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Project Staf18
Comparison and Analysis of the educational servers
WebCT and TopClass

        WebCT is a Web based set of Course Tools designed to deliver online learning. It facilitates the creation of sophisticated World Wide Web-based educational environments with student tools and instructor/designer tools that can be used to assist both the student in the act of communicating and learning, and the instructor in act of providing and maintaining an educational environment. WebCT allows the designer to conveniently alter the look of the course with many tools provided. It was developed in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. Now it has a widespread use. The WebCT page is available at TECFA. If you are interested in learning it systematically, you can also follow a real course created with WebCT on WebCT Learner Guide by creating an account.
        While WBT Systems' TopClass Server provides a powerful virtual classroom environment to manage all aspects of content and class management and to deliver a flexible learning environment built entirely on the open, on-proprietary standards of the Web. It provides also student tools and instructor/designer tools. The designer in TopClass can also change the look of the course by using the tools quite similar to those of WebCT. It is being successfully used by academic institutions and corporations around the world such as the State University of New York (SUNY).


Users' Rights
        Both of them have several classes of user each of the user classes operates differently.

WebCT TopClass
            The administrtor 
            The designer/instructor 
            The administrator 
            The designer/instructor 
Features and Tools

        The content of a course is provided by the course designer (or instructor - the terms are used interchangeably here). Both WebCT and TopClass provide structure, interactivity, and educational tools. These tools allow the designer to alter the look of the course by, for example, selecting from existing (or creating custom) color schemes, choosing among button sets, and more.
        You can find a detailed comparison of the features and tools of WebCT and TopClass here.

       Login page

        Both WebCT and TopClass are password protected. Whether you want to go into a course or to create a course, you have to get the authorization. Unsually it is the administrator who offer the accounts to the instructors and in turn it is the teachers who authorize the students to go into the courses.


        When you first access the course, WebCT will have created a default homepage which your can modify to suit your needs. It can contain, among other things, a banner image, a textual message, links to course content elements (notes and assignments, for example), and links to course tools. For the detailed way of editing the homepage, please consult WebCT tutorials.
        Once you log in, the homepage will appear immediately, in which you will find all the necessary links to the courses. You can go to coursework, read or send messages, send class announcements, create and moderate discussion list, monitor the progress of your students and classes, review submissions, and most of important of all, create or edit course contents or change user preferences and other aspects of TopClass by using "Utilities". Here is the detailed information of all these tools.

        Course Content

        You can go directly into the course content from the homepage. Once there you can add  a welcome page, create single pages of content, create toolpages and add tools, etc. For more details, please consult WebCT tutorials.
        All the related course tools are located in "Utilities" on the homepage. There you can find the icon "Create/Edit Course".

Once in the Create/Edit Course page, you can add folders, pages, exercises or add existing course/page/test.

      Course Structure:

        A WebCT path is a set of course notes (or any pages of course content such as assignments, etc) organized by the WebCT Path Editor into a hierarchy and sequence. The sequence of pages is the typical route through the notes that you      would expect a student to follow.The WebCT Path Editor allows you to organize and order the sequence of content pages which make up the various sections of your course. For example, your Course Notes section may consist of 100 individual HTML pages. The Path Editor will help you to lay out the table of contents for these pages.
      A sample table of contents is shown in the following figure.

From the above figure we can see that the order and sequence of a WebCT course is quite like that of a book. The advantage of it is that it fits the habitute of learning through a book and thus the students are quite used to it.

        The structure of TopClass is like that of a university or an institution. Once in it the students can find many courses to choose from. For example, in a language institution, the students can choose whatever language provided to learn, as shown in the following schema.

 The visual path of a TopClass course is like: 

This is exactly the structure of the TopClass courses.

The layout of a course is like


        WebCT is a tool built by instructors for instructors. Nearly all the elements of creating an on-line course have been thought of as shown in the features and tools it provides. Compared with TopClass it is more advanced in creating a single course. Pedagogically speaking, if I'm going to create a sophisticated course, e.g. English, I prefer to use it. The reasons are as following:

  1. Every phase of a course has been thought of: pretest, course content, aftertest and then within the course there are self tests and quizzes. That goes with the teaching process.
  2. It is more convenient. In every page of the course there is the toolbar where the students can always find the glossary, consult references, search for things related to the course if they have any doubt on it. And the self-test is always there to make sure that the students have understood what they have learned. The following is a sample toolbar:
  3. The layout of the course is quite similar to the index of a book. The advantage of this is that it is easier to know where we are and the relationship between the topics is quite clear.
  4. With a navigating button always at the top left corner of every page, it is easier to navigate, since the navigating tools in Windows do not always work.
        In my opinion, pedagogically speaking, WebCT has considered every aspect of teaching.


         As for TopClass, it has its own characteristics. TopClass works like a university. A course is created, a virtual classroom is booked, and students register for the course. This is reflected from the structure of the courses. A university offers a list of courses for the students to choose from. Once the students register, they have the freedom to choose from the all the courses provided. The following is a sample course structure:

         This kind of structure is more computerized. It just follows the path tree of a normal computer. We can put it in another way. It seems that we open a big suitcase and find several smaller ones and in which there are still smaller ones, etc. This kind of structure is fine if we bear in mind that we are in a university. Once in a university we should find the institution, the department, the faculty, the section and finally the courses we want to follow. Of course here a student does not need to do that much. He has much choice as possible. This is one of the advantages of TopClass course structure: it offers as many as possible choices of courses and topics as well as course materials. Thus it is better for multiple course design.


        Pedagogically speaking, WebCT is much better than TopClass in designing a single course in that it has thought about every phase of a course.
        As for TopClass, it is better for a virtual university. Once login, a student can have many choices of courses. But in my opinion it still needs to be improved. For example, when I was trying to design some courses in it, I found a navigating problem in it: After previewing a page which is being edited, one can not go back to the edit page directly. One way to go back to it again is to go to Utilities, Create/Edit course, (course) list, then choose the course being edited and then go into the page being edited. It is a little annoying, but it works in that way.

        There are much more to be found in the two educational web tools. But because of time limit, I have to stop here.


Landonline Web Tool for Comparative Analysis
TECFA WebCT Server
WebCT Homepage
WebCT Tutorial
Introduction to WebCT
TECFA TopClass Server
TopClass Documentation
WBTsystems Homepage
Instructor Guide
Student Guide

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