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Executive Summary and Recommendations

Introductory comments

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

The World-Wide Web provides a distributed multimedia hypertext system which can be usedin teaching, research and administration. Using WWW we can:

Many institutions have developed Campus Wide Information Systems (CWISs) usingWWW. 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 beingprovided on the WWW.

Researchers are beginning to take advantage of control systems and collaborative toolswhich are emerging. Conferences, including reports, video, slide images etc. can be publishedon the WWW, allowing greater and more rapid dissemination.

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

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

The World-Wide Web - a Tool for Many Applications

Providing Information on the WWW

The World-Wide Web was created to support remote collaborative research, but it has developed primarily as a means of providing information which can be linked to other information sources. It is an essential medium for accessing, delivering and exchanging information.

There needs to be an emphasis on the provision of quality information using the tools in an appropriate way. The provision of information and effective use of the tools available requires specialist expertise which needs to be recognised at sites. Training and access to appropriate tools (browsers, authoring, editing, conversion, validation tools) are needed to ensure good use of the WWW for information provision.

Teaching and Learning

The WWW is providing a number of opportunities for teachers and students. Resources can be accessed which might otherwise have been unavailable. These include virtual libraries and museums. Other resources can be built up and used by students, for example questions and answers which can be searched or routed through to an expert if it is a new query and then the answer logged for future use. Teaching programs can be accessed and used by students as part of their modules. There are also a number of complete distance learning modules being mounted on WWW.

There are a number of issues relating to the use of the WWW in teaching and learning. These include: how widely do we wish to avail people in other institutions worldwide of our best resources; how can we judge the quality of the information; where is the competitive edge in this global information age; how can we make most effective use of the opportunities an how can we best train staff and students to do so?

We need to help teachers with the pedagogic issues associated with this medium. There is a need to equip students with the necessary research and information access skills. This points to the need for training of teachers, library and computing staff.

Opportunties for Administrators

The WWW offers administrators opportunities for a number of their area of work. Any such change would need a change of culture towards more open access to information while making use of emerging tools for security where appropriate. The exchange of information is clearly one area of expansion, although there may be security considerations for much of this. We are already seeing the Times Higher providing job advertisements on the WWW and sites advertising job details in a similar way. It is a potential way of promoting the institution through having the prospectus available, perhaps less to schools in the UK, but certainly to potential overseas postgraduates. The availability of papers from central online sources may make them more quickly available than traditional methods of departmental circulation on paper. There are plenty of possibilities and administrators need to be advised on how best to take advantage of the tools.

Developing National and Institutional Strategies

WWW - an Important Network Tool

The WWW is clearly becoming an important network tool and its use is growing. It has the potential to swamp network use with users accessing images and connecting to information round the world. In order to make best use of the medium, we need to have appropriate policies at national and institutional levels. These policies need to include: caching strategies which locate caches at bottlenecks; replication of frequently accessed resources; indexing of information to facilitate access. They also need to include strategies at national an institutional levels as to the kind of use which may be mad of the WWW in terms of information provided, linked to and accessed. These need to be in line with JANET Acceptable Use policies and with Guidelines from UCISA.

National and Local Caching and Indexing Strategies

One of the problems many people find when using the WWW is the delay as (sometimes gratuitous) images, or sometimes just text, are downloaded, particularly from the US. Other bottlenecks may occur locally. It is important to minimise these bottlenecks for the sake of all network users. The WWW may be the "killer application" for the network but perhaps we do not wish it to soak up all the available bandwidth.

In order to maximise efficiency we need to develop national and local caches. HENSA have a national cache, but national facilities need further consideration. Local sites also need to be advised on using caches. There is also the need to build on current research in this area and consider more sophisticated strategies. Replication and cascading caches need also to be considered.

Indexing is also a way of making WWW use more effective. We should encourage people to make use of tools when they develop pages and use the WWW. There is a need to make use of more advanced tools which can help automate the process. Good indexing does require a high level of manual resource.

The community needs to address how best to allocate resources to making information accessible. The Social Sciences Information Gateway (SOSIG) funded by the ESRC is an example of effort being put in to making a wide range of quality information available by reviewing potential sources, indexing and describing them.

Some sites are providing indexing tools, such as ALIWEB, as part of their high level information.

Legal Issues

There is considerable concern regarding the legal issues of using the network generally and WWW in particular. There are many issues regarding both individual, site and community responsibilities. The individual has a right to have their work protected under copyright law. A site has to consider issues such as freedom of expressions and the need to educate their staff and students in the use of new tools. Tight, restrictive use may not be the answer. Education may be the best way forward. There is no case law in this area, which makes advice difficult.

Institutional Strategies

Institutions need to develop advice to staff and students. The advice needs to cover use of resources outside the institution and development of those within it, including personal home pages for both staff and students. A number of sites have developed such guidelines, including Imperial College and Edinburgh University. There are also the emerging guidelines on network use from UCISA and the JANET Acceptable Use Policy.

WWW Futures

There is a great deal of momentum behind the development and support of the WWW. There are now development organisations based in Europe (EuroW3O based at INRIA in France) and the USA (W3O based at MIT). Fortunately the intention is to have membership which is linked. Developments of new versions of the mark up language and protocols are being progressed as well as standards for resource identification. Applications for collaborative work (for example using whiteboards) and remote teaching (through MOOs and MUDs) are pushing forward the possibilities for use of WWW. Significantly, we are also seeing commercial developments, for example the Netscape browser.

Workshop Recommendations

Community Support

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:

Insitutional 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 on particular issues in the absence of any case law. We should also look to set up a 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 "A href="../handbook/hndbk.htm">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.

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 Euro W3O

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.
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