February 1999 // Faculty and Staff Development
Postgraduate Courses on the WWW: Teaching the Teachers and Educating the Professors
by Stephen Kessell
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Stephen Kessell "Postgraduate Courses on the WWW: Teaching the Teachers and Educating the Professors" The Technology Source, February 1999. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Providing post-graduate courses and professional development opportunities to working teachers is never easy. It is especially difficult in Western Australia, where two million people occupy a land mass larger than the United States east of the Mississippi. There has been a great deal of hype about using communication and information technologies (CITs) and the World Wide Web to deliver educational materials (Cunningham et al 1998; Luke 1996; West 1998); at the same time, many decry the loss of face-to-face interaction between lecturer and student (Ryan 1998; Birkerts 1994), as well as the cost of preparing sound multimedia courses for World Wide Web delivery (Ryan 1998; GAL 1997).

Designing and Implementing World Wide Web Courses for Faculty Development

In response to several year-11 and year-12 syllabus changes (Curriculum Council 1998a, 1998b), I recently designed and taught four courses for secondary-education science and computing teachers seeking academic credit or studying for their own professional development during the 1998 academic year. I used the Web rather than traditional paper-based "distance ed" materials for many reasons, the most important being that I could demonstrate multimedia by using multimedia.

A Web course allows the author to cater to a much greater diversity of needs, interests, and backgrounds by providing both "introductory" and "advanced" links from a "middle of the road" path through the syllabus. For example, in Using Multimedia and the Internet in Secondary Science Education, I was able to provide:

  • Additional readings appropriate to schools with different levels of CITs
  • Basic, intermediate, and advanced information-searching strategies
  • Links to hundreds of WWW science teaching sites that I had reviewed personally in terms of grade level, subject, and quality
  • Detailed reviews of three multimedia encyclopedias and an additional 16 CD-ROM teaching packages
  • Basic, intermediate, and advanced advice on constructing a multimedia site, and
  • Segregation of information appropriate to biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and general science teachers.

Similarly, in the two courses aimed at computing/IT teachers, a wide range of options could be provided. The lack of personal contact between lecturer and students was compensated for by regular use of an electronic bulletin board and e-mail.

Perhaps the most useful feature of these courses, according to participants, was the provision of downloadable teaching modules on a range of topics, from "Designing an Information System" and "Creating your own WWW Site" to "Using the Exploring the Nardoo Package," "Social, Ethical, Moral, and Legal Impacts of IT," and "How to Write a Report." I have field-tested these modules in six Perth secondary schools, and my students have tested them further in their own schools worldwide.

I also created a free "demonstration" Web site that includes some modules from each course and several downloads, to show interested (but perhaps reluctant) teachers what multimedia course delivery is all about. Anyone may create a free account on this site by following the instructions provided at http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/ipd. Over the past three months, the site has been visited by thousands of teachers worldwide.

Lessons Learned

Despite the rapid improvement in HTML editors and Web course packaging programs, creating a new multimedia course is a huge amount of work. There is a great deal to learn about generating HTML pages; inserting links; and creating, editing, and inserting graphics, sound, animations, and video. In addition, it is extremely time-consuming to locate and evaluate appropriate online material to which links should be provided. Most importantly, the whole notion of a non-linear multimedia course is very different from our traditional linear course structures.

When I designed the first course for delivery in the first semester of 1998, I allowed, given my strong computer background, 200 hours for writing a Web course, twice the time it would take to develop a paper course. The actual time requirement was closer to 600 hours, and included perhaps 250 hours of learning how to use the many multimedia authoring tools effectively. The other three courses, introduced in the second semester of 1998, required from 250 to 700 hours each to develop.

The issue is not merely becoming a "Web authoring wizard." Creating a multimedia course for Web delivery requires a very different thinking process—"How do I accommodate both the novice and advanced student? Which of these thousands of potential links should I include? How do I ensure that neither the students nor I get sidetracked or overwhelmed?" I spent nearly 400 hours simply finding, reading, testing, and evaluating nearly two thousand Web sites for the Multimedia in Science course before I selected about 400 to include; I spent another 200 hours reviewing and evaluating approximately 30 CD-ROMs. Even if you elect to use a commercial "WWW-course packaging program" (I used Web-CT) to provide the structure, bulletin board, chat room, internal e-mail, etc., it still is a monumental first-time effort to put one of these courses together. The author of a multimedia course must also strike a balance between a slick course with many graphics, animations, and "bells and whistles", which may be very slow for students to download, and a "bare bones" delivery which is not very pleasing aesthetically. You must learn how to compromise, such as by using small "thumbnail" graphics which, when clicked, retrieve full-screen pictures.

In my experience, the pros greatly outweigh the cons, but I advise you to allow a lot of time to establish a new multimedia course on the World Wide Web!

Evaluation of the Four Courses

Both formative and summative evaluations were conducted for the single course offered the first semester and the four courses taught in the second semester.

Weekly feedback centered mainly on questions such as "How should I present this?" "Can you provide more details/examples?" "I don't understand this—where can I find help?" and especially, "Can you add some material on such-and-such?" and "Where can I find a site that...?"

An online end-of-course questionnaire was completed by 15 of the 30 students who studied in first semester, and by 24 of the 43 second-semester students. Each questionnaire contained from 22 to 38 multiple choice and open-ended questions.

The questions addressed many issues, including:

  • Had the students studied via the Web previously? Was it preferable to "paper?" Was it preferable to attending classes? Were the optional workshops useful?
  • What about specific content, modules, examples, difficulty level, breadth, depth, and workload?
  • What about design/quality/inclusiveness of the Web site and its links?
  • What about the utility of online, downloadable teaching materials?
  • Should the course be taught again? With what changes? Best and worst features? Should other courses be offered in this format?

Only one student had studied previously via the Web. All but one preferred a Web course to attending weekly classes. Two of the 39 would have preferred a traditional paper-based distance education course; five were not sure, and the rest preferred the Web over paper.

Questions about the inclusion/emphasis/depth of specific modules produced an agreement rate which ranged between 84% and 100%, depending on the module. All students found the online hyperlinked reading and the "useful links page," to be useful.

All students stated that the courses should be taught again in more or less their present form. Nearly half of the students in the multimedia science course requested a follow-up course the next year. All participants but one thought more of our courses should be offered entirely over the Web.

Features that students liked most about the Internet format included:

  • the ability to study at their own time and pace;
  • not having to attend after-school classes on campus;
  • the ability, when attending optional classes, to network and to compare notes with other teachers, rather than receive course content;
  • the non-linear nature of an Internet course, where links to very basic material, advanced material, examples of applications, and numerous relevant sites are provided online;
  • the almost instantaneous updating and revision of content;
  • the ability to download content for use in their own classrooms.

Features that students liked least about the Internet format included:

  • occasional difficulties in accessing the Internet,
  • download times (especially for rural students using slow modems),
  • having to adopt different study patterns, and
  • becoming overwhelmed and/or sidetracked by the vast amount of hyperlinked material available.

Conclusion and Outlook

Quite to my surprise, my use of the Web for faculty and staff development has done a great deal to promote collaboration in curriculum development and delivery, especially with the rapid trial, evaluation, and revision of new downloadable teaching modules. Some technical issues can be addressed readily: for example, providing the course material on a CD-ROM to reduce Web access problems and download times. However, such a CD-ROM would reach its "use by" date rapidly, and the Web would still be needed to access links. I am developing more online, downloadable modules as we go, encouraging the participating teachers to try them, give me feedback, and share their own materials with the other participants. With a bit of luck, I think we can develop a fair range of useful materials over the next year or two. Concurrently, our department of education is evaluating these materials for state-wide use in professional development—a major need of teachers working in remote areas.


Birkerts, S. (1994). The Gutenberg elegies. Boston: Faber and Faber.

Cunningham, S., Tapsall, S., Ryan, Y., Stedman, L., Bagdon, K., and Flew, T. (1998). New media and borderless education: A review of the convergence between global media networks and higher education provision. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Evaluations and Investigations Program, Higher Education Division. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Curriculum Council of Western Australia. (1998a). Information systems (year 12) syllabus (E238). Retrieved January 30, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.sea.wa.edu.au.

Curriculum Council of Western Australia. (1998b). Technology and enterprise area: Syllabus manuals and common assessment tasks booklets. Retrieved January 30, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.sea.wa.edu.au.

Global Alliance Limited (GAL). (1997). Australian higher education in the era of mass customisation (Appendix 11). In: Learning for life: Review of higher education funding and policy (R. West). Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Luke, T. (1996). The politics of cyberschooling at the virtual university. In: The virtual university? Symposium proceedings and case studies. (G. Hart and J. Mason, eds.). Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Ryan, Y. (1998). Time and tide: Teaching and learning online. Australian Universities Review 41(1): 14-19.

West, R. (1998). Learning for life: Review of higher education funding and policy. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

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