The Web in the classroom
by Sarah Horton
Many Web sites developed in education are designed either to supplement or to replace classroom teaching --- that is, they are intended for use outside the classroom, in place of face-to-face interactions. Yet in the same way that instructors use such teaching aids as slides, overheads, or video in class, Web sites can be used to illustrate concepts or as part of classroom activities. Indeed, using a course Web site in class is a good way to promote its use by students outside class.
Many institutions have fully equipped audiovisual classrooms with support for networking and computer projection. These classrooms, sometimes called technology classrooms, are the most reliable way to use the Web in class. The computer is fixed as part of the installation, so you can configure the system and browser with any special software or plug-ins you need before the term starts. Remember that you are most likely sharing the classroom with other instructors. See whether the computer can be configured to allow users to store preferences and files directly on the computer and activate them as needed.
Check with the media services department to determine which classroom technology is available. Even if you do not have technology classrooms, or if the classrooms are unavailable, media services may be able to provide a temporary setup in your classroom using portable equipment.
Preparing a Web-based presentation
The thought of fumbling around with technology in front of a classroom full of students is enough to scare many instructors away from using the Web as part of class, and justifiably so. Any added complexity compounds risks: an entire lecture can be thrown off when the slide projector bulb blows or a slide tray jams, or when the VCR eats the videotape. The Web is more complex than a slide projector or VCR. There are many more components to go wrong: the computer could freeze or crash, the network could be down, the projector could malfunction, the site that you planned to base your lecture on could have moved or been taken down for maintenance.
Here are some measures you can take to avert potential disasters:
Rehearse setup. Store any files and information you might need for your Web-based presentation (for example, URLs, preference settings, plug-ins) somewhere on the network, perhaps in your email account. Practice retrieving the files and configuring other computers: your home machine, a classroom computer, a colleague's computer. Knowing what's involved in setup and rehearsing the steps in advance will prepare you for public Web-based presentations.
Verify links. Before you decide to use an external Web site in class, contact the author of the site. Explain your wish to use it and ask the author's intentions regarding the site. If the author intends to keep the site active, go ahead and use it. If the response is noncommittal, try finding another site that might be more reliable. In general, choose sites that come from reputable organizations, such as sites at other educational institutions or sites sponsored by established organizations.
Practice. There is no substitute for practice to assuage nervousness about using technology in the classroom. Some institutions provide a practice room for instructors to rehearse technology-based classroom presentations. These rooms have all the equipment of a technology classroom: the computer, network, peripheral devices, and projection. Instructors can use the room to practice configuring the classroom setup and running through their presentation.
A practice session can help you see what is entailed in customizing a technology classroom setup for your needs: Will you need to change the monitor resolution, add any system extensions or browser plug-ins, or change the sound output controls? It is also an opportunity to see your presentation displayed from a projector. If your institution lacks a dedicated practice room, try to schedule a time in your classroom when you can familiarize yourself with the setup.
Get help. Determine what department at your institution is responsible for setting up and maintaining classroom technology (media services, computing services, classroom management). Arrange for someone from the department to be in your classroom at the start of class to help with setup and get you off to a good start.
Contingency planning. It is important to acknowledge that contingency planning is a fundamental aspect of using the Web in the classroom. Anyone who has ever been caught without a spare knows the importance of having backup. The likelihood of having a virtual blowout during a technology-based presentation is greater than that of getting a flat tire while driving to work. When using the Web as part of your lecture, have a contingency plan so that you are not left stranded if there are problems with the technology: print the Web pages or make transparencies, save the pages on your local hard drive, prepare a backup lesson plan.
||Do you want to customize the way pages look in the browser? Do you want links underlined? What fonts do you want to use?
||Is all the software that you'll need for your presentation installed? For example, are all required browser plug-ins loaded? Are you using any nonstandard plug-ins?
||Is enough system memory available to run your presentation? Is enough memory allocated to the browser application?
||Are the resolution and color settings right for your presentation?
||Is the audio output functioning? Does the volume need adjusting?
||Is the room lighting suitable both for viewing the projected image and for taking notes?
||Do you have bookmarks for the sites you will be using in class? Have you checked the sites to make sure they're available?
Horton, Sarah. 2000. The Web in the classroom. Web Teaching [accessed May 7, 2003], http://www.dartmouth.edu/~
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