THIS IS A DRAFT VERSION OF AN ARTICLE THAT APPEARED INEDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER, VOL 26, NO. 2, MARCH 1997, PP 27-33. PLEASE REFER TO THE PUBLISHED VERSION IF QUOTING.
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Ronald D. Owston
Nothing before has captured the imagination and interest of educators simultaneously around the globe more than the World Wide Web.1 The Web is now causing educators, from pre-school to graduate school, to re-think the very nature of teaching, learning, and schooling. Claims have been made that the Web can free teaching and learning from the physical boundaries of classrooms and time restraints of class schedules. Traditional lectures and demonstrations can become Web based multimedia learning experiences for students. Learning resources of the college and university can be augmented by learning resources of the world via the Web. Moreover, the Web can help us re-focus our institutions from teaching to learning, from teacher to student.
Although there is, perhaps, some merit to these claims, they are expecting much from a tool developed only several years ago at CERN, Geneva's European Laboratory for High Energy Particle Physics, to share research in the high energy physics community. In this article, I would like to come to terms with the hyperbole surrounding the Web, by offering an analysis of its present contribution to teaching and learning in K-12 and higher education. The framework that I will use for the analysis was suggested by Gordon Davies, Commissioner for Higher Education in Virginia, in an address to Educom's National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (Davies, 1995). He stated that for technology to address the "big problems" of higher education it must respond to three questions:
These are tough questions--and they apply to K-12 as much as to higher education. School and higher education administrators, governments, and the public are demanding answers to these kinds of questions. Some will say that the use of the Web is inevitable, so there is no need to justify it. I believe, however, that if the Web is to be worthy of our time and investment, it must meet the challenge that these questions bring. Wherever possible, I will support my analysis with examples of what individuals and institutions are actually doing with the Web.
Each of us likely has a different interpretation of what "access to learning" means, although most will agree that it means making education more attainable by more people. That is, providing educational opportunities in the workplace, community, or the home, for those unable to attend school or college because of cultural, economic, or social barriers. Dedicated distant learning institutions and traditional colleges and universities have provided opportunities to students unable to attend campus for some time. Until recently, they relied mainly on correspondence, traditional print instructional materials, and, perhaps, audio and video cassettes, or television. That is starting to change now as educators devise new ways to capitalize on Web based technology. An inviting, graphical screen layout, interactive multimedia learning materials, simplified access and searching of databases, exponential growth of new resources around the world, and open technical standards that allow any brand of modern computer to access the Web are some of the advantages institutions see in the Web to make learning more accessible. Here are some examples of how the Web is being used today to provide increased access to education.
Britain's Open University (http://keats.open.ac.uk/zx)2 is a prime example of a dedicated distance education institution that uses the Web to support its mission of providing accessible education. The institution normally requires students to spend some time on campus in residency, however it finds that there are always some students who cannot fulfill this requirement. In the summer of 1994, it experimented with offering electronically an advanced psychology course aimed at this kind of student, using Web and other Internet tools. Students reportedly relished the opportunity to be able to continue their studies without interfering with family commitments; instructors found the experience exhausting yet exhilarating; and the project evaluator wrote that the level of contact and interaction among students and instructors very similar to regular summer classes. The following year Open University offered two computer science courses to students throughout the world via the Web. They intend to continue to expand their list of offerings, and even have a Web form on-line, which students can complete to suggest courses they'd like to see offered over the Internet!
City University (http://www.cityu.edu/inroads/welcome.htm), in Bellevue, Washington, another dedicated distance learning institution, operates with the mission of "making education available to all who desire it...without interrupting commitments to work and home." Recently, they established EDROADS (Education Resource and Online Academic Degree System) to take advantage of Internet based technology to offer their programs. At present, they provide on-line an MBA degree program and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems. Through the university's World Wide Web site, students around the world apply to the university, register for courses, and complete course work electronically. They can also send questions and assignments to the instructors from the Web site and participate in specialized live forums at the program and course level.
Two examples of traditional institutions using the Web as the backbone of their distance learning efforts are Birkbeck College of the University of London, England, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In 1995, Birkbeck's highly-regarded Crystallography Department (http://www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/PPS/index.html) began to offer a 15 week course called The Principles of Protein Structure entirely over the Internet. At the heart of the course were Web based interactive, graphical learning modules created by 30 experts in protein structure from around the world. The Web activities were supported by on-line discussions with other students and course consultants. Some 250 students from countries around the world participated, including Brazil, China, Slovenia, and Croatia as well as Western countries. Students and course consultants were split into study groups of 15 to 20. One of the groups' activities was to prepare and publish at the course's Web site, a research report on an assigned protein. Evaluations of the course were extremely positive. One participant, a doctoral student, posted his views of the course at the university's web site. Among the chief benefits he said were that he could study at his own convenience, access course resources simply by the click of a mouse, and maintain contact with a large number of scientists easily and informally.
A selection of standard, full-credit undergraduate and graduate courses is offered globally through CyberEd at the University of Massachusetts' Dartmouth Division of Continuing Education (http://www.umassd.edu/cybered/distlearninghome.html). CyberEd courses make extensive use of the Web complete with images, sound, and video, to present material, test, communicate among students and faculty, and submit assignments. Its goal is "to create a distance learning environment that rivals the traditional classroom environment in the quality and content of the learning experience...to encourage a new educational paradigm in which the instructor is no longer regarded as the sole source of all knowledge." Reports by participants and visitors posted at its Web site suggest that CyberEd is well on this way to achieving its goal.
As the list of established, accredited colleges and universities extending access to their programs to students with the Web grows, a new kind of institution--the "virtual university"--is emerging to challenge the dominant paradigm of higher education by providing universal access to on-line courses and degrees. While most are not yet accredited, these institutions are blazing the trail in what will no doubt become a common way of study in the near future. They don't have a physical campus. Faculty may be located anywhere in the world. They make use of print materials as well, but all interaction among students, faculty, and the institution, and a considerable amount of instruction occurs on-line, in most cases using the Web, electronic mail, and computer conferencing. Some of the early starters in this field are the School for Transformative Learning of the California Institute for Integral Studies (http://www.caso.com/iu/providers/ciis.html) that offers an accredited PhD, and Athena University (http://www.athena.edu/athena.html), Spectrum University (http://horizons.org/campus.html#Top), and International University College (http://www.iuc.com) that offer other kinds of unaccredited programs.
The Web is not only enabling improved access to colleges and universities. Some experimentation in on-line access to education is happening at the public school level, though it is not as widespread. Three growing areas where the Web is facilitating increased access are in home schooling, alternative schooling, and extension course delivery.
A small segment of the parent population has always chosen to withdraw their children from public school and educate them at home. Reasons for doing so vary from geographic isolation, political views, or religious conviction, to a belief that they can do a better job at educating their child than the school. The Web is becoming an valuable tool for these parents and children to access educational resources and to maintain contact with other parents and children participating in home schooling. As well, the richness of the Web promises to make home schooling an increasingly popular option for parents. Because of the Web, children educated at home will be less likely to suffer from lack of access to quality learning materials and contact with peers, two problems that plague home schoolers. Web sites for parents and children are springing up with curriculum resources, lists of individuals and organizations offering help, and information on legal matters. A list of these sites can be found at Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com/alternative/home_schooling/).
A second area poised for growth in Web use is alternative schooling. Students at alternative schools, like their home schooling counterparts, often lack access to quality learning materials as well. This is changing, however, as alternative schools gain access to the Web.
The Virtual High School (http://www.wondertree.org/vh/index.html), in British Columbia, is an example of a private school that capitalizes on Internet technology to provide an alternative to the traditional school. Although its name is slightly misleading because students do gather in a physical classroom in Vancouver, Virtual High makes extensive use of technology in its innovative project based curriculum. The Web is central tool in their students' pursuit of knowledge. There are no formal courses at Virtual High as students are encouraged to "undertake to set up a personal business, and turn it into a sustainable and financial success."
The third area soon to grow in Web use is in the offering of extension courses to students presently in high school and to adults seeking to complete their schooling through home study. The Web offers the same advantages of access to these two groups as it does to university students. High school students will soon see Web based courses in subjects their own school does not offer, courses to prepare for the Advanced Placement exams, and regular college courses offered to them for advanced credit. Adults seeking to complete their high school education will soon see courses offered over the Web and courses to prepare them for the GED high school equivalency exam.
Indiana University's Division of Extended Studies (http://www.extend.indiana.edu), which offers high school and some advanced credit college courses within the state and worldwide, is an example of an institution that is beginning to make use of the Web. Students can study independently on-line, communicate with the instructor, submit assignments, and receive course guides electronically from the university's Web site.
Although the Web breaks down the long-standing physical and temporal barriers of access to education, it can create new kinds of barriers for students. These include computer hardware that malfunctions, difficulty in setting up software to access an educational institution or Internet service provider, and encountering constant busy signals when dialing up from home. Once a student gains access the problems are not over either. Heavy on-line traffic can overload popular Web sites so that they respond very slowly or simply do not respond, and annoying drops in telephone line connections occur all too frequently. Added to these technical problems is the cost of dialing up the institution if the student is not within local calling distance, and the cost of using an Internet service provider when the institution cannot be accessed directly.
Though perhaps not as intractable nor systemic, these new barriers can undermine an otherwise well designed on-line educational experience and lead to both student and instructor frustration. Evans and Wideman (1995) present a sobering chronicle of what happened in an on-line undergraduate economics tutorial when technical difficulties interfere with on-line learning. Most serious was the loss of critical mass for student discussions. Students who managed to get on-line found their peers who couldn't get on-line were not contributing, therefore they felt less inclined to contribute themselves. The result was a downward spiral in the caliber of discussion.
Clearly, providers of on-line educational programs must ensure that ample technical support is available for participants, particularly in the early stages of the program when participants are most likely to encounter the greatest number of problems. At the same time they run the risk of disaster if their institution's computing infrastructure (e.g., number of incoming telephone lines, capacity of servers, and bandwidth of internal networks) is not adequate for the anticipated load.
As we have just seen, there is promising indication that the Web is a viable means to increase access to education. Evidence on how it can promote improved learning is not as forthcoming. In fact, there is debate in the instructional design literature about whether there are any unique attributes of media that can promote improved learning (Clark, 1983, 1994; Kozma, 1991, 1994). This debate stems from the observation that, after more than 50 years of research on instructional media, no consistent significant effects from any medium on learning have been demonstrated. Educational television is a case in point. Initially, hopes were high that television would have certain characteristics that would lead to improved student learning, but none have been found. Some argue that no effect can possibly be demonstrated, because any improvement in learning that may accrue will come from the instructional design, not the medium that delivers the instruction (e.g., Clark, 1994).
The issue becomes further complicated when the Web is used as a tool for learning, as opposed to a medium for delivering pre-determined content. By a learning tool, I mean use of the Web simply as a vehicle to search for and retrieve information. Clearly, a tool can make a task easier to do--and we likely can do it much more quickly with the tool. But the central question is when we no longer have the tool to use, have we taken away with us some unique skill or ability that could have been acquired only with that tool (Solomon, Perkins, & Globerson, 1991). To illustrate, this question can be phrased in terms of a tool we are probably all more familiar with, the word processor. The question then becomes, as a result of using a word processor, do we develop certain beneficial writing skills that we can carry over when we write by hand. Furthermore, are these skills ones that we otherwise would not likely develop? To date, no research has been able to consistently demonstrate this kind of effect with any computer based learning tool.
My purpose in raising this issue is to highlight that we cannot simply ask "Do students learn better with the Web as compared to traditional classroom instruction?" We have to realize that no medium, in and of itself, will likely improve learning in a significant way when it is used to deliver instruction. Nor is it realistic to expect the Web, when used as a tool, to develop in students any unique skills. The key to promoting improved learning with the Web appears to lie within how effectively the medium is exploited in the teaching-learning situation. Fetterman (in press), for example, employs a "threads" of conversation technique to record and classify student and instructor on-line discourse. Unlike in a live classroom where conversations disappear, the medium allows every thought to be captured for future examination, elaboration, and extension. The result is richer, more thoughtful discussions, not because of the medium, but because of the way the instructor stimulated and orchestrated the environment made possible by the medium. From this perspective, the Web appears to offer at least three distinct advantages that can be capitalized upon by the instructor to promote improved learning.
One of the primary advantages of Web use is that it appeals very much to the way our students now prefer to learn. Seymour Papert (Papert, 1993) calls the computer the "children's machine," because students in our public schools and in a good many in colleges and universities do not know a world without the computer. They relate to the computer in ways that baffle adults. It is an integral part of their world. They play, are entertained by, and learn with the computer. They tend to be more visual learners than previous generations because their world is rich in visual stimuli. They also thrive on interacting with the device. So it is fitting that we design learning materials and opportunities that capitalize on what we know about how our students prefer to learn. That is just what many of our colleagues in schools and post secondary institutions are doing. The Web is at the heart of many of these initiatives.
Public schools have been very quick to exploit the rich, multi-sensory interactive nature of the Web. A visit to the University of Minnesota's College of Education Web site, called Web 66 (http://web66.coled.umn.edu), will give you a feeling for how extensively schools are using the Web. This site has probably the most comprehensive listing of Kindergarten to grade twelve schools anywhere. Some 6600 schools, almost half of which are elementary, in nearly 60 different countries are listed. Although you cannot truly tell how many of them make regular use of the Web for teaching and learning, it is probably safe to say that if a school is motivated enough to establish its own Web home page and list it with Web 66, it is making use of the Web in its classrooms too.3 If that is not a clarion call to educators, the prediction by Online Kids Report (Jupiter Communications, 1995) that children's use of the Web is expected to increase by 1400 percent to 14.5 million users over the next five years certainly is.
As we would expect, because they have more ready access to the Internet, college and university faculty make use of the Web more frequently than schools. There is also one site to which we can turn to get an indication of how extensively faculty are using the Web. This site, the World Lecture Hall at The University of Texas at Austin (http://www.utexas.edu/world/lecture), maintains a registry of college and university course home pages. When you browse through the registry, you will find course home pages of faculty throughout the world listed alphabetically, from Accounting to Zoology. Some home pages contain little more than a course syllabus, but many others contain interactive learning materials, lecture notes, assignments, exams, links to course-related resources, and instructions for students on how to make best use of the course's Web site. Presently, there are several hundred courses registered. The World Lecture Hall registry is undoubtedly only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of Web use because not all faculty would bother to register their courses there (or even know about the site), but it is clear that many faculty see the Web as a resource they want their students to use.
We saw in our discussion of accessibility that the Web is a viable tool to help students gain an education without being on campus. A growing number of faculty now want to provide their regular, full-time students greater flexibility in accessing their courses as well. When you browse through courses listed in the World Lecture Hall, you'll discover many courses where faculty have dramatically reduced the amount of face-to-face contact between instructor and student, or in some cases, entirely eliminated it. In lieu, they provide Web based study projects and on-line activities that students can access at their convenience.
One interesting example of this is at Oregon State University, where Philosophy 201 is offered entirely on-line, using the Web and electronic mail (http://www.cs.orst.edu/department/instruction/phil201.S95/). The developers see the course as an opportunity to "enhance student autonomy and intellectual community" and to create a "self-paced, expert-directed, time/place independent environment for learning." All student readings are available on the Web and students debate issues raised during the course in electronic "virtual conversations." E-mail provides a way for students to contact the instructor directly and for the instructor to broadcast news to all registered participants. Internet visitors are invited to join class discussions provided they identify themselves as such. This is a refreshing addition to the course as it potentially broadens the range of opinions expressed in on-line discussions.
Important to note, however, is that in courses like Philosophy 201, faculty have not removed themselves from the educational process. Their roles have shifted from being deliverer of instruction, to being the creator of learning experiences for students and academic guide. While some may decry the loss of face-to-face contact between instructor and student, it is not difficult to find faculty who believe the quality of interaction and learning that takes place on-line is actually superior. Owen, (1993), for example, argues that interaction is more thoughtful and considered when students have the opportunity to reflect on their responses to questions and discussion topics before posting them to an electronic public forum. He also contends that students who are shy or uncomfortable about participating in class discussions often no longer feel that way in on-line forums. My own experience in offering a graduate education course almost entirely on-line confirms this observation (http://www.edu.yorku.ca/~rowston/digital.html).
Interaction of the kind just described where participants contribute at different times is called asynchronous communication. Web tools are available that permit synchronous communication as well. These tools allow live audio and video to be carried over the Internet, enabling the creation of an on-line learning environment that simulates a real classroom. Yet this virtual classroom still allows students the flexibility of taking part in the class from any Internet connection in the world. Fetterman (1996) describes how he uses an inexpensive videoconferencing setup to personalize his on-line instruction, supplement office hours, provide electronic videos for students to download, and collaborate with colleagues. The widespread application of this technology is currently hampered by the relatively slow speed of most Internet connections, which results in poor sound and picture quality. As techniques for improving the compression of these types of data and higher speed Internet connections become more common, we will no doubt see increased use of this technology.
Although the emphasis in K-12 education is more on use of the Web for project based work and resource access than content delivery, the Web's influence on making learning more flexible is not lost in K-12 schools. When computers are introduced into classrooms, teachers inevitably report that they change their teaching style to allow students greater autonomy in their learning. They tend to shift their style of teaching from a didactic to a more project based approach. Teachers in the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow project, which placed large numbers of computers in classrooms across the country, are just one group who have reported these kinds of changes (David, 1992). The Web is a tool that fits well with this new learning environment. It empowers students to become part of the Internet community and to take advantage of the wealth of learning opportunities available through the Internet, without having to master arcane computer commands.
Academic, community, business, and government leaders are calling upon our schools, colleges, and universities to graduate a different kind of student than a generation ago. This is in response to the challenges posed by the new global economy, where the knowledge and skills of a nation's workers are key to its competitive success, rather than in the past when factors like natural resources and geographic location reigned supreme. Among the skills called for in students are critical thinking, problem solving, written communication, and ability to work collaboratively (e.g., see Uchida, 1996). Although these skills have always been valued, the call for them represents as much a demand that schools place increased emphasis on their development.
In the hands of able teachers, the Web can play a prominent role in fostering development of these skills in students. It would be absurd to state that the Web is the only tool that teachers and students should use, but there is a natural match between the Web and development of these skills. For example, since the Web is part of the free-wheeling environment of the Internet, all imaginable kinds of information and data can be found, the quality and value of which varies tremendously. Literally anyone can create a Web page, as there are no restrictions or widespread refereeing processes in place. Thus teachers can encourage students to explore the Web with the goal of having them weigh evidence, judge the authenticity of data, compare different viewpoints on issues, analyze and synthesize diverse sources of information, and construct their own understanding of the topic or issue at hand. By doing so, teachers will be well on their way to having students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. It is true that teachers have always had students do this kind of task with print material. What the Web can offer that traditional media cannot is information that is instantly available, often very up-to-date, worldwide in scope, and presented in a more motivating format for students to explore.
Students can develop written communication skills readily by using the Web too. Writing to an authentic audience--rather than only to the teacher--has long been viewed as critical for the development of students' writing ability (e.g., Graves, 1983). The argument is that when students have a real audience to write to and have a purpose in writing to that audience, they will be more conscious of their vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. On-line work, in general, provides this kind of authenticity, whether it's an elementary student writing to a "key pal" on the other side of the globe, a high school student of a foreign language communicating with a native speaker in a distant country, or a university student querying researchers about their latest work (as in the Birkbeck College course described earlier). E-mail, electronic reply forms, and Internet newsgroup readers are part of most Web browsing tools today, so students don't have to leave the Web to do on-line writing. Teachers who design projects or assignments that incorporate this feature of the Web will be giving their students an ideal opportunity to develop their writing skill. Early on teachers must set standards of what is acceptable and be vigilant of their students' on-line writing, however, because most individuals when first writing on-line tend to write rather hastily and informally (Zuboff, 1988).
Teachers can also foster development of collaborative skills with the Web. This is typically done by structuring group projects where members are in different geographic locations, yet have a common goal to reach or problem to solve. Again, the Birkbeck College Principles of Protein course is illustrative, this time as an example of how collaborative projects can be structured. Recall that one of their assignments in the course was to work in "virtual" teams to prepare a research report on an assigned protein and to publish the report on the Web. For K-12 students, many global collaborative projects exist. All rely on e-mail as the underlying Internet tool, although the Web is fast becoming the starting point and location for archives of global discussions. KIDLINK (http://www.kidlink.org) is one of the largest of these projects with over 48,000 children in 77 countries and all continents participating since 1990 in global dialogs and projects. A recent visit to the Web site revealed the announcement for Blue Print Earth, a collaborative project where students were challenged to invent social and political scenarios to make the Earth a better place to live for future generations.
Now that we have seen how Web use can contribute to greater access to education and improved learning, we need to consider the cost of doing this. There are the three main areas of cost for a Web based course: hardware and software, course development, and on-going course support.
The hardware and software costs of a Web based course include the Internet connection itself and all necessary computer hardware and Web related software to deliver a course. On a typical campus, these resources would be shared with other users in the same department, college, or across the entire campus. For a low enrollment course, the added costs for that one course would likely be relatively small, perhaps necessitating some minor hardware or software upgrades. However, as enrollment in the course increases, or if multiple Web based courses are added, the demands on the campus computing infrastructure could be enormous. Campus networks may have to be significantly upgraded, high capacity dedicated servers purchased, and many more modems and incoming telephone lines installed to handle the volume of traffic created by students dialing up from home. These costs could add up to several hundred thousand dollars or more. Clearly, such expenses have to be adequately budgeted for by the institution, and in some cases, they may simply be unaffordable. One suggestion, made by the American Association of Higher Education, and adopted by many institutions across the continent, is to create a "Teaching, Learning, and Technology Roundtable" to bring together disparate parties on campus to systematically plan the fiscal and pedagogical implementation of technology in teaching (e.g., see http://www.georgetown.edu/irvinemj/roundtable/).
Most college and university courses available on the Web today are developed and offered by individual faculty members at their own initiative. Therefore, course development costs are often hidden, but nonetheless very real. Faculty who develop these courses spend great amounts of time above and beyond what they would spend on courses offered by traditional means. Not only do they have to plan the academic content and pedagogy, they have to plan and develop the Web resources associated with the course. If Web use on our campuses is to move beyond the domain of the motivated early adopters of the technology, incentives in the form of faculty training, technical support, honoraria, and professional recognition will have to be provided--all of which have costs associated. Institutions will also have to consider establishing instructional support centers to assist faculty with Web site development. Inter-institutional collaboration and sharing of Web resources is another way of reducing the onus on individual faculty while at the same time constraining costs. The Institute for Academic Technology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is spearheading a promising initiative in association with members of EDUCOM and the private sector to collaborate on the development of Web based teaching modules and related tools (http://www.iat.unc.edu/dle/dle.html). If successful, this initiative could provide a model for inter-institutional Web development and sharing.
Once a course Web site is operational, costs continue to accrue as a Web site is always a "work-in-progress." On-going maintenance is required, which includes posting new materials and removing dated materials, verifying that links to other Web sites are still valid, improving the layout and design, and adding functionality. These tasks are considered essential for any good Web site. Added to this is a general expectation by the Web using community, that good sites incorporate the latest features of Web browsers (e.g., tables and forms) and exploit the latest Web technology (e.g., RealAudio sound, video, Java applets, and other multimedia tools). Again, if faculty develop sites themselves, these costs are hidden but cannot be overlooked in our consideration of costs.
I will not attempt to quantify any of the above three categories of expenses here. Suffice to say is that all three represent expenditures above what an institution otherwise would incur. Perhaps the most effective strategy of minimizing the impact of these costs is to concentrate Web development efforts and resources on the courses that generate the greatest enrollment. The experience of Maricopa Community College District, one of the highest enrollment systems in the country, offering some 2500 courses to 90,000 students, is particularly instructive in this regard (Twigg, 1995). Maricopa, in developing a teaching with technology strategy, discovered that 44 per cent of their enrollment is concentrated in just 25 courses. To put this into perspective, these 25 courses that supply nearly half of its enrollment represent one per cent of the total number of course offerings. Not surprisingly, they include courses such as introductory accounting, biology, chemistry, economics, and English. Most four-year higher education institutions will likely find a similar pattern. The conclusion that we can draw from Maricopa's analysis is that if we direct Web integration efforts toward this one percent, the greatest impact for a given investment will be had.
While efforts to minimize per unit costs are essential for most institutions, one also needs to consider the value added by Web use. For example, if an institution's goal is to increase accessibility to its programs, use of the Web in its courses will create the opportunity for students to participate who are not able to be on campus when the courses are normally offered. The result could be that the need to offer special sections of course to meet the schedules of these students is eliminated. At the same time, pressure on classroom space and physical facilities may be eased. Another example, as we saw earlier, is that the quality of courses can be enhanced with the Web by creating unique learning experiences for students, more in harmony with the way many now prefer to learn. Most institutions strive for the highest possible quality in their courses, therefore the Web may well contribute to this mission.
So far our discussion on cost has focused mainly on issues more relevant to higher education. The cost of developing and offering Web based courses in K-12 education would be similar, however that is not likely to be the most common application of the Web in schools. Instead, the Web is more likely to be used to bring into the classroom new learning resources and opportunities. There is a case to be made that for the relatively small investment of obtaining Web access, significant value can be added to a school's resources. These resources may be in the form of access to specialized, externally developed, on-line high school courses, that a local school could not hope to offer because of budget, small enrollments, lack of facilities, or lack of qualified teachers. They may be opportunities for students and teachers to consult with resource people, such as renowned scientists and writers that otherwise would not be possible without great expense. Or the resources may be classroom materials such as maps, reference books, magazines, and newspapers, and teacher materials like curriculum guides, teaching units, and professional reference materials that schools need not purchase.
Web resources for schools, available at no charge, abound. The Texas Education Network (TENET) is one example. TENET's well-designed Web site (http://www.tenet.edu) provides "one stop shopping" for K-12 teachers. The site features a set of links to K-12 school and teacher resource home pages; the "Halls of Academia" that has a set of links, classified by school subject, to academic resources; a set of links to museums of the world and virtual field trips to other interesting sites; a set of links to library reference materials, books, and libraries worldwide; and a set of links to software archives and reference information. Each set of links is further subdivided to make the links more accessible. For example, the set of museum links contains the subcategories of Architecture Centers, Art Museums, Cultural and Historic Centers, Natural History, and Science Centers. From these subcategories you can link to sites like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland, the ancient Mayan City of Tulum in Mexico, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The cost of obtaining art books, photographs, and print documents from even these five sites alone would be well out of reach of all but the most affluent school libraries. Yet they are available for viewing at no cost beyond the initial cost of an Internet connection and a computer.
I began this article by saying that the World Wide Web has captured the imagination and interest in educators everywhere. But the days of frivolous experimentation in schools have long passed. Before we introduce any new technology into our classrooms we must be able to justify its contribution. The public expects no less from us.
We examined the Web's contribution from the perspective of three questions: Does the Web increase access to education? Does it promote improved learning? Does it contain the costs of education? We saw that a promising case exists for the Web in all three areas. The case is rooted largely in how educators are actually using the Web today. Many of these uses are merely extensions of what is already being done with more established media. This is not surprising, because with any new technology, we tend to think it in terms of the frame of reference with which we are most familiar (e.g., the automobile was first thought of as a "horseless carriage"). No doubt further research and development on the application of the Web to teaching and learning is needed. Nonetheless, in the meantime, it merits serious consideration as we search for ways to revitalize and enhance what we do in our schools.
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The World Wide Web is a unique way of linking text, images, sound, and video resources on computers connected to the Internet. Typically, when you view Web information on your computer screen you see "pages" of formatted text with pictures and graphics. By clicking with the mouse on highlighted text or an icon, you seamlessly link to another page or access an image, sound, or video resource on the same computer or on one somewhere else on the Internet.
2Every Web page has a unique Internet address that identifies it, just as your own name, street, city, state, and ZIP code uniquely identifies where you live. These addresses, known as Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), are written in the form http://...
3A home page is the first page of a collection of related Web pages, much like a combination of the cover and table of contents of a book.
Ronald D. Owston is Associate Professor of Education and Director, Centre for the Study of Computers in Education, York University, 4700 Keele St., North York, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3 (firstname.lastname@example.org). His specializes in computer applications to teaching and learning.