PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University will create a process for developing online courses that could change the way the university delivers knowledge, thanks to a $500,000 grant from The Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation. The grant is the first awarded by the new foundation and will make Internet-based instruction more “teaching-friendly.”
The test case involves economics professors Wayne Joerding and Rod Fort, Boeing Distinguished Professor in Software Engineering Roy Rada and Educational Media Systems Director Jayne Brahler leading a development team to create online curriculum. Both Internet-based instruction and class management will be built into the new courses and applied to future online course development at WSU and elsewhere. The goal is to pilot prototype Economics 101 and 102 classes by fall and officially enroll students by the year 2000.
“We will take the basic components of a given class — such as exams, exercises, homework, evaluation — and develop them into modules,” says Joerding. “Such modules then can be grouped or used independently depending on the type of course being taught and its delivery method. That’s the exciting part: the improved teaching methods will benefit both students in classrooms and students taking online classes anywhere.”
The development will take place in the Educational Media Systems Laboratory in the College of Engineering and Architecture, where as many as 10 to 20 projects are underway at any time. The EMS staff assist faculty from throughout the university to build multimedia and interactive courseware for their classes.
“This grant will take WSU’s online learning initiatives to the next level,” said Rada. It will fund salaries for multimedia and economics graduate students, as well as some $140,000 in computer software and equipment to create the “courseware factory.”
“Good modular courseware design can provide both significant economies of scale and also the ability to customize courseware to provide multiple learning paths that match differing student learning styles,” said Bert Kolde, president of the Paul Allen Virtual Education Foundation. “The modular approach means that instructors no longer would have to reinvent the curriculum wheel from scratch for each course they teach. Instead they can share core content modules of courseware, and add new modules or customize existing modules as they choose to for their specific courses and students. By using an online course management system to deliver this courseware and track its usage and effectiveness, faculty members receive important feedback as to which modules are working well and which are not. This feedback data can be used to further refine and improve those modules that students are struggling with.”
With all lecture materials, assignments, tests and homework online, faculty and students will be able to communicate frequently, and both the students and the instructor will be evaluated continuously. Joerding said he will know before he enters the classroom if his students did their homework and if they understood the concepts he presented during the last class. He then can adjust the content of his presentation and pose questions and problems for students to gain further understanding.
“As we see it, right now many faculty members have to recreate the wheel each time they prepare for a course,” Kolde said. “They have to design their own tests, create their own lecture materials, make their own homework assignments. And then the only real record of how effective those materials were is the student’s grade at the end.” The modules, said Kolde, will enable faculty to build the essential elements of the course one time, update it as appropriate, and then monitor it and present it as fits the needs of the students.
Faculty will be able to be more pro-active teachers, says Kolde. They can keep abreast of student progress by checking their work on the Web and can discover the concepts with which students are struggling on a more immediate basis.
The Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation was founded in 1997 to support innovative programs in online education.
Allen, an alumnus of WSU, has contributed generously to the University. His recent efforts include wiring all of WSU’s fraternities and sororities for the Internet and sponsoring a $3.1 million, high-tech building project for his fraternity house, Phi Kappa Theta.

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Editors: Joerding may be reached at 335-6468, joerding@wsu.edu. Rada may be reached at 335-4254, rada@wsu.edu. For more information on the Paul G. Allen Virtual Education Foundation, contact Susan Pierson at 425/453-1940.