Computers & Geosciences, Volume 24, Number 8, 1998

John C. Butler
Department of Geosciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204

The first ANON editorial was published in volume 21, number 6 in 1995. Our goal at the onset was to provide the readers with a sampling of the diversity of applications using the Internet and I think we have been successful.

As Internet editor for the Journal of Computers&Geosciences, I extend an invitation to those who are using the Internet as part of their professional endeavors. If you have something you would like to share with the readers, please contact me and we can discuss a potential guest editorial. Changes during the past three years have come at what seems to be an ever-increasing rate and I look forward to see what this fourth year brings.

Rethinking Expectations

My initial attraction to the Internet was from the technology side. As familiarity with the Internet increased I began to explore ways that I might incorporate Internet-based resources into courses that I teach at the University of Houston. I soon found that there were others with similar interests on campus but they were from other disciplines. A number of these individuals had expertise in studying how learning occurs and were attracted to the Internet by its potential to enhance the creation of environments in which learning can take place. For me, the opportunity to cross discipline boundaries has been a positive experience.

For the past three years I have been developing Internet-based resources for a freshman-level course in Physical Geology ( that is taken primarily by non-science majors at the University of Houston. Although students tell me that they enjoy using the Internet, I have failed to find a way to assess the value added by these resources. Grade distributions for this course show little variation over the past decade and there is no evidence to suggest that the students performed at a higher or lower level with these resources than they did without them. In fact, it is hard to find quantitative studies in any discipline, which address the value-added issue. In part this reflects the difficulties inherent in setting up a controlled experiment in which one group has access to such resources while the other did not. Unless one can hold all other variables constant (the quality of the lecturer, time of day, the background of the students, among others), the results may be suspect.

I have come to believe that a prime benefit of Internet-based resources is simply that of adding to the diversity with which material can be presented.

In the past I tended to ignore the fact that individuals vary in learning style. I followed the "sage on the stage" model, which was the model, followed by my instructors. College students today tend to be much more visually oriented than were those of my generation. However, visualization by itself seems to be insufficient. Many of these students grew up with electronic games in which they played an active role. Java applets (for example, create a learning environment which is familiar to many of today’s students.

I recall a paper and pencil exercise in a course in Sedimentology where the goal was to understand the influence of the sampling interval (the bin width) on the appearance of a histogram. Histograms of chest measurements of Scottish soldiers were prepared with 5 cm, 7.5 cm and 10 cm sampling intervals. Given that there were 100 observations in the data set, a great deal of time was spent with the mechanics and preparation of "pretty" figures. For most of us the point was missed in spite of the time spent on the exercise. The Histogram Applet ( is a much more effective illustrator of the point my instructor was trying to make.

My expectations are changing. I no longer have an interest in producing a course that simply is a digitized version of the sage on the stage. Rather, one needs to exploit those things that the Internet does well and use them as supplements and compliments.