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The take-up of web technology: Promoting changes in teaching staff and in the institution

Steve Hansen
Graeme Salter

PlatformWeb Development Team, Department of Computing and Information Systems
University of Western Sydney
This paper presents a web based infrastructure model that has been used at the University of Western Sydney since 1998 in a project to promote the mass adoption by staff of web technologies in their everyday teaching. This project, called PlatformWeb, provides an integrated one-stop-shop environment for academic staff, support staff and the students. The infrastructure connecting various administration supporting functions into the teaching delivery modules. The project has been based on applying adoption/diffusion models in developing the systems specifications and making use of organisation models of adoption of innovations in providing the institutional support needed. The basic premise is that for staff, on mass, to adopt new practices and technologies, the technology must first address current perceived needs. From surveying it was found that a major perception of "problems" with traditional teaching lay in the lack of adequate supporting administration-type infrastructures. This paper focuses on presenting the systems architecture, its operation and results of this project, with an overview of the underlying theoretical adoption/diffusion and organisational models used.


In 1998, at the University of Western Sydney Macarthur, a project called PlatformWeb (Hansen et al, 1999) was introduced to promote a mass movement by teaching staff in the adoption and diffusion of web technologies in the teaching and learning environment. A particular objective being to promote the development of online practices to complement traditional teaching and to assist in the development of flexible learning modes. From a study of theoretical models of the adoption of innovations at the institution and individual levels, corresponding strategies were developed. At the institutional level this involved the raising of perceived needs in agenda setting through to clarification and implementation of the "innovation-decision" process in terms of institutional changes (very much in accordance with the Rogers (Rogers, 1995) descriptive framework). At the individual level, an adopter-based, or user-centric design model (Salter, 1999) was chosen as being most applicable to the adoption of an innovation such as web technologies by academic staff.

From staff surveys of perceived needs and problems in both traditional teaching and in moving to use of the web, a user-centric design process for the needed specifications of the web technology was chosen. This model sees the needs, and perceptions of the potential adopters as being the primary forces that influence adoption.

The adopters were identified as primarily (at this stage) the teaching staff. Adopter (staff) perceptions were then surveyed in terms of real or perceived problems firstly in existing traditional teaching delivery (in the broadest sense, not restricted to the lecture room) and secondly in moving to web based teaching. From these surveys, the major perceived problems by staff (in general, not just the "innovators") lay in administration support and in general communications with the institution (rating higher than the perception of a need to use new technologies) and in moving to the web, in the learning of web technologies and utilising their legacy material.

A detailed specifications (Hansen et al, 1999) for an integrated administration/teaching web based information system was then developed as an incremental set of requirements. This included, from the beginning, a full and automatic integration with the university student enrollment, staff, subject and courses databases. An examination of currently available commercial teaching web based teaching delivery products did not satisfy this degree of infrastructure support and integration. This need for integration has improved with most packages such as WebCT providing either open-source code for modification or some form of access to the packages databases.

To test the theoretical models, an in house product was designed, and starting with a barebones pilot study in the second semester 1998, a major trial in the first semester 1999, and then open availability for all staff for the second half of 1999. The functionality has been increased with the specifications coming from staff feedback to include all forms of static material, including external web sites, online quizzes, discussion groups, online markbook, various forms of student online assignment submission and a variety of messaging.

In addition, by addressing the perceived needs of the institution, the administration infrastructure has now increased to include online tutorial registrations for all subjects across the campus, full integration with the timetabling systems, examination (Hansen, Davies, Salter, 1999) and results systems and various administration intranet functions.

In the following sections, is presented the specifications of this infrastructure, how it relates to the teaching environment and its use by staff, students and the institution.

System specifications

Adopter (or staff) perceptions were sampled in terms of real or perceived problems firstly in existing traditional teaching delivery and secondly in moving to web based teaching. Both perceptions being considered important in determining the adoption strategies (Surry, 1996). A summary of these is presented below.

Real or perceived problems with traditional teaching delivery (as seen by staff)

The main concerns can be grouped into three main areas. These were:
  1. General administration problems in subject delivery dealing with student enrolment, timetabling, and resource availability.

  2. General and specific communication to/from students resulting in student (and staff) confusion of procedures, requirements and where to obtain needed information.

  3. Student participation and attitudes towards attendance at lectures and submission of assignment work
From this survey work, the importance of the administration information systems in supporting existing traditional teaching methods, becomes apparent. The survey also indicated that some (if not many) of the attitudes students develop regarding their learning experiences (particularly in large subjects) are influenced by the administration related problems encountered in the first few weeks of their studies, particularly regarding communication with the staff and administration. The integration of activities goes beyond the integration of just teaching activities as recommended by Zhao (ZHAO,1998), to include fundamental administration information systems.

Real or perceived problems with moving to web based teaching delivery

The main concerns for this area were grouped into three main areas.
  1. Developing and learning web technology. Except for a few "trend setters" the bulk of the teaching staff had reservations on spending the time and effort in learning how to produce and author web based material. Also put forward was the concern of "locking in" to vendor specific methods if a commercial web delivery product was to be used.

  2. Making use of existing materials and resources. Since most staff had developed over the years, considerable amount of material in traditional form (typically quizzes, notes and slide presentations), a major concern was how these could be easily incorporated into web delivery.

  3. Technology and network issues. The typical concerns being student access, bandwidths, multiple passwords to access various websites and available computer facilities.

User specifications

From the above responses, a set of user specifications was drawn up for the online system. From these user specifications, a teaching delivery module was designed integrated with an outer infrastructure "shell" which, in turn, interfaced to the university's administration systems.

The basic user specifications being:

The above specification being generic in form, can also be used to assess various vendor's products for suitability for mass use in an institution for web based education delivery. In particular, without the last two specifications plus the incorporation of legacy material, from the survey work, it is proposed that there will be a resistance from the "bulk" of teaching staff to move into web delivery.

System architecture

An overview of the integrated teaching support infrastructure is given in Figure 1. There is a single logon page for all users. On this page are links to view the university subject timetable and other associated information. On logging in, the system displays separate menus for students or staff. From the student menu, along with a general message and password change areas, is displayed a listing of the current semester subjects. If the subject is making use of an online teaching delivery package, a link is enabled to access that subject. If there are any unread messages for a subject, a message flag is also displayed against the subject. From a menu bar, the student can access their grade and results information and access the online tutorial registration system..

On the staff menu page are menu items for the administration intranet, subject registration and subject support functions. Listed are also any online delivery registered subjects. Currently, staff can choose the in-house "Pweb" package or WebCT. Clicking on the subject code takes the staff member to the teaching delivery package, clicking on the subject name displays a downloadable list of the currently enrolled students for that subject. From the subject support menu link, the online tutorial registration system is made available. This will display any subjects the staff member has been allocated to by the timetable allocation. For these subjects, the staff member can access the online tutorial allocations, move students between groups and set full flags. In addition the data can be downloaded, and from the student lists, the subject enrolments for a particular student can also be viewed.

Figure 1

Figure 1: User view of the PlatformWeb integrated infrastructure

Additional menu items may be displayed depending on the administration support functions been allocated to the staff member. These include examination and grades modules, the tutorial allocation management and administration modules, general support administration modules and a helpdesk module.

If the staff member is making use of the in-house Pweb teaching delivery module, further integration to the student system is available. The student enrolment is automatically updated daily from the university administration, flagging any new on unlisted students. Results from the teaching package can be automatically collected by the infrastructure and combined with the results administration module.

The tutorial registration module works with the university timetable system to provide a decentralised management and easy online setting up and monitoring of the registration process.

Performance and results

An initial trial was conducted in the second half of 1998 with 19 subjects and 800 students (Hansen et al, 1999). Full integration with the university's administration systems was provided with a barebones teaching delivery module (besides the full administration interface a simple online messaging system, uploading of various forms of legacy material, external websites and links). Over the 13 week semester a little over 500,000 pages/items were accessed. Over 475 of the students, on average, used the system daily, and over the 13 weeks of the semesters the average usage was close to 5 times/week (one entry- accesses all that student's subjects). Staff acceptance was high, with the administration and messaging systems being heavily used.

By the start of 1999, based on staff specifications, extra functionality was included such as a full online quiz module, uploading of student work, online markbook, customising and various assessment activities. The number of participating staff/subjects rose to about 50, with about 2,500 students online. This had risen to about 200 staff/subjects for the second semester and about 4,500 students (total student population for the Macarthur campus being about 8,000 students).

Staff participation has been purely on a voluntary basis, with staff workshops being run from staff demand (24 workshops were run for about 200 staff at the start of the second semester 1999 from just a single advertising email). By the first semester of 2000, there were over 300 staff and subjects online, with over 120 support administration staff and over 85% of the students across the campus having at least one subject online. Over 10 million items have been accessed during this semester, the log files averaging 25 megabytes daily.

From the second semester in 1999, the online tutorial system was introduced. There were over 30,000 online registrations, covering 243 subjects and over 7,000 individual students. The acceptance of this system by staff and students has been extremely high, the current status being a demand from students to staff for all subjects and registrations to be placed online.

From staff surveying, the initial attraction for most staff for using this system was as the model predicted, the ease of access to the supporting administration such as subject and tutorial lists. This was quickly augmented with the placement of mainly static material up for subject content. Increasingly staff are now making use of the online assessment methods such as student uploading of assignments and the online markbook (over half of the staff are currently at this stage). Although the use of online quizzes has been extensively been used in some of the large size subjects (300+ students), only about 20% of staff have been making use of the quiz module and the discussion module.

What was found, was that for about half of the staff currently online, this was the first time they had fully prepared material for students on a regular and well organised manner and the move to making use of the web technologies had made a significant shift in their awareness of teaching methodologies.

From the university's administration staff, the use of the web technologies integrating the student enrollment, tutorial registration and results processing with the teaching delivery has produced changes in the actual administration system. The broad shift is towards a decentralised and more efficient management, with the web technologies providing the necessary information for the decentralisation to occur. In addition, the speedy feedback of online data from students has resulted in marked improvements in data integrity and a high acceptance and support from the administration centres for the infrastructure.


Within 18 months of the pilot study of an integrated web based teaching infrastructure, the number of participating staff has voluntarily reached over 300 with almost the total student population being involved. The development of this infrastructure has resulted in communication between the administration and teaching units and the development of improved structures and increased awareness of the supporting roles to the learning environment.

This infrastructure has also allowed staff to incrementally make use of online techniques by supplying the supporting administration/technical environment.


Hansen, S., Davies, P., and Salter, G. (1999). Online assessment with large classes: Issues, methodologies and case studies. Proceedings of WebNet99 World Conference on the WWW and Internet, Honolulu: 1498-1503.

Hansen, S., Deshpande, Y., and Murugesan, S. (1999). Adoption of web-based teaching delivery by staff in educational institutions: Issues, strategies and a pilot study. Proc of the Australian Web Conference 1999 (AusWeb99), 379-396.

Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of Innovations, 4th Edition. New York: The Free Press.

Salter, G., and Hansen, S. (1999). User-centered design for the facilitation of web-based teaching, Proceedings of the Teaching and Learning Conference, Northern Territory University, Darwin: 231-236.

Surry, D.,and Farquhar, J. (1997). Diffusion theory and instructional technology. Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, Vol 2, No 1, ISSN: 1324-0781.

Zhao, Y. (1998). Design for adoption: The development of an integrated web-based education environment. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, Washington, Vol 30, Issue 3, ISSN 08886504 : 307-320.

Hypertext reference for PlatformWeb:

Contact details: Steve Hansen, Faculty of Informatics, Science & Technology, University of Western Sydney Campbelltown Campus, PO Box 555 Campbelltown, NSW 2560 Australia
Phone (02) 4620 3361 Fax (02) 4620 3266683 Email

Please cite as: Hansen, S. and Salter, G. (2001). The take-up of web technology: Promoting changes in teaching staff and in the institution. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 319-325. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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Created 8 Oct 2001. Last revised: 29 Mar 2003. HTML: Roger Atkinson
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