In "Advanced Education Computing Project 150" (AUCT 150) students worked collaboratively and individually to find, explain and evaluate on-line information resources. To complete the assignments they employed on-line search engines, our networked classroom, PowerPoint, and LCD projection.
The University of Hartford's All-University Curriculum is a general
education requirement. All non-science majors must take one AUCT
course as part of their science education requirement.
To appreciate the impact of science on modern life, it is essential
to understand fundamental scientific concepts and modes of inquiry.
Technology, which begins with the application of sciences, has
changed and will continue to change the world. AUCT courses seek
to develop students' greater awareness of science and technology
and their impact on society.
Terminology of AUCT 150 Courses
Essential abilities: AUCT 150. Courses highlighting social
interaction (refers to the ability to work cooperatively toward
a common goal) include small group activities, curriculum on human
development, and direct discussion of how to achieve cooperation.
Courses focusing on written communication skills (collecting,
synthesizing, and expressing ideas in a clear, fluent text) devote
time to practicing activities like workshops, tutorials, and revisions.
Course skills: AUCT 150. Skills for the coursework execution
will include: practical application of the data communications
model; ability to explain various connection configurations; various
electronic communication strategies (e.g., e-mail, mail distribution,
chats); database accessing (e.g., newsgroups, listservs, on-line
libraries); familiarity with Internet applications (e.g., FTP,
Telnet, gopher, WAIS, lynx, and graphical browsing); and HTML
The Course in Progress
The special section of AUCT 150 offered by another instructor
and me met in a new multimedia university classroom and regularly
employed the Ethernet connections to go on-line. Using 12 Macintosh
workstations, we taught students to check their e-mail, surf the
Web using Netscape, and search the on-line library databases.
We built collaboration (pairs of two to a workstation) into all
class activities and in the lab, where students used various measurement
devices to examine electronic transfer of data. Students explored
Ohm's law and the nature of electricity and then looked at the
RS-232 standard for a serial port connection in light of the data
The class exchanged information, assignments and humor electronically
using a listserv that automatically distributed each posted message
to all list subscribers. After an introduction from Academic Computer
Services to HTML authoring, each student created personal web
pages that I uploaded. Our reference librarian explained how to
assess the quality of on-line information, and a sociology professor
offered some interesting material on the Net, discussing three
metaphors for this new phenomenon: superhighway, digital printing
press, corporate advertising tool.
Students then created both group and individual reports analyzing
interesting resources on the Internet. Using LCD technology to
project the contents of the instructor's monitor, students showed
the class the on-line resources they had uncovered instead of
just describing them.
Two Special Assignments
Research project. Working with a small team, students selected
an area of interest to research, using on-line resources. The
purpose of this project was to guide students on a tour of the
Net's vast array of information resources. As they navigated,
students began making judgments about the quality of the information--a
key goal of this project.
During the last two class meetings, each student was required to make one brief presentation of an interesting resource on the Net, showing the resource and discussing its value. The end product was a document that chronicled their search and its results.
Final presentation. The final element, done by individuals and by teams, was the heart of the assignment, establishing context, evaluating value, comparing strategies. As individuals and as part of a team, each student was charged with finding, evaluating, and presenting Internet resources. They had used search tools like AltaVista and Yahoo to discover material in the areas of their interest and had then investigated the site to document what exists there. Once they understood how the site works, they had made a critical judgment about the value of the information, sometimes necessitating visits to related sites to compare functionality.
Finally, they were required to present their findings to the class. Our classroom is networked so students were able to surf the Web using Netscape; the instructor's machine is attached to an LCD projector so they could demonstrate their findings directly to the class. As part of the process, they were able to use the network to search for resources and also to use it in their presentation. Students were also encouraged to author simple PowerPoint presentations to supplement their demonstrations.
They regularly used Netscape, some even employing presentation
software like PowerPoint to add images, sounds, and movies to
their presentations. Using the Net, student presenters took us
shopping for cars, stocks or vacations, played radio broadcasts
from across the country using the RealAudio plug-in to Netscape,
and took us into an on-line virtual space called a MUD.
Students had no difficulty finding new and interesting resources on the Net. This medium just keeps getting richer and richer. But they did have trouble understanding what I meant by "evaluating" those resources. For example, one student found and presented an "Official Bob Dole Home Page" without realizing that the page was a satire. Although our reference librarian gave a special talk to the class about how to distinguish quality resources on-line, more class time was evidently needed to help students understand how professionals discover the reliability of information and of its sources.
My first correctional strategy was to have our reference librarian revisit and present her ideas about how to judge the reliability of on-line resources. She also showed students where the reference library's home page is, so they can use resources that have already been critically reviewed.
My second correctional strategy was to continually present examples of new information resources, analyzing the value of each. These frequent demonstrations helped students develop a critical posture regarding the reliability of on-line information. They began to notice who was taking responsibility for the information on a page, when that information was last updated, the quality of the associated links, and any marketing functions that might represent bias.
During the second half of the semester, as a result of these assignments
and the integrated technology in H251, students routinely "taught"
the course, sharing their research in new information sources
and types. This shift to students as teachers is perhaps the section's
proudest achievement, and an example of how new technologies help
us become more learner centered.