1999 Final Report
Below is the complete text of the final report for the Litonline team's courseware project. Each of the 6 original goals is weighed.
ENG 112 Courseware Project Final Report
The ENG 112 Courseware Project team includes Eric Hibbison, Project Director; Donna Reiss, Founding Director; Rosalind Blunt, Ron Carter, and Cathy Simpson. The course home page is at-- http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us.
This project had 6 goals. Here's what we've accomplished for each one between May 15, 1998, and January 31, 1999. To see samples mentioned in this report, point your browser to the site address above, click on the site map ("contents") link, and look down the genre column for the title mentioned.
Goal 1: Increasing the interactivity of lessons. Method: College-to-college responses to WebBoard and FrontPage 98 forums on specific works read simultaneously by at least 2 classes.
Interactions that occurred during this grant period came mostly under our proposal category of "cooperative projects" from two or more colleges:
Evaluation: Two sections of online ENG 112 collaborated in summer and fall on the TCC WebBoard, with a few students from the RCC online section adding comments late during the Summer. Instructors randomly assigned students to one of four questions. In the fall, 1998, effort 20 responses were logged for question 1, 17 for 2, 16 for 3, and 13 for 4. 18 summaries were posted separately in response to the third step in the sequence of 3 postings each student needed to complete for full credit. Students were told to write "about 150 words" (TCC) or "10 to 20 lines" of commentary (JSRCC) to answer the question assigned. Student participation was graded as a checkmark for full completion (TCC) or up to 20 points as a quiz grade (JSR).
Six students responded to the "Assessment" question: Reply to this topic with a few sentences to assess the use of this collaborative discussion to expand your understanding of the poem and the topic. Was it helpful? If so, how and why? If not, why not? You are welcome to select "Anonymous" from the check boxes under the topic box.
Five of the six stated that the experience was enjoyable, "useful," or "beneficial." Reasons included the chance to see diverse opinions (unusual for a distance education course, one noted), to see more than the instructor's views, and to see underscored that well supported interpretation matters more than a "right" or "wrong" answer. Complaints were logistical rather than centering on the use of a writing forum--server down time and lack of threading clearly. One student did complain that some respondents only amplified the views of others or of the poem's speaker rather than giving "their own views" on love.
One student suggested in this anonymous assessment response that the course instructors should also respond to the question or to students' submissions in some way, so Hibbison and Reiss added their own commentary to each of the four basic questions after the final deadline for student responses.
In the JSRCC section, only students who actually finished the entire course with passing grades completed this "Dover Beach" collaborative assignment in early to mid-October, 1998. Grades ranged from 5 to 23 points out of 20, depending on whether students fell shy of or exceeded the grading expectations for the 3 tasks. The bi-modal distribution of grades showed either meager to minimal participation or thorough and superlative participation by students.
Comparison of the answers for question 2 between the summer and fall uses of the WebBoard indicates that the fall answers were generally more plentiful (due to larger enrollment and therefore larger participation) but also more substantial.
These other subgoals from our proposal were also met in the ways stated below:
The English Peer Conference Workshop
On October 16, 1998, four team members presented a hands-on workshop to orient interested faculty to using Litonline resources in their own courses. Approximately 10 faculty stayed for the entire workshop with 8 submitting completed evaluation forms and 9 contributing to a trial of WebBoard by reading the "Dover Beach" WebBoard site and commenting on its potential in their pedagogy.
Seven of the eight rated the workshop "excellent"; the one who rated in "very good" thought the workshop objectives were too broad. A few wanted to learn how to make WebBoard or Front Page forums themselves--including the convention keynoter who participated.
Comments at the WebBoard praised the specific assignment's structure and ability to clarify students' thinking by means of peers' comments. Specifically, one praised the synthesis required of students who were required to summarize all comments about a question submitted by the first deadline of the assignment. Another praised the independence of thought in the student comments that she read at the WebBoard site. A third praised the "degree to which [such a forum] insures active student involvement with the literary text as well as participation in discussion with other students." One adjunct teacher who uses groups in class noted that online forums would allow him to "hear" everyone's thinking and not just that of a few in a room heard as he walks among groups.
Also see Appendix A for a list of interactive features built into the Litonline webs.
Goal 2: Replacing the "scratch pads" in some modules that had been placed there to elicit first impressions of students working through the lessons. Method: Downloadable files and forms for email and database submission.
Cathy Simpson has her students use the questions in her fiction module, "Understanding Fiction," to make an electronic journal. She and Hibbison developed a format for signaling writing tasks during a lesson that replaced a form (on a server without an email function) with a one-cell table and icon (e.g. a royalty-free photo of a hand on a keyboard) smaller than 20 Kb. The typing hand icon at left is used throughout the instructional modules to signal a writing task.
The project team also saw the benefit of gathering such questions from a website and packaging them in a downloadable file to which students would simply add their answers on the word processor contained on whatever computer they used to work the module. So we have begun to add files in Word 7 (.doc), Rich Text Format (.rtf), and Text with Line Breaks (.txt) to the modules that have questions designed to elicit preliminary thinking about one work of literature and the process of reading. One sample of a set of links that students can use to open the word processor on their computer and begin typing is at page 3 of "Understanding Poetry." Most instructional modules have these files linked from their sitemaps.
Finally, due to a relocation of the website to a new server with a new server master, we can now have our students complete forms and "Submit" their responses directly to our email addresses, in addition to being preserved at the website. Our first use of this new capability was to ask our previous students (summer, 1997, through fall, 1998) to complete and submit an evaluation form for their experience with Litonline.
Evaluation: Team members sent email and regular mail requests to all of their former students in December asking them to fill out a survey with a set of mostly open-ended questions by 1/4/99. Responses went to Hibbison's email address in the form of an .html definition list, as well as to a tab-delimited file on the server. Of the nearly 300 students who have been enrolled in Litonline sections at the five college campuses since Summer, 1997, nineteen responded. Most respondents to the form at-- http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/evaluati.htm took the online section of ENG 112 during 1998; 13 of the 19 were enrolled in fall, 1998. None of the students reported a learning disability on this anonymous form; 5 answered that they have taken an online course since taking the Litonline section of ENG 112.
All respondents noted that they enrolled because of the flexibility of time use for the course--although a couple needed to adjust from a schedule of weekly due dates to exact and incremental due dates during a week. All respondents stated that the online version is either "hard work" or harder than the distance education or on-campus courses they'd had previously. All respondents agreed that they would recommend the Litonline version of ENG 112 to peers--or stated that they had already--if and only if the student were disciplined and didn't mind working hard.
These results parallel those found by Stanley Kroder, Jayne Suess, and David Sachs in "Lessons in Launching Web-based Graduate Courses" (T.H.E. Journal May 1998: 66-69). Their "post-class survey" also turned up reports by students and teachers that their Web course took more time than an on-campus class, largely due to time spent on their WebBoard forums for reading. They also saw a claim that some of us have seen in students' comments after the course--that students in Web-based courses can access their instructors and felt more able to approach the course instructor than they did in their on-campus classes (68).
Goal 3: Revising existing modules.
This massive undertaking began and continues with evolving a style guide and slowly regularizing the look of the various webs. All of the instructional webs and nearly all of the discussion forums now follow the same model--a central (photo)graphic image surrounded by major links for the site. A style template for the core webs is linked from the Credits page. For samples, see the Litonline root web cover http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/ and covers for the "Barn Burning" and "2 Ballads" forums.
One "shortcut" developed this summer is to add resources to forums rather than to make a separate module about each reading assignment in a course. (FP98 facilitates this process.) For example, the "2 Ballads" forum incorporates background on the 1963 Birmingham bombing that killed four little girls. One variation of this "shortcut" that allows us to mix Litonline sites with others is to place background resources inside Litonline. The "Dover Beach" site, which supplements the WebBoard site at TCC, includes references that allow users to look at 2-D and 360-degree views of Dover, England, that were made by the town council.
Three acceptable designs for a navigation bar have been drafted, with encouragement to each author to include graphics appropriate to their site, such as "rose" icons that point left, right, and up for the site on "A Rose for Emily" to mark links to the previous and next pages, plus the site map for that web. A set of navigation links was added to the revised "Understanding Drama" web.
Other incremental changes have slightly increased the unification of appearance for the Litonline website that students and other reviewers have noted should be used to characterize the Litonline webs.
Via email the team traded references to more a dozen other Internet sites for their design features, resources, or free graphics. Team members also continued to share evaluations of modules from their students to the author of the site. Over the past 10 months of using the instructional modules (now 11 in number), dozens of critiques have been transmitted with hundreds of comments and suggestions. The team continues to process these suggestions, using the feasible and most helpful to make changes for content and clarity on individual pages and occasionally across an entire web site.
The team has resisted the advice to make the modules use the same background and color scheme, opting instead for backgrounds and colors and arrangements of material that seem appropriate for the topic. For instance, the cloud background for the module and forum that concern "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" makes more sense for those two webs than the beige background chosen for the root web. Similarly, the permissioned movie stills in the web on The Glass Menagerie are strikingly different from the graphics used in all other modules.
Style Guide and Templates: To facilitate the revising process, a survey of the team was conducted about some design options. Agreement and results of that survey and the subsequent email and videoconference discussions it provoked are embodied in a draft style guide embedded in the root web of the Litonline site. See <http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/StyleGid.htm>
The team also has a few experimental pages embedded in the root web of Litonline for demonstrating features of FP98, such as a "banner" that will show multiple images in one spot on a page. Some features, such as page-turning effects familiar to users of Power Point, look terrible on the slower, modem-fed computers students (and faculty) have in their homes.
Other subgoals for revision led to these activities:
Evaluation: Kathy Kleppin and Julia Harbeck reviewed Hibbison's syllabus in October, 1998. Although most of the comments concerned editing design features of selected pages, Kleppin did praise the introductory voice greeting, the student information form, the advice on student success, and she inferred much of what happens at the introductory meeting for that section. It's unfortunate that time did not permit more intense scrutiny of the Litonline website itself, but her comments suggest that much needs to be done to clarify for colleagues who might want to use the Litonline resources exactly how to go about doing that.
Goal 4: Get and learn a gradebook in order to put grades online anonymously.
Micrograde from Chariot Software Group was purchased with grant funds and delivered to all 5 team members. Two, however, work at a college unit that forbids posting of students' grades in any form. Hibbison uses the software as his default gradebook, but he maintains a separate grade roster, posting grades by student-selected nicknames. See-- http://www.jsr.cc.va.us/staff/ehibbison/112onlin.syl/grades.htm
Goal 5: Increasing contact with and among students with videoconferencing, WebBoard, vclitol (listserv for faculty), webfolios, and possibly a student listserv.
Donna Reiss has been instrumental in making progress on this goal. She and the student assistant at TCC-VB, Sadie Cornell, tested videoconferencing capabilities. We used NetMeeting at the suggestion of Leslie Smith and Ron Carter of RCC; most of the team has tried it out in 2s or 3s. Although NetMeeting, a free downloadable software from Microsoft, seems superior in video and sound quality to Connectix software that ships with its camera, the superiority comes mostly from establishing a direct TCP/IP link. NetMeeting will support multiple users for chat and whiteboard, but it supports only two-way video and audio.
Technical support at each campus did install the videocamera, if a new one was purchased, or gave ready access to a team member to use an existing videocamera and microphone for videoconferencing.
Donna also established the WebBoard asynchronous discussion site used or viewed by the team for the "Dover Beach" interaction that involved student input from 3 of the 4 colleges which have online sections this summer.
Donna also revived the vclitol-fac listserv <firstname.lastname@example.org>, which we plan to introduce to faculty who attend our pre-convention training session for using Litonline at the upcoming VCCS English Peer Conference. That notice was sent today, along with announcement of an online copy of this report. (See Appendix B for a copy of the email.)
Donna is currently in progress converting sample student essays to .pdf files using Adobe Acrobat, an authoring software that has users download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free to view files.
Because of the jumpiness and unreliability of the videoconferencing images on a pc using freeware to make connections between camera-equipped pcs, we don't plan to use this feature for conferencing with students. Compressed video meetings among ourselves would be more cumbersome to set up but more efficient. We did get to the point, however, where three of use could be linked together and share a whiteboard in NetMeeting.
Goal 6: CD-ROMs, even hybrids, vs. the Internet
These have been the slowest and most cumbersome of the purchases. Ron Carter considered the "American Poetry" CD-ROM, which required specific screen resolution and a specific, older version of "Quick Time for Windows," which it installs itself, to work.
"Shakespeare's Life and Times" was available only for the MAC. Instead, we purchased two other CD-ROMs on social and cultural leaders. A CD-ROM on "A Doll's House" was ordered from Annenberg/CPB for Rosalind Blunt to augment her own CD-ROM on that Ibsen play, which she is doing collaboratively with Robert Brown of NVCC-Loudoun. Her CD-ROM on "The Glass Menagerie" was adapted as her website for Litonline. This collaboration should tested the issues involved with making a hybrid CD-ROM that would also access the Internet to locate specific, relevant resources.
Although JSRCC and other colleges represented by Litonline team have the capacity to make CD-ROMs, the technology is still very volatile, able to copy only the cleanest of CD-ROMs, for instance. Until Web 2 is completed, though, CD-ROMs and hybrid CD-ROMs are the best way to share large volumes of music and video, as well as huge amounts of text.
Research and Recommendations
Litonline is a viable resource and it should stay viable for at least a few years even in its present condition, but it should become a living resource, a growing archive of high-quality pedagogical instruments to serve teachers interested in literature and critical thinking. After all, it has helped us on the Litonline team to shift paradigms even more and faster than we might have had we remained classroom teachers only. The benefits of increased participation, even by shy students, and the independence and flexibility that this form of distance education demands of its teachers and students all help foster a more interactive kind of education.
Interactive Features in Litonline
Email to ENG Peer Litonline Workshop Attendees
Thanks for attending our workshop at the ENG Peer Conference on October 16, 1998. The Litonline team's final report is nearly done and will be posted as a link on our cover page for a while. (If you have WordPad or Word 7 on your online computer and click on the report link at http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us the report should open in your computer's word processor.)
If you would like to join the listserv for Litonline for a while, you would have one way of "listening to" and contacting other teachers of ENG 112. Our current topic is arranging sharing some of the forums this semester. Cathy Simpson (NVCC) and Eric Hibbison (JSRCC) just had their classes visit the "Trifles" forum. We just assigned each of our active students to one of four questions during the week when our online classes are reading the play and working through Ron Carter's (RCC) online study guide at--
Cathy made it optional for her 42 students (yes, 42 NVCC students enrolled in an online section), while Eric made it mandatory as a "quiz" grade equivalent for his 15 students. Take a look at the directions given to students and the results at--
To join the Litonline listserv via your emailer, do the following--
1. Send an email message to the server asking to join: Format it exactly as follows, filling in the "your" stuff, of course--
FROM: your email address
subscribe vclitol-fac youremailaddress
2. That is, the server address goes in your email message's TO: line, your email address is probably already in the FROM: line. The SUBJECT: line stays blank, even if your emailer says that's weird. The only message is your subscription request that end with your email address.
It's not a very active listserv at the moment, but you can change that if you wish by sharing this message with your colleagues who teach ENG 112.
To send an email message or question to the listserv, whether you have subscribed or not, put this in the TO: line--
As of this moment, the only subscribers of this listserv at the 5 faculty who made the Litonline site--
Donna Reiss (TCC)(founding project director), Rosalind Blunt (NVCC-Loudoun), Ron Carter (RCC), Cathy Simpson (NVCC), and Eric Hibbison (current project director).
We hope you'll join the fun, and visit the website at--