The Web and Education
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet.(1)
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that Internet researchers at the University of Notre Dame (Barabási, Albert, and Jeong, 1999) discovered that, on average, due to the hypertext links, any two Web pages are only 19 clicks away from each other. The research loosely follows the earlier work of Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University. In the 1960s, Milgram demonstrated that any two individuals were linked by five mutual acquaintances. It was this theory about human relationships that the character Ouisa reflects upon in John Guare's famous play Six Degrees of Separation in the quote above.(2)
Like the intricate web of human relationships, the Notre Dame researchers' 19 clicks of separation theory poses an interesting notion about the potentiality of Web pages and their complex inter-relationships. As the number of Web pages grows phenomenally, it's not hard to imagine that the information and knowledge you are seeking in your research and education may one day be only five clicks away from where you start surfing on the Web.
It is precisely the vast interconnectivity of the Web that makes it an especially intriguing new education medium or tool. Consequently, the Web is emerging as an important and potentially primary infrastructure for any time, any place learning in the future. Many higher education institutions in the US are already eagerly jumping on the Web bandwagon. According Khan in the preface of a recent textbook on Web-Based Instruction (Khan, 1996):
…the Internet is fast emerging, its World Wide Web is becoming an increasingly powerful, global, interactive, and dynamic medium for delivering instruction. More and more institutions are using the Web to provide instruction and training. Increasing numbers of these institutions offering Web-based courses are recognizing the fact that the Web is a viable medium of learning and instruction. (3)
Of course, delivery of instruction over the Web is fraught with many challenges and rewards for everyone involved. Institutions and instructors are faced with new issues involving accreditation, design, delivery, assessment, evaluation, accessibility, and copyright and intellectual property rights of the courses developed for this infrastructure. Learners are bombarded with a myriad of new dilemmas that this new delivery medium engenders, including unlimited access to equipment, information overload, new methods of evaluating their work, lack of face-to-face interaction, and increased feelings of isolation. Legal and ethical challenges are being intensely debated in academic circles, scholarly journals, and other news media.
This paper will identify the four current methods of delivering instruction via the Internet and Web...