Author(s): Ronald D Owston
Nothing before has captured the imagination and interest of educators simultaneously around the globe more than the World Wide Web.1 The Web is now causing educators, from pre-school to graduate school, to re-think the very nature of teaching, learning, and schooling. Claims have been made that the Web can free teaching and learning from the physical boundaries of classrooms and time restraints of class schedules. Traditional lectures and demonstrations can become Web based multimedia learning experiences for students. Learning resources of the college and university can be augmented by learning resources of the world via the Web. Moreover, the Web can help us re-focus our institutions from teaching to learning, from teacher to student. Although there is, perhaps, some merit to these claims, they are expecting much from a tool developed only several years ago at CERN, Geneva's European Laboratory for High Energy Particle Physics, to share research in the high energy physics community. In this article, I would like to come to terms with the hyperbole surrounding the Web, by offering an analysis of its present contribution to teaching and learning in K-12 and higher education. The framework that I will use for the analysis was suggested by Gordon Davies, Commissioner for Higher Education in Virginia, in an address to Educom's National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (Davies, 1995). He stated that for technology to address the "big problems" of higher education it must respond to three questions: Does it make learning more accessible? Does it promote improved learning? Does it accomplish the above while containing, if not reducing, the per unit costs of education? These are tough questions--and they apply to K-12 as much as to higher education. School and higher education administrators, governments, and the public are demanding answers to these kinds of questions. Some will say that the use of the Web is inevitable, so there is no need to justify it. I believe, however, that if the Web is to be worthy of our time and investment, it must meet the challenge that these questions bring. Wherever possible, I will support my analysis with examples of what individuals and institutions are actually doing with the Web.