Living and Working on the Internet

Using the Internet as a Research Tool

Ed Klonoski

Director of the Advanced Educational Computing Project
University of Hartford

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.

Course Overview

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.

AUCT Courses

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 authoring.

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 communication model.

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.