eTEACH History

eTeach | History | Accessibility

  • Inception
    Learning experience enhancement with a teaching and learning system that incorporated audio, video and text

  • Implementation
    Lectures taken out of the classroom and moved online free up class time for "team labs" with professor and TA

    eTeach Version 2
    An authoring interface allows casual users an interface similar to other editing software, and usage grows

    eTeach Version 3
    eTEACH rebuilt to make the media more accessible to anyone with internet access

    Course Impact
    Knowledge gained outside of course time and enables students to work with the professor and classmates to apply and expand upon the concepts in a community setting


Back in the early 90's, when most computer users were just beginning to migrate to the Internet over their slow dial-up connections, Greg Moses and Larry Landweber were already looking toward the future. They foresaw the coming bandwidth explosion and began to look for the "killer app" which would define the internet. Their answer: video.

Originally called "Learning on Demand", the fledgling project got underway courtesy of grants consisting of video servers and software from HP and Sun Microsystems. However, the project stalled due to technical difficulties surrounding the coordination of the two technologies and the lack of funding for further development of the software necessary.

This situation persisted until 1996, when, due to his involvement with the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Greg Moses was the recipient of another grant. Despite a lack of concrete direction regarding the ultimate usage of the fledgling technology, Mike Litzkow was brought on board to further develop the software needed.

As the software was developed, Greg and Mike began to work closely with the School of Education, converting existing videotapes into digital materials that could be accessed over the Internet. This partnership gave birth to the idea now know as eTeach.

Rather than simply posting research and training videos online, the goal became to develop a teaching and learning system that incorporated audio, video and text to enhance the learning experience. Despite the ambitious nature of this project, the first iteration of eTeach became available in 1999, less than two years after it was proposed.


One of the first courses to use the original version of eTeach was CS310, "Engineering Problem Solving Using Computers", a large undergraduate course taught by John Strickwater and Greg Moses. This course was selected due to the potential to generate a large impact through the use of the technology. Also, due to the technological nature of the course, the integration of technology into the course pedagogy would not be intrusive.

During previous iterations of the course, students were required to attend two lectures each week taught by the professor, as well as one computer lab session taught by a teaching assistant. Both professors and students expressed dissatisfaction at this arrangement. Students evaluations frequently expressed a feeling of disconnect between the lectures, which were focused on mathematical models, and the lab sessions, which were focused on the software tools. Due to the large class size, professors had difficulty observing the learning process on an intrusiveidual level, leading to conflicts between faculty expectations and student performance.

Recognizing the problems inherent in this design, Moses and Strickwater redesigned the course to improve the teaching and learning environment. The lectures were taken out of the classroom setting and transformed into eTeach presentations accessible from the labs, dorms and students' homes. A new "team lab" section, taught by both the professor and a TA, replaced the time previously spent in lecture.

As Moses says, "If you're teaching a 3-credit course and you're going to meet with the students roughly 40 times in a semester, you want to make the best use of the time that you have with the student. And the conventional lecture, in my opinion, doesn't really do that, because if you feel obligated to spend the majority of that time just lecturing to people than that could have just as easily been done using one of these kinds of presentation tools. You didn't need to necessarily do that in a face-to-face meeting. There are great advantages to the face-to-face meeting, but if you don't take advantage of any of those opportunities, then it's just wasted time. So I just teach differently using this. I expect people to come to class and they've already viewed this material at least once in the presentation. And I try to take people to a different level in the face-to-face meeting, because they've had the opportunity to sit and listen to this before coming in."

eTEACH Version 2

Despite the positive feedback from students, Moses and Litzkow knew there was still a great deal of work left to be done. The first version of eTeach, while functional, did not include an authoring tool. This meant that the casual computer user was unable to easily create the lectures, as each lecture needed to be hand coded in XML. So Moses and Litzkow worked to create an authoring interface for the program which would allow casual users the same type of "drag-and-drop" interface found in other editing software.

Once this was accomplished, the program gained greater traction within the UW system. It was selected by UW-Whitewater's on-line MBA program as the delivery method for their distance education courses, and is still used by the program to this day. On the Madison campus, other professors adopted the program and began to craft lectures for their own courses.

On of these adopters was John Norback, a Professor of Food Science.
As part of a US-AID project, Norback taught a course in Bangladesh about the use of statistics in food quality control. At the end of the course, a number of students asked if the material would be available on-line for themselves and others. After he returned from his trip, Norback began to search for a way to make his lectures available to a much wider audience, leading him to eTeach.

Norback began development of an entire on-line learning system, consisting of books, customized software and eTeach lectures that are made available to instructors and students from across the globe. He also worked to adapt his traditional reliance on blackboards for the web, mounting a camera above a sheet of paper and recording his writing. This video is then imported into eTeach, along with the PowerPoint slides and video of him giving the lecture.

eTEACH Version 3

The next round of improvements to eTeach began as part of the Engage program. Having already developed a proven learning tool, Litzkow and Moses began to seek ways to make the media accessible to anyone with a connection to the Internet. Through an adaptation award from the Engage program, and the assistance various staff members within DoIT, eTeach was completely rebuilt. The reliance on Microsoft' Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player was eliminated and replaced by Flash based technology, allowing the tool to be used on all operating systems.

In redeveloping the tools, the Engage team worked diligently to retain all of the existing features as well as add support for additional media types. The latest version of eTeach now supports the inclusion of Flash video, similar to that used on YouTube, and also supports audio files in the form of mp3's. The most notable outcome of the redesign of eTeach is found in the improved degree of user-centric design and implementation.

Course Impact

Talk to Greg Moses about eTeach for any length of time and you will probably hear him promote "reversing the lecture-homework paradigm." The traditional paradigm is to lecture to the student and then have them apply the knowledge gained in lecture to external problems, such as case studies, term papers and critical thinking exercises, outside of the course time.

However, using eTeach allows the student to gain the necessary knowledge outside of the assigned course time and then work with the professor and other classmates to apply and expand upon the concepts in a community setting. It takes the lecture from being an "event" and transforms it into another resource, just like the textbook or course website. This shift provides both students and professors opportunities for deeper, more challenging and more rewarding learning environments. As Litzkow says, "Obviously eTeach has implications for distance education, but I think really the best way to use it, to enhance education, is to gain more time to work interactively with the students."

Using eTeach, a normal 50-minute lecture can compress down to 20 to 25 minutes in length. It makes it easier for professors to stay on track and focus on key learning concepts. For students, the level of control provided over the lecture allows for a truly customizable learning experience. As Moses notes "[students] can even watch a 30-second segment over and over again if [they] want, or [they] can stop it and examine what's on the screen."

eTeach even provides professors the ability to lecture when they would normally be unable to due to conference presentations and other conflicts. Simply record the lecture as an eTeach module and direct the student to the website, rather than canceling class and falling behind schedule.

"There's upfront costs to this," Moses concludes, "but if you're willing to pay those you can really improve things over the long haul."