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Teaching and Learning

Introduction to the Issues-Roger Rist

The WWW has been used at the Institute for Computer Based Learning (ICBL) at Heriot Watt University since 1993. The ICBL provides servers for TLTP (Teaching and Learning Technology Programme) and LTDI (SHEFC's Learning Technology Dissemination Initiative). They run a Computers in Teaching and Learning module as part of the MSc course in HCI. Various projects are also relevant to the topic of the role of the WWW in the provision of, and access to, resources for teaching and learning. These include ELF (the Electronic Learning Facilitator).

Tim Berners-Lee described WWW in the following way:

"World Wide Web is a wide area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents. The project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system"

WWW offers many possibilities for use in teaching and learning:

Information Systems

These can include

Electronic Publications

These are emerging and include:

Virtual Libraries and Museums

Examples include:

Teaching and Learning Resources

The WWW has the potential to offer access to, and information about, resources as well as being used for distribution and delivery.

Information is being made available via the WWW and includes information about projects, for example CTI, TLTP, ITTI as well as access to some of the deliverables from these initiatives.

Some projects are making demonstration or sample versions of teaching and learning resources available via WWW.

There are also a growing number of examples of using WWW for courseware delivery. Examples include:

As a result, HTML is becoming a new authoring standard. This has implications for the extensions needed to support this community.

The WWW can also be used for assessment purposes. This might involve multiple choice questions with answers being automatically marked.

There are also possibilities for students conducting learning tasks to produce multimedia essays with links. Students can be provided with review exercises to conduct in relation to resources available on the network. These reviews provide useful information to future groups of students.

Another example of use of the WWW is the "Answer Web" based on Mark Ackerman's Answer Garden concept. This provides a structured hierarchy of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) with questions routed to an expert. The answers to queries are plac=ed in the Answer Web. The garden does need to be weeded though from time to time but has the potential to provide a useful and growing web of knowledge.

The WWW has the potential to offer more than access to resources. Recent developments point the way to greater use of the WWW in collaborative work with use of whiteboard facilities and the integration of video conferencing within the WWW. The Open University Summer School used video conferencing in 1994 with classes of 16 conducting supported learning for two intensive weeks. A major question is whether such an experiment will scale. Other examples of course provision include free courses with global access (introduction to C++, the protein structures course at Birkbeck). There are also an increasing number of synchronous meetings through MOOs. A distance learning MBA exists which has 10,000 students with distance learning materials which are becoming available via WWW, optional software and no tutorial element. There are 80 examination centres worldwide for this.

As far as teaching and learning issues are concerned, technology is not the problem. The main issues are: access, accreditation, authority and attitudes.


Before widescale use of the WWW for teaching and learning is possible we need to address access issues. Will all students be given access to WWW? Will staff and student from outside institutions be given access to resources available on WWW? Do we really want to share our best resources?


Are students really paying for computer resources or are they paying for more than that? Does it matter how they learn? If we use computer based resources a great deal, what distinguishes one institution from another and how do we get our competitive edge?


How do we work out who to trust in when using the internet?


How will staff react to the new opportunities presented by using online resources? There are some bad lessons from the past, we need to ensure we do not repeat these. But, can we afford to ignore the opportunities?

In conclusion, the WWW offers many exciting new opportunities for teaching and learning. Teachers and learners can obtain many benefits by seizing these opportunities.

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