UniServe Science News Volume 10 July 1998


From the Director

Ian Johnston
Director, UniServe Science

What webs we mortals weave

UniServe Science has just held its third annual national workshop, devoted to the topic of University Science Teaching and the Web. It was attended by 85 academics from every state in the country except the Northern Territory. There were two keynote speakers: Shirley Alexander from UTS and CUTSD, who covered the theoretical and pedagogical issues, and Peter Lee, Dean of Engineering at Murdoch University, who talked about the practical aspects of a comprehensive working system. There were twelve contributed papers and four poster papers, all describing courses or developments which had been in use for some time.

It seemed to us when we were planning this workshop, that now was a singularly appropriate time to examine the use of the web in our teaching. During the three years we have been in operation, we have attempted to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening at the teaching coalface (to mix a few metaphors). Until quite recently the fraction of teachers using the web was really very small. About a year or so ago, suddenly lots of people were starting to do things. In her keynote address, Shirley Alexander drew attention to a classification system for those who use technology in their teaching (originally due to Everett Rogers):

  1. innovators: 5-10% of the population who are keen to try out new things and take risks;
  2. early adopters: opinion leaders who take the role of decreasing the uncertainty of others;
  3. early majority: who want to know if it works before they will use it;
  4. late majority: who are skeptical, and adopt only under extreme pressure; and
  5. laggards: who are not interested in change.

It seems to us that the "innovators" amongst us have been beavering away all this time, and now it is the "early adopters" who are leading the big push for change. How better to help them on their way than to hold a national workshop on the topic.

We were very pleased with the way the workshop ran, and responses from those who took part were overwhelmingly positive. As we have come to expect, the greatest crowd-pleaser was the chance to get together and discuss problems with others who are trying to do the same thing as you. That and the simple feeling of belonging to a community of your peers - something that is often not possible for those interested in teaching in departments dominated by the research ethic. There were downside aspects of course. The equipment played up, as usual. (I wonder if technical hitches are an unavoidable accompaniment to this kind of work, and we should just learn to live with them?)

It was a pity too, that the majority of the attendees were from the Sydney metropolitan area. This is understandable, given the cost of travel and the tightness of travel budgets, especially for matters involved with teaching. Perhaps the fault was ours. We didn't finally decide on the timing of the workshop until very late last year, and people do need time to organize funding for travel. We won't make that mistake again. We are announcing here and now that the next UniServe Science national workshop will be held at the corresponding time next year: FRIDAY - SATURDAY, APRIL 9 - 10, 1999.

We've been asking around for what the topic should be. The consensus so far seems to be that we should follow up on web-related matters: distance-based and problem-based learning and assessment. Do you agree with these topics? Are there more important ones? Please contact us and let us know your ideas.

Let's return to web-based teaching. In our workshop we gathered reasonably representative information about what is happening in Australia right now. That information will be available in our published proceedings to those who weren't able to attend. These will be, as usual, put up on our website. Keep looking at the What's New page. But in order to supplement that coverage with information about what is happening elsewhere, we have reproduced, in this issue of the newsletter, three articles from the newsletter of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP), based in the UK. Actually, as you will note, one of those articles discusses work done in Australia.

We also intend, in future issues, to set up a new section, called WebBytes, where people will get the chance to say something brief about projects they are working on that are still far from finished. There is so much happening in this field that we really can't wait to hear about projects only when they have all 'I's dotted and 'T's crossed. So watch this space.

And don't forget to put in your diaries the date of our next national workshop, FRIDAY - SATURDAY, APRIL 9 - 10, 1999.

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UniServe Science News Volume 10 July 1998

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