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

Case Study 1

What took place

Course planning and design

Meetings took place to look at the materials to be made available on-line, how these should be structured and how navigation should take place. These took place at the same time as the Department established a server for Departmental information, so it was important, whilst integrating with this, to recognise the different purpose and use of materials for learning. The final structure was a simple one which offered the lecture notes sequentially in a menu, with buttons at the bottom of the screen linked to the discussion group, and an email link to the lecturer. It was felt that the notes should offer a framework for the lecture along with factual information, but they should avoid being too long, and there should be no question of them offering an alternative to attending the lecture. There were ongoing discussions about making more links within the notes to other materials or sites, thereby increasing the complexity of the structure. It was felt that at this stage it would be desirable to incorporate links to images, but not to other sites as yet. Other CAL materials are being looked at, and these may be useful in the future.

The technological infrastructure


Two options were available for the choice of server technology. The department owned an Apple Macintosh Performa 475 which was subsequently networked. It was capable of running a WWW server, and a shareware WWW server (MacHTTP 2.2) was installed. IS also offered to provide space on one of its UNIX servers running the CERN HTTP daemon. The issues involved in doing this were explored particularly the nature of the support that could be provided. It was felt that the Macintosh server provided the opportunity for English Department staff to familiarise themselves with the function of a WWW server, thereby demystifying the process, (an important aspect of this pilot) and it was finally decided to pursue both options, with some students accessing the Macintosh and others accessing the UNIX server. This created an additional responsibility for the English Department administrative staff, who had learn how to put files on both servers and to ensure that the data on both was perfectly synchronised. However using both allowed an assessment to be made of their relative benefits and drawbacks.

The Macintosh server was installed and configured by CAL Unit staff. The machine was set up so that the server was launched whenever the machine was started up. This meant that if any problem was ever encountered, restarting the machine would solve it (apart from major hardware or software failure). A single directory for all HTML files was set up, preventing callers from accessing any other files on the disk, and making it simple to maintain integrity with the UNIX server. A File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program, Fetch, was installed on the machine, and configured to make it straightforward to copy all new files to the correct location on the UNIX server. The UNIX WWW server was set up by an IS officer on an existing UNIX box and a directory for HTML files was created, to which all HTML documents created had to be copied, using FTP.

Running both servers required extra care in the naming and linking of files. The Macintosh operating system is not case sensitive, and allows spaces in filenames; UNIX is case sensitive, and does not allow spaces in filenames. In practice, the secretary involved ensured that the two servers were indistinguishable from each other throughout the pilot.

HTML Editing

It had been decided by the department that for the duration of the pilot, most of the HTML editing would be undertaken by secretarial staff, and that source material would be supplied to them in plain text format by academic staff. Both administrators involved used PCs on a daily basis, and had no experience of Macintoshes. Until recently HTML editors on the PC had been limited in their quality and ease of use, but recently Wordperfect had released a free extension to Wordperfect 6.0 that supported the creation of HTML documents. This was an obvious choice for this project. The alternative was to use HTML_Editor on the Macintosh, a simple and easy to use editor. The choice was left to the administrators, who ended up choosing the Macintosh editor.

Once the structure of the server had been designed by the academic staff, templates for the pages were designed by CAL Unit staff. A standard methodology for navigation with an associated set of graphical icons were designed, and instructions on their use were included in the user notes.


No system for computer conferencing exists at UWB, apart from Newsgroups. These are intended for use across institutions to exchange news and views on a range of subjects; they are not intended for sophisticated discussions, and have few tools for their management. There are basically two options - to leave them open to all users to read and contribute to; or to route all contribution through a nominated moderator who approves their posting (or not, as the case may be). Once posted, no editing facility is available to the moderator, nor is there any information available on who has read any contribution and when. A further difficulty is that because of shortage of file storage space, the UWB News server was normally set up for contributions to be displayed for only one week before deletion, however, as a result of many lecturers wishing to explore their use around the campus, this was changed during the life of the project.

The main advantage of using Newsgroups for discussions is that the same program used for accessing the WWW, Netscape, can be used to access Newsgroups, making it possible to provide links from the WWW server to the discussion group at appropriate places, and for students to use a single program for both activities. A request was made to IS for a Newsgroup to be established for this project, and an extended period before deletion of any contribution was negotiated.


Once the needs of project participants had been established, it was possible to design appropriate training. Because all participants were new to this technology, only the training that was necessary to "do the job" was offered. There was no attempt to be comprehensive in explaining all aspects of HTML editing or server configuration. However, key principles were explained, and sources of further information or documentation were provided.


HTML Editing

HTML documents are text files that have been "marked up" - have had special "tags" inserted in the text. These instruct the browser to perform certain actions, either concerning how text is displayed, or whether an image or another document should be loaded. This means that the original text file tends to look very different from document when viewed with a browser. These tags can be inserted in the text by hand, or special HTML editors can be used. Until recently most of these inserted the tags to achieve the various effects, but another program was needed to see the effect. Later editors attempt to display the effect and hide the tags from the user.

As the secretarial staff given the job of HTML editing for this project both used Wordperfect on the PC, it made sense that they should use its integral editor. Before it was introduced, however, it was felt that the concept behind HTML editing needed to be explained, so that they would be able to create satisfactory HTML documents without a special editor. The first training session was devoted to this. Subsequent sessions introduced the Wordperfect editor, but for a number of reasons, both staff preferred raw HTML editing. HTML_Editor on the Macintosh was also introduced, and over time, this became the editor of their choice. It supported both WYSIWYG and raw editing modes, and because it was on the same machine as the server, involved less time in installing and testing the documents.

Running the server

The HTML Editor was set up to default to the server's root directory, making editing and installation a seamless process. The server was configured by CAL Unit staff, and needed no administration; if any problems were encountered, staff were told to restart the machine, which automatically reloaded the server software.

Midway through the project, it was decided by academic staff that lecture notes should only be available to students following the CLT course, but that all other pages should have open access. This was achieved by adding two lines to the configuration file, which made any files containing the string "cltlec" require a password from the user. All lecture notes were then given titles that began with this string (e.g. cltlec3-2.htm). The server program then had a single user name and password added from its main screen, which all students on the course used. It was felt that this was simpler than giving each student an individual user name and password. Staff were shown how to add users and passwords, and this was included in the documentation.

Running a Macintosh based WWW server is extremely simple if only basic features are needed. For this project, this was sufficient, and so training was kept to a minimum, but documentation on its more advanced features was provided.

Uploading to the UNIX server

Since it had been decided that for the duration of this project, a UNIX based server would be used in parallel, staff were shown how to upload all documents to the appropriate directory on the server's host machine. A file transfer program called Fetch was used, and was set to default to this directory. Consequently, uploading simply involved launching Fetch, selecting the documents to upload, and clicking on the appropriate button. Once again, training was limited to the tasks that had to be performed; none of the intricacies of the file transfer protocol were addressed.


HTML Editing

One of the academic staff was a Macintosh user, and was given the Macintosh HTML Editor along with a short introduction to its use. He had some experience of SGML, on which HTML was based, and so understood the concepts behind this approach. Consequently he edited his own lecture notes, and handed them on a disk to the secretaries, who added navigation links and installed them on the server.

The other lecturer simply provided her lecture notes in word processed format, which were then marked up and installed by one of the administrative staff.

Newsgroups - how to use them

Staff Development sessions were provided on using Newsgroups, and how their use might be incorporated in the delivery of the course. Reference was made to other courses which had explored this approach (Duffy et al, 1995)


Training sessions for all students were incorporated into the course. Two sessions in computer labs were run in the normal timetabled slot for seminars on the first and third week of the semester. These aimed to teach the students how to use the network and Windows, to access the WWW and to use the Newsgroup. They did not intend to teach anything beyond what was required to access the notes and the Newsgroup. 'Surgery' sessions were then offered at a regular slot every week for the next 4 weeks, which were rarely used by the students so these were eventually stopped, but contact details of the CAL Unit staff were given to them to use if necessary.


Once the course had started, weekly meetings took place between the lecturers and the CAL Unit throughout the first semester, to monitor developments, introduce new aspects and enable problems to be dealt with as they arose. Questionnaires were issued to students at the beginning and end of the course to discover their confidence, competence and attitudes to the use of computers.
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