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WBT: doing it for yourselfpixel.gif (807 bytes)

pixel.gif (807 bytes) Going native - developing CBT the web way
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IN THIS SECTION WE EXPLORE just what you can expect to achieve developing WBT with generic web design tools. In practice this will depend on how deep into the technology you are prepared to go.

1. HTML
At the first level is straight HTML, coded directly or developed using a ‘what you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG) editor like Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver.

2. Scripting
One step on from this is the use of scripting languages like JavaScript, inserted into web pages alongside the HTML. Much of what you will want to accomplish with JavaScript is very basic but, make no mistake, this is programming. Modifying page templates that include JavaScript is, however, well within the scope of non-programmers.

3. Database and Java programming
At the third level you could be interacting with databases and other programs held on the web server, typically to manage student records. Although some of this can be accomplished using ready-made routines, this is essentially programmer-only territory. You may also want to develop more complex forms of interactivity that are beyond the capabilities of JavaScript. Here, unless you can find suitable 'applets' off-the-shelf, you will need the help of a Java programmer.

Let’s see what you can accomplish at each level for each of the main components of a WBT course:

Presentation
You are unlikely to have to go beyond straight HTML to achieve what you want here. Using text, tables, images and simple animations you can put across most learning material. And should you need and have the bandwidth to allow audio, video or more complex animations (in Macromedia Flash or Shockwave formats, for example), you can insert them into HTML pages directly without a great deal of technical knowledge.

Navigation
Again, most navigational functions can be achieved without undue effort in HTML, which is hardly surprising as navigation is central to nearly all web applications. By creating links from text and images, you can provide the user with menus, indexes, help pages, glossary entries and buttons for moving between sequences of pages and between hierarchical levels. Only the most sophisticated interfaces may require some additional coding in JavaScript.

figure 5 - an integrated navigational interface

Fig 5: This interface incorporates a wide range of navigational features including help and glossary systems, module and topic level menus and controls for moving between pages and levels. Constructed with HTML and a little JavaScript.

Interactivity
A simple multi-choice question, where each selection leads to unique feedback, can be constructed with ease in simple HTML. However, unless you utilise frames (where more than one web page can be displayed in the browser at the same time), the feedback will appear on a separate page. I would certainly recommend the use of frames for question and answer routines, to enable the feedback to appear alongside or underneath the question (see fig.1).

Again, with simple HTML you can build true-false questions and, with image maps, questions in which the user clicks on hotspots within a picture. Other question types – text or number input, ordering and matching – require some help from JavaScript. This is because, to obtain the user’s input, you need to employ web form elements such as text boxes, drop-down lists, radio buttons and check boxes and these cannot be controlled adequately in simple HTML. Still, you can obtain templates for all of these question types and, with a little care, modify the code to suit your particular needs.

Some forms of interaction, such as drag and drop or complex simulations, are not really feasible using standard web tools. Here you will need the help of an authoring system or maybe a Java programmer to get the job done.

Collaboration
A wide range of standard web tools can be adapted to facilitate communication between tutors and students. Email can be used to accomplish much of what you need, and with email attachments, students can submit assignments for review by tutors.

You may also want to create a simple web site for use by all the students following a particular course. This could include student contact details, papers, news, links and access to WBT modules and discussion forums.

Going a little further, with tools like Microsoft NetMeeting, you can organise synchronous communication for online discussions and lectures. All of which is possible without the use of specialised online learning tools.

Management
What HTML is not good at is maintaining records of student progress. Even to keep track of a score in a test requires a little JavaScript.

With a little more work you can store student records locally using ‘cookies’ (small data files held on the user’s hard disk) and these can be managed from JavaScript. But if you want records to be held securely and permanently on a central computer, you will need the help of a web database programmer. Interfacing with your organisation's training records system is yet more work.

figure 6 - a progress report

Fig 6: This progress report has been created using a cookie and some
JavaScript. To get this information to the web server would require
some database programming.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1999. All rights reserved.                                Last revised 21/5/99