Internet Column 5

Creating and Managing Educational Materials using the Web


Andrew Lymer

School of Business

The University of Birmingham

(a.m.lymer@bham.ac.uk)

In the last issue of ACCOUNT I indicated that the next few Internet Columns would discuss the use of the Internet in supporting and delivering educational materials. This is a change of focus to that of the Internet Columns last year where the subjects were attempting to highlight materials for use in teaching within an existing delivery structure. In the next few columns in particular, the focus will be placed on the World Wide Web as a delivery and management tool for educational resources. This column deals with the subject of the creation and management of web-based courseware. It is dedicated to one particular approach to this subject - the W3Lessonware project currently being undertaken in the Department of Computing at the University of Brighton.

W3Lessonware is a UKERNA funded project which aims to construct an authoring tool to facilitate the development of WWW based courseware. The project commenced in June 1995 and is scheduled to be completed in November this year. The project is lead by Phil Siviter and is staffed by three University of Brighton staff and a full-time Research Associate programmer with some technical support.

The concept behind the project was to construct an integrated toolset that would make the creation of web-based material more straightforward whether that material came from other computer based sources, existing documentation or from specifically created materials.

The researchers on the project come from a background of CAL development and are experienced in the use of technology to support teaching environments. They were therefore well aware of the difficulties and time involved in collecting, converting and delivering teaching materials using computers. The web makes it possible to integrate and deliver a variety of types of digital information from text to audio, static graphics to video. It can deliver this material in an (almost) platform independent manner though a user interface that can be made to look virtually identical on a variety of machines. However, despite this flexibility, the process of converting and integrating the variety of necessary resources into a user friendly, pedagogical viable computer-based environment is by no means straightforward. The web is no different to other CAL/CBL environments in this regard. At the time this project commenced producing information that could be delivered via the Web meant using a number of tools that supported the various types of digital information required the outputs of which would need to be integrated later, often manually, to form the final environment.

The W3Lessonware project was therefore conceived in an attempt to address these problems. The scope of the project was set to develop a set of integrated tools to :

  1. create HTML files, graphics, images and maps
  2. to establish browser views so that the development can be amended as it was implemented
  3. to support the management of the resulting range of file types in an efficient way.

This three-part 'scope' was distilled into five objectives for the project :

- the technical specifications of the W3Lessonware structure

- the authoring application

- the technical specifications of the interfaces between the authoring application and external applications (eg. a multimedia database)

- the lessonware templates and exemplars

Project Details

In order to achieve the objectives as established the project is being developed in three stages separated by workshops at which interested participants can provide feedback directly to the team during the development period.

Stage 1 (second half of 1995):

(a) Develop 'Tool Requirements List' using existing course material, create examples of lessonware to describe what facilities the toolset would need in detail.

(b) Refine 'toolset requirements list' into a management tool set specification that could be realistically achieved in time available.

(c) Provide detailed Requirements Specification.

(d) Collect examples of existing web development tools to compare against requirements specification. (Simultaneously with (a) - (c))

(e) Develop lessonware using tools evaluated and make available for first workshop.

(f) Build prototypes of some of tools in set for workshop and make available to people interested - the main ones were an image map editor, an MCQ wizard and a 'predictor' (which describes the length of download time for web files).

(g) The first workshop, held in January 1996, was attended by wide range of experienced people. The primary objective was to assess the tools that already existed in the domain and define where W3Lessonware needed to improve on what was available.

Stage 2 (current stage of the project at time of writing):

(a) Develop detailed Design Specifications.

(b) Build beta versions of other tools not ready in time for workshop 1.

(c) Begin iterative design, implement and test cycle.

(d) Build more example lessonware before second workshop (planned for end of July 1996).

Stage 3 (June - November 1996):

(a) Convert tested and evaluated betas into final products using feedback from workshops.

(b) Develop other tools thought necessary or useful that do not need to be integrated with rest of toolset.

(c) Develop detailed set of lessonware to illustrate the use of the toolset (which will act as user manual as well as example of what can be produced using the toolset).

The project is due for completion in November this year at which time all of the tools in the toolset and the examples of lessonware on how to use the toolset will be freely available to UK academics.

Conclusion

The W3Lessonware project is still under development and the team at Brighton would welcome people interested in the toolset to visit their web site, download the current versions of the tools and samples of courseware they have developed and to make comments on them. The web site also contains more detailed specifications for the various elements of the toolsets if this is of interest - for example the requirements overview for the visual authoring application.

The successful completion of this project will provide a very useful toolset that will make the use of the web as a delivery medium for educational materials much more straight forward and easier to manage at least from the technical perspective.

[1] EPOC - Enabling the Provision of Open Courseware TLTP Newsletter No. 3, Spring 1995.

W3Lessonware URL : http://www.comp.it.brighton.ac.uk/w3lessonware/

Email the Project team at : w3lessonware@brighton.ac.uk


This article appeared in ACCOUNT Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer 1996) p8-10

It is likely that some of the details given in the article will become dated over time.
Please notify the author (a.m.lymer@bham.ac.uk) if you spot any of these changes and he will update the information where appropriate.

This page was created and is maintained by its author - Andrew Lymer: University of Birmingham.

Last amended: November 1996