September 1997 // Featured Products
Studying Technology Using Technology:
An Interdisciplinary Course on the Internet
by Ed Klonoski
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Ed Klonoski "Studying Technology Using Technology:
An Interdisciplinary Course on the Internet" The Technology Source, September 1997. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In "Living and Working on the Internet" (AUCT 150) students study the Internet as a technical and social phenomenon. The course has a laboratory and employs a variety of software products as tools in its investigations. Students are asked to work collaboratively and individually to find, explain and evaluate online information resources. To complete the assignments they employ a browser, online search engines like AltaVista, and email, all of which are available in our networked classroom. To deliver the results of their investigations they employ PowerPoint and LCD projection.

Course Overview: AUCT 150

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.

Course skills: Skills for the course include: practical application of the data communication model; ability to explain various connection configurations; various electronic communication strategies (e.g., e-mail, mail distribution, chats); database accessing (e.g., newsgroups, Listservs, online libraries); familiarity with Internet applications (e.g., FTP, Telnet, gopher, WAIS, lynx, and graphical browsing); and HTML authoring.

Course description: "Living and Working on the Internet," a special section of AUCT 150, is team-taught in a multimedia classroom and regularly employs the Ethernet connections to go online. Using 12 Macintosh workstations, we teach students to check their e-mail, surf the Web, and search the online library databases. We built collaboration (two students to a workstation) into all class activities and into 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 to HTML authoring, each student created a personal web page. Our reference librarian explained how to assess the quality of online 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 PowerPoint and LCD technology that projected the contents of the instructor's monitor, students shared with the class the online resources they had uncovered instead of just describing them. They gained the requisite experience with PowerPoint from watching how their instructors used it. In addition, they were introduced to the mechanics of presentation software, and because they were working collaboratively, they resolved the rest of their learning curve as part of their collaboration.

Research Projects

Working in small teams of 3-4 and also individually, students selected an area of interest to research using online resources. Our classroom is networked so students were able to surf the Web; they used search tools like AltaVista and Yahoo to discover material in areas that interested them and then investigated particular sites to document what exists there. Both as individuals and as part of a team, each student was charged with finding, evaluating, and presenting the Internet resources they discovered.

The purpose of these investigations was to encourage students to tour the Net's vast array of information resources and begin learning how to evaluate them. We also hoped that the power of collaborative investigation would become apparent as they compared the results of their group investigations with their private ones. Areas they found interesting included online reservation systems, RealAudio, terrorist home pages, the ESPN home page, online music sites, Presidential campaign sites, the Disney pages, etc.

Evaluating the quality of the information resource was the heart of both assignments. We wanted students to establish context, evaluate the reliability of information, and compare information distribution strategies. Once they understood how their site worked, they were required to make a critical judgment about the value of the information, sometimes necessitating visits to related sites to compare functionality. Not surprisingly, this evaluation turned out to be the most difficult part of the assignment.

Finally, they were required to present their findings to the class using the instructor's machine, which is attached to an LCD projector. As part of the presentation process, they were able to access the Internet and display resources (which presented an interesting set of problems familiar to anyone who has tried to use the Internet for a live presentation). Despite connectivity slow downs and unexpected changes in established sites, student presenters took us shopping for cars, stocks or vacations, played radio broadcasts from across the country using the RealAudio plug-in, and took us into an online virtual space called a MUD.

Students were also encouraged to author PowerPoint presentations to supplement their demonstrations. They used PowerPoint to add images, sounds, and movies to their presentations, while relying on the outline structure of this presentation package to organize their talk. As they worked on their presentations during class workshops, the group tended to huddle around one machine running PowerPoint as they added and subtracted discussion points.

Lessons Learned

Students had no difficulty finding new and interesting resources on the ‘Net. This medium just keeps getting richer and richer. Nor did they report difficulties mastering the software that the course required them to employ. 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 online resources, more class time was evidently needed to help students understand how professionals discover the reliability of information and its sources.

Using PowerPoint as a presentation tool was less trouble for students than it has been for the many faculty I have trained. Students enjoyed the control it gave them over their material, and I appreciated the additional organization of their talks. One of the positive side effects of using presentation software is that students are encouraged (forced) to outline their materials as part of the authoring process. This step results in presentations that are better organized and more tightly delivered. Groups tended to give each member a screen of information to present, using PowerPoint as a crude moderator.

During the second half of the semester, as a result of these assignments and the integrated technology in our networked classroom, 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.

Future Plans

I am currently preparing a course in Multimedia and plan to make extensive use of PhotoShop, PowerPoint, HTML and SuperCard []. Based on my successful experience in AUCT 150, I will require that students use PowerPoint to make several presentations about the software we are investigating and about the aesthetics of multimedia production. Once they are comfortable with presentation software (I plan two class workshops to accomplish that), they will begin bringing content into the course as co-teachers. In this way I will continue to use the technology to assist students in learning more about its power to shape information.

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