Course Administration:
The Often Neglected Component of Technology Infusion

Jorge Luis Romeu, Ph.D.

Juarez Lincoln Marti International Education Project Director
Correspondence: P.O. Box 6134, Syracuse, NY 13217. USA
Web Page:

Published in the Jour of Educ. Tech. Syst., Vol. 31(1) pp. 35-43; 2002-2003.


Technology infusion and new pedagogical methods create an extra load on
the faculty that introduces them. However, course administration
techniques, that enhance the instructor's working capabilities to cope
with this extra load, are seldom provided. This sometimes leads to
failures in faculty development efforts. In this paper, we discuss real
life experiences in teaching technology infusion and modern pedagogical
methodology while also including course administration techniques. We
present such experiences in Third World institutions where, due to
economic and infrastructure limitations, tools such as Course
Administration Software cannot be used. We instead substitute them with
standard software tools, which are then integrated with modern pedagogical
and technical principles, into our entire teaching approach. Examples and
results are presented.

Introduction and Background

There are ubiquitous ongoing efforts, these days, to introduce new
pedagogical methods and new technology in the classroom. These efforts are
taking place worldwide: both in affluent and advanced countries such as
the US and in Third World ones in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In these
latter ones, however, the infrastructure and the economic power of
educational institutions are much lower. But in all, we are facing a
common and crucial problem: helping the instructor cope with the new
methodology and technology!

The educator, it is good to remember and recognize, is also a human being.
As such, educators have a life including spouses, children, friends and a
career development to pursue. Educators also have legitimate
time-consuming needs and obligations outside school, such as car and home
maintenance and personal time for leisure and sleep.

However, technology infusion and the implementation of new pedagogic
methods take additional time from the instructor. And, since the day has
still 24 hours, the introduction of such new activities becomes a
"zero-sum game" situation. Failure to recognize and solve this problem is
a sure receipt for failure, and induces a host of negative attitudes.

Some overwhelmed instructors, for example, burn out and abandon, in
frustration, the new practices, becoming instead walking Ads about the
negative effects of technology infusion in the curriculum. Others, end up
paying lip service to such new technological developments, carrying them
out with no real commitment. Yet others endure these overloads just long
enough to obtain the necessary experience to move on to other positions,
where the use of technology is better recognized, supported and rewarded,
to the detriment of the home institution who provided the initial

In this paper we discuss a fourth, more positive, scenario: the inclusion
of Course Management System (CMS) activities and principles to help the
educator cope with technology infusion. Under such scenario, faculty
development activities still provide instruction on the use of new
pedagogical methods and on infusion of technology into their subjects.
But, at the same time, faculty is taught new approaches to classroom and
course administration, something that changes radically with this new
technology and pedagogy and, thus, requires radically different classroom

This author has developed such combined approaches during many years of
teaching development workshops to science and math faculty in Spain,
Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba. In affluent countries such as the US, there
exist course administration software such as TopClass, WebCT and Angel.
But such solution is seldom available in less affluent ones, for this
carries very high acquisition, maintenance and training costs.

In the remaining of this paper we overview some issues in CMS
implementation, then we overview the material covered in our faculty
development workshops and discuss how we integrate them with course
management practices. Finally, we overview some general, systemic
principles of course administration that we introduce and discuss in our
faculty workshops, derived from our practical experiences in these

Course Management (CM) and its Systems (CMS) Software

CM has been defined as the process of developing, managing and delivering
information related to a specific course; and CMS as the applications,
processes and other required infrastructure designed to facilitate CM (1).
In spite of the fact that, nowhere in these definitions it is stated that
CM/CMS are restricted to Distance Learning, it is here that it is most
widely used. This is perhaps due to the physical separation between
teacher and students that make CMS an almost mandatory component of such
mode of instruction.

The main features of most CMS software packages (2, 3 and 4) include:

(i) continuous and direct communications facilities between instructor and
students (mostly via email/internet),
(ii) electronic delivery of class materials between both, instructor and
students (also via email/internet),
(iii) direct communications facilities between students (via email/chat
(iv) automated student testing, grading and accounting procedures and
(v) software tools for developing curriculum and class materials.

These course administration functions have always existed way before
"technology infusion" just like technology existed way before the PC
revolution (e.g. the overhead projector, white board and ditto machine
were big technological advances in their time). We just have to update
them and take advantage of the new technologies and pedagogical methods we
are introducing, for these purposes too.

Acquiring CMS software, however, is expensive. In addition, maintaining
it, training the instructors in their use and providing the necessary
technical support is an additional burden, both for the institution as
well as for those instructors using it (5, 6, 7). And if this poses some
difficulties in the First World, the reader may imagine how much more
difficult will it be in the Second and Third Worlds. There, some of these
licenses cost the equivalent of the annual salary of several full-time
faculty and, in addition to these costs, we face serious infrastructure

Consider the problem of the HW/SW infrastructure. The academic computer
system may be already heavily taxed with regular administrative functions
as well as with basic instruction (programming courses, statistical
software, etc.). Operating systems may be incompatible with the modern CMS
systems. Computer accessibility, both for faculty and for students, may
make the email communication extremely difficult. Scarcity of laptops and
modems, unreliable phone connections, electrical shortages, etc. may force
faculty to spend an unreasonable time in their work place, in order to
develop class material and answer email -since they cannot work from their

Many of these same problems were confronted by this author in his SUNY
institution, in the mid 1980s, and still exist in many Third World
countries today, severely constraining their use of technology. This
author builds on his own solutions to cope with the above problems, when
suggesting course management functions in such environments.

In addition, there is the human cost involved in implementing the new
methods.  And this one is common both to developed as well as to
developing countries. We are talking about the training that Instructors
need to use the CMS software, which is additional to the training required
to implement all other pedagogical innovations. This complicates matters
further by placing a dilemma: do we want a communications specialist or an
educator that is competent and up-to-date in his or her content matter

In this paper, we argue that CM should be a standard component of any
serious effort in technology infusion and innovation of pedagogical
methods. This will help avoid the burning-out of the instructor and the
corresponding erosion of the improvements introduced. For, since the newly
acquired techniques overburden the instructor we should, along with them,
provide techniques to compensate for the extra work. This way, we are
insuring that faculty really adopt such technology and pedagogical

Workshop Content and Course Management

This author regularly teaches faculty development workshops (8, 9, 10 and
11) on applications of technology and modern pedagogical methods (12 ,13,
14) in statistics, engineering and sciences. He teaches them in small
provincial institutions of developing countries, where many of the
above-mentioned infrastructure problems are ubiquitous.

Our workshops cover three areas. First, we discuss the use of specialized
software (e.g. statistical, such as Minitab; simulation, such as GPSS) in
the teaching of statistics, operations research, management and business
courses -but also in sciences in general  such as physics, chemistry and
biology. Secondly, we discuss modern pedagogical methods that allow the
instructor to develop a student-centered teaching approach, using
techniques such as group learning, team projects and contextual work.

These new methods, however, are difficult to implement using old class
management tools. So our third workshop element consists of course
administration techniques. And, since we do not want to teach CMS systems
that these institutions will not be able to afford (it is difficult enough
for them to acquire Minitab or GPSS licenses) we work with the tools they
have. These are, in most cases, the standard Microsoft Office package
tools (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Explorer). We show how to
substitute with them the above mentioned CMS course management functions,
taking advantage of the same pedagogic techniques we are introducing.

We base our workshops in the following principles: (i) back to basics
(using Microsoft Office), (ii) design/plan ahead, (iii) reuse, (iv) reduce
(overhead), (v) multiply the use (cooperative and team work among
faculty), (vi) integrate your work, whenever possible and (vii) reward
(your faculty). We implement such principles in the following way:

1. An often forgotten but basic skill is typing. Tools with which to build
most of our classroom material can be found in today's ubiquitous
Microsoft Office, which has become a standard in any PC. But their use
require intensive typing. A good typist can answer several emails per
minute, or write a lengthy technical explanation in a Word doc file and
post it in a Web Page. A good typist can prepare a PowerPoint presentation
or a class grade book faster than by hand. If the faculty is not up to
speed in these skills, we begin by strongly suggesting they dedicate a
serious effort to master them, and exhort the institution to support this

2. Ad-hoc work is a sure recipe for both, extra work and poor results. In
our workshops we stress planning and design of all curriculum activities,
but with a systemic approach. Start by stating the course objectives and
how you plan to achieve them. Then take a look at the textbook and the
course length and design accordingly. Prioritize and keep it simple (do
not overburden the students or the curriculum). Then, think about how does
one's course integrate with all the others in the general curriculum. Are
there overlaps that can be eliminated? Are there voids that need to be
filled? Then design each class (top-down approach). Use a computer to
develop as much (if not all) class and curriculum materials and do so in
short, complete, stand-alone modules. Organize your module files in a
hierarchical library and keep a good index of the material developed.

3. Reuse as much material as you can, by developing them modularly. This
is why you use a computer, files and integrated software instead of hand
notes. For example, prepare a statistics module on confidence intervals
that contains the explanation, a numerical example and a (solved)
exercise for the students. We can then use this material in many courses:
in general statistics, in regression or design of experiments, business,
in psychology or biology, etc.). Create a library with your files.

4. Reduce your overhead whenever possible. If you find that three students
ask the same question, write a file with the answer and an example and
send/post it for all the class. This is why you use email and Internet.
Create a FAQ file with the student questions and your answers and send it
out or post it before each class (and avoid 50% of your office hour
questions). Delegate: interact with the group leaders and let these,
interact with their group members. This is an advantage of using group
learning techniques.

5. Latin American faculty is gregarious and sharing. A library of
materials, for the entire department, can be created and shared, operating
in the same manner as a cooperative or credit union. Any faculty that
contributes some material acquires the right to use the other existing
library material. This approach reduces much overhead and duplication,
creates healthy faculty interaction and fosters team-teaching

6. Integrate your work; always take a system approach. When using group
learning, for example, trade breadth by depth. Instead of repeating five
times the same thing, tell it once to a group of five and do so more
extensively. Have groups work on different but related topics and then
have them present their material in class. Students love it, and will love
you, too. Combine Excel-PowerPoint-Word-Outlook-Explorer in an integrated
fashion. If you are using specialized software such as Minitab, collect
your examples in a LIS file and post or email them with your comments and
graphs. Pass down secondary class activities in form of Macros that
students can execute. This helps them keep one difficulty at a time and to
zero-in into the specific class topic.

7. Reward your faculty. This I state in my very first workshop session,
which is always attended by the institution's Dean or Provost. It does not
always mean to raise salaries -which is also OK. A faster computer, needed
software, student grader or TA, lighter load, a public recognition in the
form of a diploma, public mention, etc. can do wonders to raise faculty
morale and work spirit -in the same way that lack thereof can destroy it.
This Hispanic author suffered such lack of recognition and reward, first
hand, and has observed its result in other colleagues. It lead us to take
early retirement and others, to leave the institution or give up in

It becomes evident that, by implementing the above mentioned seven
principles (whatever the specific material our workshop is covering) we
will also be implementing the mentioned five main functions of a CMS.
Only, now with our own tools:

(i) Communications instructor-students (via email/internet): the most
important factor in class delivery, is reinforced by email, internet,
bulletin board, phone, fax, mail, etc., according to existing
possibilities (possibly a good mix). The medium is not as relevant as is
having actual, active, open communication at all times.
(ii) Electronic delivery of materials between instructor and students:
even when few terminals are available and email/internet exchanges are
reduced, this bottleneck can be alleviated via working in teams.
Communicate to-from students via the group leader and considerably reduce
traffic volume. This practice also enhances cooperation among students.
The professional of the XXI Century will interact intensively and work in
teams, and this is an excellent training for it.
(iii) Communications between students (via email/chat rooms): enhancing
group and student interaction is a goal in itself. If email is not
available due to technological constraints, achieve interaction via phone,
fax, public access files, etc. Organize student work by groups and reward
them for it. We all like to be recognized for our good work. Teamwork,
under our approach, only gives the students the right to take the
individual exams, which yield over 50% of their final grade. Students soon
verify that lazy group members will not get the same final grade as
hard-working ones. In addition, groups function autonomously and
democratically. So groups can expel those students that are either
disruptive or do no want to work.
(iv) Automatic student grading and accounting procedures: use Excel
spreadsheets and other grading software. Give short tests often; use
computer-graded or multiple parts and multiple choice. Prepare word
process files and combine questions from past tests. Also, include team
presentations, projects and other in-depth collective work in your grading
scheme and use it to extend learning. Ask questions to different group
members, during their class presentations; this uncovers who did the work
and encourages participation. Survive grading!
(v) Curriculum and class materials developing tools: combine all Microsoft
Office software to create appealing and reusable modules of class
preparations, labs, tests, etc. Share them with other faculty that share
with you. If you don't have Microsoft, find out what equivalent software
your operating system supports, learn it and use it in the same way
explained above. Be resourceful.

We have taught many workshops in Spain and Latin America, using the
above-mentioned principles. We have done so both, in small, provincial and
poorly endowed institutions and in internationally recognized ones, with
computer facilities comparable to those of their American counterparts. We
have even taught to entire university systems, though their distance
learning facilities. We have always found eager, interested and receptive
faculty that has later implemented these educational principles in their
classrooms. Several of these experiences have then been assessed (15, 16)
and found to work well.

Summary and Conclusions

The faculty development experiences discussed in the present paper have
been successful in more than one way. Firstly, the Juarez Lincoln Marti
International Education Project, through which this writer teaches most of
his workshops abroad, has more demands for faculty development courses
than it can currently meet.

In the recent past, we have obtained a Speaker Specialist Grant from the
Department of State, to teach such workshops in Mexico. From this
experience, we have devised an ingenious work plan, by which we go abroad
to teach a long workshop in an endowed institution that can transport us.
And once there, we teach a second, shorter course in a smaller, less
endowed institution on a much lower overhead. With this approach we have
been able to serve several additional provincial universities and to train
dozens of their faculty in the new technologies and methodologies
mentioned above, with good results.

Finally, we teach such workshops in the vernacular language (Spanish) at a
very low cost for the receiving institution, since we are a
service-oriented and not a for-profit Project. After the workshop, we
create a follow-up link that can take one of several forms. We may create
an email list and periodically communicate with the faculty through the
workshops leaders (counterparts that worked with us as class assistants
and remain as team leaders and communications interfaces). Or, at
better-endowed institutions, an Internet Forum can be set up, where
faculty can directly communicate with us, tell us about their progress and
problems and keep up with any further development.

That the Juarez-Lincoln-Marti Project continues teaching such course
administration faculty development workshops and has a growing following
is not only our greatest reward and pride, but the best assessment of the
success of the methods employed.


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About the Author: Jorge Luis Romeu directs the Juarez Lincoln Marti
International Education Project. He received a Ph.D. in Operations
Research from Syracuse University. He retired Emeritus from SUNY in 1998.