Mosaic/WWW experiences with library science students in a Macintosh computer laboratory environment

Ken Eustace, Geoff Fellows and Philip Tsang
Charles Sturt University, Australia


In Australia, universities are beginning to open up Internet access for students via AARNet, the Australian Academic Research Network, as the opportunities exist for the application of NIR (Networked Information Retrieval) devices such as Mosaic and other interactive networking tools, in open learning and distance education courses. This paper describes the problems and experiences in providing these tools on the desktop to a group of 16 distance education library science students, in a networked laboratory workshop at Charles Sturt University (CSU). Issues such as Internet connectivity, the user interface, relevance to the needs of distance education students and some future WWW projects are also discussed.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. 1. Introduction
  3. 2. Net-surfing Workshop with MOSAIC
  4. 3. Educational value and learning mode disadvantages
  5. 4. Current and Future Projects with Mosaic/WWW at Charles Sturt University
  6. 5. Conclusion
  7. References

1. Introduction

Recent reports (Juddery, 1994a & 1994b) indicate that AARNet should give greater access to distance education students, K-12 education and the wider community, such as the remote rural areas of Australia. At a time when the AARNet management is being pressured into giving remote users access, there is also much discussion and disquiet about the possible impact of a proposal to introduce user-pays charges, similar to recent proposals in the USA, for AARnet services, from 1st January 1995. It was thought to be imperative that we take steps to develop methods for teaching and learning with various NIR tools, concentrating on the distributed hypermedia system of the World Wide Web (WWW) and Mosaic. Such an effort may provide an argument to keeping any charges to distance education students at a reasonable level.
Table 1. AARNet Backbone Topology (AARnet Regional Hubs)

				Regional Hub	University site

		1. Brisbane 	University of Queensland
		2. Sydney	University of Sydney
		3. Canberra	Australian National University
		4. Hobart	University of Tasmania
		5. Melbourne	University of Melbourne
		6. Adelaide	University of Adelaide
		7. Perth	University of Western Australia
		8. Darwin	Northern Territory University

Computer Laboratory Internet connection

The ease of installation, in combination with the in-built hardware and software of the Macintosh, (and the fact that we already had a site licence for MacTCP) were the main factors in deciding to establish the Macintosh laboratory with Mosaic capability. The Macintosh laboratory consists of sixteen Macintosh LC II model machines with 4Mb RAM and Ethernet card access to the Internet. Each machine uses MacTCP to gain Internet access through the Ethernet card. The Computer Centre staff were very supportive, but shared some of our concerns about the external access for the IP address of each machine and the possible network load generated by regular, concurrent use of a program such as Mosaic. The main question asked was:

Will the network load support so many Mosaic users at the one time?

Mosaic and the other NIR tools during the workshop. The client/server architecture of some of the NIR tools provides an efficient method for transferring information around the Internet using the datagram connection option, which drops any physical link until the next message (packet) is passed. Another possible performance factor may be due to the high external line limits of the AARNet backbone, which is so large that no problems are caused internally, and to a lesser extent to the use of some local URL sites.

2. Net-surfing Workshop with MOSAIC

A two-hour, Internet NIR workshop titled: Net-surfing: Bringing AARNet to the desktop' was held at CSU on 20th April 1994, as the pioneer exercise which we hope will bring Internet NIR tools to the desktop for all undergraduate, postgraduate and distance education students. The 'Net-surfing' workshop was organised for a group of distance education, library science students. This was seen by the authors as an opportunity to introduce Mosaic and other NIR tools to novice Internet users and simultaneously, provide a chance to trial its demand upon network resources in a typical computing laboratory. The workshop consisted of a series of introductory activities with each of the tools shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Net-surfing workshop activities

NIR tool	NIR application		Typical site

finger		finger
Gopher		TurboGopher 
USENET		Nuntius(NetNews)	comp.infosystems.www
Mosaic		NCSA Mosaic  

User interface issues with NIR tools

A few students were observed by the authors to become very frustrated by the case-sensitivity of the IP address usernames when using the finger application and with having to enter the address into two message boxes, instead of one. In some UNIX sites they have taken the trouble to duplicate upper as well as lower-case usernames, and this can be really helpful for novice users. Despite this problem, many users found the user interface of finger and TurboGopher quite easy to learn, due to simplicity or familiarity with using layered menus. The USENET application caused some users to pause at the top hierarchy, waiting to find out what to do next, whereas the gopher client was found to be more obvious. The cache trapping of each screen in Mosaic, enables the program to reveal the 'red-ink footprints' of previously accessed links, and is a valuable aid for browsers.

As part of the workshop evaluation, each participant was asked to rank the user-friendliness of each of the NIR tools on a scale of 1 (easy-to-use) to 5 (hard-to-use). Table 3 shows the average value from the five-point scale, for each of the NIR tools. It is difficult to make any firm conclusion, since the sample size (16) is quite small, but two possible factors which may contribute to the higher values for MacWWW and Mosaic are the student awareness about the nature of distributed hypermedia and the waiting time for some of the image and sound files from overseas WWW sites. The Mosaic section of the workshop would frequently be punctuated by the sound of a foreign narrator or a bird call, which amused and encouraged some members of the group to experiment with retrieving a similar momento, before the end of the workshop.

Table 3. User interface useability of the Workshop NIR tools

		Finger		2.47
		TurboGopher	2.47
		Nuntius		2.50
		MacWWW		2.76
		NCSA Mosaic	2.82

The results of a second question which asked each participant to use a similar scale to rank the essential need of each NIR tool with a scale of 1 (Unimportant) to 5 (Essential) are shown in Table 4. The use of older and more familiar networking products such e-mail and on-line database searches eg DIALOG, were also included in this second question and both tools are found to be ranked more highly by the library science students, than the more recent NIR tools experienced at the workshop.

Table 4. User interface useability of the Workshop NIR tools

		Finger		3.40
		TurboGopher	3.60
		Nuntius		3.60
		MacWWW		3.71
		NCSA Mosaic	3.64
		E-mail		4.18
		On-line database searches	4.60

Brett (1993) suggests that NIR tools should be categorized by the type of browsing or navigation method employed by the user. Certainly the Gopher and WWW tools can be classified as NIR browsing applications, which are most suitable for the novice user. It was not all that long ago that network users did not like their restricted access environment and would always demand: put it on my desktop! That trend may be reversing as the demand seems to be: put it on the Web!

Student's comments

Special Comments from the library science students at the end of the Net-surfing workshop:
  1. I am used to the Windows environment on IBM so it was good to look at these tools from a Mac environment.
  2. Session was not long enough. All day would have been great and created a greater confidence and awareness.
  3. I don't really feel qualified to rank these systems after only 5 minutes or so on each, especially with an "expert" on hand to guide me. However I found it enjoyable interesting and valuable. Thanks!
  4. An hour is not long enough for a novice to understand what he/she is doing.
  5. Presentation and assistance by tutors very good. Session easy to understand, and also very enjoyable. I would have liked longer to spend "looking" for particular topics, but the introduction to the information technology will be very valuable.
  6. At first I was tremendously impressed by the capabilities of e-mail. Now I see it as essential for all academics and librarians. Finger, gopher, www, mosaic are mind-blowing - and possibly addictive! My main worry is how to find out what I really need, and how to avoid everything else!
  7. Of course, not enough time to really understand these programs but an excellent introduction. We only hope that we can have further access to expand on this introduction. The lecturers were very helpful and session introduced clearly and informatively.
  8. As technology races ahead more and more libraries within have to be able to access and use these tools as information tools. Only by using these tools can libraries expect to maintain their place as the foremost information agencies.
  9. It was interesting but a little bit beyond me, interesting to see the different types of networks.
  10. There was a lot of information to be digested, and obviously more time is needed to play with these networks to learn them. Exciting to say the least.
  11. Good presentation by Ken, Phil and Geoff. While these services are interesting, we cannot keep up unless we work with them regularly.
  12. Well prepared and presented program a bit short on time for mosaic a lot to comprehend in one session being a DOS user, I wasn't too good on the windows/mouse system.
Some of the comments made at the end of the workshop reveal some very positive reactions to the use of NIR tools by librarians, with the distributed hypermedia access using Mosaic, raising much comment. It is interesting to relate comment numbers 6 and 8 to a discussion about the increased volume of digital data on the Internet (Brett, 1993) and its effect on upon sufferers of information anxiety and overload (Wurman, 1989). Perhaps the developers of WWW servers and HTML developers can consider such impact, when designing and selecting suitable information content and format for their WWW documents.

3. Educational value and learning mode disadvantages

The potential of the World-Wide-Web to provide learning mode advantages in open and distance education appears to be unlimited. WWW browsing can allow students to find 'up to the minute' information, not readily available elsewhere in journals and textbooks eg how to create your own HTML documents, or may even allow the user to visit a virtual art gallery. WWW, together with other interactive tools ( MUD's and MOO's), can provide a wider choice of on-line distance education courses and learning experiences for students within the virtual realm of the Internet. However there are some problems to be overcome along the path towards providing Mosaic-level access to these students and the wider community.

A survey of 500 CSU distance education students with a return of 54% (Geissinger, 1993) has revealed that despite the positive feelings about using computers in their courses and a desire to utilise technology, the fact remains that many students in the survey lack the level of equipment needed to achieve equality in using the technology. Even though the gender balance of the survey was 50:50, female students were more likely to be without a computer at all. Such variation in the equipment levels of distance education students, may slow down the drive towards achieving Mosaic capability standards for all students. Coupled with the impact of AARNet charges in Australia, this may tend to stimulate the information rich - information poor scenario for students using computers in their courses. AARNet and university support for WWW/ Mosaic development in Australia is not only essential in distance education, but also to the wider community. As part of the Australian National University (ANU) Bioinformatics Hypermedia Service (, the Firenet information server in Australia is a good example of the public advantages of to be gained as the use of NIR and WWW continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. Firenet provides information about landscape fires.

4. Current and Future Projects with Mosaic/WWW at Charles Sturt University

Postgraduate Distance Education Computing students at Wagga Wagga

Electronic communication with the lecturer has been available for these students since 1986, but the last two years has seen the use of e-mail and conferencing access expanded to include the TCP/IP protocol privileges. Students have regular paperless assignments, using some of the familiar NIR tools. These are e-mailed to the lecturer for marking, comment and return. Telnet, archie, FTP , line-browsing gopher and WWW, are part of the learning and research experiences that students gain from these assignments. SLIP or PPP will enable remote access to use Mosaic in future.

ISP and K-12 Internet Projects

Plans are underway for setting up our own local WWW server, which will hold a number of HTML documents about information technology subjects available by distance education. One of the first projects will also involve a HTML version of the Internet Signatures Project (ISP) Report, which is due later this year. The Internet Signatures project (ISP) (Eustace, 1994; Fellows, 1993), began in May 1993, as a university enrichment activity for talented boys and girls from two local high schools in Wagga Wagga and grew into an international project involving academic staff from universities in Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel and the USA. The main aim of the ISP has been to collect a database of the e-mail signatures of various Internet users. The database is used in a study of the graphic art, quotations, humour, mottos, disclaimers, naming conventions , copyright issues, and the network etiquette content found in e-mail signatures. K-12 Internet project ideas from local schools have been spawned by the cyberspace experiences of the students and their teachers involved in the ISP. The introduction of 14, 400 bps modems and the SLIP (serial line interface protocol) connection later this year, will enable these schools to explore the learning opportunities provided by using Mosaic, in the near future. A comparative study of SLIP and PPP for remote access would be part of this exercise.

Clinical Placement Project by 3rd year Information technology students A small project group of third year computing science students are developing a system for the Dean of the Faculty of Health Studies, David Battersby, under the supervision of information management lecturer, Edward Stow. The system will coordinate the clinical placement of health students in medical centres around the south western region of the state of New South Wales. Development of a WWW server on a UNIX machine at the Wagga Wagga campus of CSU, will allow response to an enquiry from the WWW client. The processes will be perl or awk scripts that extract information from a database and generate a HTML page for transmission back to the client. Mosaic for X and the fill-out form feature is being considered here, as a key part of this information system.

Spatial database WWW Server

The authors have been asked by the Centre for Spatial Data Analysis (CSDA) at Charles Sturt University, to develop a WWW project, using the sensitive map concept to access the spatial data base and other Geographical Information System (GIS) information services, that can be accessed by other research interests and potential clients. The CSDA is currently designing the most appropriate hardware and software configuration to allow fast speed modem access so that people can access the system from their desktop at home and run X-terminal applications as well as WWW and Mosaic. It is proposed that it may be a good master's project for one of our students.

5. Conclusion

Our experiences have shown that Networked Information Retrieval tools are useful, even with their current user-interfaces, to distance education, library science students. Our next project will be to test these tools on a small group of distance education students at home using SLIP or PPP to connect to the Internet.

About the authors

Ken Eustace, Geoff Fellows and Philip Tsang are lecturers in information technology in the School of Information Studies at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University, Australia. They can be contacted by e-mail at the following address:


The authors wish to thank the following list of people from Charles Sturt University for their support and assistance with our work on WWW and Mosaic.:
  1. Peter Adams and Bernard Storrier, Division of Information Technology, CSU.
  2. Edward Stow, Lecturer in Information Management, School of Information Studies, CSU.
  3. M. K. Rochester, Assoc. Professor, Library Science, School of Information Studies, CSU.
  4. R. E. Moore, Head of School, School of Information Studies, CSU.
  5. J. E. Pratley, Dean, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, CSU.
  6. D. A. Battersby, Dean, Faculty of Health Studies, CSU.
Thanks are also due to many of our information technology and library science colleagues who had offered support and interest in our on-going projects.


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