Web-Teaching

Preface Acknowledgements Contents 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 URLs References

 

 


 

CHAPTER 4 *

Students and Web Use Expectations *

METACOGNITION *

Teaching Strategies *

TIPS TO TEACH *

SEARCHING THE WEB *

Searching Strategies *

GLOSSARY *

REFERENCES *

URLs *

 


CHAPTER 4

Students and Web Use Expectation

 

Do you include your office telephone number in your syllabus? If so, do you give instructions on how to use a telephone? Certainly not, your students come to class with that knowledge.

What does a teacher have a right to expect about prior Web use by students? Let's turn the tables a bit. Have you

It is extremely unlikely you purchased a book over the Internet in 1990. To do this you would have needed to e-mail a friend, ask them to get the book for you, send a check, and wait for the friend to purchase the book and send it to you. You could not use a browser to find the book on the Web and make a one-click purchase. Browsers as we know them did not exist, there were no companies in the business of selling books over the Web, and there was no one-click purchasing of anything. The Web was still in its infancy.

Because the world is in a state of transition with respect to Web use, you probably have no idea about what your students really can do using the Web. They may have little or no experience, but it is very likely they will have some or even a great deal of experience. As we go forward into the year 2000, it will be ever more difficult to find a student who has not made a Web-based purchase. You may be surprised, perhaps shocked, at just how much Internet experience some students already have.

It is very possible, however, to vastly overestimate your students' abilities to utilize powerful software. Runge et al. [1999] found that substantial amounts of classroom time needed to be devoted to teaching students the specifics of manipulating symbolic mathematics software when such packages were used in physics courses.

 

METACOGNITION

Metacognition {U04.01} is defined as knowing how we think and learn. This is usually broken down into two parts. One part deals with what we know about how we think and learn. The other deals with how we make use of that knowledge (self-regulation). Included in knowing what we know is procedural knowledge (what we know about making things happen) and conditional knowledge (when do these rules apply).

There will emerge a metacognition about Web use. It will emerge over time, but it will get to a point where most folks know how to use the Web in the same way that they know how to use a telephone. They may well have to use the Web if it replaces the telephone as we know it today – a serious, world-wide possibility.

Teaching Strategies

When teaching a Web course early during the 21st century, the burden of making sure that your students are Web worthy may fall on your shoulders. Experience has shown this is a very real, pragmatic teaching issue [Runge et al, 1999] .

We see three approaches to this problem. The first approach is to assume that there is no problem, that your students have all the Web knowledge they will require for your course. Should you choose this approach, proceed at your own peril.

The second approach is to insist that students meet certain minimum standards, and use these as prerequisites to course registration. There are several ways to handle this. One is to put institution-wide training and testing programs in place, and to have all students prepare using this option. Web-courses offered by UCLA use a standard courseware package (Embanet, {U04.02}, formerly FirstClass), and require all students complete an orientation. If students do not complete the orientation within a specified period of time, students are dropped from the course, and their tuition is refunded (minus a minor fee for the orientation). Once the orientation has been completed, both the orientation and the fee for it are waived for all future courses.

The issue of sufficient training is no small matter. We know of distance courses where faculty were poorly trained. Although students were completing assignments and submitting them regularly early in the courses, the faculty were unaware of the students' efforts. The faculty mistakenly began toning down their expectations through revised assignments. Proper training is necessary for everyone, students and faculty alike. Getting everyone up to speed early in the game is essential for success.

One of the biggest Web-teaching problems is that students try to take a course where they really don't have the necessary hardware or software. In 1995, we taught a course that used a CD-ROM for core content. Although it was made clear up front that students would need to access a Macintosh computer capable of playing CD-ROMs, students without CD-ROM access attempted to complete the course. As of this writing, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) still use browser software which is incompatible with some interactive aspects of Web-teaching. Speed and cost of access for students may also become factors for consideration.

The third approach to assuring your students are Web worthy is to undertake teaching the basics of Web use yourself. Parts of this may be essential. For example, if your course deals with using Mathematica (powerful symbolic mathematics software), there will be some specifics that you'll need to cover for yourself. In chemistry teaching, you'll need to handle subscripts and superscripts. In many languages, Czech to cite an example familiar to us, you'll need to decide upon ways to create and exchange language symbols. These problems are not easy, and they will fall on your doorstep as a teacher. As for the everyday logging on, bookmarking, using forms and text fields and radio buttons, using pull-down menus, and the like, we recommend that you offload all teaching and certification of performance in these areas if possible. In case you must train your students to use the Web, we provide some suggestions below to stress in your teaching.

Remember, if you choose the third option, Web access may not be possible for your students. We have two suggestions regarding strategies you might employ. If you are in an entirely distance setting (i.e., your students never come to a campus), consider mailing print and possibly video materials to help students get started. The other strategy is to offer telephone help at the beginning of the course. This usually is not too helpful because many home users still have a single telephone line that can be used to talk to you or connect to and Internet service provider via modem, but not both concurrently.

 

TIPS TO TEACH

Even students who have experience using the Web may need a few pointers. Be careful with the use of technical terminology. Words as simple as browser may be foreign even to students who use the Web all the time. Define all terms that might be unknown. A few specific questions you may want to address:

Is my computer working or has it "frozen" and what do I do about it?

One of the hardest things for neophytes, and sometimes for old-timers, is to figure out whether the computer or the browser is working or has become frozen (stuck). If students believe their machine is frozen, several clues exist. If the mouse cursor (the arrow or hand) will not move at all, first check to see that all connections are secure. If they are, the computer is frozen. If the cursor moves, the individual program may still be frozen. Possibly the most important thing to tell students is to take their hand off the mouse and examine the screen. Do not click on the mouse. If the computer is working, sending multiple mouse clicks will slow the process further; if it is frozen the multiple clicks are useless.

In most browsers subtle hints are given to indicate processes: messages appear in the bar at the bottom of the window, or icons strobe or move (the current version of Navigator runs flying comets in the Netscape icon). Students should be encouraged to watch for these indicators as they use their browsers so they become familiar with them.

Computers usually have a small light near the disk drive that blinks as the drive is accessed. If the light is blinking, the computer is trying to process.

In most cases, if any of these clues is active (icons strobing, words changing, or lights flashing), the machine is most likely working, not frozen. However, occasionally even a frozen computer will appear to be working.

If the individual program may be frozen, try switching between programs. On a PC, try holding down Alt and pressing the Tab key to alternate which program you are using. On a Mac, use the Application Menu in the top right corner of the screen.

When the computer appears to freeze, there are some basic steps to use. Check for response from the mouse cursor. Examine the screen looking for the subtle clues. Walk away for a few minutes; sometimes computers take an unusual length of time to process something.

If none of the clues are active and the computer is still not responding, it may be necessary to force the computer to quit an application by using the "three-finger-salute". On most PCs, this requires holding the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys all down at the same time. On some Macintoshes, restarting requires that a paperclip be inserted into a small hole. Sometimes the only way to restart is to pull the power plug or, on a PowerBook, remove the battery! On a PC, the salute causes a Close Program dialog box to appear; execute an End Task on any programs that are not responding by following the directions in the box.

If the "three finger-salute" does not work, it is time to hit the reset button or do a cold reboot by turning the computer off at the switch.

Why does it take so long to access this page?

Several factors influence the length of time needed to download a page. The speed of both the local computer and the local connection will both affect the speed of download. But the culprit for slow downloads may be increasingly heavy Net traffic. If the connection must first go through a local network, like a university system, the congestion on that network may display very distinct patterns of usage. When the connection gets past the local network, it must deal with both the general Internet traffic and whatever local network traffic may exist on the distant server.

Finally, the major slow down may have its roots in the design of the page being loaded. If the page contains a large amount of artwork, pictures, background art, movies, or sound files, the download slows drastically. In general, the larger and more complex the page, the slower the download.

If the page seems to be taking an inordinately long time to download, especially if you know it should not, occasionally it may be worthwhile to stop the download and restart it. But if it is the first time a page has been downloaded, it is best to wait for the download to timeout before stopping it.

Why can't I reach this site?

Being unable to reach a particular site can be very frustrating to students. The Web is not static. Sites move between different machines, disappear, are reorganized. URLs are changed, and computers go offline. With the dynamic nature of the Web, finding broken links or sites that are not reachable is common. Students need to understand that there are many reasons they may not be able to reach a site. It may be a simple matter of trying to reach the site again, right away, later the same day, or on a different day. If network computers are sending information that the URL does not exist, first check that it is typed correctly. They look for "obvious" problems like a space in the name. If neither helps, try deleting information from the end of the URL, back to the first slash, and hit enter. If this still does not work, continue deleting to each slash and checking the each smaller URL. It may be necessary to perform a search to find the site's new location. In some cases, the site may have been removed.

How long is this document?

Documents on the Web, even if they are only a single Web page, can be several printed pages long. Many, but not all, modern browsers have a subtle clue to the length of the document; the smaller the scroll box in the scroll bar, the longer the document. Another way to determine the length is to execute a print preview and check how many pages are involved. Beware, a print preview that shows a document's length may not translate into a document of that size when printed. Some documents, by accident or design, either print in very small print or execute page breaks more frequently than the preview indicates.

Can I get back to this document?

Students need to know how to bookmark sites, how to access their bookmarks, and how to use the Back Button. Bookmarks (or Favorites in Internet Explorer) are a quick way to note a page's location; by adding a bookmark, the student has an easy way to return to a page later. Students need to understand the limitations of bookmarks. Bookmarks can't be used to return to pages calculated by programs or to pages created during searches. Students can save the file to disk for later reference if they are working on their own machines, but they need to be aware that, while the file is saved, the URL usually is not saved. Another way to save locations is to copy the link and paste it into a document.

Bookmark management.

Encourage students to create folders within their bookmark (favorites) folders to help keep their bookmarks organized. Students should use their browser's help files to learn how to make new folders and organize bookmarks.

 

SEARCHING THE WEB

The Web is a remarkably powerful tool for finding information. Not all information is on the Web, but it is remarkable how many teachers, organizations, and individuals have been creating Web pages rich with discipline-specific content. The accuracy of available information in traditional sources always has been a problem; books and journals often contain errors. This book, for example, may contain errors of fact. This is in spite of the best intentions of the authors, and the editing procedures used by a highly reputable scientific publisher. For Web teaching in particular, new information becomes available at a remarkable rate. As of this writing, in our second edition, we have seen the completion of less than a single decade of Web teaching experience.

If there is a problem with the quality of information garnered from conventional publishing sources, then that problem is far worse on the Web. The majority of the Web is not subject to review. There are few editors or monitoring organizations, and there are no established mechanisms to remove incorrect or inappropriate information. In principle, anyone can post anything. Education is a discipline subject to fads and whims, and many sites are disseminating information of dubious quality.

On the other hand, nearly every educated person we know who has received a diagnosis of a serious disease at the end of the 20th century has looked to the Web for current information and support. At least three types of information are available. There is technical information about the specifics of the disease, there are support groups that provide both practical information and emotional support, and there is information about medical trials where disease victims can learn about access to experimental protocols. Certainly the Internet has revolutionized information resources for physicians.

Given the variety of types and the quantity of information available on the Web, it is appropriate that a course include the use of Web-searches by your students. Because of this, consider requiring one or two structured Web-based searching assignments early in your sequence of assignments.

 

Searching Strategies

The best way to learn how to search for information on the Web is to use the Web itself. A search engine is a large database made available over the Web. Search engines use automatic software programs called "bots, crawlers, or spiders" to uncover and categorize information residing on the Web.

Search engines may be accessed, and the desired information sought through the use of key words and Boolean operators. Google {U04.03} is a basic search engine. Most search engines now include either the use of directories or meta-searches. A meta-engine searches several smaller engines at the same time. Dogpile {U04.04} and MetaCrawler {U04.05} are examples of meta-search engines. For example, using Dogpile includes a search of Google. Subject directories group Web sites together using extensive subject classification schemes. Yahoo! {U04.06}, Alta Vista {U04.07}, and Excite {U04.08} are examples of subject directories. Greg Notess {U04.09} provides an in-depth comparison of search engines, including special features and methods for searching.

Still another approach is that of Sherlock {U04.10}, software created by Apple. Plug-ins specific to search engines put Sherlock in touch with databases. In a sense, Sherlock permits each user to create one or several meta-search engines.

As of this writing, the source of revenue that supports these powerful Web-searching tools is the advertising which each displays. Some have become portals, sites users typically set as browser home pages. The idea is for the user to use this site routinely to start their work or play on the Web. These sites can be personalized, and provide user-specific information. For example, one of us uses My Yahoo! {U04.11} as a home page, and receives daily weather information from places where family members live, selected news, stock information, and air fares to several Hawaiian destinations from nearby major cities. Information searching is both a very dynamic and an important area. As information needs become more specialized, we can expect to see fee-based sites such as CAS proliferating. In addition, we can expect to see improvements in the software tools that crawl around the Web seeking out information. The amount of information on the Web has become so vast that it is hard to imagine being able to search all of it successfully. Broken links, URLs that no longer function, are commonplace – even in search engines.

Library gateways and specialized databases also are available. ERIC {U04.12}, the Educational Resources Information Center, is a database serving educators. The prestigious Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) {U04.13}, a systematic abstracting service, is available online.

The University of South Carolina {U04.14} and The University of California–Berkeley {U04.15} have excellent sites describing the Web searching process. Each provides insights to developing successful strategies. Web searching assignments have become integrated into library orientation courses. For two good online examples, see Louisiana State University {U04.16} and the Kelliher site at Goucher College {U04.17}.

 

GLOSSARY

Boolean: a system developed by mathematician George Boole, logical variables are represented by the digits 0 (false) and 1 (true). A Boolean expression evaluates to true or false. Consider the expression A AND B. In this scheme of logic, for the expression to be true, both A and B must be true. The Boolean logic operators are AND, OR, NOT, NAND, NOR, and XOR. For OR to be true, A can be true, B can be true, or both A and B can be true. For NOR to be true, neither A nor B can be true. For NAND to be true either A or B must be true, or neither can be true, but both cannot be true at the same time. For XOR to be true, either A or B must be true, but both cannot be true. Booleans are used extensively in computer programming. Boolean expressions are used widely in Web searches.

bot: short for robot or "knowbot." Also called crawlers and spiders. A search program, sometimes called a software agent. Bots search multiple sites simultaneously, can eliminate dead links, can download pages, use sophisticated search refinement, and can generate reports.

broken link: Web pages tend to be dynamic and often are revised, removed, or relocated. The links in one page that tie to another, especially between different sites, are not automatically updated. Broken links are the result. When a broken link is clicked an error message such as "file not found" or "Error 404" results.

crawler: see bot.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs): in the United States, access to the Internet is nearly always provided by commercial sources. Universities pay for this access, as do individuals. Cost and speed of access become issues for students.

search engine: search engines are huge databases. They contain URLs for Web pages. Search engines compile their databases by using software agents (programs, called bots, crawlers, or spiders) to crawl through Web space from link to link, identifying and perusing pages. Bots often index most of the words on the publicly available pages at the site. Search engines, actually search through a database using keywords and phrases, and differ in size, speed, and content. No two search engines use exactly the same ranking schemes, and not every search engine offers exactly the same search options. Search engines use rules to rank pages. No two search engines are identical. Because the Web is a dynamic environment, similar searches performed hours apart may give markedly different results, especially when current events are searched.

spider: see bot.

subject directory: directories are edited by experts. They are organized into hierarchical subject categories, and sometimes annotated with descriptions. They do not have access to full-text documents. Only subject categories and descriptions may be searched. An example is Yahoo! {U04.06}.

 

REFERENCES

Runge, A., Spiegel, A., Pytlik Z., L. M., Dunbar, S., Fuller, R., Sowell, G., & Brooks, D., (1999). Hands-on computer use in science classrooms: The skeptics are still waiting, J. Science Education and Technology, 8, 33-44.

 

URLs

U04.01. Metacognition: An Overview, Jennifer A. Livingston, http://www.gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/Metacog.htm (accessed 4/12/00).

U04.02. Embanet Corportation, http://www.embanet.com/index.html (accessed 5/3/00).

U04.03. Google, http://www.google.com (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.04. Dogpile, http://www.dogpile.com/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.05. Metacrawler, http://www.metacrawler.com/index.html (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.06. Yahoo!, http://www.yahoo.com/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.07. Alta Vista, http://www.altavista.com (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.08. Excite, http://www.excite.com/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.09. Search Engine Showdown: The Users' Guide into Web Searching, http://searchengineshowdown.com/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.10. Sherlock (Apple), http://www.apple.com/sherlock/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.11. My Yahoo!, http://my.yahoo.com/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.12. Educational Resources Access Center, http://www.accesseric.org/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.13. Chemical Abstracts Service, http://www.cas.org/ (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.14. A Basic tutorial on Searching the Web (University of South Carolina Library), http://www.sc.edu/beaufort/library/bones.html (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.15. Important Things to Know Before You Begin Searching the Web, University of California Berkeley -Library, http://www.lib.berkeley. edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/ThingsToKnow.html (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.16. Search Assignment- Internet/World Wide Web (LSU Libraries), http://www.lib.lsu.edu/instruction/assignments/internet.html (accessed 4/5/00).

U04.17. Homework 1 - Web Searching (Kelliher, Goucher college), http://phoenix.goucher.edu/~kelliher/cs102/spring98/hw1.html (accessed 4/5/00).