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Inside Iowa State
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August 31, 2001

Ecademy could compel more profs to put courses online

by Anne Krapfl
A Web-based teaching/learning system could bring huge cost savings for an ISU student service that captions class lectures for students with hearing disabilities. Its also an alternative for faculty who want to put their courses online.

Ecademy is an evolving research project of Pete Boysen, a systems analyst with Academic Information Technologies (AIT). Originally created to help a U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation unit train people in numerous locations online, Ecademy has the potential to meet other needs.

Iowa States Disability Resources, which hires off-campus stenographers to provide real-time captioning of class lectures for hearing-disabled students, spends thousands of dollars each month for long-distance phone service, currently the link between instructor, captioner and student.

The audio tool in Ecademy could cut costs by replacing the long-distance phone calls with Internet communication instead. Boysen has run several tests this summer with university-contracted stenographers around the country. One of the difficulties hes tackling is the unreliability of the Internet when traffic is heavy, which translates to transmitted voices fading or being cut off. Still, Disability Resources hopes to pilot Ecademy software with one student and one course this fall.

In addition to instruction, Boysen said Ecademy would be useful to professional groups that want to meet without actually traveling. The systems communication aides would allow for online meeting discussions; messaging; sharing items as varied as line sketches, math equations or text documents; and collaborative editing of the shared items.

The next level
Dorothy Lewis, interim director of AIT, calls Ecademy the next generation of development for Web-based classes.

Its less production-oriented and more of a research project, for people who want to do something beyond WebCT, Blackboard, ClassNet some of the other (Web-based) programs we support, she said. Pete is trying to develop flexibility into the course modules and making modifications as he goes.

Boysen, who developed ClassNet in 1995, originally for a weather forecasting assignment in an online meteorology course, agreed that programs like ClassNet and WebCT are good for faculty who are getting started in online instruction.

Boysen is working in the Java programming language to develop Ecademy, which makes it possible to create more functional and interactive educational tools than can be used with a standard Web browser interface.

Its course management tools include a syllabus, gradebook, news updates, FAQ site, schedule, test, test bank (list of questions that are randomly grouped), glossary and table of contents for a course. Ecademy, through audio and visuals, walks the creator through building various documents on the Ecademy server for an online class. Boysen said the authoring tools are designed to speed the development of high-quality Web pages by faculty or their office staff and reduce the need for additional Web developers.

Boysen readily admits Ecademy is a work in progress. Hes still testing several of the tools, modifying others and building new ones, based on past requests from faculty. He said he welcomes suggestions for additional tools for Ecademy.

Ecademy works well with the Windows operating system and personal computers; on Macintosh computers, it requires at least a 10.0 operating system.

For more information on Ecademy, or if youre interested in testing some of its tools, contact Boysen, 4-6663.

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Published by: University Relations,
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