The Role of Colleges of Education in the Selection and Implementation of Web-based Course Management Systems: An Interview with Nancy Cooley

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How can college of education faculty members provide campus leadership for the integration of technology into teaching and learning and, specifically, how can they assist their colleagues across their campuses with the selection and implementation of Web-based course management systems (WCMS)?

This question had its origins in a January, 2000, audio interview conducted on the web by Steve Gilbert, President of the TLT Group. He interviewed Nancy Cooley, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Ferris State University in Michigan, about how colleges of education might serve as campus resources for the integration of technology into teaching and learning. Gilbert said:

"We tried to put together this session because increasingly I've discovered that our work in helping colleges and universities develop Centers for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, and Teaching, Learning and Technology Roundtables, and Virtual Centers for Teaching, Learning, and Technology have pointed out a shortage in resources to help faculty think about the different educational possibilities and the pedagogical options that are available to them. As we explore that shortage and that need, it occurred to me that it would be valuable to consider the resources that might be available from a school of education (Gilbert, Steve Gilbert Interview with Nancy Cooley, January, 2000)

I recently taught an on-line course sponsored by the TLT Group and the Rochester Institute of Technology designed to help personnel at colleges and universities learn more about WCMS. The course included an audio interview with Nancy Cooley, and this article is a modification of that (Ansorge, April 3, 2000) interview.

Charles Ansorge [CA]: Nancy, we are interested in learning how the latest Web-course management systems may be effectively used to promote good teaching and student learning. In your role as the Dean of the College of Education at Ferris State, you are in a unique position to talk about this topic. What role does a Web-based course management system play in enhancing teaching and learning?

Nancy Cooley [NC]: A Web-course management system is really just a medium of instruction, so its success in promoting good teaching and learning depends on how the technology is used and the knowledge and the skill of the faculty member using it. There is nothing inherent in the technology itself that will facilitate teaching and learning. However, each medium has characteristics that influence its ease of use and its potential to transform teaching and learning. It is possible for this technology to lead faculty into an entirely new type of pedagogy, such as archived Web-casts and on-line courses. There's quite a range of ways that the technology can be used to help promote teaching and learning. A lot of the features in Web-course management systems have the potential to support instruction in some powerful ways. To see some of that potential, we could consider three different pedagogical principles and how those Web-based course management systems would support them.

The first principle is that good instruction starts with the learner. It makes learning relevant by building on learners' prior knowledge and experiences and it adapts to their individual needs, their learning styles, and their interests. It might make it possible for students to get some extra practice in their weak areas, or possibly to extend their knowledge beyond the course requirements if they're more advanced or if their desire to learn has been stimulated beyond the scope of the core course. Web-based course management systems have the potential to individualize learning through on-line assessment of current achievement levels, determination of learner needs, and links to features and content areas to promote further learning. Alternatively, the WCMS may simply automate some of the routine administrative aspects of teaching and thus free the instructor to provide individualized help to the students. One of the beauties of Web-course management systems is that they provide so much organization and convenience in supporting multiple sources and modes of delivery in the classroom. The systems can organize incredible amounts and types of information and provide logical sequencing, branching, and hyper-linking. I've seen simulations that convey complex processes in such a nice way, and students immediately grasp them, such as blood circulating through the body.

The second principle would be that good instruction promotes active engagement. Content really just represents an opportunity for learning. The real learning happens when the students engage in some meaningful way with that content. As Kent & MacNergney (1999) pointed out, "We don't turn students loose in the library and expect them to benefit spontaneously from the vast resources that are contained on the shelves" (p. 59). Students can't be expected to shape their own learning just because they have access to a digital network or any other repository of content. The students need to do something with the content. With Web-course management systems, there are opportunities for students to actively search for, access, interpret, and in other ways use the instructor-prepared materials and the resources from the Internet. As with any learning medium, faculty using WCMS must plan to promote students' active engagement with the content.

A third principle is that good instruction promotes communication and interaction, both among the students and between the faculty and student. The Web-course management system provides a forum for the exchange of ideas, thereby incorporating the affective side of the high-tech environment by supporting human needs for connection and interaction. Some of the features I know that faculty are finding very attractive are the shared white boards, chat rooms, and threaded discussion lists, and the students particularly enjoy the on-line "student lounge," where they can continue with some non-academic social interaction. As with other extracurricular activities, on-line social interaction can have an indirect positive influence on motivation and learning.

CA: I'm presuming, based upon what you've said, that you have a Web-course management system that's available at Ferris State University.

NC: Ferris has been working with faculty to help them move their materials to WebCT under the direction of Henryk Marcinkiewicz, our Director for the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development. Approximately 200 faculty members have now put materials up on WebCT. That's roughly 40% of our faculty, and they did that really within 18 months. Within that time there were over 6,000 students using it. One nice indirect result we've seen of that is that it has improved faculty development in general. In fact, we learned on April 3, 2000 that Ferris has received a Theodore M. Hesburg Certificate of Excellence for faculty development training.

CA: Describe the impact of using WebCT on instruction at Ferris. What changes, if any, may be attributed to the Web-course management system you selected?

NC: At Ferris we do have some anecdotal and survey evidence. The first question that was asked of the faculty who participated was, "How would you use this to support your goals?" People had to think what their goals were, and then how the technology might enhance what they were trying to do. The goal of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development in supporting the Web-based course management system was to increase reflective teaching and to increase communication among faculty on campus about teaching and learning, particularly centered around the development of Web-based instruction. They have conducted follow-up surveys and they're finding that faculty are enthusiastic about the experiences that they've had in integrating technology into their instruction, either into a personal Web page or into a more full-blown Web-based course. The fact that growing numbers are beginning to get involved and use this WCM system is encouraging.

CA: I'm going to shift things a bit, and again put you back in your position as dean of a college of education, and have you talk about how faculty in your college might be in a unique position to be able to assist in the selection and implementation of a Web-course management system for a campus. College of education faculty may not always be highly regarded as campus leaders in using instructional technology, but it would seem that their pedagogical training would enable them to make unique contributions.


NC: College of education faculty are increasingly valued as the focus of instructional technology moves away from personal productivity tools to the pedagogical aspects of integrating web-based tools into teaching and learning. In the early stages of computer-based technologies, faculty in colleges of business were the logical resources to teach people how to use spreadsheets, databases, and word processing applications. They often had computer labs in place and were entrepreneurial in the way they leveraged their resources to make money from computer training workshops. Colleges of education did not typically have this type of equipment or the entrepreneurial inclinations, and because the early emphasis was on the technology instead of the teaching and learning, many education faculty were reluctant to get involved (See Cooley and Johnston, 2000a and 2000b). However, the focus has more recently shifted to the web, the Internet, and other collaborative software, which can more readily be used to support the achievement of teaching and learning outcomes. With this shift has come the recognition that college of education faculty have significant interest and expertise in the area of pedagogy.

In 1995 education professor Kitty Manley was one of the first Ferris faculty to have her own web page that students could use to access course information. At the time our university was not putting personal web pages on the Ferris server, so Manley developed her page and paid to have it placed on a commercial server. Because the equipment was not available in the college, she used her own computer and projection device to deliver Power Point presentations in every class for over five years, and for four years before that she owned a black box that connected her computer to a television. She still maintains that page and links it to the Ferris server. Similarly, another professor in the school of education, Thomas Anderson, produced his own Web page prior to the Ferris decision to adopt WebCT. I recently received a copy of an e-mail message from a faculty member in the Ferris Manufacturing Engineering Technology program who thanked Dr. Anderson for helping him learn how to use WebCT. Dr. Anderson had spent personal time helping the engineering technology professor, and many others, learn how use WebCT.

On the Ferris State campus, there are many examples of education faculty members who are campus leaders in the use of educational technology . Similarly, I know that you have colleagues in Teachers College at your institution who are highly regarded for the contributions they made and are continuing to make in the area of instructional technology. I understand some of your faculty at the University of Nebraska are exploring the use of wireless notebooks, taking the leadership in developing online resources to promote student learning, and establishing educator competencies in technology. (,, and It is clear that college of education faculty take pride in their ability to teach with technology, and that their passion for teaching extends beyond their official class lists.

In addition to the intrinsic rewards, I am working to develop other incentives and rewards for our faculty. For example, our college recently submitted a planning proposal to develop a strategic business unit for Web course development campus-wide. Because I recently aligned the Dean's Recognition Award with our strategic goals, and one goal is the use of technology in teaching and learning, it will now be possible for faculty to receive recognition and a cash award for their work in this area.

As a campus prepares to select a WCMS, faculty in the college of education can help develop and conduct a needs analysis. We've been involved in K-12 technology training projects, and we're familiar with content and pedagogical standards. In the state of Michigan, there's a standard for the use of technology by pre-service teachers, who must meet that standard before they can be certified to teach. We could help with the design and development of a product rating scale, so that people can compare one WCMS against another, and help in the product review and selection. Once the selection decision has been made, we can help with the design and delivery of initial faculty training, ongoing training and support, and the assessment of the initiative. Institutions will often implement a new approach but not think about assessment until a lot farther down the road, and by then it's hard to gather the type of information necessary to conduct a good evaluation.

At some institutions there are teams who will put together materials for a course, our college of education faculty would be valuable members of a Web-course development team. We could provide peer demonstrations and modeling. We teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level on how to teach with the technology, and people across campus would be welcome to visit our classrooms. If people were open to that phase, we could provide peer critique and feedback on the materials that they had developed, particularly from the pedagogical and the technological standards perspective (such as appropriate size of the text for overhead projection).

CA: Before we close, what final considerations do you have for those who will be involved in selecting a Web-course management system for their campus?

NC: In the past, faculty members preferred low-tech tools because they were simple and responsive to their teacher-defined problems in daily instruction. They rejected some of the high-tech tools because of their inflexibility, but with Web-course management systems, the faculty have so much control that they're becoming more enthusiastic and more motivated to use these. They can create and share their content and resources, and they can incorporate materials developed by others.

CA: Nancy, thank you very much for visiting with me today.


Ansorge, C.J. (2000). Charles Ansorge and Nancy Cooley Interview. Unpublished interview. Available on-line at

Cooley, N. and Johnston, M. (2000a). "Beyond teacher bashing: Practical, philosophical, and pedagogical influences on educators' use of educational technologies." Technology Source. July/August. Available on-line at

Cooley, N. and Johnston, M. (2000b). "Why can't we just get on with it? Forces in P-16 educati8on that complicate the integration of technology into teaching and learning." Technology Source. September/October. Available on-line at

Gilbert, S. (2000). Steve Gilbert and Nancy Cooley Interview. Unpublished interview. Available on-line at

Kent, T. and McNergney, R. (1999) Will technology really change education? From blackboard to Web. Thousand Oaks,