uploading of static material (HTML & all standard file formats such as Word, PowerPoint) * * * Function Start of 2000 Single entry system for students & staff * Integration with the campus student databases for automatic inclusion, deletion and management of the students in the teaching delivery databases * Integration with staff databases * Integration with program & course databases * Uploading of static material (HTML & all standard file formats such as Word, PowerPoint) * Inclusion of external web sites and external links as an integral component of the content * * * * Simple web-based, non-email, messaging system (staff to student) * * * * Logging of network and database performance including access, bottlenecks, delays, general performance * * * * Online quizzes with a variety of delivery mechanisms * * * Online discussion sessions * * * Incorporation of online groups * * * Full online assessment, with a variety of student submission modes of material or web sites and full online markbook * * * Customizing of all major screens * * Comprehensive web-based help desk for supporting staff * * Trial of full integration with admin staff for web-based database integration of subject marks and examinations with the campus grading system * * Full integration with campus timetabling system, with web interfaces for faculty administration * * Integration for all students across the campus for all student results * * Full integration for all students across whole campus via the web for all tutorial allocations Pilot Trial, Sem Start Sem Sem 2, '99 of 2, '98 1, '99 2000 (all subjects, all semesters), with web interfaces for faculty and subject coordinators (over 30,000 online registrations at start of 2000) * Integration of some staff intranet facilities for all staff across the campus * Automatic online registration and management by participating staff, integrated to the timetabling and tutorial registration systems * Inclusion of altemative teaching delivery packages such as WebCT partial Table 3 The innovation-decision process by the University Time Agenda Setting and Matching Start 1998 Middle of 1998 People/Action Agenda Setting and Matching Web technology issues and competitive advantages raised in agenda setting committees to raise the perceived needs of flexible delivery and the use of the web. Pilot study plan and initial implementation demonstrated to the CEO and administration heads, interested teaching staff and staff support units to promote the awareness of possibilities. The initial part of the decision process was implemented with top-down support for experimentation with the campus enrolment system. Matching End of 1998 Redefining Middle of 1999 Restructuring Clarifying Middle to end of 1999 Matching Results of pilot study demonstrated to CEO, with top-down support for further demonstrations/discussions with teaching support committees and teaching representative. Resulting in the move from the initiation stage to the implementation stage. At this stage, the innovation was still considered in terms of the institutional agenda for competitive advantages, commercial possibilities and satisfying the need to be seen to be making use of the web. The organization did not really know how this innovation was to be used, and so it viewed it in terms of its perceptions of the web being a good idea and necassary in the current educational climate. Redefining From the volume of use and ready uptake Restructuring by participating staff, the organization had to respond to funding additional hardware, staff support and the development of the software. This set the climate for detailed analysis and discussion of how this innovation would fit with the organization, and the directions it would take (rather than the benefits, which although not clearly defined, were now taken as assumed). The full integration of the administration databases with the teaching delivery was now considered viable and the need for resources to be allocated for development and staff support needed to be addressed. At this stage a formal unit was formed (PlatformWeb Development Team) for the development. Clarifying The role of the formal unit, its future directions, the integration with the teaching support units, student admin and faculty admin were formalized. The role of the web integration to the campus operation was clarified and consolidated. For example, the management of the technology was to be handled by the IT services, the staff support to be handled by the support unit, and the help desk to be handled by the existing help centers. Routinizing End of 1999-2000 Routinizing With the design and support of administration staff and units in implementing an integration of the web-based online tutorial allocation for all subject, and with the formal management of the operating system by estalished units, and with all staff and students using some part of the system, the innovation has entered the routinizing stage. That is, it is no longer an innovation or new or experimental, but is an integral part of the orginization.
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|Publication:||Journal of Interactive Learning Research|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2001|
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