There are many advocates who suggest putting teaching
material on the World Wide Web (WWW) as a substitute for traditional
teaching practice and there are many predictions that the Internet
will revolutionise education. However, there are also those, perhaps
mindful of previous experiences with educational technologies,
who are already predicting the demise of the Web.
This paper describes an experience in using the
WWW as a major component in teaching a tertiary Management Information
Systems unit, and describes how the material is used by students
as compared to traditional delivery methods. This experience is
then used to reflect on the nature of the WWW and to forecast
its potential for revolutionary change in educational delivery.
The paper concludes that while the WWW offers
up exciting new possibilities in course presentation, it is presently
a supplementary, not a replacement, technology when compared to
traditional teaching vehicles like textbooks and lecture notes.
Conventional university delivery consists of two
components - the whole group lecture and the small group tutorial
or practical class. It is common for the lecture to be a formal
delivery of material where content and control is by the academic.
Typically the tutorial is a less formal discussion of issues,
with content and control shared by the academic and the students.
How much tutorial freedom is given to students depends on the
discipline, the organisation's culture, and the personal preferences
of the academic (who still retains overall control). Practical
classes lie somewhere in between lectures and tutorials, with
more formal control necessary in those classes that use expensive
equipment and/or pose inherent dangers.
While there are local variation on this basic structure,
universities have used these techniques for generations, and at
present look like continuing to do so, notwithstanding the episodic
availability of numerous educational technologies, amongst the
latest of which is the World Wide Web (WWW).
Whether the predictions be positive or negative,
most forecasts of an impending revolution in educational practice
have proved to be at best short lived, and at worst total non-events.
Consider some of the following comments on particular
"The intention was to break down the walls of
the classroom and bring the world in" [Connor, 1970] describing
the promise of post-World War 2 radio.
"Teachers are faced by a rising tide of technological
hardware ... the tape recorder is still the most widely
available, the most flexible and useful." [Jones, 1972]
"the legitimacy and acceptance of commercial
feature films in the history curriculum is beyond question"
[Prof. Stuart Samuels, quoted in Murray, 1979]
"Despite all advances in technology, the most
widely used visual aid is still the overhead projector"
We could go on and on here, but the interested reader
is directed to Sims  and to Adam  for more examples.
The examples already referred to were positive claims
made by their particular champions of the day. Just as inaccurate,
however, have been the prophets of doom who have predicted the
decline in education standards with the advent of paper (and the
loss of the slate), the pen replacing the pencil, the fountain
pen the nibbed pen, and the ball point pen replacing the fountain
pen. These technologies have not destroyed education, though (and
I admit a personal bias) the pocket calculator might have!
Innovations like those already mentioned crop up
from time to time, but while they have all had, and in some cases
still do have, their faithful champions and adherents, nothing
much has changed in the teaching and learning process, and after
a brief period of flirtation/activity with some new technology,
things go back to normal.
The ten million inhabitants of London would be surprised
to learn that their city has a maximum population of half-a-million,
for that is a prediction made in the late 1890's (just after the
first cars appeared). It was based on extending the current horse
transport needs and predicting that with that population London
would be knee deep in horse manure! Similar predictions were made
in Edwardian times about the motor car. A world-wide limit of
half-a-million (a popular number?) cars was predicted because
then we would run out of chauffeurs. So while we live in a dynamic
world where change is seen as so desirable as to be almost elevated
to the status of a religious faith, predicting the future impact
of such changes is as difficult as ever.
The arrival of the World Wide Web (WWW) is seen by
many as the latest hope for a technological revolution in educational
delivery. The question needs to be asked then as to how this particular
technology will impact on the traditional practices in the future.
In the short term, we can expect use of the WWW to
supplement traditional methods. In the medium-to-long term, a
number of things can happen:
use of the WWW will fade away;
use of the WWW will continue indefinitely along with
traditional methods as a value-adding supplement;
use of the WWW will continue for a while along with
traditional methods as an incidental adjunct;
the WWW will displace (and possibly replace) traditional
Technologies that become firmly established typically
follow a growth pattern (figure 1) as described by Nolan .
Figure 1: A Nolan growth curve
In the initiation stage, a few committed individuals
grapple with the technology in trying to meet basic needs. There
is little planning and relatively little management control. Following
this, provided others become convinced of the value of the technology,
a contagious growth takes place, typically so fast that there
is a lack of control over the expansion. This expansion is then
brought under control, often with an over-reaction, until finally
the needs of management and users are integrated and a balanced
mature position is reached. We see this in the growth of personal
computers in schools, with slow growth, then explosion with everybody
buying different brands of hardware and software, then hierarchic
attempts at control (like edicts to only purchase brand X computers)
before the technology matures into commonplace. With WWW access
a similar explosion in access is taking place, and plans are already
being made to control this growth with special education networks
where some censorship can be exercised over material available.
The initiation phase needs only a few committed enthusiastic
individuals who are able and willing to experiment with new techniques.
But the expansion phase requires real benefits to be delivered
in order to trigger a contagious "bandwagon" effect
where the more people who take up the technology, the more others
are encouraged to do so [Adam, 1996]. With rapid expansion comes
the need to control the large numbers of users before eventually
the technology use plateau's out in a mature phase. But if the
first non-enthusiast users of the technology find that its early
promise is not fulfilled, then the technology does not follow
the Nolan growth curve. Instead it echoes the experience of Sisyphus
(who in Greek mythology was compelled for all eternity to roll
a heavy stone uphill, only to see it roll back to the bottom just
as he neared the top!). If you cannot generate enough inertia
to reach the top of the hill, then all effort is wasted and you
can arrive right back where you started from.
With hindsight, it is easy to track the growth of
successful technologies, but this is not the whole story, for
while many technologies, after an uncertain beginning, are now
firmly entrenched, others of equal promise have just faded away.
Whenever two or more technologies compete, there is a tendency
for ebbs and flows in their use, with the possibility that eventually
one or the other will disappear. We can illustrate this with reference
to figure 2.
Figure 2: Technological balance
With two balanced technologies, both can continue
to coexist. However, a marginal change in, or perception about,
the attributes of one or the other can tip the balance, and the
inertia generated may be enough to eliminate one altogether. Thus
while television has impacted on radio, nevertheless both continue
to exist. By contrast, in the early part of this century, petrol
driven vehicles won out over steam propelled vehicles and are
now firmly entrenched, despite the problems of reducing fossil
fuel stocks, and the subsequent advent of battery-powered vehicles.
Enormous inertia will be needed if ever electric cars are to displace
petrol-driven cars due to the extensive and expensive infrastructure
already in place for existing types of vehicles.
Sometimes a technology looks as if it is going to
replace another, but eventually a balance is reached or it fails
to fulfil early expectations. For a time in the 1970s it looked
like the analogue watch would be superseded by the digital watch,
but more and more people are now switching back to analogue watches,
albeit with electronic rather than mechanical movements. In the
back of my kitchen cupboards I have many gadgets (like my crock
pot) which I once used fadishly for a while until they failed
to live up to their promises and/or went out of fashion.
Sometimes an inferior technology triumphs over a
better one, as is generally thought to be the case with the demise
of Betamax video-recorders at the hands of VHS. While Sony's Betamax
was considered technically superior, more restricted licensing
arrangements meant that more VHS versions were available, and
eventually availability outweighed technical performance.
In other instances technologies grow faster than
predicted, for example the Australian uptake of facsimile (FAX)
machines and mobile phones, perhaps due to the inherent simplicity
and similarity to commonly used existing technologies like the
photocopier and the standard telephone.
In yet other cases technological shifts have been
entirely unanticipated, otherwise IBM would never have outsourced
the production of their PC operating systems to Microsoft, leading
to their loss of market dominance.
For one technology (like the WWW) to supersede another
(like the chalkboard, library and class notes) it is not necessary
for the surviving technology to replace the preceding one,
merely to displace it. That is, the successor does not
need to mimic or improve on all the capabilities of the current
technology, it merely has to remove a significant part of its
functionality or cost competitiveness to swing the balance in
its favour. For example, the telegram delivery person has passed
into history, consigned there by the FAX machine, in spite of
the fact that most private homes do not have a FAX machine, or
that verbal replies cannot be given as they could for personally
delivered telegrams. But because the business sector switched
from telegrams to FAX, the marginal private requirements for telegrams
can no longer be justified in terms of infrastructure or cost.
While much previous educational technology was designed
to increase the power and effectiveness of lecture style presentations,
more recent innovations have often been centred around the ability
to foster self-directed learning. Traditional techniques have
gathered a number of students together in one place and/or one
time, whereas computer-assisted learning (CAL) and the WWW have
permitted students to work in their own time and place. In teaching
units such as the subject of this paper, we can consider four
delivery modalities (table 1), depending upon whether students
are required/desired to be in the same place or not, and/or at
the same time or not.
|Same time||Different time|
|Tele-tutorials and Tele-conferences||Library, CAL and WWW pages|
Table 1: Educational delivery modalities
If there is a requirement that all students are taught
together, that is that variations on time and place are not permitted
between students, then this is best achieved by the conventional
lecture or small group tutorial. In computing laboratories students
usually work alone (or say in pairs) but because resources are
usually not present in sufficient numbers to enable all students
to be taught at the same time, classes are scheduled in different
time slots in the same place or places. If we want to permit students
to be geographically dispersed (a distance education mode of teaching),
then the use of techniques such as tele-tutorials or tele-confrences
is indicated, as it allows students to be in different places
(say next to their home telephone or networked computer), provided
they are connected together at the same time. But if we wish to
free up students from the restrictions imposed by both
same place and same time, then traditional methods like private
study in the library or technologies such as computer-assisted
learning and the World Wide Web must be used. We should expect
then that using the WWW will permit/improve some activities because
of the relaxation of the same time/same place restriction, but
we should anticipate that other activities which are effected
or enhanced when students and/or academics come together in time
and/or place will be impossible or less effective. Of course,
while the time and place dimensions are major differences between
WWW use and traditional methods, other factors will also affect
the comparison and future of the technologies.
The teaching methods employed in the unit Information
Systems have evolved over a number of years to introduce more
and more technology each year. The unit has used WWW-based material
for the past two years as a supplement to conventional teaching
and learning methods. By way of background, the unit is taught
internally, and is essentially a theoretical unit, with no real
requirement for practical (computer-based) work. It aims to build
in experienced computing students an awareness of the management
process and the role of information systems in managing an enterprise
in a competitive global marketplace. In the unit, the computer
system is used as an educational tool, not as the central object
of interest, and not because it broadens the reach of the course
(as is required for distance education). Thus the unit is a commonplace,
run-of-the-mill unit, and techniques described here, the lessons
drawn, and the suggestions and predictions made should be applicable
to a large body of tertiary teaching, be it history, economics,
physics and so on.
I have been using Powerpoint slides to add colour
(in the metaphoric sense) to my lectures for some years. In 1994
I used Powerpoint, and handed out hard-copy prints of the slides
during lectures. In 1995 I continued with the slide handouts,
but in addition put the slides on a student accessible file server,
and also used WWW pages as a backbone to the course. This use
of the WWW and file server has been continued and extended in
1996, with an objective of not providing paper handouts at all.
Why did I decide to use WWW pages as part of my teaching?
Brown  has listed five reasons for creating hyperdocuments
such as Web pages.
as a piece of personal research
as a piece of creativity
as a contribution to the subject
to save staff time
to improve the quality of learning
I was certainly motivated by personal research -
coming from a computing department I wanted to explore how the
technology could be used. I was attracted to computing in the
first place, and had earlier chosen to prepare Powerpoint slides
because they were a creative outlet. As time goes on I have added
features to my Web pages to make them more useful and visually
appealing, although I am aware that others are far more creative
in their use of the technology than am I. As a contribution to
the subject or discipline, my use of the WWW is appealing to some
students who might enrol in my units rather than somebody else's
units. Higher enrolment numbers increases the chances that my
units will survive university cuts and departmental restructuring.
Thus more students might graduate having been exposed to my unit
than would otherwise be the case. I am certainly motivated to
save time in a climate where (in spite of increasing student numbers)
more emphasis is placed on research and less on teaching. Web
pages add to my workload initially, but in subsequent years less
effort is required to keep them up to date. I have set myself
the objective of never handing out paper to students, so I do
not need to use the photocopier extensively, to liaise with print
shops, or to carry 200 copies of a 12 page handout into a lecture
theatre. Using the Web means that the distribution effort in a
large class is no more than for a small class. Finally, use of
Web pages has improved the quality of learning by adding an element
of variety to existing methods. (Many of my students have reported
that they have enjoyed the chance to use the WWW for real, as
before they had felt a little self-conscious exploring it purely
for pleasure and self-interest!)
Before I started using the WWW for my teaching, student
learning activity consisted mostly of
receive handouts containing lecture summaries
challenge statements made by the lecturer
socialise with other students
prepare answers and/or research background to questions posed
socialise with other students
photocopy books and journal articles
copy other students lecture notes
read collected material
annotate and highlight material
On the student side, the most popular technologies
used were the photocopier and the fluorescent highlighter pen.
The motto seemed to be "if in doubt - copy it". In open
book examinations, some students brought so much material they
had difficulty coping with it. (One student even had to ask in
the middle of an exam for another copy of the examination question
paper because their original copy had been mislaid in all the
notes they had brought to the examination!)
On my side, the major technology was the use of Microsoft
Powerpoint for electronic blackboard presentation of the major
points in the lecture. In addition, I handed out copies of the
Powerpoint slides at the start of each lecture. The use of a computer
projection system as an electronic blackboard requires students
to sit in semi-darkness, so note taking is made more difficult.
If I handed out slides after the lecture students did not trust
the content, and took copious notes anyway. If I handed out the
slides the week before, most students left them at home! So I
handed them out on the day, and students tended to annotate them
during the lecture as best they could in the reduced light.
The transient nature of Web pages presents a few
problems. Pages can disappear or change without warning so the
interesting link set up in the lecturer's carefully structured
notes has gone by the time students try to activate it. Assignment
references to particular pages cannot for certain be followed
up during assessment to verify their content. As an academic I
can limit this by not putting in links to pages outside my control,
but this is a very negative approach, (akin to protecting children
from reading unsuitable material by not teaching them to read
in the first place). Part of the great appeal of the WWW is the
ability to build on local material by national and international
links to provide access to the best material one can locate. Such
links based on the academic's knowledge of what is important and
why provide an opportunity for deep learning [Brack, 1996]. Even
if I do not link my material to that of others, use of Web browsers
allows students to find material for themselves, and stopping
this student-directed learning by allowing only local material
would be somewhat draconian. So global Web links being desirable,
students overcome this transience problem in two ways, either
by copying down the HTML source of the page, or by printing a
copy, with the printing option being used more often. Another
reason given for printing Web pages is the need to annotate as
is done in the print medium by margin notes or text underlining
or highlighting. This concept is still being explored on the Internet
[Rutherford, 1996] and available annotation facilities are somewhat
primitive. So for reasons of transience and the need to annotate,
we tend to move not towards the paperless class, but rather even
further in the opposite direction.
Access to the entirety of the WWW poses another potential
problem, that of the quality of the Web pages. Students are used
to coming across commercial and enthusiast sites where much money
and/or effort has been spent on making the pages attractive and
encouraging electronic visitors. I do not have the time and skill
resources to match these efforts, but I am constrained to try
as best I can. I am protected for the moment from unfair comparisons
with more glamorous sites by the fact that educational use of
the WWW is seen by students as novel, and among my colleagues
I am still in a minority. So I get points from the students for
trying, but how long this will last is an open question.
Searching the WWW is easier than searching the world's
libraries, but not that easy. First there is the choice of Web
browser/index with an ever growing list of tools [see Barry, 1996],
each of them using different techniques. Some search only page
titles, some do full text search. Some are dynamic and continually
updated, others are static snapshots of Web content at some past
point. It is difficult to be sure of the coverage or newness of
material being indexed, so information gathering is a fairly haphazard
process. Added to this hit-and-miss searching is the question
of authenticity. If I say something in lectures (however ridiculous)
students record it as gospel! If I advise them to read a text
book, they can be reasonably confident that the author has views
that I at least think are important and worth reading. But they
have little idea who wrote pages on the Web - it could be a Nobel
prize winner or a ten-year old child in the next street.
As students browse around the Web or follow links
provided, there arises the very real possibility that they will
get lost or become distracted by stumbling across more enthralling
though irrelevant material. (I am reminded of my youth when the
attractions of the view of the sports field through the classroom
window were my own personal distraction.) Even when students are
sufficiently in control or motivated to stick to their learning
task, the sheer size of the WWW raises yet another challenge -
they don't know when to stop. In lectures you can write down everything
that is said. With a prescribed text you can read from cover to
cover, but the WWW goes on seemingly forever!
Another issue that arises for the academic is that
in creating hundreds of Web pages there is a need for Web site
organisation. How will the typical student wish to navigate around
the pages? Should I allow unrestricted global access to the pages,
or try to erect a firewall and allow only local access? I am torn
between a need to protect my creative investment, and the self-aggrandisement
potential of unrestricted access!
Eklund  has referred to the empowerment provided
by the use of the WWW as it makes the traditional classroom session
less important. So for example, I no longer need to worry if I
have an off day and give a poor lecture as long as the Web pages
are detailed enough. Even if they are not, I can update them later
to amplify material that students find interesting, or to clarify
misconceptions that arise in tutorial discussions. So unlike the
one-shot provided by the lecture, the Web is much more dynamic.
Use of the WWW, if it reduces face-to-face contact,
reduces the possibilities for synchronous dialogue but offers
the possibility of asynchronous dialogue through electronic mail
(EMail) [Wild, 1996; Nguyen, A.,1996]. Thus I have provided Email
contact links on each of my Web pages. However, it still needs
to be said the Web pages are a static medium, and more interactivity
(along the lines of Java scripts and such developments) is required
to provide interaction and feedback
Finally, a potential loss from my use of the WWW is that of my job! If all my relevant knowledge is recorded in Web pages, then there might be a temptation for an unenlightened employer to claim ownership and to declare my personal presence to be redundant. This is not an isolated fear. For example, the report of John Brumby to the House of Representatives advised that resistance to technology is founded in part on pessimism about limits to future career growth and promotion [Parliament, 1989]. Academics being pressed ever more to take on extra duties are likely to resist further changes in the form of technology [Nguyen,A., 1996]. Sims  reports that secondary teachers do not see technology primarily as a help but as yet another hurdle to be overcome, for teachers and academics are innately conservative, having an ingrained model of teaching [Cummings, 1995]. While institutions are developing open learning and off-campus programs, individual educators seem to be laggards [Adam, 1996]. We can be sure that in the current climate of university funding cuts that these fears about job security will grow. There is a sense then that the more effort I put into creating WWW material, the more possible it is that I might end up on the educational scrap heap.
A little prediction, like famous last words, can
be a dangerous thing, as for example the apocryphal quote from
the Wordl War I trenches of "we are safe here, we are out
of range of their guns"! Thus the comment by Jones in 1972
of the pre-eminence of the tape recorder as an educational technology
comes chronologically after the emergence of the first desktop
microcomputers. So the WWW may at this moment be dead or dying
from some already latent or unobserved technology, only (to return
to our trench analogy) the bullet or shell has not yet arrived.
Berghel  puts the view that the WWW is already dying, and
that its death will be cataclysmal. He observes that in March
1994 Gopher led the Web in packet volume, but within a year had
all but disappeared.
But safe in the knowledge that I am not alone, and
acknowledging that predictions about educational technology are
more often wrong than right, some forecasts can be given based
on perceived strengths and weaknesses of the WWW, both as it is,
and as it might develop. However, mindful of the triumph of VHS
over Betamax video recording, we should add the rider that competing
technologies may win out over the WWW not because they are superior,
but simply because at some critical point, the scales tipped,
albeit momentarily, in some other direction.
We have stated previously that use of the WWW is
a different time / different place technology, as also is the
traditional, though now rare, process of "reading for a degree"
by directed study in the library. It is therefore not surprising
therefore that the impact of the WWW is more likely to be felt
in the library than it is in the classroom. There is however,
an additional dimension to this competition, and that springs
from the global availability of the WWW. Students cannot easily
be expected to read library material that is not held in the local
collection (inter-library loans excepted). However material placed
on the Web anywhere in the world is more readily available, given
sufficient bandwidth. So university administrators will have the
option of replacing or supplementing locally prepared and presented
material with courses created elsewhere in the world. This is
the same issue as faced with distance education, but with the
added impetus of being able to mix and match material from different
places in a locally produced framework.
While acknowledging the likely impact of the Web
on the library, we have hinted that its impact in the classroom
will be much less. If the WWW does not exactly match the needs
of educational delivery, can it be changed to meet those needs.
Like Sir Humphrey Applebey, we can answer yes and no! Yes
it could, and no it will not. Like radio and television before,
the educational promise of this medium will be dictated by commercial
considerations, with business and entertainment setting the agenda.
The WWW may well improve, but not at the insistence of educational
providers, but purely coincidentally.
Much technology (and the WWW is no exception) is
seductive [Hughes, 1994]. In many ways computer hardware and software
has been made deliberately appealing in order to broaden the sales
appeal beyond the established corporate purchaser towards the
general populace. This appeal is often superficial, with attractive
human-computer interfaces being grafted on to software of indifferent
utility [Godfrey, 1996]. This superficiality needs to be replaced
by substance if the Web is to prove to be of lasting significance.
A major challenge on the horizon is that of bandwidth.
If network performance declines with unbalanced growth, teaching
and learning on the Web might become unusable, and we could be
forced to remove global links and treat the Web as a local file
server only [Nguyen, T.,1996]. A second major hurdle is that of
availability. Until we reach a computer-student ratio approaching
1.0 then we cannot expect universal use and acceptance of the
technology. There is already evidence that university administrators
are more ready with rhetoric about technology than they are with
Many computerised systems including educational technologies
like CAL have grown less than predicted because they were oversold
or failed to address the real needs of the application area. Early
users became disillusioned, and one this disillusionment set in,
it reduced further uptake of technology. "It is important
to realise that technology in teaching cannot solve fundamental
educational problems" [ Slaughter, 1990]. Courses must still
be planned, students cared for, assessments made, and concepts
explained well. Thus in a sense all educational technologies are
supplementary. But it is still possible for the WWW technology
to replace the chalk-board technology within this pedagogical
supplement. Only time will tell.
We have compared the traditional process of university
teaching with the use of the World Wide Web. A number of previous
educational technologies have been reviewed by way of explaining
the nature of technological change and technology growth, and
these experiences have been used to make a number of fairly cautious
forecasts on the future of the Web in education, drawing the conclusion
that use of the WWW is still driven more by enthusiasm than by
demonstrable lasting benefit, and thus it is still impossible
to be certain of its future.
I will continue to be a WWW enthusiast (and in 1997
plan to reduce my face-to-face lecturing ad increase the use of
Web pages), but I will be cautious in encouraging other to wholeheartedly
pursue the same course, particularly when I am conscious that
my technological excitement might be dominant over more pedagogical
issues. If the WWW persists, I will have gained a valuable (though
short-lived) advantage over my colleagues. If the WWW withers
and dies, at least I will have enjoyed the experiment.
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