Teaching & Learning With the Web:
An Active Virtual Course

The Globewide Network Academy has a strong commitment to deliver high quality educational services via the Internet. The World-Wide Web is considered a resource of central importance to this endeavour.

This paper is the extended version of one section of a larger paper WWW for the Globewide Network Academy, and a contribution to the T&L workshop at the 1st Int. WWW Conference, CERN.

Since spring 1994, two prototype courses attempt to combine the power of the Web with a virtual teaching environment: a course "Introduction to the Internet", and a C++ programming course. In this article, the second course will be discussed in detail. The global structure of both GNA courses is somewhat alike.

Course Format

The course "Introduction to OOP Using C++" is a GNA prototype programming course. Its format is self-paced, based on a fully hypertextified C++ Tutorial. A classroom on the GNA virtual campus is staffed with an online consultant at certain hours, to answer student questions and help with the exercises. In addition, there is an email discussion list whose archives are on the Web. The course also provides a bootstrapping document which is sent to registered students to help them get to the Web and the virtual classroom. The GNA personnel tracking system was used for registration.


A bootstrapping document for this course is made available and sent to registered students in ASCII format via Email. Both through the GNA WAIS server and in the course material, a list of students, consultants and contributing volunteers is accessible (with their hyplans if available). The course syllabus outlines the course format.

The GNA Virtual Library supports GNA courses providing general library services (books, online librarians) and a special course locker for each GNA course. In this way, the course home pages can be saved from being overloaded with secondary information resources.

During course preparation and registration, a separate "what's new" page informs the participants about the progress made. Volunteers are directed towards a help-wanted list. For visitors, an exhibit sampling course "highlights" has been prepared.

Feedback reaches the team of consultants via regular surveys among the students. Each course unit starts with an announcement.

Online Consultants

At a minimum, the team of online consultants provides answers to questions of students after these have worked through the text of a particular course unit and tried to solve the exercises. In addition, "Nintendo"-game hours are planned to further motivate the students.

In the future, the link between W3 and the virtual classroom shall be used more: at present, virtual teaching is limited to simple line-mode interaction. For the course, an own MOO GUI has been written recently, though.

To help the students to get comfortable in the virtual environment, a lot of information on MOOs, a repository of clients, a direct link to the MOO and a guide for first-timers, has been added to the course material.

In the aftermath, transcripts taken during online sessions are analyzed which will enrich the courseware for following GNA programming courses.

The Hypertext Book

The C++ tutorial comes with a wealth of sample programs. Here, the advantage of Web access to course material is obvious: programs can be accessed directly from within the text page and formatted as fancy as one wants, e.g. to mark language keywords, statements and user-defined variables. Alternatively, the student can cut and paste the ASCII source text, or look up language specifications in a glossary of C++ terms [to be made searchable later on].

Within the course, an alternative approach using automated hypertextification of a full C++ class library is tested. The presentation of C++ source code on the Web is an interesting topic by itself: students of the course have already contributed conversion programs. (See also: GISMO development version by Tony Burnett.)


For the first course which started May 1, 80 students were enrolled. At present, 10 consultants serve in the class. The experiences with the WWW courseware in connection with a WWW-archived Email list have been extraordinarily good. Many students continue to contribute with great enthusiasm. The interactive MOO environment had been untested by most students before the course. Two weeks after the start, a majority has received MOO accounts and started interacting with consultants and other users. At present (mid-May), student projects are evolving which are expected to transcend the duration of the course (ca. May-July 1994).

The WWW pages for this course have been nominated for a "Best of Web 94" Award int he category "Best Educational Service".


The first ideas on combining WWW and online methods to create a better Internet curriculum were laid down in the GNA curriculum draft, subject to discussion in the GNA curriculum working group. In the meantime, with many more teachers and students getting interested in multimedia, a GNA course review committee has formed. Its work will directly profit from the recent experiences using WWW and MOOs for teaching.

A draft catalog for future GNA courses exists with proposed classes on topics like "Renaissance Culture", "Environmental Microbiology" or "Creative Writing", as well as other programming courses.

In the near future, GNA hopes to offer a package to people willing to teach under its umbrella. It shall help them to make use of the advanced technology GNA is currently developing for educational purposes.