PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University, with assistance from The Information Management Group (IMG) and funding from Microsoft Corp., is developing software tools to be included in a complete web-based course management package.
The WSU-authored tools, WebSeminar Composition and WebSeminar Conversation, are improvements to WSU’s Virtual Classroom concept, which debuted in 1995 as an interactive learning tool for freshmen in general education courses. Initiated in the Student Advising and Learning Center by learning technologies specialists Eric Miraglia and Gary Brown, the concept helped hundreds of freshmen in large classes develop research and writing skills in small group settings by requiring them to work together while using advanced multimedia technology and the World Wide Web for their assignments.
Microsoft, impressed by the Virtual Classroom and its application by WSU faculty Ken Kardong (Zoology) and Joan Grenier-Winther (French), helped initiate and support the collaboration between IMG and WSU, which has led to this semester’s debut of WebSeminar Composition and WebUniversity, IMG’s web-based course management package. A recent $25,000 hardware grant from Microsoft also supports the project, which is based on Microsoft Internet technologies.
“Research shows that students who collaborate to grapple with concepts perform better and stay interested,” said Brown, coordinator of the project and now the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. “We are using this technology to give students opportunities to work together, both online and in real space and time.”
The additional WebSeminar Conversation component, which will debut this spring, will give students even more ways to interact. “WebSeminar Conversation will capitalize on the energy and rich presence of the synchronous chat, while helping students focus that energy on complex cognitive processes,” says Eric Miraglia, lead designer and programmer. “If we do our job right, we’ll have all the benefits of the ‘chat’ dynamic while avoiding some of the pitfalls that have plagued other attempts to integrate chat rooms into academic environments.”
The new tools will expand these opportunities by increasing their interactivity and linking them to IMG’s full-course management package, WebUniversity, which is designed to help faculty track course content, assignments, feedback, exams and student performance online. When the package is complete, faculty will have a framework for developing all or part of their courses online.
“It’s great working with Washington State on this exciting project. We welcomed the opportunity to better understand the issues higher education faculty members encounter when implementing online learning systems. We intend to leverage this experience in future product releases for the educational market,” said Mitchel Burns of IMG. A Microsoft Solution Provider Partner and an Authorized Technical Education Center, IMG is the developer of online learning systems and interactive learning content.
The collaboration is part of WSU’s nationally recognized efforts to use interactive technology to improve learning and provide access. The University has been ranked among the most wired universities in America in several publications, including Forbes magazine, which placed WSU among the top 20 universities in the nation in providing online distance education.

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