Course server software is a general term for server capabilities enabling online teaching functions, including presentation of content, discussion groups, class management and related services. Some providers of education and training purchase a course server software package, for example WebCT, TopClass, Learning Space or others, whilst some develop their own, equivalent packages. Some organisations "outsource" the course server function, for example TechWorks, The Training Precinct and other companies provide this and related services. New kinds of relationships are emerging between owners of course servers, educational organisations and industry.
There are basically two choices when it comes to software for developing Web courses: (1) component, off-the-shelf software that allows for the creation of audio slide lectures, course materials, discussion forums, animations, synchronous chat groups, quiz creators, e-mail, and so forth, or (2) integrated packages that contain a number of the same features but are lacking in other significant areas.Experimental or pilot developments are relatively easy if an organisation has an in house web server and it gives lecturers or trainers facilities and encouragement to put up web files relating to their teaching. In educational institutions this has been characterised as an "anarchic" stage of development [2,3], but for many practitioners it has been a stage of successive refinements towards an integrated suite of capabilities in an organisational web course server. Start with simple web pages on a standard web server, for example NCSA or Apache servers, add some functionality via email discussion lists or web based bulletin boards, add further functionality via web server scripts ("cgi scripts", usually drawn from the freeware domain), java script applets and other techniques, and so on.
Typically, further development then diverges - some institutions have continued to develop their own "in house" web course server, whilst others have changed over to a purchased, "off the shelf" integrated product. For example, here is a brief listing of current directions for some Australian TAFE authorities and universities. It indicates that diversity is the trend [4,5]:
|In house||TAFE||NSW, Victoria, Queensland|
|Universities||New South Wales, Griffith, Edith Cowan, Deakin|
|Purchased||TAFE||South Australia (WebCT), Western Australia (WebCT or TopClass), Swinburne (The Learning Manager), Canberra Inst Technology (TechWorks)|
|Universities||Murdoch (WebCT), Curtain (WebCT), U Technology Sydney (Top Class), Flinders (WebCT), New England (WebCT), Canberra (WebCT), U Western Sydney Nepean (TopClass), Wollongong (WebCT)|
A large number of "off the shelf" integrated products are available . In most cases the producers facilitate low cost, low risk experiments, by permitting free download of demonstration copies for "no obligation", "try before you buy" installations on an organisation's own server. This kind of service, and attractive prices, may be the most critical factor, together with shortages of specialised programmers, in tipping the balance towards purchase instead of in house development, especially for organisations with small to medium sized information technology services units.
Typically, these products are under continuous development, including incorporation of any new features or improvements implemented by their competitors. Differences between products tend to be relatively minor, "like choosing between flying with Ansett or Qantas". This leads to a re-assuring indication that the question of "which package?" is not a critically significant matter. In our own case at Murdoch University, where WebCT became the in-house standard during second semester 1998 , we did not conduct a highly detailed review of products. The analysis was limited to broad scale factors, principally:
".... Through the use of new and emerging technologies associated with the Internet, TechWorks' online learning system can deliver customised learning programs on demand, administer individual assessment, manage learner progress, manage corporate learning programs, provide learning support for a range of learning models and provide access to learning resources of unprecedented magnitude".TechWorks describes its relationships with customers such as Qantas, BHP, Centrelink, Air Services Australia (TechWorks, 1999) and a range of vocational training providers as "partnerships". As TechWorks manages the server and server applications for online training (the TechWorks Learning System), there is little impact on the day to day operations of IT personnel. An outsourced online learning system is represented as an opportunity to add value to and enhance productive use of corporate networks which are already in place. The production of online resources, involving a content specialist, writer, instructional designer, programmer and graphic designer, is supported by a TechWorks production team.
A wide range of interesting examples of new services may be found around the world [4,5]. Amongst publishers, Harcourt Brace WebCT enables free access to a WebCT site for new adopters of any Harcourt Brace College text. Web services include online multiple choice quizzes for specific text books . McGraw-Hill Learning Architecture offers "...a web-based learning system that combines trusted McGraw-Hill content with innovative Top Class software from WBT Systems." McGraw-Hill's site includes PageOut, providing web space and services which are free for adopters of McGraw-Hill texts .
Many of the world's large corporations are involved in online education and training for staff and customers, for example in information technology these include Microsoft , Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, etc. Some have "outsourced" delivery and other services to educational institutions or other partners, especially in cases where "certification" by the corporation is a highly marketable qualification .
 Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (1998). Online teaching: Implications for institutional and academic staff development. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (eds), Planning for Progress, Partnership and Profit. Proceedings EdTech'98. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology. http://www.ascilite.org.au/aset-archives/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/pospisil.html
 Atkinson, R., Brown, A., Pospisil, R. and Rehn, G. (1998). So you want to put your course on the web? In B. Black and N. Stanley (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/atkinson-r.html
 trdev-aus: Online courses. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/trdev-aus/trdev_courses.html
 Online units: Australian examples. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/teach/guide/res/examples/aus-units.html
 Atkinson, R. (1999). Course server software for online teaching. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/teach/guide/res/examples/course-servers.html
 WebCT at Murdoch University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au:8900/
 Brown, A. (1997). Designing for learning: What are the essential features of an effective online course? Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 13(2), 115-126. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet13/brown.html
 Lund, C. P. and Volet, S. (1998). Barriers to studying online for the first time: Students' perceptions. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (eds), Planning for Progress, Partnership and Profit. Proceedings EdTech'98. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology. http://www.ascilite.org.au/aset-archives/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/lund.html
 TechWorks (1999). http://www.techworks.com.au/
 Keough, M. (1998). Successful models for enterprise vocational education: Distributed learning strategies. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (eds), Planning for Progress, Partnership and Profit. Proceedings EdTech'98. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology. http://www.ascilite.org.au/aset-archives/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/keough.html
 The Training Precinct (1999). http://www.ttp.com.au/
 Harcourt Brace WebCT (1999). http://www.hbcollege.com/webct/
 McGraw-Hill Learning Architecture (1999). http://www.mhla.net/
 Microsoft Training and Certification. http://www.microsoft.com/train_cert/
 Sun Microsystems. http://www.sun.com.au/services/education/education.html
 Cisco Systems Training. http://www.cisco.com/public/Training_root.shtml
 Microsoft Authorised Academic Training Program. http://www.microsoft.com/australia/training/aatp/
|Authors: Dr Roger Atkinson, Snr Lect in Educational Technology and Manager, Murdoch Online, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia. Tel +61 8 9360 6840 Fax +61 8 9310 4929 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Rick Cummings, Manager, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150. Ph: +61 8 9360 2354 Fax: +61 8 9310 2780 Email: email@example.com
Dr Rob Phillips, Snr Lect in Educational Design, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150. Tel: +61 8 9360 6054 Mobile: 0 419 953 431 Fax: +61 8 9310 4929. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms Romana Pospisil, Educational Designer, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150. Ph: (08) 9360 6418 Fax: (08) 9310 2780 Email: email@example.com
Please cite as: Atkinson, R., Cummings, R., Phillips, R. and Pospisil, R. (1999). Course server software for online teaching. Proceedings of NET*Working'99 Conference. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/confs/atkinson-nw99.html