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What is Online Courseware?
Online Courseware are programs online used primarily by K-12 and higher education systems. Some business and research companies also use courseware to aid in training, management, and establishing strong communications among their staff. Online courseware is designed so that the instructor can establish their own curriculum, guidelines, and expectations in which learners are expected to master and complete. Not only does the courseware provide indepth information, but it serves as a great line of communication and often leads to further educational stiumulation and curiosity.

While the instructors have the authority to build their own courses, the students also contribute greatly to the creation of each individual class. In most online courseware, students do not just receive information, but they also contribute their own ideas, research and discussions. A great example of this is Marquette University's onlinecourseware, Desire to Learn (also known as D2L). This program is used as both a suppliment for regular face-to-face classes and online courses. Students can access readings, view upcoming assignments, track their grades, and partake in intense online discussions. It is an active learning community and truly serves as a strong educational tool.



Learning Theories that Guide the Use of Online Courseware

The Constructivist Learning Theory seems to directly guide the use of online courseware.

This theory stresses that learners construct knowledge for themselves, and that each learner, individually and socially, constructs meaning as he or she learns. Online courseware creates an educational guide for the students. What they put into the course and what they pull out of it, constructs the basis of their knowledge. While they are able to receive critical feed-back and personal responses from peers and instructors, it is ulitimately up to the student to form their range of knowledge.

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The Benefits of Using Online Courseware

Finding ways to challenge and engage all students is necessary for schools these days. With such a wide variety of abilities and learning styles, this can be extremely difficult to accomplish. With online courseware students are able to fully engage themselves in a variety of learning situations. Breaking from the normal lecture and discussion formate of a typical classroom, online courseware offers numerous ways to engage the learner. Some examples include real-time online discussions, video and website links, continual grade updates, "pagers" or "pokes" which allow instantaneous communication between peers and/or instructors, interactive tests and quizzes, assignment trackers, and hands-on interractive learning.globe.jpe

Students with learning disabilities or who are learning English as a second language can be included as a regular member of a class with these types of courseware. Instructors can create modified pages for these students which allow them the same benefits as their peers, but helps them learn and understand at a more convenient pace.

One of the greatest benefits to using online courseware is that it allows students to be a part of a fully functioning class without having to take the time to physically report to a classroom. For higher level learning students this is especially beneficial. A lack of time or means to get to a class can often deter students from enrolling. Online courseware gives them the opportunity to take the classes of their choice. Another benefit is the chance to study a course that may not be offered at a student's learning institution. Via the internet, that student may be able to enroll and partcipate in a program offered at a university 5 states away. Online courseware opens up the possibility of studying around the world.

The Challenges of Using Online Courseware

As with most online learning options, online courseware also has its challenges. These include:
  • Lack of funding to make courseware available to all students
  • Poorly updated systems which makes running the programs difficult
  • Lack of program knowledge on the part of the instructor
  • Lack of program knowledge on the part of the students
  • IT maintenence which causes the system to be shut down for periods of time
  • Maintaining constant contact with peers and instructors to make sure all requirements for course are met
  • Inaccurate information being shared
  • Creating a secure site for students to use that protects their information
  • Lack of basic comupter skills which may cause great frustration (see clip below)


*Lack of computer knowledge=great frustration*

Special Guidance for Using Online Courseware

Before a student or instructor should begin using any online courseware, they should make sure they have a strong working knowlege of computer skills, online navigation, virtual interraction, and communication skills. Online courses and programs can become difficult to manage and navigate if these abilities are not in place. help.jpe

Enrolling in a tutorial course, seeking additional help outside of the class, and identifying and utilizing the technology maintanance/help service will grealy benefit all those participating in a class using online courseware.
If, at any point in time, questions or concerns arise, students should immediately address them, otherwise the workload may become overwhelming, or understanding of future assignments can be jepordized.



Research on Online Courseware

*Global Courseware
"Sometimes when you're in need of current information on online courseware it's hard to sort the good advice from the bad advice. There's so much admonitory advice available on online courseware that it's often very hard to know where to start. When we establish this database of knowledge we knew that we would be thrilled in providing you the appurtenant locations for online courseware, we believe we have achieved that."berkman.jpg

Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law
"a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development."

Cornell University Blog
"the latest news about all things online learning"


Online Courseware Lesson Ideas

While some courseware programs come with example lesson plans and guides on setting up online courses, instructors are still able to create classrooms with their own personal touch.

At the elementary school level, courseware programs can be constructed very similarly to a webquest. Using a 5th grade classroom as an example, Art can easily be turned into an online courseware class. During their studyhall or art class period, students would be able to log onto their class page and become engaged in the unit. If students were studying a semester long unit on Spanish artists, for example, they would be able to click on the assignment for the day, read the information for that period, link to online museums or sites, create their own art documents in Microsoft Paint, complete a short quiz on what they have learned, and then look ahead to what will be expected of them over the next few weeks.

There are endless possibilities of lesson plans and ideas that can be constructed with online courseware programs. From the kindgergarten level, working on letter recognition, to the advanced collegate degree, studying nanowave technology, these courses open up a world of possibility for learning and assessment.

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-If you let a student learn on their own they will astound even themselves-



Online Courseware Links

Online Learning History
A website that gives a great overall view of the history of online learning.
Includes plenty of links to additional information and highlights key facts.

Desire to Learn
Marquette University's online courseware program.

Blackboard
A free service that allows instructors to add an online component to their classes (K-12+) or even teach their entire course online.

Carnegie Knowledge Media Lab
The Knowledge Laboratory works to create a future in which communities of teachers, faculty, programs, and institutions collectively advance teaching and learning by exchanging their educational knowledge, experiences, ideas, and reflections by taking advantage of various technologies and resources.

eSchoolnews
First published in March of 1998, eSchool News is a monthly print newspaper providing the news and information necessary to help K-20 decision-makers successfully use technology and the internet to transform North America's schools and colleges and achieve educational goals.

Techlearning
The Technology & Learning Network encompasses Technology & Learning magazine, techlearning.com, and Technology & Learning Events. These companion media offer online, conference, and print avenues for providing administrators, technology professionals, and teachers with comprehensive, relevant, and authoritative information on technology trends, new products, news, and funding sources for their technology programs. TLN is a full-spectrum education technology resource for education technology leaders.

CETIS: The Center for Educational Technology & Interoperational Standards
CETIS provides a national research and development service to UK Higher and Post-16 Education sectors, funded by the JISC(the Joint Information Systems Committee). This includes providing strategic advice to JISC, supporting its development programmes, representing it on international standardisation initiatives, and working with the wider educational community to facilitate the use of standards-based eLearning, especially through special interest groups.