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A case study using the WWW as the medium for the delivery of learning resources

Case Study 1: Department of English

Rationale and background

The Department of English planned to offer a new, first year, course, The Classical Literary Tradition, in the first semester of the 1995-6 academic year. The CAL Unit was approached with a view to developing this new course in an on-line form. It was felt that this could act as a pilot for a more extensive use of on-line delivery of learning materials and other information in the department in the future. This course also offered an ideal opportunity to explore many of the issues identified in the feasibility study described above.

A decision was therefore made by the CAL Unit to focus on the development of this course and to look at a number of issues, including:

and to identify more general questions raised by running an on-line course using the WWW.

It was also hoped to identify some of the factors affecting the success or failure of these courses, including the time commitment required from both lecturers and students, access to computers, access to the network and what it might mean to be a 'non-traditional' user. The students were taking a non-technical subject, and would therefore not be expected to be interested in the technology for its own sake. It would therefore be necessary to look at both their, and their lecturers', attitudes and expertise.

The issues

The Department is being confronted with the universal problem of rising numbers of students and finding this is affecting the quality of individual attention a student can expect in seminars. Lecturers were interested in how the use of on-line learning materials might enable them to cope with this situation. The course to be offered would be in a traditional form including two lectures and a seminar.

The lecturers were interested in the possibility of putting lecture notes on-line a week or so prior to the lecture taking place. They were interested in the effect this might have on the learning process if students had seen the notes beforehand, and whether this might allow the lecture to take a different format. Another advantage of doing this included saving on the great, and increasing, expense of photocopying, and it might offer further advantages such as students saving text to disk and annotating it later. They were also interested in other possibilities, such as exploring the potential offered by hypertext, and the use of additional resources through the WWW.

After discussions with staff from the CAL Unit, it was agreed that it would be important to explore the use of on-line discussions which would be integrated with the on-line materials. If part of the problem was the increasing numbers of students, perhaps electronic discussions in between lectures, and the possibility of contacting each other and the lecturers by email might offer another channel for communication.

The department had no identified technical support, other than that which is provided centrally through the Department of Information Services (IS). It was therefore agreed that staff from the CAL Unit would support the development of the course, provide some technical support, training for the staff and students involved, and support in the process of course design. It was intended to explore the issues raised by the Department running its own Mac-based server, and how this compared with using a centrally run UNIX server. It was agreed that the Departmental administrative staff would mark up the text used, and manage the materials on the server. It was essential that by the time the course had been offered once, it could be offered again with a great deal less support. This would be put to the test as it was planned to run it again in the second semester.

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