Currently, the most important educational uses of the WWW are educational information systems and dissemination of Educational Material (including text and software). The WWW has potential for distance and "just in time" open learning. However, it does not provide a full learning environment. One learns by (a) doing something and (b) by pursuing an instructional goal. Those two strategic requirements are supported by a number of elements like (a) teaching and tutoring (providing guidance to the curriculum and tasks); (b) monitoring and testing (ensuring that the learner is learning); (c) co-operation with fellow learners (in order optimally construct knowledge); (d) learning material (like exercises, simulation software, educational hypertext). The WWW can support a number of those, especially since teaching and monitoring can be done partly by the learner himself, partly by software. Today one can already find a variety of educational uses, like:

  1. Information servers to look up information (manuals, books, expositions, bibliographies, programs, etc.)

  2. Distribution of educational material (texts in any format, programs)

  3. Curricula information & guidance to lessons

  4. Educational textbooks in hypertext format, including exercises.

  5. Tools for collaborative work (dynamic hypertext, "News" like conferencing systems, co-writing hypertexts)

  6. Implementations of "Jigsaw puzzles", information blocks with holes that have to be filled in by the Student.

  7. Question & Answering pages (e.g. tests monitoring acquired knowledge, Skinner & Bloom type of learning to some extent)

  8. Interfaces to local clients (e.g. simulations, programming environments, tutors, etc.). For security reasons, those are generally restricted to local area networks.

  9. Interfaces to learning environments running on a server machine (e.g. an interface that lets a user program an algorithm and shows how it is executed).

One must make a distinction between (a) person-to-many-persons" delivery of learning material and learning instructions (e.g. exercises, educational text, educational software, instructional information) and (2) person-to-person interactions. Individual tutoring and monitoring as well as collaboration between students fall into the second category and are important instructional functions. Currently, they are not the strength of the WWW, but can be provided by other asynchronous and synchronous communication software on the Internet such as Email, "virtual classrooms" and computer-supported collaborative work tools. Note however that some of those (e.g. Email, dynamic hypertext and asynchronous conferencing systems like "News") can be implemented or at least interfaced within the WWW using the "forms" interface. The fact that the WWW can't do everything is not really a problem, since at least todays Internet users have the habit to select the protocol and service that fits a task best. In the future, real-time communication tools will integrate access to the WWW. Some developers already work on this and prototypes exist.

You can visit the Globewide Network Academy ("http://uu-gna.mit.edu:8001/uu-gna/") which is a non-profit initiative for providing free Education on the Internet. Courses are entirely based on Internet tools. In addition to the WWW used for distributing curricula information, manuals, introductory texts etc., GNA uses Virtual Textual Realities (MUDs) to provide "virtual classrooms" and on-line assistance.

Now lets come back to interactive applications on the WWW, both for monitoring and proper learning. Some already do exist. However, since HTTP is a stateless protocol (meaning that the connection to a server is closed after a requested document is delivered) and since most network connections are slow due to saturations of server machines and the Internet, the practical potential of this kind of application is currently unknown. The author's WWW server points to some interesting examples. One of those is a multi-media on-line tutorial for "frog dissection" ("http://curry.edschool.virginia.edu/~insttech/frog/") by the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia. It can be used in high school biology classrooms as a valuable preparation tool or even as a useful substitute for laboratory dissection. Currently, there are many indexes on "WWW for Instructional Use". One of the best is provided by the University of Texas (http://www.utexas.edu/world/instruction/index.html)".

In May 1994 a first International Workshop on "Teaching and Learning with the Web" was held within the First International Conference on the World-Wide Web at CERN in Geneva. More information can be obtained at the author's WWW and FTP Site.

Learntec 94 Article - 13 FEB 95

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