Digital Media with the WebCT Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
This advice document aims to introduce WebCT and how you can use digital media to support your WebCT course content. We will look at why digital media can enhance the teaching and learning experience.
WebCT is a proprietary Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) widely used by FE/HE institutions across the globe to enable and support online learning. It consists of manageable areas for structuring course content and tools to support asynchronous and synchronous learning. It requires the internet and is used for face to face, blended learning and distance learning. It was originally developed by academics hence its pedagogical focus and uptake by the education establishment. It is now owned by the creators of the Blackboard VLE and the name is being phased out. WebCT allows authenticated access to course(s) based on various permissions. It has a comprehensive set of tools that facilitate learning using a range of learning modes including communication, discussion, access to content and assessment. Many of these tools support the three digital media this document is concerned with: still images, moving image and audio resources. Detailed information about VLE’s in general can be found in our ‘Use of VLEs with Digital Media’ advice document
Using digital media in WebCT
WebCT acts as a secure shell that supports different types of content and course management. Digital media learning objects can be embedded and/or linked to, enabling the enhancement of course content. Understanding how digital media fits into your course is as much about understanding what you are trying to achieve (learning objectives) as it is about the actual file type. The digital media itself may form core activities that support a range of learning including peer review, demonstrations and submission. Until recently most VLE content was predominately text-based. However, this is now changing due to a number of factors:
- Increase of affordable hardware to capture still image, moving image and audio
- Increase in the use of a blended learning approach
- Digital media is now widely recognised as having benefits to learning
- User-generated content is rapidly growing and available for re-use
- Learner engagement can be increased by appealing to different learning styles within the student cohort
- It is now easier than ever to embed content (Media players for audio/video, APIs and RSS to push/pull content etc)
- Web-based software/services are constantly emerging which provide powerful features/tools that are often free, that support the use and re-use of digital media
- Increase in availability of access (increase of broadband internet / mobile devices)
- Experimentation with digital media is more common · Demand from the learner community has shifted how teaching can/should be carried out using digital media resources.
This increase has helped shift course design towards a more learner-centred approach. Many course designers are facilitating different techniques, technology and media to enable learning in new ways. The learner is able to use different media to support their learning at a time that suits them with tailored learning material best suited to the situation.
Learners themselves are frequently creators and users of digital media. This has led some teaching staff to experiment with potential benefits of using digital media in conjunction with WebCT to support formal/informal learning.
For example the use of audio by teaching staff to supplement face to face sessions has grown in popularity. There are opportunities for assessment that are beginning to show signs of taking off such as oral submission and feedback.
Digital media can be used to add engagement as part of an activity. Depending on the task, a suitable media type can be chosen and an action carried out that best suits the media and activity. Some types of learning and possible learner behaviour:
- Formal learning (face to face dissemination, critique and sharing)
- Informal learning (learner may share ideas, make associations)
- Group activity (Create, evaluate)
- Individual reflection (Gain understanding, testing, evaluation) Each media type can be used in the learning situations given above, this demonstrates that there is more than one way to plan and execute activities that use digital media and the need for careful planning.
How digital media can be used
Here are some ways you can choose to use images in the online environment:
- A well sized image that supports content around it
- Adding a URL link to a larger/higher quality version if necessary
- Create small thumbnails of images to link to a larger version.
- Add a descriptive title or description so that it is immediately contextualised for learners
- Add ALT tag (alternative information) for an image to support accessibility
- Create an image with clickable parts (an image map) to access different information (requires HTML knowledge)
Video can be used in a number of ways for a diverse set of reasons in order to create motivating, memorable and inclusive learning experiences. However, watching a video can also be a passive experience and so teaching methods must be used which instead turn it into a springboard for student action and interaction. Embedding video reduces barriers to accessing the content. See our advice paper on using video in teaching and learning
Audio is now commonly used, largely in part to the fact that simple to use software, affordable hardware and online support material are now available . Common uses of audio include:
- Capturing the teaching session in its entirety
- Providing edited highlights of a teaching session
- Making a guest speaker’s (speeches/lecture/presentation) available
Less commonly used but with potential is recording for:
- Peer review: both teaching staff and learners may benefit from sharing recorded submissions
- Accessibility: recording audio will improve accessibility for some learners
- Assessment submission: some teaching staff are now allowing submission via recorded files and are also returning feedback in the same way.
See our sister service JISC TechDIS advice on Using sound effectively
Where media can be used in WebCT
- Media is uploaded and organised into folders within the Manage Files menu item and central file store URL links can be made to external media or Web pages.
- By attaching existing documents that contain media (e.g. MS Word, PowerPoint, PDF).
- Throughout WebCT including: Discussion Boards; the Virtual Classroom; Quizzes; Surveys; Assignments; sharing via batched Emails; and in the Course Design centre
- Anywhere in WebCT where you use HTML
Content and file management considerations
How does WebCT manage your media content? When you have logged into WebCT and have been granted ‘Designer’ access to your course by your VLE administrator, you can begin structuring course content by adding pages, tools, resources or uploading documents. There are two modes of use in WebCT: View mode and Designer mode. If you wish to edit or change content you first need to be in the Designer mode. To switch modes, return to the course homepage and click either tab.
Developing your course structure within WebCT takes place by either creating what WebCT calls Single Pages or Organiser Pages. Links to either type of page can be placed in the Course Menu or on an Organiser page. A WebCT Organiser page contains a subset of pages or tools and is therefore a way of organising elements together. It would normally contain a list of visual icons with text captions that link to further pages. Single Pages can be added into an Organiser page.
WebCT has a central file storage system that is accessed through the Manage Files feature found in the Control Panel. Folders can be created to organise files, and files can be administered individually. A selection of files can be made which can be automatically zipped and unzipped. Once you have added or uploaded content, WebCT is the repository where it is stored. Managing your files can be done from this central location.
Image organisation tips
It is good practice to be organised with all media so that you know where they are! This means not only how you name a file, but being logical in your methods of storing resources on your local computer, as well as when uploading into WebCT.
Copyright is an intellectual property right and arises automatically whenever a work is created. It gives the owner of the copyright the right to exploit their work or control its use.
If using other people’s digital media it is important to be aware of copyright issues and respect the creator’s view. Therefore when a piece of digital media is made available online or published through a VLE, you may need to clear copyright.
Here are a few pointers to consider when selecting digital media for use in a VLE:
- Copyright is something to take seriously but it need not be an obstacle
- When finding digital media online you will need permission to reproduce them in your materials, you should always carefully read the terms and conditions
- If you make your own digital media your employer will almost certainly hold the copyright
- Some FE and HE institutions may be able to use a CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) scanning license to produce images.
- Asking permission seems like a chore but it may bring unexpected reward such as a higher quality version
- You must obtain clearance from the rights holder(s) of third party material that you use within your material. For example if you have a recorded video lecture which includes the use of third party video, you must seek permission.
If you have been granted permission to use a digital media resource it is advisable to put clear copyright information next it. It is also important that you keep a copy of the permission given
WebCT offers the capacity to support online teaching and learning. The use of appropriate digital media can further enhance the learner experience by providing additional support mechanisms, interactive activities and engaging content. Digital media learning objects can be used in isolation or form part of a wider set of activities used in a range of ways.
It should be noted that in order to successfully utilise digital media within WebCT it must be factored into the wider module/course plan. Too often there are attempts to use digital media as a magic bullet to increase uptake of the VLE and it fails. The pedagogical reasoning behind what and how learners are doing tasks surpasses everything and the use of the technology should feed into the plan not attempt to carry it. The usability of the course design also affects usage and you should seek to build a well designed course.