From the Trenches

With more than 100,000 online students registered at the University of Wisconsin, most faculty and staff have become comfortable creating online content.

With more than 100,000 online students registered at the University of Wisconsin, most faculty and staff have become comfortable creating online content. The challenge today is to improve online learning by making the content more engaging and interactive while making it accessible to all. We are particularly interested in tools that can be used to create world-class learning objects. Today, unfortunately, seamless movement of content between learning systems is still a large issue.

UW recognized early in the move to Web-based learning that standards were critical for interoperability and reusability and stepped forward as the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab to support and promote these standards.

Prototype projects are developing learning objects and repositories. However, we felt the need to better understand just what tools were available for creating high-quality multimedia Web content. We also needed to understand how much time it takes for skilled developers to create quality content with these tools.

The e-learning industry is a rapidly changing market: Many of the products we used five years ago are no longer available or are integrated into other products. Even though there are more than 100 high-end management systems, the number of content-creation tools seems to be shrinking. This when content creators usually have the use of multiple applications but only one management tool for the enterprise.

Obviously, the creation and maintenance of content is most important to us. It is by far the most costly component of course creation. We cant afford to repeatedly create high-quality "Betamax" while the world moves to "VHS." Thus, we were very pleased that the vendors participating in the eVal had integrated support for SCORM, the Sharable Content Object Reference Model.

As evidence of the level of interest in this initiative, UW System President Katharine Lyall and the chief academic officers of the UW System institutions statewide spent time at the event. They realized the importance of team development, training and having a support mechanism for Web-content creation.

Issues for consideration concerning authoring tools for us included range of capabilities and ease of use; support for e-learning standards and accessibility; general support available from the vendor; and, of course, cost. Regrettably, none of the vendors included accessibility options in its sample learning objects.

We learned what we had expected: that high-quality, engaging content can be created in a reasonable amount of time; that a team is required, consisting of a faculty/subject matter expert, a graphic artist, a curricula designer, and a programmer or instructional technology professional; and that the tools that are available are quite powerful and flexible.

With tools such as those reviewed, trained teams and subject matter experts, we are moving ahead with—as Tom King, of Macromedia, said-these "weapons of mass instruction."