Communicating to Teach and Communicating to Learn: Using the World Wide Web for Science Teaching and LearningEvelyn Patterson
PattersonET.email@example.com, United States Air Force Academy
firstname.lastname@example.org, Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis
Much effort is being expended on exploring the use of the WWW for teaching and learning. One of the reasons for this is that the WWW presents unparalleled opportunities for modes of communication with which new and different teaching and learning techniques can develop. Since the heart of teaching and learning is communication, the WWW represents fertile ground for educational development.
In these early stages of development, what are some broad categories of web usage for science education? Let's consider five categories in terms of the technology they require and the kinds of communication they foster.
1. Basic HTML - Information Delivery
A basic HTML (hypertext markup language) document can deliver a great deal of information including text, images, movies, and sounds. Such documents are good for one-way communication, with information passing from the teacher to the student(s). A WWW browser can access such documents from the simplest storage medium, such as a floppy disk that the student picks up in a faculty office, as well as from a WWW server.
The vast majority of web-based education-related material falls into this "information delivery" category. Examples are standard syllabi, lecture notes, course calendars, etc. These materials, by their very nature, provide little interactivity. They do not permit communication from student to faculty, but they do provide 24 hours a day access to information - as the students need it.
2. Basic HTML + "MailTo"
A small step beyond the most basic HTML is a document with a "MailTo" hyperlink. A click on a hypertext link brings up an email message composition window, allowing the student to communicate with the faculty member via electronic mail. "Smart syllabi" which give students the ability to email their instructors at the click of a mouse are examples.
Another small step in HTML sophistication is an HTML document that contains "forms." Students can interact with such documents by typing into text boxes, clicking buttons and making selections. The students' responses are submitted to the instructor as an email message. This is a very powerful capability: students can interact with an HTML document and, by clicking a button in the document being displayed, send their responses to their instructor via email. This requires no interaction with an email application, and no need for a WWW server running a common gateway interface ("cgi") application. Students do not even need an email account. This is a very useful technique for establishing two-way communication between faculty and students without involving a WWW server.
Scores of Java applets being developed are excellent building blocks with which to construct interactive student-centered WWW activities. The Davidson College physics applets known as "physlets"2 are excellent examples; these are being used regularly in WWW-based activities at many institutions in the US.
4. WWW Server
When the instructional materials reside on a WWW server, possibilities for increasing interactivity and two-way communication unfold rapidly. In educational settings an institutional WWW server is often available to the faculty. However, an individual department or research group may also maintain its own WWW server, on which educational materials may reside.
Available from a WWW server, curricular materials can provide a high degree of interactivity that is accomplished via communication between the student computer and the WWW server. This means that the HTML documents themselves do not need to be particularly sophisticated, since the "intelligence" can be provided via processing done on the WWW server.
Two remarkably different science education examples which use, student computer - WWW server interaction, and show the gamut of uses of the technology are the "Virtual Prof" and "Cockpit Physics" sites. The Virtual Prof3 site is essentially a web-based service for students and faculty who wish to have help preparing for and writing physics examinations. The Cockpit Physics4 site is the home of 32 completely web-based lessons for the first semester of introductory physics. Each lesson consists of exploration, theory, and application sections in which students work through a variety of activities, entering answers to free-form questions and responding to multiple choice progress check quizzes.
Even a fairly casual survey of current WWW-based educational materials for physics indicates that, in this stage of infancy in the use of the WWW technology, innovations and initiatives are being tried and tested in a host of different directions, with a variety of intended goals and outcomes. In the opinion of the author, the best uses of the technology are those which use it to personalize and individualize instruction 24 hours a day, thereby accomplishing what the human faculty member and student cannot accomplish alone. In this way, the technology and the human each have vital roles. How to use the WWW technology to best create the partnership, with the ultimate goal of tailoring the learning process to each student's needs, will be the focus of many initiatives and assessments and much debate in the coming months and years.
UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997
Page Maintained By: PhySciCH@mail.usyd.edu.au