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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 31, 2006

Campus migration to WebCT Vista has begun

by Diana Pounds

If all goes according to plan, veterinary medicine students will have a one-stop online shop for all class work by next fall. All electronic course materials will be on the same system rather than scattered among an online curriculum database, a network drive and separate WebCT sites. Every veterinary medicine class will include a WebCT site, with a syllabus and other course materials.

Larry Booth

Vet Med faculty member Larry Booth is helping set up "course shells" in Vista for fall semester use. Photo by Bob Elbert.

And that's just for starters. Eventually, veterinary medicine students may take nearly all tests online. Toting laptops into midterms and finals, they'll take multimedia exams that are a far cry from the old bubblesheet tests. The test takers might, for example, be asked to identify a disease after viewing images and video of the condition. Or perhaps they'll be required to interpret the significance of audio clips of heart and lung sounds.

The innovations under way in the College of Veterinary Medicine are made possible by the latest electronic-learning system on campus -- WebCT Vista.

Hailed by ISU instruction technology experts as the next big thing in e-learning systems, Vista is more than a mere software sequel to WebCT, which currently is used in 2,100 classes and projects across the university.

Hub of electronic learning

Currently, a WebCT course exists in a silo, said Allan Schmidt, assistant director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Class activities and work stay in that silo. When the semester is over, the instructor resets and starts over. There's no connection between other courses or semesters.

Vista breaks down the silos, allowing virtual collaboration among classes, departments and colleges, Schmidt said.

"This is going to become the hub of all electronic learning," Schmidt said. "WebCT will move instruction software from an individual faculty tool to a campus-wide tool that crosses all parts of the virtual university."

Vet Med pioneers new system

Helping the Veterinary Medicine college take advantage of the new features in WebCT Vista are Larry Booth, associate professor in veterinary clinical sciences and director of veterinary education and technology services, and Carroll Altman, the college's instructional design specialist.

WebCT has been under-utilized in Veterinary Medicine, Booth said. No more. The Vista version allows Booth and his technology team to do the initial set-up work on WebCT course shells for the entire college.

"To save faculty time and effort, we're streamlining the process of setting up course shells by using a basic template and tool set," he said. "We plan to complete this process for every course by fall."

Booth sees much promise in Vista's new "repository" feature, which allows the college to share course content and resources across courses. As an example, he pointed out that "normal blood and serum chemistry values," standards set by the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Clinical Pathology Laboratory, often are needed by students in physiology, medicine or clinical pathology classes. Rather than posting that information within every individual WebCT course, he said, it's easier and more efficient to post it once to a central repository folder, where it is accessible to all faculty.

The prospect of sharing course materials with selected classes has spurred interest among ISU library staff.

Easy access to reserves

"We're talking about a way to put electronic reserves in WebCT so only students in the specified course can see them," said David Baldwin, library associate dean for reference and instruction.

That kind of set-up is convenient for students, who can use a single sign-on to access their WebCT course materials and any reserve items, Baldwin said.

It also may be easier on the library budget. If the library can make electronic journals available only to specific classes or groups -- rather than the world -- copyright permission costs may be reduced, Baldwin said.

Baldwin added that Library 160, a course taken by 6,000 students each year, will be on the new WebCT Vista system this fall.

Randal Dalhoff, assistant director in Information Technology Services, said Library 160 and other classes with many sections will be much easier to manage under Vista.

"With the current WebCT, whenever they make one change, they have to log into every section and repeat it," he said. "Under Vista, they just change a template and all sections are updated automatically."

Project partners: ITS and CELT

Two ISU units -- Information Technology Services and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching -- partnered to bring WebCT Vista to Iowa State.

"Vista brings a rich set of instructional tools to campus," said Jim Davis, chief information officer and leader of ITS. "It allows seamless integration of new technologies into one platform." Electronic portfolios and classroom clickers are two examples of technologies that fit well with the Vista platform, he added.

CELT director Corly Brooke sees much promise in WebCT Vista. "We have already begun our plans for faculty and staff development to maximize the teaching and learning potential of this comprehensive course management system," she said.

Migrating to Vista

CELT and ITS staff will offer training sessions beginning this summer and extending through spring semester 2007 to help faculty and staff learn to use WebCT Vista. Moving WebCT files to the WebCT Vista format can be done in a few minutes, Schmidt said. However, he added, WebCT users then will need to spend an hour or so getting accustomed to the new navigation structure.

Schmidt said faculty and staff will be able to use either WebCT 4.1. or Vista from fall 2006 through spring 2007. The goal is to move all users to Vista before summer 2007.

Town hall meeting

Faculty and staff can get more information about Vista and provide input about the coming transition from WebCT 4 to Vista during a "town hall" meeting April 17. The meeting is from noon to 1 p.m. in 1230 Communications Building. To sign up, contact, 4-5357.

Preview demo course

To preview a demo Vista course or get more information about Vista, visit the web site at


WebCT Vista breaks down the silos of the current WebCT system, allowing virtual collaboration among classes, departments and colleges.