April 1998 // Case Studies
The Socrates Program
by Paul Shrivastava
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Paul Shrivastava "The Socrates Program" The Technology Source, April 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

The World Wide Web is revolutionizing higher education. Many universities and companies are experimenting with and struggling to understand the implications of Internet/WWW technologies for education and training. Successful Web-based education involves the convergence of multiple technologies—instructional design, multimedia, Web design, course authoring software, Internet connectivity, computers and telecommunications technologies, and new digital pedagogical skills. No one has yet found the right model for success, but bewildering arrays of options are now being generated.

The Socrates Program is an effort to offer assistance to educators and trainers in creating successful Web-based educational programs. It was initiated by Environmental Intelligence, Inc., with help from faculty members from over twenty universities, covering the curricula of business administration, the social sciences, and the liberal arts. A list of faculty involved with the program is available on the Socrates Home Pages. The objectives of the program are to harness Internet technologies for enriching in-class education, to deliver cost-effective distance education, to reduce the cost of education for students, to open access to education to deprived areas of the world, and to implement the Socratic methods of critical inquiry on the Internet.

The Socrates Program focuses on three components: (1) Web beginners, (2) Web-savvy faculty seeking to push the envelope in digital education, and (3) those wishing to team-teach on the Internet to create learning communities that extend well beyond their own classrooms.

The Web Beginners Component

Web beginners can use the Socrates Matrix to integrate the WWW into collegiate courses. The Matrix is a set of templates that can be filled with course information by an instructor over the Web. The information can include course description, course objectives, instructor background, grading policies, assignments, knowledge resources, related Web sites, class lessons and notes, and course syllabi. Socrates Matrix templates offer a quick and easy way to establish a course Web site in less than an hour, without any programming or server interaction. Course sites can be fully customized to an instructor's needs with links to pedagogical resources and student services. One instructor took only 20 minutes to cut and paste the information about his course into the Socrates Matrix templates and create a basic Web site. You can visit some of the sample sites.

The Web-Savvy Faculty Component

Faculty members with greater experience in using the Web can utilize the Socrates Interactive Knowledge Sites, which include interactivity features, such as a Web-based quizzer, a threaded bulletin board, class e-mail, listservs, and over 500 embedded links to educational and student interest resources. An interactive knowledge site can be viewed also.

The Socrates Program updates these links periodically. As audio and video streaming technologies become more readily available, the interactive sites will also incorporate these into course materials.

The Team Teaching on the Internet Program

This program aims at creating learning communities that extend beyond the classroom to include other instructors, external experts, and electronic visitors. The team creates an online pool of teaching materials for specific courses (currently limited to business studies). Individual team members can customize their courses by choosing from this pool as well as from other resources. Team members and external experts from different national, racial, ethnic, and other perspectives visit class bulletin boards to generate discussion on issues of interest to the course, thereby creating a dialogue with more diversity than is normally possible within classroom limitations.

The Socrates Program is based on the principle of creating electronic learning communities with the managed interactivity and the knowledge resources of the WWW. It promotes critical and reflexive use of Internet technologies for educational ends. The true power of the Internet is invoked by connecting people around the world in the experience of learning, and not by simply using the Internet as a large public disk drive to store information. It is this connectivity that the program seeks to promote. The program is just getting off the ground. In 1997, more than 155 site licenses were issued for a beta program in 24 countries. A site license provides one username and password for creating a course Web site that is hosted on the Socrates server. As of February 1998, 25 faculty members from six countries (Canada, Italy, Mexico, Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom) have agreed to become part of the "Team Teaching on the Internet" program. As members of a team, the faculty contribute teaching materials to a common pool and teach the course at their respective universities from this collection. The courses remain independent and under the control of the individual professors. Students enroll as usual at their own universities. Team members are expected to interact with each other and their respective students by visiting each others' course bulletin boards electronically, and posting messages or responses on topics of particular interest to them.

Benefits for Teachers

There are a number of benefits for faculty who participate in the Socrates Program. For example, it is possible for faculty members to quickly place their courses on the Web without learning HTML or programming. Moreover, teachers can make their courses richer by incorporating educational resources and research tools found on the WWW. Faculty members can take advantage of a course-customized daily "newspaper" and investment information at their course site. Finally, participation offers faculty support and an opportunity for learning from their peers. This program also offers financial rewards to instructors, which depend on the respective contribution of teaching materials, interaction coordination, and time devoted to the development of a particular project.

Benefits for Students

With the Socrates Program, students get access to the many learning resources and research tools of the WWW. They can get books and supplies at discounted prices. The Socrates sites reduce the time needed to search for learning resources, as the sites are hosted on the Socrates server with all the support resources centralized. Students from anywhere can access these resources and get online course materials in specific course areas. Students also gain expertise in efficiently using e-mail, the Internet, and the WWW.

Benefits to the Institutions

Socrates enables colleges and universities to outsource some of their Web-based teaching development activities. It allows colleges to test the waters of Web education without investing in hardware, IT infrastructure, and personnel. Socrates Program online courses can expand the course offerings at many smaller institutions. This gives colleges the opportunity to gain additional revenues by leveraging their local markets.

The Socrates Program invites any individual faculty members or institutions interested in experimenting with Internet-based education to join one of its programs. The Team Teaching program is currently limited to business administration courses. However, if a group of at least five faculty want to teach any course in the social sciences, the liberal arts, or professional studies, the program can provide full Internet support to these groups for converting materials for Web delivery as well as other support services.

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