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WWW - A Strategic Tool for UK Higher Education

This is the report of the workshop organised by AGOCG as part of the Support Initiative for Multimedia Applications (SIMA) funded by the JISC New Technologies Initiative. The event was held at Loughborough University on 13/14 February 1995. The first day consisted of papers from experts in the field. The second day built on that through group discussions of the issues raised to result in recommendations to the community for activity and funding. The first day was attended by 80 participants from 54 institutions of whom 41 stayed for the second day.

This short article includes a brief description of the areas discussed and the recommendations of the workshop which will be considered by AGOCG and other groups able to progress these recommendations by resource allocation and/or strategic directions.

The World Wide Web (WWW) provides a distributed multimedia hypertext system which can be used in teaching, research and for administrative functions. Using WWW we can:

Many institutions have developed Campus Wide Information Systems (CWISs) using WWW. Students can access resources from around the world to assist them in their learning. Also, and perhaps more significantly, a number of distance learning courses are now being provided on the WWW. Researchers are beginning to take advantage of control systems and collaborative tools which are emerging. Conferences, including reports, video, slide images etc can be published on the WWW, allowing greater and more rapid dissemination.

The WWW is clearly an important tool for many applications and is expected to be so for some years to come. This workshop was concerned with addressing the issues in the context of UK Higher Education and with making recommendations for activity and funding which would help UK Higher Education make efficient and effective use of this important tool.

Despite the apparent popularity of the WWW, many sites have not installed a server and most do not have well developed strategies. One thing which did emerge from the workshop is the need for support of those sites in developing servers and strategies based on good practices and experiences elsewhere.


Community Support on WWW
There is a need to support the community in its introduction and use of the WWW. This could be achieved in a number of ways which might include: training; development of training materials; employment of people for specific tasks; ensuring dissemination of examples of good practices.

We should look to develop self-help on various aspects relating to the Web including:

Training Programme
We need to:

Institutional Guidelines
A mechanism should be established to provide exchange of information on institutional guidelines and good practices. These need to link to JANET Acceptable Use Policy and to UCISA Guidelines.

Legal Advice
Legal advice on the use of network information should be sought and maintained. This might include taking advice now on particular issues in the absence of any case law. We should also look to set up some mechanism for access to ongoing advice and to keep a database of questions and answers. The CCTA mechanisms should be investigated.

Caching Strategies
Caching could improve performance at bottlenecks thus improving on efficiency and providing a cost effective way of delivering information. A national caching strategy and associated local caching strategies should be developed. In order to define the nature of this further discussion an evaluation should be carried out to define the location and requirements for caching at national level. In the future we need to address the use of cascading caches and replication.

We need to educate sites and individuals mounting information to use appropriate caching. This could be provided as an extension of the report by Brian Kelly on "Running a WWW Service" which is part of the AGOCG/SIMA output. We should document good practices.

We need to develop an indexing strategy to ensure efficient use of the WWW and thus of the network. We need to address how we can advise sites to link their information. There is a need for national indexing into UK HE sites with relevant information and links to site home pages.

Software Evaluation
We should evaluate relevant software and advise CHEST on suitable software for which good pricing structures should be negotiated. The software includes: document creation/conversion and management tools; graphics tools; gateways; collaborative application tools; quality; validation; clients, helpers and servers.

Quality of information is the key to the success of a WWW service. We should develop a code of practice relating to quality for providers of materials on the WWW.

WWW and Courseware Delivery
We should encourage the production of good quality WWW delivered courses. We should also promote examples of good practices which are currently available. One possible way of achieving this recommendation is to offer a competition and prizes rather than tendering for good material to be produced.

Site Contacts
We should ensure that there is a WWW site contact at all sites who can answer questions both within the site and from outside (along the "postmaster" model).

There needs to be local support at all sites.

W3O and EuroW3O
The workshop welcomed the decision of JISC to join W3O and felt that the way the community can input ideas and receive information needs to be agreed and promoted widely.

Anne Mumford