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Education on the Web


(1) Because of its hyper media and distance delivery capacities, the Web has certainly shown its potential for building ``EDUCATIONAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS'' in a larger sense. We can distinguish among:

  1. Campus-Wide Information Systems. Some universities already do pretty well, the ones that don't lack probably one (or more) full-time professionals

  2. ``Just in Time Open Learning'' Information

  3. Departmental Education and Research. This work is often coordinated by few persons and it needs involvement of all members

  4. Courses syllabus (program, grading, exercises, etc.): Needs training of all members

  5. Distribution of learning material

There are some difficulties (e.g. all necessary tools need to be found and installed, people need to be trained, updating needs to be insured) but they are mostly ``social'' and ``organizational'' ones.

(2) As easy on the technical level, EDUCATIONAL (NON-INTERACTIVE) HYPER MEDIA on the Web is the other popular use of the WWW in education. HTML can be used to produce on-line text-books, ``museums and exhibitions'', manuals etc. Such material can be produced for a single class only or it can be shared over the network. The main problem with this use is that hypertext is not always the best vehicle to produce study material that is mainly textually based. Information on the screen is very hard to read (more so on the kind of 15'' screens most students have). Furthermore, orientation is easier in a book. Such material is best used for exploration or for accessory information (manuals, ``further readings'', etc.)

(3) INTERACTIVE FORMS pages start enjoying popularity for tests and quizzes used for both assessment and self-assessment. This technology (questions and answers) also can be used to produce a certain type of learning material, but note that both assessment by questionnaires and Q&A based learning software do not provide central functionalities for most types of learning and instruction. However, combined with good hypertext ``books'', some results can be achieved.

More generally, it is not really productive today to produce interactive software on the Web. For people with little or very specialized training in computer science it is not easy to write scripts that handle forms and interact with other software on the server (see [Ibrahim et Franklin, 1995]). The statelessness of the http protocol (meaning that the connection to a server is closed after a requested document is delivered) adds additional difficulties. Note that a certain amount of code for writing interactive scripts is available, e.g. ``Zot-Dispatch''. It is more efficient to use a ``classical'' educational software generator such as Toolbook and distribute Toolbook files over the network, that can then be interpreted locally. The technical requirements for such a setup are not overly difficult (see for instance: Multimedia World Wide Web PC: How to distribute interactive applications on the Internet).

(4) The WWW can also be used as interface to scientific data, papers, on-line journals and so forth. Here lies a great potential for higher education that is not yet fully exploited. Those scientific resources are not necessarily structured in a way that students can use them. In most cases, teachers have to have prepare structured text to facilitate access. At the same time, kiosk modes available in some browsers allow for the suppression of the menu bar, which disallows random access to the Web as a whole, helping to maintain a tighter focus of learning. In some cases, it can be useful to ask students to produce WWW ``index'' pages. Such an exercise will help them to learn navigation and ``mining'' of interesting things.


  1. Newly proposed Client Communication Interfaces (CCIs) allow more sophisticated interaction between a local WWW browser and a client program than just launching an external program for a given file type. The drawback of such technology is that external clients need to be installed first (like in the Toolbook example mentioned above).

  2. HotJava from Sun Micro Systems (and recently licensed to Netscape) takes a different approach. The client itself (currently only running on Unix workstations) will be able to interpret programs sent over the network written in the ``Java'' language.

  3. VRML and other 3-D Interfaces: e.g. the W3 Kit.

  4. Educational ``cgi-bin'' add-ons will facilitate production of interactive forms WWW pages. An example is WEST

  5. Interfaces to text-based virtual realities (see below) or other specialized HTTP servers (e.g. see [Mallery, 1994])

The general issue with WWW-based educational material is as always, ``productivity versus power''. Currently, powerful interactive WWW applications are hard to produce.

next up previous contents
Next: Collaboration on the Up: The World-Wide Web in Previous: Who needs the

Daniel K. Schneider
Mon Jun 12 18:25:21 MET DST 1995