Computers & Geosciences, Volume 24, Number 5, 1998
Roger J Suthren
Senior Lecturer in Geology
Oxford Brookes University
Oxford, OX3 0BP
John C. Butler
Department of Geosciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204
There are two ways to encourage students to write web pages. One is to
pay them, and this has worked successfully in several geoscience
departments. The other way is to give them course credit for their work.
We run an Advanced Studies module in the third term of the final year,
where small groups of students work together, usually on a research
topic chosen by the faculty member working with that group. Groups meet
weekly, and they are given training in research methods. I saw this as
the best vehicle for enabling students to research and present their
work using the Internet.
This year I asked the 8 students in my group to write web pages, which
could be used directly in our courses. They had a free choice of topics,
and these ranged from trilobites, through radar imagery, to drilling
technology, and in level from first year to final year. At least half of
the 1998 Web Pages <http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/8361/home.html> are
ready to use to support our teaching, and the rest will be used after
modification. Once again, there was great enthusiasm from the students
in writing their web pages and in making them interactive. I was
impressed both with the information provided, and the web page design. I
gave no encouragement to use backgrounds, animated gifs, or fancy fonts,
but all of these appeared, and most were successful. I still think
there's a lot to be said for black Times Roman on a white background,
but my students don't share that view!
Using a basic html editor (Netscape Composer) proved less problematical
for beginners than was our experience last year when using a more
sophisticated authoring package (HoTMetaL Pro). Some students prefer to
write their text in a familiar word processor, and paste it into the
In both the 1997 and 1998 groups, no one had previous experience of html
authoring, but they soon picked it up. On the basis of the limited
experience gained, one of last year's graduates is now working as an
Intranet developer for a major international bank. It appears that by
training students in the basics of web page authoring, we are providing
them with a useful transferable skill.
There have been some problems, too. In 1997, students knew they were
responsible for copyright clearance for each image they used, but they
had not always obtained it. In 1998, this aspect was explicitly
assessed, and evidence had to be provided, usually in the form of an
e-mail message from the copyright owner. This worked well. We've found
that most website owners are happy for their images to be used for
educational purposes, so long as suitable acknowledgment is made.
Getting permission to reproduce images from published books and
periodicals tends to be much more difficult, and it is sometimes easier
for students to draw their own graphics.
This year, members gave live presentations to the group to demonstrate
how their web site worked. To get students to think critically about
others' web pages, and to appreciate the importance of peer review as
part of the scientific process, I asked them each to review two of their
colleagues' pages in first draft, and then assessed their reviews. This
led to considerable improvement in the final drafts, on which 50% of the
assessment was based.
In conclusion, getting students involved in writing course-based web
pages has been a success, and I plan to repeat it next year. They bring
new ideas for content and design, which I would not have thought of, and
their enthusiasm brings a lot of enjoyment to the teaching and learning
process. One of my short-term aims is to provide a web page for each of
our taught modules. Web pages written by students for course credit will
help us to turn the Module List.
Web-based learning: getting students involved
One concern expressed about the proliferation of virtual learning
environments has been the loss of face-to-face contact between students
and teachers. Over the last year or so my experience has been the
opposite of this. I have involved small groups of final-year students
in writing web pages for our courses, and have found this to be an
excellent way to get to know students better.
We started last year by using the Web as an alternative form of
presentation to essays or written reports. The topic was Volcanic
Hazards <http://www.brookes.ac.uk/geology/8361/8361welc.html>, and each
student worked on an individual volcano. Students were enthusiastic
about the idea that their work would be available to the world at large,
rather than gathering dust on a shelf, or being consigned to the waste
bin. A year later, some of last year's graduates are contacting me to
ask if they can modify their web pages.