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Learn about Online Programs and Platforms  

Online courses are offered through various courseware.  Each has its own advantage and disadvantage.  Your school will choose the program they want to use to offer their courses.  Here is an introduction to some of them.

ClassNet is providing as free public access to server space for delivery of online courses. Assignments may include tests (multiple choice, fill in the blank or essay question format), in-class evaluations, etc. Dialog may be analyzed and synthesized for later research purposes. This product is available free of charge as part of a research project from Iowa State University Computation Center.

CourseInfo is a full feature course authoring package that allows the instructor/designer to create web courses for internet distribution by accessing an online designer interface through a Web browser. No programming or HTML experience is necessary. CourseInfo can be purchased for implementing institution wide Web-based distance education, or the Blackboard site can be used to create individual course at no charge. Though highly function, both the student and the designer views utilize frames, which raises accessibility issues for users of adaptive technology.

FirstClass is an Intranet/Internet communication tool. First Class has several unusual features, including a spell checker, spam filters and conference moderation which allows monitoring of internal messages also. It is a high quality program in its design, with many options for delivery, due to use of this product by several companies that build, host, and maintain online courses for clients.

HyperWave is an approach to Internet based document organization and delivery. It is a conferencing system, an on-line course delivery tool, and a powerful application for managing course documents. HyperWave allows you to assign a variety of attributes to given documents (group access, user access) and to organize documents in hierarchical schemes.

Learning Space is a hybird web / proprietary program from Lotus which has excellent messaging tools, strong collaboration features, and excellent course administration functions. There are four main function areas that can be accessed using a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser or a Notes client: scheduling, media resources, course materials, and student Profiles. Learning Space also comes with instructor tools for assessment administration. Lotus highlights the collaborative work tools they offer for student-to-student and instructor-to-student communication. The demonstration site provided by Lotus includes image maps without alt-text in the navigation system, making in inaccessible to users of screen readers.

TopClass provides basic course delivery functionality with full integration into the World Wide Web. It features a proprietary e-mail system, quiz construction wizard and an "export" function which packages content in a proprietary format. An advantage of this program is the ability to create multiple "classes" using the same course content. Optional use of frames allows access by users of adaptive technology, although links are displayed as icons with ALT-text, making accessibility difficult for some users of text-based browsers or adaptive technology.

Virtual-U Developed at Simon Fraser University, the Virtual-U Research Project is part of the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence and is funded in part by CANARIE. Program information emphasizes that the project brings together specialists from computer science, education, psychology and engineering to merge approaches in development of Virtual-U. Major universities across Canada are being used as test sites. As with other courseware products described here, Virual-U allows the instructor/designer to create web courses for internet distribution by accessing an online designer interface through a browser. Online discussion or "conferencing" systems, course content management, and course administration functions are included. Although image mapped links are tagged with alt text, use of frames, tables and complex drop-down selection boxes will make this courses created with Virtual-U difficult to access for users of adaptive technology such as screen readers.

Web Course in a Box enables creation of basic course pages such as syllabus, class schedule, personal home pages, as well as interactive Web functions such as discussion forums and self-correcting exercises. It is not as flashy as some other packages, but is quite functional. The designer interface is difficult to access for users of adaptive technologies, but the student interface is quite accessible.

WebCT allows the instructor/designer to create web courses for internet distribution by accessing an online designer interface through a browser. It has a high level of functionality, including glossary wizards, student work group areas, java-based chat, statistical tracking of student progress, etc. WebCT is the most reasonably priced courseware package available and perhaps the most popular.

The interface is javascript-based and it does require some time for designers to reach a level of proficient use. The frames format makes both the student view and the designer view difficult to access for users of adaptive technology such as a screen reader. The navigation system has no text link equivalent. Alternative navigation systems need to be created to ensure accessibility.

IntraLearn is a comprehensive Web-based learning management system that enables educators to quickly offer interactive Internet course delivery. With IntraLearn, a student can register, receive training, submit tests, communicate and collaborate with others, and receive certification over the Internet. IntraLearn integrates remote registration and proctoring, lessons, interactivity, streaming multimedia, communications, testing, tracking and reporting to provide a secure and self-contained online education solution. The IntraLearn Software Corporation also offers complete technical support and Web hosting services.

TeamWave Workplace is designed to support virtual communities. Community members access the communities directly or through a central portal.

TeamWave Workplace uses a client-server solution to provide permanent and accessible locations where people can gather to work and form communities. Using a familiar 'Rooms' metaphor, TeamWave Workplace provides easy creation and manipulation of virtual community spaces. Each space or room, can serve a range of needs from library or archival needs to conferencing needs.

CyberProf is an interactive Web-based educational software system developed at the University of Illinois. Using CyberProf, instructors can create on-line lecture notes that include equations, animations, and graphics; write on-line interactive homework problems; conference with students using Network TA, the CyberProf Web-based bulletin board system; and record student grades in the CyberProf on-line gradebook. Students can review lecture notes 24 hours a day; complete homework problems on the Web and receive immediate intelligent feedback on their answers; use the Network TA bulletin board system to post questions to their instructor, teaching assistants, and peers; and review their grades in the class at any time.

The newest version has added features such as a word processor style editor, a web based spreadsheet (for custom gradekeeping and added course material functionality), the ability to mix JAVA, HTML, and PERL in single pages, a new survey mechanism, and more.

Serf is an acronym that stands for server-side educational records facilitator. Serf is a Web-based distance education environment developed at the University of Delaware. Serf provides an environment for delivering courses anywhere in the world, using the World Wide Web as a distance education medium. Serf makes it possible to create and deliver courses in a self-paced multimedia learning environment that enables students to navigate a syllabus, access instructional resources, communicate, and submit assignments over the Web in unique and powerful ways. Instructors can easily access and grade the assignments via the Serf gradebook. At any time, students can click a button to see a report of their progress in a course, along with comments from ther instructor and a prediction of their final grade.

Serf is a symphony of relational databases. The databases keep track of users, maintain states between interactions, deliver courses, and monitor student progress. There are databases for calendars, syllabi, assignments, grades, rosters, and styles. When a user logs on to Serf, each database plays its role toward creating the appropriate screen for the moment.

Mallard is a World Wide Web based interactive learning environment suitable for virtually any subject. Mallard provides a secure environment, within which one can organize online course material and test students via interactive quizzes with instantaneous problem correction and grading. Student responses to these online quizzes are evaluated by intelligent grading programs that not only assess the correctness of a response, but also attempt to determine why an answer is incorrect. The student gets immediate feedback and can access online assistance if desired. To ensure the integrity of the grading process, server/client communication is encrypted using the standard https protocol.

COLTS, Complete Online Teaching System, is a complete and comprehensive Web-based set of tool for teaching courses on the World Wide Web. The Software automatically organizes the structure of the classroom by creating the directory, seminar template, file structures, and links.