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February 14, 2011
By Jason Ching
Ever wondered how a university used to run before the Internet? In 10 short years, education at the University of Nevada, Reno has undergone a digital revolution, leaving modern students with little concept of a college education that didn't involve email, online assignments and digital syllabi.
Across the board, faculty and students alike are familiar with WebCampus, the University's online course management system. In fact, approximately 15,000 students and 2,000 courses utilize the online solution. WebCampus is a fact of everyday life at the University.
Recognizing how important this system has become, the University's Instructional Design Team conducted a survey of 1,847 students to learn more about what students think of WebCampus. Of the students surveyed, 76.5 percent indicated that they were either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the system. Results of the survey were presented Feb. 8 at a meeting sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada held at the Joe Crowley Student Union.
"We tend to hear more about the problems," said Instructional Design Manager Jill Wallace. "So it's very gratifying to hear that so many students are satisfied with it.
"I think that [number of students] is pretty fantastic."
Wallace, who has been overseeing WebCampus since 1999, strongly believes in soliciting the feedback of the thousands of students who use WebCampus. In addition to asking questions about their level of satisfaction with WebCampus, the survey also asked about how students have seen their instructors using the online tool effectively.
"WebCampus is just a tool and if it's not used well then the results are not going to be good," Wallace said. "But we have so many instructors that are using it effectively and the students recognize that.
"The students recognize that and they know the difference between good and bad usage."
The meeting featured presentations from five University instructors who received numerous mentions in the survey for their successful use of WebCampus. Favorite instructor practices included posting class notes and assignments ahead of lecture times and linking to free, online versions of reading assignments.
These instructors were Elena Pravosudova, associate professor of biology, Sandy Week, lecturer for accounting and information systems, Rosemary Dixon, lecturer for gender, race and identity, David Fenimore, director of undergraduate studies for English, and Eric Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The survey also asked students to weigh in on problems and potential improvements of WebCampus itself. Students most wanted to see improvement in areas such as greater browser compatibility, opening and attaching documents and occasional sessions when WebCampus users were abruptly logged off.
One of the most popular requests made by students was the ability to use WebCampus from their smartphones. Scheduled to be released in March, indeed, there will be an app for that.
With online educational tools only growing in popularity, the University is continuing to invest in the digital opportunities that lie ahead. Slated for spring of 2012, WebCampus will undergo a major upgrade that promises to provide easier navigation, fully customizable notification messages and an updated interface.
"Our goal is the same goal that we've had all along," Wallace said. "Our goal is that [WebCampus] be of value in supporting teaching and learning."