What I Have Learned
Just a few of the lessons learned. When finished browsing, please return
to the guest lecture.
Oh the joys of change! Over the course of the summer, we experienced a great
deal of change and growth in addition to learning more about WebCT than can
possibly be covered in this lecture.
As I mentioned before, we performed an upgrade from 2.2 to 3.6, however,
with also performed a migration. Heres what we did:
- Formatted a server with RedHat 6.2, the same OS as our 2.2 server.
- Completely backed up the entire 2.2 server and copied it onto the new
- We then began the installation of 3.5. (initially we were going to
- We then wanted to purge the global database and were given code from
WebCT that we thought would accomplish this task. But after we ran the
code, we found that instead of giving us a clean global database, we
had a corrupted server and had to completely rebuild the server.
- We rebuilt the server and performed a clean install of 3.6. We moved
all our courses to the /admin/backup directory and WebCT restored our
courses and gave us a clean global database in the process.
- Done or so we thought. Because of this process we had a few
things to clean up and we had to run some scripts on the publisher courses
before we were ready to begin the semester.
So now you ask, did we do research on migration/upgrade? The answer yes.
Were we able to find clear documentation from WebCT? No. Did we talk to WebCT
Support about the best procedure for performing the upgrade/migration? Yes.
Actually, here it is October and classes have been in session since August
20th and at the end of September I found out that WebCT usually does not support
migrations that their consulting group does not provide. I was
recently asked by a WebCT Support person why we didnt have their group
perform the migration and my answer to him was, what consulting group
and why werent we ever told about such a thing.
What have I learned from this migration/upgrade? Research, research, research!
Talk to everyone you can possibly talk to about performing upgrades/migrations,
spend time on the WebCT Discussion boards on www.webct.com, spend time in
the webct-users listserv and then ensure you have adequate time and servers
to thoroughly test the new version.
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The Global Database within WebCT is the main database for students, designers
and teaching assistants. When we first started using WebCT we chose to allow
faculty and students create their own global Ids. A global ID allows the student
to access all of his/her classes logging into WebCT only one time. While that
mindset working in the beginning when we were smaller we found that the number
of students enrolled in online or web-enhanced courses almost tripled in the
first year. Our system of allowing students/faculty to create their own global
Ids was causing duplicate students and making the support of WebCT more difficult.
When we upgraded we made the decision to disallow this procedure for students
and make it part of my job to upload students into the global database. One
of the biggest hurdles was being able to create a standard formula for both
Ids and passwords while also maintaining FERPA regulations. I contacted other
colleges and universities using WebCT to find out their process for creating
WebCT Ids. Our college does not give out email addresses to all students so
we had to come up with a different formula. We finally settled on a combination
of letters and numbers from the students first and last names, birth
date and social security number.
I worked with our Data Processing department to create a program that pulled
students from our mainframe (student registration system) and
created the WebCT Ids and passwords. I then took that file and modified it
so that I could populate students into their courses. I used the Courses field
to accomplish this task. Once the semester was underway, I continue to update
the global database, but use the Registered Courses field. The use of this
field allows students to be added to the global database, but also allows
faculty to control their own gradebooks and import only the new students
into their classes.
This procedure has significantly cut down on the amount of emails between
the student and myself when they are having problems and the instructor/student.
We can log directly into WebCT as the student to see what they are seeing
and help them with their problem.
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WebCT has always been browser specific, but with version 3.6, I have found
that it is far more important for students and designers to use the correct
browsers and set up their browsers as directed by WebCT. Version 3.6 is also
far more dependent on the cache settings and if not set properly can create
more problems for students than we realize.
You can go to the link below to check your browser to see if it is compatible
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WebCT Support does provide telephone support as well as a searchable
knowledge base on its website. When I have contacted Support, I have
found that they, for the most part, are knowledgeable and respond to calls
in a timely manner.
Support went through some changes during the summer in an attempt to provide
better service to their customers. They moved away from a regional segregation
of staff into a team approach. However, I have found this format somewhat
frustrating and fragmented. You dont generally talk to the same people
about issues related to your school. Since multiple people handle requests,
it is difficult to determine whether issues relevant to your school are a
symptom of a larger problem within the file structure of WebCT.
If there is one thing that truly sticks out working with WebCT is the lack
of clear documentation. While the software clearly meets our needs, documentation
is sorely lacking. I have been assured that WebCT has tripled their documentation
staff, but as of this writing, I have not seen improvement in this area.
When I started working with WebCT, I went looking for some kind of user
group with which I could network and discuss issues regarding WebCT
and was unable to find anything. However, I did stumble across a listserv
and have found reading the information it provides extremely informative.
If you are interested in WebCT, I would strongly recommend that you join a
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