classical computing Loyola College in Maryland
Creative Teaching with Internet Technology
Barbara F. McManus, January 13, 2000

To put what follows in perspective, be sure to read New Technology Getting Mixed Grades in School.


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Necessity of incorporating internet technology in teaching and learning today

Combination of technology with personal contact and support is optimal for pedagogy 1, 2

Advantages provided by the internet

Difficulties encountered in using the internet for teaching

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Designing Internet Projects and Assignments

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Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

Asynchronous: Advantages of these tools include independence of specific time and place requirements, ease of student-teacher and student-student communication, promotion of thoughtful discussion, 19 facilitation of student collaborative projects, online submission of assignments and file sharing, and the potential to actively involve students in the production of learning. There are few disadvantages, though sometimes students require incentives to participate, discussion can develop slowly, and there is a potential for inappropriate comments. 20 For more information, see Diversity University's summary of the main characteristics of Archived Messaging Systems; the more detailed discussions of E-mail and Mailing Lists and Computer-Mediated Communication in JTAP's Guide to Online Tools; and Nancy Chism's Handbook for Instructors on the Use of Electronic Class Discussion.

Example of a simple use of course-specific e-mail lists: I posed a challenge to the students in two concurrent courses; participation in the discussion was optional and I later put the discussion on the web so that the students could see how their peers in the other course responded.

Example of a complex, multi-college course discussion board: This Archaeology course, given by the Associated Colleges of the South, could not have taken place without internet technology; participation in this discussion forum was a required and graded part of the course. To view the discussion, click here, then click on Guest, then select Online Archaeology Seminar.

Synchronous: Advantages of these tools include the immediacy and spontaneity of real-time communication, ability to brainstorm and receive immediate responses, lack of expense (if using text-based conferencing) and, in the case of MOOs, potential for role playing, resource creation, and imaginative immersion in other times, places, languages, and cultures. 21 Scheduling, however, can prove difficult, the tools work best with relatively small numbers of participants at a time, and technological lag or slow typing can impede discussion. Video conferencing is still awkward and unreliable unless all parties involved have access to very expensive technology (and sometimes even then). For more information, see Diversity University's summary of the main characteristics of Text-Based Conferencing, Lingua MOO's list of MOO teachers for such subjects as writing, English, computer programming, microbiology, dentistry, languages, and this description of several online articles. V.R. Sites gives some idea of the number and variety of educational MOOs available; the Diversity University MOO hosts classes and activities for many different institutions.

Example of an international VSNS Biocomputing Course conducted on Bio MOO, including Biocomputing in a Nutshell, which introduces the handbook Biocomputing for Everyone that was compiled by course participants, and subsequent courses and course materials.

Example of a MOO created for the teaching and learning of classics through the VRoma Project; connect via the Web Gateway and follow instructions for connecting as a guest or browsing anonymously.

Computer-Managed Learning Environments: Also called Virtual Learning Environments, these pre-packaged programs provide a single interface that incorporates many technological tools for online delivery and management of courses, typically including various types of asynchronous and synchronous communication, web pages, file-sharing, online quizzes and tests, etc. Normally these packages are adopted institutionally. They can provide tremendous savings in time for faculty and familiarity and ease of use for students, though the single interface can give a “cookie cutter” look and feel to courses. Examples of popular programs are Blackboard's CourseInfo (adopted by Loyola College), WebCT, and Web Course in a Box.

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World Wide Web

Designing Web-Based Assignments: These are a few types of assignments; the possibilities are nearly endless.

1. Finding and Evaluating Information on the Web: Knowing how to locate information on the web is a crucial skill that everyone should possess, not only for academic and professional success, but also for many facets of daily living. It is very important that students be taught how to search effectively and how to evaluate web sites when found, but this can be accomplished via resources already on the web:

Sample search/evaluation assignment that can be used in any type of course.

2. Using the Web as a Research Tool for Critical Essays: Besides being able to locate web sources and evaluate the quality and accuracy of their information, students also need to learn how to cite web sources and how to integrate them effectively with print sources. Citing Electronic/Internet Resources, by Marsha Keenan of the James G. Gee Library, provides an up-to-date collection of links to various citation styles. For examples of this type of assignment, see Research Paper Guidelines for American Legal History II (Sally Hadden, Florida State University) or Research Paper for International Law and Business (Albert D. Spalding, Wayne State University).

3. Applying Analytical Frameworks from the Course to Analyze/Critique the Internet Itself: This type of assignment uses the internet as a field for critical analysis rather than as an information tool; the internet offers an easily accessible, convenient, and inexpensive way to practice their analytic skills on the world outside the campus. This type of assignment can also effectively integrate the classroom and the internet if coupled with an oral presentation, as demonstrated in my Gender in Cyberspace project.

4. Using Student Web Publishing as an Assessment Device: Besides helping students to develop a valuable skill, web publishing can be a powerful incentive for students to produce high-quality work, to learn the importance of paying attention to details, to learn how to direct their work to a particular audience, and to develop writing and synthetic skills. An example is provided by my Ancient Rome final examination . The University of Warwick's TELRI project is sponsoring a number of pilot courses based on the incorporation of web-based resources and student web publishing; see, for example, this preliminary report on intermediate French or a more recent series of case studies (available in PDF format). In the French course, project directors reported that the student web publishing was successful in “increasing communication in the target language; providing a purpose and focus for expressing and exchanging meaning; enabling independent learning.”

5. Using On-line Databases or Resource Sites: The internet is a rich source of primary materials that are organized but not digested or interpreted—data, archival materials, case studies, statistics, etc.—that make it possible for students to learn about and actually conduct original research with primary sources in a way that was rarely possible before. Some of the sites even include educational tutorials, such as the following outstanding web sites:

When designing assignments that require students to conduct research in primary sources available on the internet, it is very important to provide structure and guidance (the amount will of course depend on the students' level and expertise in the discipline).

Creating Web-Based Course Resources: This is more time consuming and requires some specialized skills (much less so if using a computer-managed learning environment), but enables you to harness the internet for the precise needs of your courses and to share your materials with other educators and students as well as with the public at large.

1. Providing an Online Syllabus: While a “typed-style” syllabus is better than nothing, it does not take advantage of the real potential of the internet. The addition of color, graphics, and a hyperlinked structure can make the course seem much more appealing.

2. Providing Supplementary Links: Linking to resources available elsewhere on the web is extremely easy in an online syllabus. However, it is important to contextualize the links. Do not simply provide long lists of linked web page titles with no other indication of their role in the course. It is much better to target the links to specific topics or assignments, to give some indication of what the linked page contains, and to specify whether visiting the link is required or recommended for enrichment. Link only to sites that you have evaluated for accuracy and suitability for the course; sites that are unattractive, too superficial, or too complex will discourage students from using the resources.

3. Providing Online Course Resources: Again, “typed-style” lecture or reading notes, while useful as printed handouts, do not really take advantage of the web's potential and can in fact be very difficult to read on a screen. Hypertext, on the other hand, offers wonderful opportunities to provide multi-layered paths that combine many different types of resources, including images (very important for today's visual learners), glossaries, primary texts, and even sound and video files. Online materials work best when they are thoroughly integrated with work in the classroom. For example, when Michael Arnush of Skidmore College gave his students an assignment for a classroom debate about Cicero, he used the internet to turn it into imaginative role playing by assigning half the class to portray Cicero and half to interrogate him.

4. Providing Interactive Exercises and/or Tests: Well-designed web pages are never purely passive, since they involve choices of where and when to click, how many levels of materials to pursue, etc. However, there are now many ways to make web pages truly interactive, from relatively simple fill-in forms, to Javascript quizzes, to aplets that enable simulations or complex database queries.

Examples of online course materials that exploit most or all of these possibilities can range from a course with relatively simple web-based materials, such as my Feminine Archetype in Myth and Art (see especially the page on Structure of the Feminine Archetype and other notes linked to my Topics page), to a much more complex and fully webbed site like SALMON: Study and Learning Materials On-line, created for several courses in physiological psychology at the University of Plymouth.

Barbara F. McManus, Professor of Classics, The College of New Rochelle
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January, 2000 [Archived Page, no longer updated]