Using the WWW for Teaching

This document summaries some experiences people have had when using the WWW for teaching, the emphasis being more on the practical/pedagogic aspects than the theoretical ones. Most of the systems deal with teaching programming skills.
[Online assessment] [Producing WWW educational material] [Student Administration] [Sites of general interest] [Glossary of Teaching Terms]

Online assessment


With staff-student ratios dropping, a greater requirement for detailed student assessment, and increasing distant learning, there's interest in automated assessment using the WWW. It's particularly useful for programming courses where students are asked to write many simple programs - the marking workload can become overwhelming. Self-paced assessment helps both fast and slow users - indeed some students become over-motivated when offered such resources.

The Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences offers subject specific expertise and information on learning and teaching for the HE community in the UK.


Producing WWW educational material

In a talk he gave to the Association of American Publishers Higher Education Division, Bill Geoghegan of IBM posed an interesting question - "Why do exciting new applications of information technology with apparently great potential to improve learning and teaching seem to begin with a roar and....then stall and fade?". He suggested that many adopters of new technologies such as the World Wide Web have as their primary focus, the features of the new technology. These features are then used to provide a learning experience that is often essentially the same as that provided using existing technologies and, (if evaluative studies are carried out at all) there is surprise when the expected learning gains are not realised.

This matches what Kim Whittlestone said at a talk in Cambridge on 7th Dec., 2000. He suggested that one of the biggest problems in producing online teaching is that teachers just want to do the same as before, but online. He said that if you want to produce an online substitute for lectures, best is a video of the lectures. Also paper-based documents have advantages that it's hard to emulate with current technology. It's not unknown for students to print all the WWW pages of a course and work purely from paper.

So thought needs to be given to why WWW material is being produced. Dave Marshall quotes the ASSURE model developed by Heinich, Molinda and Russels
   Analyse Learners
   State Objectives
   Select Media and Materials
   Utilise Media and Material
   Require Learner Participation
   Evaluate and Revise
Many of these stages are often neglected. For instance, in the first stage it's not always recognised that while some students (because of personality or computer ability) may welcome the new way of working, others will dislike it. Bill Tait (Monitor 11, p.13) wrote that 20% of students demanded personal (rather than e-mail mediated) tutorials.

The WWW, even with add-ons may not be the ideal medium. For criticisms see

Time-saving is often mentioned as an objective but in practise improved quality is the main benefit. Practitioners in the field aren't surprised by statistics like

The development time can be reduce by using development packages like Blackboard but these are often restrictive in functionality or too hard for teaching staff to use.

The proliferation of "homegrown" solutions has led to a situation where re-use - even within an establishment - is difficult. This, as much as the lack of pedagogical preparation mentioned by Bill Geoghegan, has slowed progress. Though many sites have basic learning materials and a few have animations or simulations to help with particular topics, a standard content and structure notation is lacking. People want to combine a domain model (the teaching material) with a user model (knowledge of how people learn) to produce adaptive learning environments. To do this effectively people need

Informed opinion seemed to be that the future will be XML-based. For a detailed (83 page) report see VMLEs in Medical Education (2001).

Student Administration

Keeping track of student progress can be onerous. Systems like Arcade are used successfully used at Manchester and Durham.

Sites of general interest

The following OCR (Open Educational Resources) sites were listed in a Times Higher in September 2009

Glossary of Teaching Terms

Updated September 2009 (though most of the information dates from 2002).
Tim Love