Understanding Dreamweaver: Skill-based Training in a Pedagogical Context

Ed Schwartz
Manager of the Faculty Development Institute and Director of the New Media Center
Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., with more than 500 non-teaching scientific investigators on faculty, aims to become one of the nation's top 30 research universities. This number is slated to grow to several thousand over the next few years. For more than a decade, the university has successfully leveraged information technology to compete more effectively for research funding, weather campus budget cuts, and rethink its teaching strategies. The Faculty Development Institute (FDI), launched in 1993, provides faculty with direct access to state-of-the-art technology and the training to use it.

Macromedia (recently acquired by Adobe) Dreamweaver plays a key role in this skills development incentive program, which is ongoing and campus wide.

Unlike many other institutions, we do not have a production shop on campus to accommodate our classroom instructors. Instead of designing individual websites or adapting content for use with a course management system, we train faculty to do the work themselves.

Our professional development program, though voluntary, has a 96 percent faculty buy-in rate. The huge carrot we offer each of our 1,500 faculty members is a new laptop or desktop computer every four years in exchange for participation in an extensive training program. Each replacement computer contains the latest version of several software programs, including Dreamweaver. FDI offers some 120 two-hour workshops per semester for faculty, staff and graduate students to choose from, and a peer-to-peer mentoring program for ongoing informal support. There is no charge for faculty to participate in the program, nor are there charges back to their academic departments. Participants can choose from a large cafeteria of courses that integrate skill-based training with pedagogical and research needs.

In the early days of the program, FDI judiciously targeted instructors who were most open to changing their teaching methods. By the third year, people who initially resisted the project were more inclined to come on board. It helped that faculty members volunteered to come into training sessions and share their best practices with colleagues.

As the web evolved, we quickly moved from teaching rudimentary HTML skills, to teaching web creation, to adopting Dreamweaver as the campus standard. Studio components such as Dreamweaver and Flash were designed so that non-technical content experts could create their own websites. The current version of Dreamweaver, with its CSS templates, addresses the accessibility issue, which is becoming increasingly critical for public institutions such as ours. As a state university, we will need to comply with accessibility policies set by the federal government. We are already training that first wave of interested faculty in the proper use of these templates.

Our training sessions emphasize the whys as well as the hows-and go well beyond the basics of learning product features. If skills are to be used effectively, we need to place them within a pedagogical context. Dreamweaver sessions, for instance, include a discussion and demonstration of standalone web pages--particularly for smaller classes, as well as the delivery of content within a course management system.

Even our non-technical faculty master the basics of Dreamweaver's layout and design features quickly. The result is less workshop time spent on learning the tool, and more time on actually creating media content for instruction. There is no one pedagogical bullet-and through discussion and demonstration; we try to target different groups.


Higher-Order Training
The program operates on a four-year cycle, with 25 percent of all faculty members receiving new equipment and a guaranteed slot in an extensive training program in any given year. A large number of faculty members have already gone through our formal training program three times. Each workshop concludes with a written evaluation and a brainstorming session to help us anticipate future training needs.

Two years ago we introduced research oriented training into the mix, which emphasizes ways to facilitate productivity as a researcher. In recent years, several faculty members have requested training in Macromedia Flash for specialized pedagogical applications. The music department, for instance, has created an online music dictionary with a Flash-created online keyboard. By mousing over a musical term, you can hear the term pronounced in English. Another Flash feature is the ability to click on a musical note and hear the sound.

The current FDI staff consists of one full-time and two part-time professionals and two graduate assistants. Since knowledgeable faculty teach the majority of workshops across different departments, the IT and instructional design staff at FDI and the New Media Center have additional time and flexibility to tackle larger projects and plan for future technology needs.

The use of technology to do more with less has freed up faculty as well as staff time. In the case of Math Emporium it has transformed the undergraduate teaching paradigm from large-classroom instruction to one of self-paced learning. Over 7,000 students in a dozen mathematics classes from all the colleges in the university, plus students in teacher-preparation courses now use the award-winning Math Emporium, which opened in 1997. The university spent several million dollars remodeling and equipping a former department store with 500 computers arranged in study pods of six workspaces each. The emporium stays open 24 hours a day and is staffed by mathematics faculty during 14 of these hours. Students can pick their personal best time and learning style for achieving success in low-level math courses. Not only d'es the Emporium alternative save money and teaching hours, but it also enables students to perform at or above the level of students enrolled in a traditional course structure.

The Emporium is one of several creative endeavors to reinvent learning for the Internet age. Driven by pedagogical need, the English Department created a suite of learning tools, which provide a fun online supplement the face-to-face courses. The tools consist of the Grammar Gym, WIT (Write, Inquire, Think), and Rhizomatic Writing. These tools address those skills that can most benefit the students in their careers. They are all self-paced and always available on the web.

Being a Land-Grant Institution, Virginia Tech has a large outreach and Extension mission. The 107 county extension offices, six 4-H educational centers and 13 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers rely on Macromedia Breeze Meeting, Breeze Presenter, Dreamweaver and Flash as critical tools in the creation and sharing of critical information quickly across the expanse of the state.

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