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Poster and Software Demonstration

Using Collaborative Hypermedia to Replace Lectures in University Teaching.

David Skillicorn

Queen's 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: 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.

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 Science.

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 documents.

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 collections:

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.

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.

Why Hyperwave?

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.

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

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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