C:\Gam_disk\PROJECT\project1\gaed1\gaed1.htm

A survey of web sites intended for teaching science.
Uses and quality evaluation.

Georg R Douglas

Oct.-Nov. 1996

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Georg R Douglas - Report carried out within the Library and Information Science Programme,
Dept. of  Social Sciences, University of Iceland, 1997

Introduction

The intention of producing a comprehensive web site for use in teaching earth

science at highschool level in Iceland promted this background study, the purpose of

which was to assess the status of resources and educational web sites relevant to

science teaching on the Internet at the moment (October 1996) and to evaluate the

opportunities the Internet offers to the science student. It is hoped that by identifying the

main areas of activity, highlighting problem areas and examining the best the Internet

has to offer, the study will help in formulating guidelines for producing useful web

pages. The actual construction of such an earth science web site, with commentary on

the details, will form a separate study.

Although schools and educational institutions now frequently have home pages

and students are using the Internet daily there are enormous differences in quality and

many problems lie ahead. Highschools, in particular, are still at the stage of

discovering and defining the Internet´s role in their particular environment and although

a recent Lycos survey in U.S.A suggests that around 60% of Internet users believe that it

will be a useful service, the same survey showed that 54% of people online at present,

spend more time searching for information than in actually finding anything that they

consider to be of value (Ref. 1) There is every reason to suppose that this figure may

be applied equally well to students looking for curriculum-related resources and

underlines the need to analyse the present situation in some detail.

More precisely the aims of this study were:

1. To make a survey of existing educational web sites on the Internet with a

view to determining and classifying their main fields of use and their

organizational structure at the present time (October 1996).

2. To identify and compare web sites at several educational levels and from

more than one institutional or oranizational type.

3. To make an evaluation of the information quality and pedagogic quality of

educational sites on the Internet through an instrument designed to include the

widest possible range of parameters.

4. To use the results to decide how to make the most of the opportunities

offered by this form of information technology and thus to lay the foundations

for a web site which will be of immediate use to students but which will also

develop in a well organized and exciting manner.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

 

A survey of educational web sites.

 

Methodology and definitions.

An existing survey on the role of the library as information provider (Ref. 2)

was used to some extent as a model for the present survey. Altogether 49 web sites

were examined over the period September - October 1996. Any site whose stated aims

were educational or which, by definition, attempted to educate, were included in the

survey. Sites which dealt with the topic of education per se were excluded. The term

web site implies that there may be many home pages within the site. In investigating

features such as www links, this often meant going down through the pages to a

considerable depth in order to find the links. After an initial look at several web sites,

it was decided to divide the sampling more or less equally into 3 categories. The first

two, universities and highschools, are established educational institutions which,

judging from the number who have web pages, seem committed to offering their

services online. The third category is comprised of web sites which present non-

traditional educational material or courses. Included are purely online educational

organizations, some distance education establishments, but also universities with

experimental web pages as well as a wide variety of less conventional web sites

whose originators range from the large computer companies and national education

authorities to eccentric individuals. Other sites represented in the survey include

museums, interactive exhibitions and remote controlled devices. It is fully recognised

that many sites, although not directly pitched as educational, can be of value to the

student. Examples include industrial organisations and satellite tracking stations. These

have not been included in the survey. Many of these pages have a high educational

value. The values which appear in the tables can refer to an entire faculty, a single

department, a particular project or a mixture, depending on the organization of the web

pages. The large volume of educational pages of various types on the Internet strongly

suggests that a further classification study would be worthwhile.

The web sites examined were mainly in the field of science and technology.

Several sources were used to find web sites for inclusion in the survey. The Lycos A2z

College pages list (Ref.3) gives a good cross section of the world´s universities, while

regional lists are also available, as for example UK Academic sites. Keypals

International (from College Bound)(Ref.4) provides links to many hundred secondary

school home pages throughout the world, classified by country and these can also be

accessed through national school networks which exist in many countries. Web pages in

the third survey category ("other") were selected in several ways. Project-orientated

or resource-orientated pages were generally chosen from large well organised sites

such as AskERIC (the Educational Resource Information Centre)(Ref.5), The European

Studies Programme (Ref. 6), national educational networks such as the Canada´s

School Net (Ref.7), the Australian Curriculum Projects Registry (Ref. 8) and the WWW

Virtual Library (CERN)(Ref. 9). The latter has a useful classification of educational

sites by subject, institution, clearinghouse and other types. In addition to these

structured information sources, the web search engines Lycos, Altavista and EINet

Galaxy were used to search the Internet for selected search strings to try and uncover

as wide a range of educational sites as

possible and some of the web pages examined were chosen from the results of these

searches.

 

In selecting the sites for inclusion an attempt was made to spread the choice

globally. Because of language difficulties (e.g Japanese) this sometimes entailed using

an english version of the web pages and in some cases this was obviously an abridged

version of the original language pages. Even so the structure of the site was often quite

clear, particularly as many of the WWW links are frequently in English in any case.

Countries represented include Iceland, Ireland, U.K., Germany, Denmark, Norway,

Sweden, Holland, Israel, Italy, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

The choice of features which were examined is based largely on the most

common features used in web pages generally, but it is also to some extent subjective,

being influenced by the author´s 25 year teaching experience and background. This is

reflected in Table 1 which shows that web page features have been grouped under

functional or activity headings. Because WWW links form such a central and important

place on most educational pages, at least at present, a more detailed assessment has

been made of their type and organization separately in Table 2.

 

Results

While all of the web sites examined give basic information related in some way

or other to the institution or organization, it is often less clear as to what the aims of the

web pages are or even for what end user group they are intended. The highschools

score especially poorly in this respect. Although they always provide basic

information about the school and its overall philosophy and aims, there is seldom any

explanation of the purpose or aims of the web pages themselves. This is especially true

as regards departmental pages. Many highschools are obviously still in an adolescent

stage of development on the Internet doing little more than making their presence felt.

This is perhaps apparent in the high percentage (38%) of highschools which have

displays of non-curricular work on their pages and may reflect a high student

participation without guidance, since it is not uncommon for students to have the

technical expertise required for setting up pages, before their teacher peers. The

universities and other organizations do not use space in this way (0%) and seemingly

regard the Internet mainly as a place for serious academic activity.

Use and content of web pages.

Several strong trends for the use of web pages in science education seem to

have already emerged. While many web sites carry information on courses available,

dates of lectures and offer basic on line services to students, it is the universities who

are most obviously committed to online teaching in some way or other. Around 60% of

universities in the survey offer actual online learning packages, although it must be

pointed out that in actual amount there is not very much as yet and only a few complete

courses. A good example are the online crystallography pages at Birbeck, UK (Ref

10). About 30% publish lecture summaries or notes, usually in basic text form. A

useful collection of universities throughout the world offering such services has been

organised on the University of Texas web pages as the World Lecture Hall (Ref. 11),

although how permanent such access will be is impossible to say. Around 40% of

universities provide supplimentary material for courses such as images of features

discussed in classs. This is an even more valuable information resource. Only a very

few sites were encountered which asked for a user ID for such services but this

situation must surely change in the future. Around 70% of universities online have

local area network links on their pages and although the external observer can only

surmise, these presumably lead to even more online teaching material only available to

enroled students. .

Some of the less conventional educational sites (14-21%) also offer teaching

packages or material online, but this is often by subscription. Cyberstudy (Ref. 12), a

web site from Cyber Publishing, offers online teaching courses apparently designed to

help students already enroled at conventional schools. They act as the man in the

middle by recruiting both teachers and students and assisting with making the materials

net-ready, if required. In the case of NASA´s SIR-C space shuttle teaching programme

(Ref. 13), some of the material is online while other essential material is available on

CD-ROM disc. The reasons for such division are not clear. As yet the highschools have

not seriously made use of the Internet as a means of teaching the student directly, only

13% providing online coursework. There are, however, noteable exceptions. The

Macarthur Girl´s Highschool, Australia (Ref. 14), has the simple but effective method

of offering its students class notes as .zip files for downloading.

Despite their slow start to use the Internet for direct teaching, the highschools

are nevertheless publishing original material on their web pages. This is often in the

form of student classwork displays where work has been scanned and set up as web

pages, sometimes with explanation of aims and comment on the results, but more often

not. An example is a display of the CAD artwork produced by one class in 1995 (Ref.

15) which involves several hundred GIF images in full size on one .htm document, with

no thumbnails. The display may have been intended for a pre-informed audience, but

people searching for CAD information are likely to arrive at the site and waste time

trying to assess its worth. Around 40% of highschools in the survey use their web

pages in this way, which contrasts with only 10% at university level. Displays of this

type are quite often the result of co-operation with other schools where the work is part

of a joint project steered by an umbrella organization. About 20% of schools display

class work through such schemes. A good example is the European Studies Programme

(Ref. 16) which has encouraged cross-border exchange between 15 European countries

since 1986, increasingly so via the Internet. Typically groups of around 4 schools take

part in visits and publishing on the web. The uniting themes tend to be in the field of

humanities rather than in science and social issues are often addressed. Other similar

schemes which do favour science include The Connected Classroom, part of

Microsoft´s Global Schoolhouse (Ref. 17), which offers around 90 projects for online

participation The option of joining in as a spectator is often offered, though it is not

always clear where the results of the projects are published.

Online publishing by universities is well established, over 50% of those

examined displaying the results of original research by staff and research students.

This is sometimes in the form of short displays within departmental homepages, or as

previously published work which has been digitized and put on the web, sometimes as

links from a bibliography. Equally many universities use the web for introducing and

publicising large research programmes.

By far the most popular use of web pages in all 3 groups is to provide www

links to other web sites and pages and as such this aspect was examined in more detail.

Table 2 summarises the main features. Such links are of course the very essence of the

Internet and offer the end user the opportunity of obtaining very large amounts of

information from many varied sources at the same time - if he or she can assimilate it.

That will ultimately depend on how the links have been chosen and organised on the

particular web pages. The majority of highschools (69%) have a link on their main

opening page which is usually titled "WWW links", "WWW resources" or similar,

while 50% of the universities tend to have general www links (libraries, search

engines and travel information) on the main page and subject-specific links on

departmental pages (90%). Only 25% of schools place their www links on

departmental pages. In this case the figure includes the school library, where it had a

separate web page. The www links on other types of web site appear most often on the

organization´s main page (71%) or on subsidiary project pages (29%).

 

At first sight there appear to be as many types of www links as there are pages.

The greatest number of links belong to universities partly because of their size and

number of departments and even individual departments frequently have more than 20

links. A relatively large number (25%) of highschools depend on just one or two

www links, and these are almost always to a few large and well known web sites such

as, for example, the many NASA educational sites in the science field.

One new trend which has emerged with access to the Internet is that highschools

appear to be now making use of quite high quality resources such as professional or

semi-professional information banks. Around 31% of them have links on their web

pages to organizations which include the WWW Virtual Library (Ref. 9), the US

Geological Survey GLIS (Global Land Information System)(Ref. 18), the National

Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (USA)(Ref. 19) the National History

Museum of London (Ref. 20) and the various online departments of the Smithsonian

Institute (Ref. 21). While not all of the resources available at these web sites are,

strictly speaking, part of a true subject database, the schools nevertheless do come into

direct contact with very reliable sources of information in a way which did not happen

just a few years back. The same resources are of most value to the universities, 90%

of whom have links to several professional information banks or databases on their

pages. Around half (50%) of the alternative types of web site provide access to high

grade information of this type and indeed in some cases educational web sites belong to

such professional organizations.

Conversely, about 80% of the links provided on highschool web pages are not

direct links to professional organizations or their large subject-tree databases. They

tend rather to be to very large and popular web sites which, during the brief

development period of the web, have become well-recognized and respected.

Although at a much lower academic level than the large databases, many of these sites

are in fact organised by professional organizations. Some are specifically aimed at the

teaching community. Many highschool web pages provide www links which have

originated through K-12 projects. Typical are collections of resources which have

been chosen for their level and sorted according to topic. Frank Potter´s Science Gems

(Ref. 22) is one such example which appears on highschool pages, especially in

N.America. Others are the work of individuals who have found a positive response to

their initial work and have developed their web pages into major educational sites. A

good example is The Nine Planets web site (Ref. 23), a fund of information on the solar

system, run by Bill Arnett who is a software engineer by training and profession, but

who has an interest in astronomy. It must be said that of all the schoolpages which did

provide resource links, practically none included links to low-grade web pages. Any

weaknesses lie elsewhere as will be discussed later.

Apart from those specifically related to subject resources, the most common

links provided by the highschools and the universities were to local resources which

included the local library, image and map collections of the area and links to local

authority offices. All of the universities in the survey provided such links and 31% of

the highschools. Other educational web sites are obviously not interested in this area

(0%). Between 60 and 70% of the universities typically had links to some news

service, sometimes subject orientated (e.g. CNN-Science and Technology (Ref. 24)), to

other universities or university departments and to online e-journals. In contrast, the

highschools have not yet really explored this opportunity although just under 20% had

links to some news provider, and these included real-audio science reports which

mirror material from radio broadcasts in the U.S.A. About 20% of the schools also

provided links to a particular industrial or private sector web site, presumably for

curriculum related reasons. Just under 30% of the survey´s non-traditional third

category of web site had a news element of some kind in their www links.

Most educational web sites make use of the strong communicative element of

the Internet, but in quite diverse ways. A number of communication channels were

examined in the survey and are grouped under the heading of direct contact. A

relatively high proportion (38%) of highschools use their web pages for participating in

classroom linkups, usually as part of a joint scheme organized by an education authority

or other umbrella organization. About 50% of all the less conventional web sites

included in the survey were either the instigators of such schemes or else took part in

them. The approach is typically to publish a list of schools or organizations with a

short description of the joint project they are conducting or hope to start. Microsoft´s

Connected Classroom pages (Ref. 17) give a registry containing approximately 90

projects which cover all subjects and levels and with contact information for those

intending to join in. Quite a few of the non-traditional web sites make use of either E-

mail (14%) and browser forms (21%) for direct communication in connection with

project work. 14% provided ftp for downloading of necessary software or files. The

universities´ use of these facilities is even greater, but is more often connected with

formal course work. An exception is E-mail for simple student-teacher subject-related

exchange purposes, which is seldom encouraged. The schools make very little use of

any of these direct contact opportunities. Direct links to Usenet newsgroups or

listserves which deal with academic subjects are provided on the web pages of 30% of

the universities and 21% of the alternative education sites, but only on 6% of the

highschool pages. These values may seem surprisingly low in view of the extensive

use of E-mail in schools and it does not necessarily mean that such services are not

being used in educational establishments, but rather that little attempt is made to steer

the online student towards them by way of web pages.

One of the new features which came with web browsing was the ability to make

very broad searches through Internet space by key word, using search engines.

Although a well established technique to academics, this was a novel idea to most

laymen and students at highschool level. It seems rather strange therefore that only 6%

of school pages provide links to any of the well known search engines such as Yahoo,

Lycos or Alta Vista. Around 30% of the university web sites provide direct links to

search engines, often on the university´s opening page and links to search engines are

also quite common on less conventional educational web pages (21%). The Chemistry

Department at the University of Dortmund in Germany (Ref. 25) provides a very

complete search facility to its students and staff by grouping together on one page many

large search engines classified by information, software, publications, news FAQs and

various other types, rather like CUI´s Meta-Index. Around 10% of the universities and

14% of the non-traditional web sites provide links to subject specific search engines

such as GLIS (searchable geoscience database)(Ref. 18) and HEPNIC (a physics

"phonebook")(Ref. 26).

The final group of facilities concerns virtual reality activities. As is to be

expected perhaps, this is still largely the realm of the less convential web sites. It is

beyond the resources of most schools to provide realtime data online even if they did

have suitable material. Yet there are many realtime links on the Internet which are of

great relevance to education. One example is Bradford University´s robotic telescope

(Ref. 27) in the UK, where the non-professional user can submit customised requests

for images of particular objects at a chosen time. These are processed according to

certain rules of precedence. Only 6% of highschools and 10% of universities provided

direct links to such sites and then the most popular were to realtime radio links which

are beyond the hardware capabilities of the average school user in most parts of the

world at the moment.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Brief comment on the results

 

The most diverse, but also the most intense use of the Internet as an educating medium

appears to be by the universities. On the whole the highschool web pages are still at

the initial stages of development and their use is somewhat limited as yet, being

restricted to a relatively few functions such as providing links to popular science sites

or displaying class work, often as part of a joint school scheme. In particular there are

gaps in the services provided which are really essential to the academic success of

such pages. Mainly these concern the range of www links offered and the degree of

help and guidance offered to the student as regards the significance, quality and type of

the links. This is perhaps only a reflection of the situation on the Internet in general and

is one of the major issues being addressed, mainly by librarians, at present, who have

started to develop classification and organizational schemes for the flood of

multimedial material which has suddenly been added to the existing paper-based

resources. Some of the university departments have attempted subject-based

classifications with the student end user in mind but generally there is great room for

development in this area. The less conventional web sites appear to be more awake to

the complete range of opportunities offered by the Internet to education, but individual

web sites of this type tend to concentrate on only a few restricted fields of activity.

There is very little consistency or standardisation in educational web pages.

While some web pages consist of mainly text-based material, others like the Allan

Hancock College in California (Ref. 28), have a special online "learning resource

center" and at the University of Texas (Ref. 11) a "virtual campus" requires high

bandwidth and multimedia plug-ins in order to function properly. Within web pages

there are great differeneces as regards layout and organization. Links to reference

resources are sometimes to be found on the main page but also somewhere further down

the heirarchal scheme. Some pages attempt to classify by topic or project while others

appear to develop according to the whims of the authors. Perhaps this is in keeping

with the freedom ethic of the Internet and should be welcomed within the education

sphere where innovation has always been part of the learning process. However, for

the student end user, such anarchy can lead to frustration and confusion. So far, few

studies have examined how students actually use educational homepages or how they

react to them, although an observational study on how students search for information

on the Internet is a step in the right direction (Ref. 29). The present work does not

address this problem directly, but it does seek to evaluate the quality of educational

web pages in the three survey groups as objectively as possible and to assess their

value to the highschool student, thereby highlighting some of the areas where

improvement could be made.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Quality evaluation

 

Ideas for imposing some scheme of quality control on Internet information have

been there from very early on, although how effective they have been is a matter for

conjecture. Attempts at quality control in a general way on the Internet are apparent in

at least 3 main areas and their significance to this study are now briefly discussed.

 

1. The overall quality of individual web sites. Several schemes have attained

popularity, the better known of which include the Magellan star rating scheme (Ref.

30). A team of writers and editors reviews the sites and advice is sought from

academics and professionals. The actual rating ranges from one to four stars and is

based on a 10 point score in three areas. These are the depth, ease of exploration and

net appeal, all of which are defined quite clearly. Further information on the evaluation

of a particular site can be obtained by selecting "Review" on the site concerned.

Other similar schemes include IWAY 500 (Ref. 31 and appendix 1) who

provide their reviewers with detailed guidelines on how to award points and also

provide the end user with this information. Each web site is evaluated in 7 main areas

ranging from content to performance with a maximum score of between 50 and 100 in

each category. The UK´s ARC site (Ref. 32) has a similar star rating system to

Magellan´s but in addition invites the end user to vote on the site using online forms.

The results of the voting are presumably incorporated in the overall rating.

Yet another evaluation scheme is the "Top 5%" from Lycos (Ref. 33). This

provides a quite detailed summary on the main features and content of the best sites

classified by type. A maximum score of 50 is awarded in the areas of experience,

content and presentation. Attempts to discover how the selection is made, including

direct enquiry, have not been successful so far.

While stressing that all these schemes are useful and to be welcomed, they do

have serious limitations. Especially, it is by no means clear as for whom they are

intended and therein lies their main weakness. The idea of giving a web site a star

rating is rather akin to giving a library book an overall rating for the general reader,

allbeit by an expert in the field. Like books, web sites range from highly subject-

specific to frivolous and a simple rating of this type can hardly be of more value than

Malpin´s well known (and useful) film ratings. Nevertheless these schemes do provide

a measure of the general quality of web pages which should certainly be incorporated

in a scheme specifically aimed at judging quality for the end user.

2. The selection of the published material and in particular the selection of the www

links which are included on the web pages.

Many web sites contain several links to other web sites and some consist

almost entirely of such links. It is obviously of value to know what selection criteria, if

any, have been used in choosing sites for inclusion. Some major web sites have

addressed this issue and as a result the end user can have some confidence in the

authority of the information he obtains there. An outstanding example is the World-

Wide Web Virtual Library maintained by CERN (Ref. 9). All www links in the

various categories of this online resource library are selected by experts in their

respective fields. The criteria they use have been listed in a survey conducted by

Matthew Ciolek (Ref. 34) and give priority to issues like content substance, lack of

repetition of links and the credentials of the authors, while also including many more

mundane things like ease of navigation. Thus they exclude, for instance, sites which

consist of links which are included in any case in their own listings. Combined with a

strong classification scheme (Library of Congress), this puts the WWW Virtual Library

resources on a quite different level than many other resource sites.

A somewhat different approach is used by various clearing houses. Argus (Ref.

35), a private organisation whose clients include universities, gives very detailed

information on online subject guides in many fields. Each guide is rated in 5 separate

categories and in addition the credentials of the authors of the information concerned is

described in some detail. This "guide to the guides" seems a very simple and effective

method and should be an important starting point for any web page author.

In contrast the www links on most search engine web pages are added by

computer searching through URLs, titles, first and last lines of text, or summaries.

Admittedly this type of selection is always improving, but lacks the expert judgement of

large professional library-type resource banks. For the student or the teacher-student

team, a single, reliable and well organised resource reference in a particular field is

probably the most valuable resource there is. This issue will be discussed in more

detail later.

3. The effectiveness of search engines.

Because of the unstructured nature of the Web in general and its lack of central

control of any kind, computer programmes or the so-called search engines have been

rapidly developed to find information by subject and in various ways. In turn there

have been many attempts to assess the effectiveness of the search engines themselves.

The best are very sofisticated indeed and if used properly and by well-educated

professional people who have sufficient understanding of exactly what they want, they

can be very effective. Unfortunately, when used casually or by an end user with limited

experience such as the highschool student, they can lead to dissatisfaction, confusion or

misunderstanding over the results they produce. A typical example might be the student

who requires information on the main eruption products of volcanoes. For want of

vocabulary he or she enters volcanic+eruption as keywords in a simple no-options Alta

Vista search. The results comprise >10,000 matching hits of which the first 10 include

a question from a 10 year old, information on earthquakes and eruption, the effects of

eruption on climatic change and nothing which has any direct bearing on his topic of

interest. Having spent most of the class time in perusing further hits and quite possibly

becoming sidetracked by some of them, he is likely to conclude that there is nothing on

the Internet about that particular topic. Many studies have been made on the relative

value of search engines.(Ref. 36, 37, 38). A comparative evaluation of Lycos,

webCrawler, Worm, Harvest, Galaxy and Yahoo by Ian Winship (Ref. 36)) concluded

that there were very large differences between the number of hits when searching for a

very specific subject (in his study "the ebola virus") and using different search engines.

There was a very high degree of repitition in two of the search engine hits. He

concludes that record stucture and search technique are of far greater importance than

number of hits and that use of structured resource collections such as WWW Virtual

Library (Ref. 9) or BUBL (Ref. 39), or a subject gopher would probably be of more

value, at least initially. In the present author´s experience few students will start off by

using a subject tree, even when it contains information resources directly related to the

problem in hand and they will steer clear of a gopher service, even after having been

taught how it is constructed and how it works. Yet another aspect of web searching is

the relevance of the retrieved resource. Some search engines like Lycos and Galaxy

give a score depending on correlation with key words used in the search. Scores of

this type have, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with the actual value of the resource

to the end user. For the student, some systematic approach will be necessary to

compare and evaluate what he or she has retrieved.

The searchability of web pages and the methods offered are key issues in

evaluating their quality to the end user. As people make more practical use of the

Internet in their own particular field, they become more aware of the quality issue and

already some moves have been made at highschool level to insure a minimal standard

for publishing on the Internet. The Education Network of Australia (EdNA) has defined

in some detail standards in the areas of content, the decisions made by the assessors,

the balance of material and codes of practice (Ref. 40). The Canadian School Net has

published guidelines for student projects on the Web which deal with such items as

page structure, language, content, graphics and the server (Ref. 41). The Classroom

Connect (Ref. 42) produces a student handout which is a short checklist for evaluating

online information retrieved during in-class internet sessions.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Development of an instrument for evaluating educational webpage quality.

 

The evaluation of information quality is by no means a new idea. It is a well

known and much used research tool in industry and business. Essentially the problems

are the same, whether dealing with customers who buy information within the

constraints of their financial situation or students seeking curriculum-relevant

information through the Internet according to their technical means. In a series of

papers published as the Proceedings of a NORDINFO seminar at the Royal School of

Librarianship, Copenhagen (Ref. 43) which dealt mainly with electronic information

quality in the business sector, there is close agreement in many of the articles on what

the main indicators of information quality should be. These are conveniently

summarised by Schwuchow (Ref. 44) as follows:

 

reliability in the provision of the services

up-to-dateness of the delivered information

novelety of the delivered information

speed or frequency of the information provision

completeness of the information

selectivity of the information

relevance or specifity of the information

integrity of the information

security of the information provision

user friendliness, user effort

flexibility of the information services

accessibility of the information devices

 

The same author also makes the conclusion that every evaluation of information quality

is by nature subjective, that there is no single overall measure for information quality

and that any overall evaluation will necessarily be very complex. Having said that,

however, there has been a tendency in information retrieval research in recent years, to

put the emphasis on end user factors, rather than the system itself (e.g. Ref. 45). This

has also been a guiding principle in the construction of the evaluation instrument used in

this work.

 

Overall design and choice of quality indicators

A consideration of the general comments above and of the survey results

suggested a four-fold quality index, the main categories of which are listed below. The

complete evaluation form is given in Appendix 2.

The general, interactive quality of the web pages

The information quality provided on the web pages

The pedagogic value of the information and information as presented on

the web pages.

The quality as percieved by the end user

 

It was assumed that the end user would be an enroled highschool student (Icelandic

education system) working mainly at a terminal in class, but occasionally at home. All

the evaluation forms were filled in by the present author, but some forms were also

completed for criticism and discussion by students at the Department of Library

Studies, the University of Iceland. Five of these students also completed the quality

evaluation for the same site (The University of Iceland web site (Ref. 46)). The

variance between operators for each of the 5 pages of the survey was calculated

afterwards and was found to be between 4,02% and 16,2%, being most for page 1,

which measured the general quality. Each part of the evaluation was allocated a

maximum score of 100, making a maximum total possible score of 400. This was done

partly to enable a rough comparison to be made with results which would be returned

by the Iway 500 evaluation scheme, but this is not discussed further.

The indicators chosen in the first two categories (general quality and

information quality), are based partly on existing quality evaluation schemes and

theoretical discussion of quality evaluation in the literature. They are also based to a

large extent on actual use of science educational web pages at the present time, as

indicated by the survey conducted in this project. Some of the indicators are allocated

a single point, while others are graded between 1 and 3 points depending on their

relative merit. This is a subjective weighting of the indicators, but an attempt was

made to distribute the points fairly equally between the main function groupings. Some

emphasis is placed on the quality of the www links and their organization on the web

pages. Any score is positive and no detractive indicators are used. Thus a web site

may score well if it provides either good quality original material or good well

organised www links. If both services are provided, then the site will rate as

outstanding in this category.

The second two categories (pedagogic quality and end user quality) are those

least considered or even ignored by most existing general quality evaluation schemes

for web pages. The indicators have been chosen partly on the basis of what has been

found on existing web pages in the survey already discussed and partly on personal

experience as a teacher of science subjects for the past 25 years. It is therefore hoped

that the evaluation instrument measures from the worst to the best possible case.

Emphasis has been placed on features which relate students to the real world and

provide them with experiences they could not otherwise have. In one or two instances

the same indicator has been included in more than one categogy, but this is rare.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

The results

A total of 34 web pages was evaluated using the instrument, with approximately

the same number in each of the three categories of web pages as used in the first survey.

Some of the pages were selected randomly from the existing survey data on Internet use,

while others were new sites evaluated directly online. As in the case of the Internet use

survey, the pages varied from single homepages to large university web pages. In order

to obtain a clearer view of the results they were plotted in various combinations in

Figures 1 to 5. The general quality of pages, comprising such items as whether contact

information is given, ease of navigation and whether the aims of the pages are given, is

high in almost all cases, the score being over 80 for the majority of sites, but the

highschools score consistently lower than the other web sites, around half of them

getting a score below 80 (Figure 1). Because the quality in the first category (general)

was consistently high it is possible to ignore it for the purpose of filtering out the

differences in overall quality between the 3 groups of web page types. In order to

compare the three groups, the information quality has been plotted against pedagogic

quality in Figure 2 and, in a separate figure (Figure 3), against end user quality.

Several trends emerge from these plots.

1. In both diagrams there is an approximately linear correlation between the quality of

the information itself, as offered on the pages and either pedagogic quality or end user

quality. In other words, if the basic information is of good quality, then the other

aspects of the pages have also been treated with some care.

2. On both diagrams the data separates fairly clearly into the three groups studied. The

highschools have the lowest quality and the universities have the highest and the latter

form a quite restricted high-quality group, particularly in the diagram showing

information quality plotted against end user quality. One or two highschools approach

the universities on these plots, but they are the exception. The non-traditional web sites

show the greatest range in quality but are to be rated along with the universities as

regards end user quality. As regards pedagogic value, they range from rather poor (20)

to very good (60). The values fill the theoretical range for information vs, end user

quality, whereas no web site included in the survey achieves a higher score than 60 as

regards pedagogic quality. It may be argued that this reflects an unrealistic choice of

indicators or faulty instrument design (unachieveable goals), but it is believed rather to

indicate that the enormous potential for the teaching opportunities which the Internet

offers, have as yet barely been tapped.

The best overall indicator of quality can be provided by combining the

pedagogic and end user values (as the mean) and plotting them against information

quality. This is shown in Figure 4. The conclusion is that the university web pages, at

present, provide very useful sources of information which is pitched in a manner as to

be of real value to the highschool student. Interestingly, the Internet use survey showed,

however, that a mere 6% of highschools provide links to university sites on their web

pages. Many of the non-traditional web sites also provide potentially highly relevant

information for students, but there is a great range and judgement is necessary in

choosing between sites which have a high information value as opposed to a high

pedagogic value. It is interesting that if the actual information quality is ignored

(Figure 5), then there is a much greater distribution of values in all of the groups and the

highschools fare better, though hardly well. This may indicate that, while their pages

succeed to some extent on issues like the level of material and selected pedagogic

attributes, there are rather serious shortcomings in the quality of the information itself.

In fact these are mainly in the type and credibility of the links used and also in the

organization, classification and degree of annotation offered with them on the school

pages.

Further surveys involving direct observation or questioning of students engaged

in online work could confirm these conclusions, or enable ammendments to be made to

the evaluation instrument.

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Discussion

Both the survey on the use of Internet and the evaluation of information quality

give some idea of the present status of science educational web pages. The work

highlights weaknesses in the design of existing web pages claiming to be educational in

the field of science. At the same time the work has identified many outstanding

educational web sites and features in web pages which even represent the state of the

art in science teaching in general. Although highschool web pages are obviously in

fashion, their overall role seems to be rather vague and as a subject-based teaching

method they have far to go. Most of the immediate gains are to be had by adopting the

best ideas from the university and non-traditional pages, but there are still many

unsolved problems. Some of the main issues raised by the work are summarised below

as a series of questions which will now be discussed briefly.

 

Has online networking a major role to play in science teaching?

Much has already been written about the problems and advantages of using

computer technology, in general, for learning and teaching. But most computer assisted

learning (CAL), up until now, has been rather demanding on both teacher and student

and it is usually highly specific in application. For a while the CD-ROM looked like

being the most promising development and many high quality examples are in use in

science teaching in schools throughout the world. They offer a good mixture of text,

images, video and sound and in this respect they go much further than the text book can

possibly do in explaining the practical aspects of science topics which are so essential

to a proper understanding. Although further advances in this field (Ref. 47 )are likely

to ensure them a good future, there are nevertheless limitations with CD-ROMs.

Pedagogically they are not unlike books. They are expensive and become outdated

quickly. In networking situations they can also produce technical problems which are

likely to lead to frustration. Finally, to be of any real use, the student must have access

to quite a few of them.

Many of the difficulties inherent in these "traditional" computer modes of

teaching can be put right by the use of the Internet. The statistics for Internet use which

have been described above highlight some advantages for the general student, in

several directions. The Internet can be used both locally, through a LAN link and also

at great distance, by way of www links. The student can explore locally and generally

in this highly flexible environment. All the important advantages of CD technology,

such as image quality, video and sound are possible. Admittedly these are not all

universally available yet, but technical advances in data handling and transfer are

extremely rapid and are, in fact, occurring mainly in the Internet environment. An

example is the appearance of Future Splash (Ref. 48) image and animation software

which makes very efficient use of bandwidth and has great potential in science

education.

For the science student in particular, there are several innovative opportunities

offered by the Internet which have a strong pedagogic value and which the present work

serves to underline. The boom in the use of the Internet as a teaching mode should

hopefully help improve the generally low interest in school science which has

predominated over the past years.

Firstly there is access to a wider range of resources than those available in

traditional libraries, as well as the same resources online in some cases. Obvious

examples include extensive image resources, including satellite images, such as those

held at the National Space Science Data Center (USA) (Ref 49).

Secondly the student has access to front line scientific groups and organisations,

either as active participants in online projects such as or as "lurkers" who simply

observe what is happening. A good example is the Connected Classroom Dynamic

Modelling Project (USA K-16 level)(Ref. 50), which links students to the National

Center for Supercomputing Applications. Further examples include the "ask a

geologist" pages such as those offered by the US Geological Survey (Ref. 51), or the

"ask an expert" pages of the New Jersey Infrastructure in Education (Ref. 52). To a

small and geographically isolated nation like Iceland, the chance to make contact with

such groups and with his or her student peers has great significance.

In some cases the student has instant access to raw data at almost the same time

as scientists, an example being the earthquake data offered by the many seismographic

stations throughout the world, through, for instance, the IRIS Global Seismic Network

(Ref. 53). Many large research institutions, such as NASA and NOAA, have started to

take their educational obligations very seriously indeed with the development of the

Internet sometimes with little co-operation with national education authorities. Yet

others have decided to get involved with the educational world for the first time. The

reasons are not always clear and in some cases it seems to be a matter of having the

educational role thrust upon them. Perhaps it follows on from the news element or

advertising element which seems to pervade Internet. It is difficult to forecast how this

situation will develop, but teachers should be aware of the opportunities available and

should approach industry and the private sector with ideas for online information and

joint projects. A preliminary attempt at this by the present author in Iceland has met

with favorable reaction from most of those organisations contacted.

Thirdly, access to topical scientific information such as that provided by news

providers or e-journals offers an opportunity to understand what science does and

relates it to the real world. Sky and Telescope online (Ref. 54) is an e-journal in the

astronomy field, updated at 15:00 (eastern USA time) every Friday. NASA also

produces detailed news reports online (Ref. 55) and makes a point of putting space

probe images online almost as soon as they are processed. Of course instant access is

not everything and such dramatic events must be backed up with solid theoretical and

properly structured coursework, whether online or otherwise, but neither should the

stimulative value of the news element to the student be underestimated. Access to

realtime information is yet another largely unexplored opportunity in teaching web

pages, as the survey has shown.

Yet another opportunity is that interdisciplanary learning is easier and naturally

encouraged by the Internet environment. In spite of this, Figure 6, which was

constructed from the quality evaluation data shows that only 23% of highschools choose

to provide such links on their web pages. The interdisciplanary connections can be

made within the same web pages or they can be truly cross-curricular and cross-

national in nature. An example might be the student who starts off by following links on

the subject of lunar rocks. This might in turn lead to links concerning crystallography

and crystal chemistry, which operate at a smaller scale. Alternatively, he may be

stimulated into investigating links dealing with the whole problem of space exploration

and even human factors. To deal with the same questions would require several

major textbooks. This 3 - dimensional aspect may turn out to be one of the crucial

issues in Internet learning, for it both opens possibilities and raises new problems. On

the positive side it maintains a high interest level and frees the student from his

tendency to compartmentalise subjects, a pedagogic problem long recognised by

educators. On the other hand, if he is to benefit from this new free environment, then

the student must have strong guidance of some kind. Ideally this should come from the

front line teacher who has the most direct contact with the student and therein lies at

least one good reason for involving the teacher with web page construction. If handled

right, the very idea of hypertext links is a powerful means of encouraging students to

develop clear and logical paths of thought, in a way which has never been as clearly

defined. With each choice of link he is in effect making a decision which determines

what happens next and what the consequences to his knowledge are likely to be.

Teachers should put at least as much effort into developing these student skills as in

finding where the best links are, for they do not come easily at first.

On an even larger scale, cross linking has the potential to provide collaboration

and co-operation across industry and education sectors, both private and public. This

has always been recognised as an important facet of learning, but practical

considerations have often prevented it. Industry in particular, seems to see gains to be

made in such school contact. A clear example of this is provided by the Monterey Bay

Futures Network in California, which is an ISDN network linking schools, institutes

and private business via a regional electronic library (REEL) in "the ultimate

electronic fieldtrip" (Ref. 56). This project was evolved partly as the result of drastic

economic changes in the area following the end of the Cold War and the closure of

military bases.

As the surveys indicate, the highschools have barely started to explore these

possibilities. The universities and non traditional web sites have done better, but on

the other hand little knowledge is yet available about how much students are actually

learning from such innovations. The more the student gets online, the easier many tasks

become. He or she can access almost everything needed from the same terminal. But is

there a sufficient degree of direct personal contact and tutoring? Probably most of the

contact required in a student-teacher relationship can be handled through e-mail, BBS,

forms and computer conferencing. The Open University in the UK has been using such

methods since 1993 and reports that the latter teaching mode is very popular with

students (Ref. 57). My own experience is that highschool students are much more open

and expressive when using e-mail than in class situations.

Like many developments in computing in education, much of what is being done

on the Internet comes from the bottom up at present. This has its advantages and

encourages teachers who have an interest to become directly involved from the very

start. New easy to use web page authoring tools such as Microsoft´s Frontpage are

likely to encourage even more to be come involved. However, if there is to be

development in the most valuable pedagogic areas, which is where there is most room

for improvement and possibly where most is to be gained, then help will have to come

through funding for suitable netware and computer facilities in the highschools.

 

Are highschool subject-based web pages necessary and do they have a clearly defined

role?

The sheer amount of easily accessible information resources and the appearance

of more and more high quality educational science web pages raise the question of

whether there is anything left to do for the teacher on the Web. Does each school really

need subject-based web pages consisting of links to space science and volcanic

hazards´sites, when the big organisations are doing such an excellent job? Anyone

who has been involved with the Internet and education for even a short time has

probably asked themselves whether schools or teachers will even be necessary in the

years ahead. The same kind of questions have doubtless been asked by librarians and

many others who have been occupied in the business of disseminating information-

based knowledge. I believe that the teacher will not only be necessary, but that he or

she will have more time and freedom to concentrate on actually teaching and making

use of his experience and he will have better techniques and skills to help him. But at

the same time because of the enormous amount of often fragmental information, the

teacher will be under even greater pressure to provide perspective and guidance on the

subject of information itself. Designing and using a suitable web page is very much a

part of this.

In general terms educational science web pages must perform several functions.

Just having a web site is an important step, putting the end user in direct contact with

everyone else on the Internet. The pages should act as a buffer between the student and

the information world. They should be his guiding hand through the anarchic Internet

world, distinguishing between what is reliable, what is scholarly and what is

incidental. If necessary they should filter information, while preserving as much

freedom of choice as possible.

In particular the pages must help the student to decide and define clearly what it

is that he needs and wants to know. An essential part of this will be understanding how

information is organised. Not only must the pages teach about the subject, but also about

how to effectively retrieve useful information. A part of this process will be teaching

the student how to develop paths of thought, as mentioned earlier.

The web pages should also put the student in contact with the real world and

with his peers. Finally they should enable the student to combine his local educational

situation with the equally important global environment. This is very relevant in

science which philosophically should have no boundaries. In the final section of this

paper some practical ways in which these ideals can be implemented will be outlined.

How should information resources be organised on the web pages?

As the surveys have indicated, the greatest single function of educational web

pages in science at the present time is to provide links to other www sites and indeed

some sites consist of practically nothing else. However as the surveys also indicate,

there is a general lack of classification and organisation of these links, particularly on

the school web pages. Similarly, description of the links is usually absent. Some of

these shortcomings are summarised in Figure 7. The limitations of the search engines

have already been mentioned. The organisation of links is likely to remain a central

issue in web page authoring in the foreseeable future and deserves special treatment.

If the links provided on school web pages are to be of any real value, then

authors and teacher-users need to be aware of what is being done in general on the

Internet to deal with the increasing flow and diversity of information resources. They

should know what library organisations and universities throughout the world are doing

to catalog world wide web sites and to develop metadatabases which help in

identifying, locating and describing information resources. Finally they should

encourage and work closely with their local library resource, whether it be within the

school or elsewhere, to ensure that the relevant subject resources will be accessed and

that they will be organised and cataloged according to a system which conforms to

good practice and is capable of evolving to meet future changes on the Internet. A brief

discussion of several projects which deal with organisation on the Web illustrates the

more practical advantages to be gained from such an approach.

The CyberStacks project (Ref. 58) at Iowa State University is a prototype

service (as a demonstration), which originally aimed to enhance access and use of

Internet resources in science and technology by cataloging Internet resources according

to the Library of Congress classification scheme, although other methods for identifying

and selecting relevant resources have since been incorporated. The scheme enables the

user to browse a virtual library by broad classification (e.g.Science (Q)), then

narrower subclasses (e.g. Geology (QE)) and finally an actual listing which includes a

description, and even instructions on using the resource (e.g. QL 76.5.U6)). Highschool

web page authors who are intending to include previously unclassified links on their

pages could do worse than emulate this scheme of classification, especially if the

subject range is likely to be large. A copy of the record format used by CyberStacks is

included in apendix 3.

There are many other large virtual libraries organised entirely or partly on

existing library classification schemes. Any of them could be readily included in

highschool web pages, or the URLs of the sections relevant to a particular subject could

be included. The most suitable include the BUBL subject tree (Bath, UK)(Ref. 39)

where resources are classified according to the Universal Decimal Classification

system (UDC). This service is to be further improved in a new Libraries of Networked

Knowledge project (LINK) which will combine a gopher server with the existing web

server. CyberDewey (Ref. 59), provides thousands of links to all branches of science,

classified according to the Dewey system. One advantage of this very comprehensive

site is that most students are already familiar with the Dewey system through their

school library, so that a strong connection is provided between the online world and

their local educational environment, including the school library. Since 1993, there

have been moves towards developing library systems which are more integrated with

the world wide web. As part of the Nordic WAIS/World Wide Web Project (Ref. 60),

an existing library system (the ALIS system of the National Technological Library of

Denmark) was successfully integrated with the WWW . While the online teacher or

student does not need to know how all this is done, these are nevertheless

developments which will affect them directly. The WWW Virtual Library (Ref. 9) is

also very comprehensive and can be accessed by Library of Congress headings, if

required, or alphabetically. There are many other examples. The point is that any one

of these is better than none at all and should be given serious consideration when the

web pages are being set up, whether included as a major information resource centre,

or as a classification system for selected www links which the web author includes on

the school page. Complete lists of Dewey Decimal numbers and subjects can even be

obtained online these days, to facilitate the teacher and librarian in this task (e.g. Ref.

61).

As time goes on the end user can expect such metadatabases to include more

diverse resources and to improve in quality, for much research is being carried out.

The Resource Organisation and Discovery in Subject-based Services (ROADS) project

(Ref. 62) is one of several Access to Network Resources Projects of the Electronic

Libraries Programme at Bath, UK (Ref. 63), which is designing a user-orientated

resource discovery system. The main advantage of the system is that it will be based

on a database containing information not only on such items as the title of the resource

and how to access it, but also description and keywords. Classification numbers, for

example from the UDC scheme will allow a subject tree to be automatically created

and easily browsed. The ROADS system is already being piloted with the Organising

Medical Networked Information project (OMNI) (Ref. 64), a resource which is already

popular with people at several academic levels.

Other schemes for organising web resources abound, which are not necessarily

based on an existing library scheme. Some of them are very large and essential

information sources for highschool students involved in subject-based classwork. An

example is the NASA Master Directory (Ref. 65), which is a searchable online,

multidisciplinary database of science information from around the world. It is really

intended for the NASA research community and others who have common interests.

That includes most earth- and life-scientists today. It contains a very wide range of

subjects of direct interest to highschool students and includes teaching resources.

Detailed descriptions of the data holdings are provided, but they are listed only

alphabetically. Another very useful example in the fields of biology and chemistry is

the Biotech resource (Ref. 66), which has been developed as the result of a joint

project between Indiana University, USA and 3 other American universities. It is

interesting that, although developed by a university, the stated mission of Biotech

includes such aims as "to make BioTech as useful a tool to a high school student as it is

to a postdoctoral fellow" and "to utilize the .........World Wide Web as a means of

bringing information about the broad scope of biology into view of as many people

from as many educational levels as possible". This very impressive site offers

dictionaries, science resources, educational resources and guides, professional

resources, literature resources and much more, all in a very interactive environment.

The teacher web author needs to seek out such comprehensive sites, for they ensure

quality. A suitable and reliable starting point for this might be the Argus Clearinghouse

site (Ref. 35), cited above.

There remains the question of search engines. They are definitly essential, but

certainly overrated and misunderstood by the average student user. They should

certainly be included in any scheme of organisation, but in such a way as to be

supportive to the structured search mechanisms. Possibly Galaxy is one of the better

ones in this respect, since it offers the option of distinguishing between gopher or telnet

search hits at the search start. As such it is a useful learning tool for the student end

user. The Deja News search engine for newsgroups should also be considered since so

much basic information caan be obtained from merely following the discussions that

take place in the scientific news groups. However, generally speaking, participation by

highschool students is not to be encouraged.

 

What are the essential features necessary for the success of a highschool science web

site?

Based on the observations which have been made of both shortcomings and

outstanding features in existing web pages, several conclusions can be reached as

regards the essential features which should be aimed at.

* There must be some clear statement of what the pages are trying to do as well as how

they should be used. Each of the main functions on the front page should be briefly

described, possibly with examples of its use. Many good web sites offer a "tour",

which in the case of highschool educational pages could be in the form of a hypothetical

problem solving project. There should be guidance lines suggesting where the student

should start, depending on what general task he intends to perform, such as looking for

basic learning material, looking for illustrative material, or seeking contact with his

peers.

 

* The pages must fulfill the basic requirements of the "general quality" index as

outlined in the survey (see Appendix 2). These include good navigation features and a

suitable title. Several essential features for good library homepages have been

summarised by Anne Clyde (Ref. 67) and all of them apply equally well to highschool

pages. The question of heavy graphics and high tech features such as video, sound or

animation, which require high bandwidth and good computer facilities presents a

problem. These features should be avoided as part of basic opening and menu pages

between which the user will move frequently. However, in most science subjects,

which deal with things, they are one of the basic reasons for setting up web pages.

They should, therefore, be included in quantity but their organisation treated carefully,

so that they appear as options which the user can open if his hardware allows.

However, this may put unfair pressure on the student to upgrade and the education

authorities should be expected to react positively.

 

* The main areas or functions of science web pages in the immediate future seem to be

already reasonably well defined. They act as a control station for gathering and

organising both local and global information resources. At the same time they can be

an extremely suitable environment for learning how to build pathways of thought

between the various topics and subject areas with which science deals. At least three

backbone elements of science thinking are facilitated by having a school subject-

orientated web site. These are access and aquisition of data, observation of situations

and events in the real world and contact with peers. These elements are presented

together with other important functions and features of good science web pages in

schematic form in Figure 8. The diagram is not intended to be a model for constructing

web pages, but rather a simplified overview of the main ideas resulting from this work.

Apart from basic course information, teaching notes, practical assignments and

homework are amongst the functions which have appeared in the surveys but these have

only been used to some extent on school web pages. One greatly underused opportunity

is to put on the web pages collections of local resources such as field trip images,

biology sample images, thin sections, or experimental results data. This need not be

accompanied by more text than is required for simple classification purposes. By

housing such material on the web server, rather than on a local area network, the

student has access to it at any time. Another area involving local effort is publishing

on the Web. This is a worthwhile activity for it offers the student an incentive even if

only for vanity, and a chance for peer comparison. However, like all publishing, it

needs control. There should be a viable reason for publishing and it should follow

some code of practice along the lines of the Canadian and Australian examples

mentioned earlier. Also the page maintainers should not ignore the option of removing

outdated or incidental material. The chances and consequences of the published

material being detected in someone else´s search should also be understood by the

student.

The key issues as regards provision of links to other sites have already been

discussed in a general way. A customised collection of subject-based links is very

useful, especially if it is directly related to the student´s curriculum. But there should

be a strong classification scheme and good annotation with all the links. The annotation

should be end user orientated and descriptive. It should take account of his or her level

of study. Brief general comments like "good" or "excellent site" are really of little

value. Some indication of the hardware requirements can also help a student in

choosing between web sites.

In particular, there should always be links to authoritative and comprehensive

links on the subject dealt with by the web pages. These may include the major "virtual

libraries" and subject-specific databases, carefully chosen. A description and

explanation of such professional databases is particularly necessary for the highschool

student and should accompany the link, possibly even as a separate intermediate web

page which he must read before continuing to the link itself. This will be a few

moments well spent. Links to these web sites may best be achieved through the school

library web pages, if they exist and this is possibly the best way to go in the future.

Ideally there should also be a link to the school library itself and also to the school´s

local area network, where further non-browser applications may be started and data

accessed. There are various ways of achieving fairly seamless networking of this kind.

One example has recently been given from Iceland (Ref. 68).

 

* There is a case for grouping links also by function. The high tech sites providing

faetures like video and digitised data in realtime are likely to be activities for which

the student will probably need an entire class period, even with good hardware.

However, within the realtime category it is a relatively simple matter to classify the

various links by subject according to, for instance, the Dewey system, thereby

shortening the initial search time, while providing a sense of continuity with other

material on the pages.

Similarly science education pages should include a news element, a global

element and a contact element. There is no single best way of presenting these themes

but as is the case for the realtime data there are good arguments for presenting these as

special categories, for they are specific functions or ways of thinking and are part of the

essence of the Internet. There should, however, be an attempt at classification within

these groups, so that collections of links can grow in an orderly way..

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Concluding remarks.

The world wide web environment is highly suitable pedagogically for science

learning. The present situation is not one for complacency, however. Highschools

have yet to make full use of practically all the opportunities offered by the Internet. In

this respect they can usefully emulate, allbeit on a smaller scale, the work of the

universities, who generally have well organised framework web pages. It is very

important that web page design address the issue of organising and classifying

information resources, so that students do not run the risk of being satisfied, but

unsuccessful information searchers. Highschool science teachers and students can also

look to many of the non-traditional web sites for stimulating ideas which may give

science teaching the much-needed boost it needs.

 

References

8 Figures.

2 Tables.

appendix 1. Iway 500 form

appendix 2. Quality evaluation form

appendix 3. Record format used by CyberStacks.

Oct.-Nov. 1996

bakk.gif (258 bytes)

Georg R Douglas - Report carried out within the Library and Information Science Programme,
Dept. of  Social Sciences, University of Iceland, 1997