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Development of a computer-aided ODL Course Development Tracking System (CDTS)

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Constant emphasis and close attention paid to Quality Assurance in the production of Open Distance Learning (ODL) course materials at Wawasan Open University (WOU) had necessitated that the whole process of course materials development be clearly defined and tracked systematically. Although a Standard Operating Procedure already exists, yet its implementation by way of manual tracking could not always guarantee that the work delivery timelines are diligently tracked and crucial inputs from all key stakeholders in the course development team are received in a timely manner. There was also a need to ensure that Schools and their academics (course coordinators), the Registry, Educational Technology and Publications Unit, IT Support Services and Learning and Library Services could track the developmental stages of any named course at any specific time. A new software application had been developed in-house at WOU which enables all the key stakeholders to keep track of all stages of the course development chain from start to end. The application, built on the Microsoft .NET framework using a centralized MS SQL Server database, serves as a central repository of all the information relevant to the course development cycle as well as manages the archiving of all the documents. The application can generate (i) course development status report for ongoing development, (ii) the complete course development report for the courses which have been completed and (iii) summary reports of the progress of any on-going or completed course development for management purposes by the Deans and Directors of the relevant academic support units. A pilot study was conducted involving participation of a small group of selected key stakeholders. It provided valuable feedback which had helped the software development team to further fine-tune the application before the system gets deployed in July 2010. This paper describes the development process and the workings of the Course Development Tracking System (CDTS). It discusses the implications of implementing the system in a real world environment.
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Development of a computer-aided ODL Course
Development Tracking System (CDTS)
Ishan Sudeera Abeywardena
Senior Lecturer, School of Science and Technology, Wawasan Open University
54, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050 Penang, Malaysia
Tel : +604-2180 484 Fax: +6042297 323 E-mail: ishansa@wou.edu.my
and
Ho Sinn Chye
Professor, Chancellory, Wawasan Open University
54, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050 Penang, Malaysia
Tel : +604-2180 486 Fax: +6042297 323 E-mail: scho@wou.edu.my
Methodology and Technology
Abstract
Constant emphasis and close attention paid to Quality Assurance in the production of Open
Distance Learning (ODL) course materials at Wawasan Open University (WOU) had
necessitated that the whole process of course materials development be clearly defined and
tracked systematically. Although a Standard Operating Procedure already exists, yet its
implementation by way of manual tracking could not always guarantee that the work delivery
timelines are diligently tracked and crucial inputs from all key stakeholders in the course
development team are received in a timely manner. There was also a need to ensure that
Schools and their academics (course coordinators), the Registry, Educational Technology
and Publications Unit, IT Support Services and Learning and Library Services could track
the developmental stages of any named course at any specific time.
A new software application had been developed in-house at WOU which enables all the key
stakeholders to keep track of all stages of the course development chain from start to end. The
application, built on the Microsoft .NET framework using a centralized MS SQL Server
database, serves as a central repository of all the information relevant to the course
development cycle as well as manages the archiving of all the documents. The application can
generate (i) course development status report for ongoing development, (ii) the complete
course development report for the courses which have been completed and (iii) summary
reports of the progress of any on-going or completed course development for management
purposes by the Deans and Directors of the relevant academic support units.
A pilot study was conducted involving participation of a small group of selected key
stakeholders. It provided valuable feedback which had helped the software development team
to further fine-tune the application before the system gets deployed in July 2010.
This paper describes the development process and the workings of the Course Development
Tracking System (CDTS). It discusses the implications of implementing the system in a real
world environment.
Keywords
:
Course Development, Open Distance Learning (ODL), Tracking of
Course Development, Course Development Team
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I. Introduction
The core business of Wawasan Open University (WOU) is Open Distance Learning
(ODL). The students of WOU are mainly adult learners who pursue Degree and
Masters Programs in disciplines such as computer science, electronics, business
management, administration, education, languages and courses under liberal studies.
The courses are delivered based on a blended approach which includes self-directed
learning materials provided on CDs, prescribed textbooks, supplemented by a Moodle
based Learning Management System called “WawasanLearn”.
The development of every course in WOU is the responsibility of an appointed course
development team (CDT) which comprises (i) Course Team Leader (CTL), (ii)
Course Coordinator (CC), (iii) Course Writer(s) (CW), (iv) Academic Member (AM),
(v) Instructional Designer(s) (ID), (vi) Editor, (vii) External Course Assessor (ECA),
(viii) Graphics Designer(s) (GD), (ix) Representative from Learning and Library
Services (LLS); and (x) Representative from Information Technology Services (ITS).
An “Interdisciplinary Team Model” [1] is adopted to ensure that the quality of the
course materials as well as instructional design meet the standards required by the
Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) [4].
The complete course development cycle, starting from formulation of Course
Blueprint (CBP) and ending with the published course material, follows a very
rigorous QA [3] related standard operating procedure (SOP) [5]. Full development of
a course may take up to 18 months and during this period, meetings of the CDT are
held at various stages, generating a series of interim reports and documents. The
whole course development cycle as practiced in WOU is depicted in Figure 1.1
Figure 1.1 Complete Course Development Flowchart at WOU
As the whole course development process is executed over an extended period of
time, generally over two semesters involving stakeholders from within and outside the
university, it was rather difficult to manually monitor progress, update records and
ensure that delivery deadlines are met. The whole process also necessitates the writing
of many interim reports and documents which entails the storing, naming, versioning
and sharing of these documents in a systematic manner.
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In order to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties, and also to ensure that all
stakeholders from the relevant Schools and members of the CDTs adhere to the SOP
diligently, the idea of utilising Tele-informatics [2] by developing a dedicated
software to track the whole course development process was thus conceptualized and
developed. This software application called “Course Development Tracking System
(CDTS)” enables all the academics, academic heads, instructional designers and
relevant management staff to keep track of the complete course development process
from start to finish from their respective work places. CDTS also serves as a central
repository of all the information relevant to the course development cycle, including
those generated by the software. The application could generate all the interim reports
and documents automatically thus lightening the burden on the CDT.
II. Development of the Course Development Tracking System (CDTS)
After exploring various software applications and content management systems
currently available in the market, it was found that none of the existing solutions
could cater to the needs of WOU as expressed above. To ensure that the complete
course development scenario is captured in the CDTS, an in-house team was
assembled which included software developers as well as academics and instructional
designers. The team charted the step by step pathway of the course development cycle
and divided the whole process into four distinctive components or phases, namely (i)
Blueprint Write-up, (ii) Course Unit Write-up, (iii) Editing; and (iv) Approval.
Figure 1.2 The four main phases of the course development process
Once the distinctive phases were identified, the activity flow in each component was
explained to the software development team which then designed the required system.
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III. CDTS Architecture
a. System Architecture
The CDTS system was designed as a two-tier application with (i) a window based
client application which is installed on the user’s PC; and (ii) backend database and
storage servers. The client application connects to the database server and the
document storage server, through the WOU Local Area Network (LAN),
authenticated by the Active Directory (AD) account of that user. The document
storage server also doubles as the update server where newer versions of the software
are stored for distribution. The client application periodically checks for newer
versions and automatically downloads the latest version to the client PC. An offsite
Disaster Recovery (DR) server acts as the backup server for the database as well as
the documents. Backups are scheduled daily and are executed automatically to capture
full backups of the documents as well as the database.
Figure 1.3: CDTS system architecture
b. Technology Platforms
The client application was written using Microsoft Visual Basic 2005 and .Net
framework 2.0. The database server is Microsoft SQL Server 2005. The server
operating system is Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
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IV. Features of CDTS
The key features of the CDTS can be summarized as shown in Table 1.1.
Feature Description
01
Master Dashboard Provides a quick summary of the course, current status
and CDT.
02
Schedule Manages the content delivery schedule and deadlines.
03
Meetings Manages and stores CDT meeting minutes. The
minutes can be e-mailed directly to the CDT via the
system.
04
Course Details Maintains textbook, assessment, tutorial and lab
details.
05
CDT Details Maintains all the CDT details. This provides quick
access to contact info for the CDT.
06
Comments Manages the comments made by the CDT. These
comments will be automatically used by the system for
generating reports.
07
Progress Update Tracks each stage of the course development process.
Any relevant documents (e.g. draft of Unit 1) can also
be uploaded to the system as records using this feature.
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Progress Chart A graphical representation of the course development
progress in each stage of the SOP.
09
Documents Manages all the documents uploaded and generated.
This feature automatically creates folder structures on
the server, manages versioning and enforces access
control for sharing.
10
Reports Generates all the interim and final reports.
13
User Database Manages the users and privileges.
14
Help Manages the helpdesk for the system.
Table 1.1 Key features of CDTS
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The front user interface of the CDTS is shown in Figure 1.4
Figure 1.4 Front user interface of CDTS
V. Testing and Training
A pilot testing of the beta version of the CDTS was carried out by a group of 20
participants (ultimate users) representing the four Schools, Educational Technology
and Publishing Unit, IT Services Unit, Learning and Library Services Unit and the
Registry. A formal user training session on the use of CDTS was eventually carried
out for all the key stakeholders in a face-to-face workshop session.
Some additional requirements were identified during the pilot study and the user
training sessions which include:
The necessary protocols for system installation;
Technical limitations of the system with respect to use and implementation;
Technical and infrastructure requirements for the deployment of the system.
The above have since been addressed.
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VI. Advantages of using CDTS
To the end user in WOU, the key advantages of using CDTS for tracking of course
development include:
Having easy access to course information and CDT information;
Being able to keep track of deadlines and scheduled deliverables throughout the
developmental phases of the course;
Efficiently compile and share notes, comments and feedback received from the
CDT;
Track the progress of the course development against the SOP and schedule;
Manage and archive all the related documents for easy access including meeting
minutes of all the interim CDT meetings;
Generate all the interim reports guided by the system;
Access the system from your own workplace.
VII. Implementation
In practice, the system will be populated with master data by the Administrative
Executives of the relevant Schools and supporting departments. The CDTS system
will be deployed for use in tracking all new courses of WOU. All key stakeholders
including Deans and department heads will have access to the system.
VIII. Conclusion
A software application called the “Course Development Tracking System (CDTS)”
has been developed in-house in WOU out of the dire need to enable all stakeholders
and members of the course development team (CDT) to keep track of the complete
course development process from start to finish. The CDTS also serves as a central
repository of all the information relevant to the development of a particular course as
it manages the archiving of all the working documents. The application can further
generate all the necessary interim reports and documents automatically thus reducing
the work load of members of the CDT.
The client application was written using Microsoft Visual Basic 2005 and .Net
framework 2.0. The database server is Microsoft SQL Server 2005. The server
operating system is Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
The next move is to enhance the CDTS to turn it into a web enabled system which can
be securely accessed by authorised users via the WOU staff portal.
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References
[1] Care, W. D., & Scanlan, J. M. (2001, April). Planning and managing the
development of courses for distance delivery: Results from a qualitative study. The
Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 4(2). Retrieved from
http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer42/care42.html .
[2] Hache, D. (2000, April). Strategic planning of distance education in the age of
teleinformatics. The Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 1(2).
Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/Hache12.html .
[3] Kefalas, P., Retalis, S., Stamatis, D., Kargidis, T., (2003). Quality Assurance
Procedures and e-ODL, The International Conference on Networked Universities and
e-Learning, Valencia, Spain, May, 2003.
[4] Quality Assurance Documents, Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA).
Retrieved from http://www.mqa.gov.my/en/garispanduan.cfm , August, 2010.
[5] Standard Operating Procedure for Course Development [Ref: ACA-002],
Wawasan Open University, January, 2010.
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Article
Full-text available
Demosthenes Stamatis (1) (demos@it.teithe.gr) Kargidis Theodoros (1) (kargidis@mkt.teithe.gr) Abstract This paper aims to initiate preliminary discussion among researchers and practitioners on the Quality Assurance (QA) systems that are appropriate to be applied in network based Open and Distance Learning (e-ODL). We discuss the barriers, towards applying such a system and we list a number of resources for acquiring useful information on the current state of QA in e-ODL. Finally, we include a number of questions, which we believe that an institution should answer prior to apply a QA system.
Article
Dr. Denis Haché is Associate Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and Head of the "Centre de recherches en éducation du Nouvel-Ontario (CRÉNO)" located in Sudbury, Ontario. He is particularly interested in the inclusion of distance education and teleinformatics at secondary and postsecondary levels, educational reforms, strategic planning and French minority education outside Québec. Abstract Teleinformatics is the transfer of information via technology. Teleinformatics in distance education poses a great challenge to secondary and tertiary educational institutions which use this communication network. The speed at which this technology evolves and the need for new and appropriate pedagogical strategies is reshaping distance education within a unique system of knowledge transmission. The arrival of the electronic highway, the creation of a world-wide classroom and, in the near future, a world-wide university and library are just a few manifestations of the accelerated evolution of teleinformatics in education (Knight, 1995; Rossman, 1992). The technology's capacity to meet expectations rapidly and in a flexible way brings about new demands for new service from non-traditional users while at the same time broadening the array of choices for the traditional clientele. This flexibility in reacting to ever-changing and varied demands requires an organization capable of reacting to the evolution of changing internal and external environments. Inclusion of technology in education, and it's use to support study programs, creates a new paradigm: one that is orderly and pro-active; one that supports and preserves the establishment's mission; one that allows the system to evolve in accord with the changes. To make it possible, we propose a model of strategic planning adapted to the particular needs of distance education in a pro-active and technological environment.
Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA)
Quality Assurance Documents, Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). Retrieved from http://www.mqa.gov.my/en/garispanduan.cfm, August, 2010.