Poster and Software Demonstration
Using Collaborative Hypermedia to Replace Lectures in University
KEYWORDS: courseware, hypermedia, Hyperwave
Web-based hypermedia and related technologies have attracted
great attention, because they have obvious potential to improve the quality
of teaching and learning at universities. The potential benefits include:
Many courses have been developed using web pages as the presentation
tool, and electronic mail and chat systems as the community-building tool.
There are several deficiencies to this approach:
Increased access for non-traditional students, for whom the
traditional university format is impractical;
Availability of material at all times and in all places;
Responsiveness to students' learning styles by providing
material in different ways and at different levels;
Incentive to `ratchet up' by capturing the best presentations,
the best interactions, the best questions, and preserving them;
Student-directed learning rather than professor-directed
Community and interaction based on ideas rather than physical
We have developed several courses using the Hyperwave hypermedia
system, developed at the Technical University of Graz in Austria. This
system provides a seamless environment in which students can interact with
hypermedia material, create their own additions, and communicate with one
another and with the instructor. These courses are offered without any
lectures, relying solely on interactions within the hypermedia system to
convey content and create a learning community. Experience so far has shown
that this approach works, and may even produce better learning outcomes
than conventional lecture presentations.
The on-line course material is very often 'extra' material,
increasing the demands on students;
On-line courseware typically costs more, both to develop
and to deliver to students;
Material is not access-protected, causing loss of revenue
for institutions and copyright problems for developers;
The use of multiple tools requires students to learn many
different interfaces, increasingly the cognitive overhead of the material
that they want to learn.
An Introductory Computing Course
We illustrate the use of the system using CISC104, an introductory
programming and computing science background course, taken by students
in all years, and from all departments of the Faculty of Arts and Science.
The approach has also been used in 3rd and 4th year courses in Computing
Students interact with the course material using an ordinary
web browser, such as Netscape. Pages delivered by the Hyperwave server
are enhanced with a standard set of buttons that allow users to identify
themselves to the system, to create new documents, or to annotate existing
Hyperwave hypermedia is organised in two ways: the standard
link paradigm is supplemented by a hierarchical collection paradigm. This
provides extra context which helps users to avoid the feeling of not knowing
where they are. The top level of the course material consists of the following
The core course material was organised into three streams,
each partitioned by week. This meant that students could always tell how
far they were supposed to have progressed. Each `lecture' consists of textual
material, enriched with images, and with regular questions added to make
it harder to interact passively with the material.
Introductory material about the course,
Course home page,
Core course material,
Questions and Answers,
The question and answer area allowed students to ask questions
publicly and get them answered, usually within a few hours. Because everyone
can see the answers, many students have their questions answered before
they were asked. The assignments collection was used to `hand out' the
programming assignments, and also to provide solutions after the due date.
The exercises collection contained a weekly set of programming exercises
and their solutions, to provide suggestions for reinforcing material. The
social area allowed students to communicate on non-academic matters.
Other aspects of the course were traditional. The instructors
had office hours, and teaching assistants were available at scheduled times
in their offices and in one of the computing laboratories. Assessment was
based on programming assignments, a midterm examination, and a final examination.
Student feedback fell into two categories. Some students,
probably the majority, found no difficulty with the approach and appreciated
the flexibility of delivery. A smaller group felt the absence of lectures
keenly, at least at the beginning of the course. Discussions with some
of them indicated that they believed, at some level, that lectures caused
learning to happen without their active participation. It is easy to see,
in retrospect, how such beliefs tend to be fostered by universities, and
dispelling them may be the major contribution of technology to learning.
Most found it possible to adapt their model of learning and to succeed
in the course. Our experiences have been positive, and several more course
are migrating to the Hyperwave system.
In the introduction, we indicated several deficiencies of
the majority of hypermedia courseware approaches. We summarize how the
Hyperwave system, and our incremental approach to development, avoid them.
There are three essential aspects to making hypermedia
courseware development cost-effective:
The problems of controlling access are handled extremely
well by the Hyperwave system, which allocates read, write, and delete
privileges on a per-collection basis. Thus students can create documents,
but not anywhere; and can control whether they are visible to the whole
world, the class, a small group within the class, or are entirely private.
Courseware must save money somewhere else. It is therefore
critical that such courseware replace other teaching, rather than
Courseware must be developed incrementally, allowing savings
from the very first delivery to be used to fund the next round of development.
This makes it possible to start from modest amounts of seed money. Our
initial offering of CISC104 required about four months of full-time work
by a hypermedia development staff member. Upper-year and seminar courses
are much cheaper to develop, since courseware provides perspective rather
Courseware does not have to be up to Hollywood standards
to be effective, and does not all have to be developed by instructors.
Students can make their own contributions to courseware, and such contributions
are arguably more useful and impressive to other students. Seminar courses,
in particular, can start from a list of the issues, the content being created
by the discussions of the participants (which can then be preserved as
starting points for subsequent offerings).
The Hyperwave system provides a seamless interface with
the functionality of a hypermedia browser, chat group, and electronic mail
system. Once students have absorbed the basic paradigm, they can do everything
related to a course within one environment.
The Hyperwave courseware is available for demonstration
purposes using the url http://hyperg.qucis.queensu.ca.
When you reach this site, click on the identify
button. Use the userid `human' (without the quotation marks) and password
`sesame'. Then click on `return to previously-accessed collection'.
You may want to browse the `CISC104 Collection' which
contains the first-year programming course. You may also want to look in
the `CISC Public Collection' at the 'Sample Humanities Course' developed
with the help of the Department of French Studies at Queen's and Greg Lessard.
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