This summer, David Gowler asked me to create interactive Internet syllabi for two of his courses (the finished products, "Introduction to the New Testament" and "Elementary Greek," may be found at http://www.chowan.edu/acadp/webcourse.htm). It was, at first glance, a daunting task for someone who had no prior knowledge of "Web-authoring," HTML, or any other related information. When I sat down at the computer, it was just me, a blank computer screen, and my trusty "Using FrontPage97" manual. The manual led this novice through the steps like Gene Kelly. For example, the "Form Page Wizard" and "Discussion Web Wizard" were direct and easy to use as I set up the interactive study guides and class discussion forums.
Unique Features of the Syllabi Made Possible with FrontPage
These two syllabi contain the standard fare: class information, course philosophy, and so forth. The online discussion is also not unusual today, but FrontPage allows the user to set up a discussion with the "Discussion Web Wizard" that leads you through the process and prompts you to select the features you want (there is even an optional "search" feature). The use of appropriate backgrounds on each page for additional educational benefits is not the norm, but these backgrounds stimulate questions and investigations from students (the Acropolis, for example, seemed an appropriate background for the "Philosophy of the Course" page). The study guides are the most significant innovation on the syllabi. David wanted them as interactive as possible in order to extend the class discussions well beyond the classroom walls. I was able to use the "Forms Page Wizard" to transform his study guides into online forms which students could submit either individually or in groups.
Although these pages are comprised mostly of features common to Internet syllabi, I should stress how easy FrontPage made the process of creating them. FrontPage Explorer keeps track of your pages, their size, date modified, and who modified them. It also has an indispensable feature, "verify hyperlinks," that checks your hyperlinks and allows you to fix quickly any that are broken.
FrontPage Editor is a word processor with a wonderful "tables" feature (tables tend to give pages a "crisper" look). Tables are a necessity, because in the "normal" format Editor only allows single spacing, and borderless tables are the default (which I prefer). Editor is also used to put in backgrounds, either colors or images. The advantage of FrontPage is that colors and background images stay in the background and do not interfere with printing. Image Composer allows you to work with images either in Editor or in the more detailed and nuanced tools in Composer itself (FrontPage imports GIF, JPG, and animated GIF files). E-mail protocol is established simply by pressing the space bar after typing an e-mail address, and hyperlinks are easily established and edited. On the Greek syllabus, I created a "Greek Alphabet" page that incorporates an easily-downloaded drawing applet. When this page is viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer, there are two scrolling marqueeseasily added from the toolbarthat contain the Greek alphabet (the alphabets don't scroll in Netscape).
The manual did not answer every single one of my questions, but the Technical Support staff at Microsoftincluding one of the manual's co-authorsalways provided timely and helpful information to answer my questions.
David Gowler will now elaborate some of the instructional uses and benefits of the interactive Internet syllabi.
Background and Context
Over the past two years Chowan College has put in place an exceptional computer network infrastructure, because we are convinced that we can often teach more effectively by using information technology. As a liberal arts institution, we also recognize that information technology should not replace quality interaction between students and teachers; it should enhance those relationships and increase communication. Our goals for student learning remain the driving force behind any technological innovations.
The philosophy behind and ideas for these interactive syllabi took several years to develop. With specific course goals in mind, I began to experiment with various methodse-mail, e-mail discussion groups, Internet assignments, and so forth. Other active learning methods, such as weekly study guides with small group discussions, initially seemed not to be easily adaptable to the Web.
Since Carol was a former student of mine, she quickly understood the educational goals behind these innovations and then utilized FrontPage to extend these innovations in very creative ways. The syllabi she created have already been used as examples in sessions at faculty workshops on campus and at formal presentations to others outside of our college community. In addition, classes at other universities are already using portions of these syllabi.
Instructional Uses and Benefits
In order to sketch briefly the instructional uses and benefits of these interactive syllabi, I will focus on the New Testament (NT) Introduction syllabus and will modify some ideas and categories found in Tom Creed's article, "Expanding the Classroom Walls Electronically". Creed notes that there are three primary ways to use information technology in the classroom: as repositories of information, for private discourse, and in a public forum. A fourth category, I believe, should bridge the gap between private discourse and public forum: semi-private discourse.
Repositories of Information
The content advantages of the Internet should come as no surprise, but the NT interactive syllabus incorporates important sites in a "Chapter Links" page, which categorizes them according to the appropriate textbook chapter, and others are listed on a "Religion Links of Interest" page. Even the background pictures on the pages provide excellent opportunities to discuss ancient art, architecture, culture, music, and so forth. These discussions help reinforce the class's interdisciplinary perspective and focus.
In some cases, I incorporate "Chapter Link" sites in my lectures. When we talked about textual criticism and ancient writing methods and materials, for instance, we met in a computer lab, and my students and I worked together through the site on this subject. This approach was a definite improvement over previous methods that I had used.
Connections can be easily made through these means. My lectures and our discussions about the life, history, and religion of the Essenes are augmented by the excellent site on Qumran run by the Library of Congress, which I then reinforce by having students read selected primary texts by working through an online, interactive study guide ("The Use of the Hebrew Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls").
The NT syllabus extends the classroom walls, as well as my office hours, by providing an easily-accessible means of interaction (see "Unfettered Access" below). Students just click on my e-mail address on the syllabus, and they know they can reach me within a brief period of time. For many students, e-mail is the best way to "break the ice"; others prefer to think about their questions before addressing them to me; and others sometimes don't hit the books (and have questions or comments) until the early hours of the morningduring which times I would prefer not to receive phone calls! So the use of the Internet syllabus provides increased accessibility to me and also provokes more thoughtful student/professor interactions.
One of the major advantages of information technology is that many pedagogical issues can be effectively addressed: different learning styles, a more personalized learning environment, allowing students to learn at varying paces, enhancing experiential and active learning, expanding course content (see "Repositories of Information" above), accelerating the acquisition of knowledge, providing either more depth or breadth of learning, and illuminating difficult concepts more clearly. The key is to be flexible and to be able to adapt one's use of information technology to students' needs, abilities, and stages of learning.
Semi-private discourse is one way to connect the private discourse a professor has with individual students (and students have individually with each other) with the public discourse of the students and professor as a group.
The study guides on the NT syllabus are flexible enough to be used several ways, for example, depending on the educational goals involved. I sometimes ask students to work through an on-line study guide individually before class and to submit responses to the questions (spaces are provided). The "due date" is usually two hours before the class meets to discuss the study guide, which provides a unique classroom assessment device. The answers are collated and stored automatically at a private Web site, and shortly before class begins, I can access and read the students' responses to the study guide. I therefore know, before class, what the students understood and what they didn't, what was clear and what was unclear, and I can structure our class discussion accordingly. Even the time stamped on each student's submission gives me valuable information: Did they complete the study guide two minutes before the deadline, at 3:00 a.m. the night before, or two days earlier? Students also can rarely use a variation of the "a dog ate my homework" excuse, and even this absent-minded professor cannot (temporarily) misplace any student papers. They are already archived and easily retrievable (cf. Creed).
Usually, however, students work together in small groups to complete the study guides during class periods. We meet together in a computer lab every Wednesday afternoon. In these sessions, students most often work in groups of threes around a computer, and I am able to circulate in order to stimulate deeper reflection and discussion on the material. What I "lose" in class content is more than made up for by the increase in the depth of students' understanding and by the gain in critical thinking and other skills. Once again, after class I am able to access all group submissions and can assess, before the next class meeting, how best to continue our discussions.
The interactive study guides are just one way in which the syllabus has helped to enhance the cooperative learning/group work and class discussions I had already incorporated into the course. The electronic conferencing evidenced in the "Class Discussions" page is the most public of these forums. In many ways, the conversations begun and continued in the public forum extend the classroom walls, level the playing field, and allow students to learn more from each other and to interact more with each other.
As Creed notes in his article, electronic communication is not restricted to a specific time and place. It is "asynchronous"not occurring at the same timeand "asyntopic"not occurring in the same place. The construction of various parts of the syllabus allows me to keep in close contact with my class even when I am out of town at conferences. During a recent trip to Austria, for example, I was able to access my e-mail from the class, enter into the class discussion, and read the answers to assigned study guides in order to evaluate how much work (or how little work) each student was accomplishing during my absence.
Interactive syllabi require a significant investment on the part of professors and students, but we believe they are well worth the time and effort. If used effectively, they can create an environment which improves student learning and promotes increased interaction both among students and with the professor, as well as with course material.
We cannot stress enough, however, that the learning goals for each course must be given top priority. Internet syllabi should be completely integrated into a course's pedagogy and not be simply cosmetic "bells and whistles." In addition, in order to take full advantage of the Internet and other technologies, they should not be "carbon copies" of hard-copy syllabi. They can be truly interactive works of art, and FrontPage97 is a flexible, user-friendly program which gives us the tools to create these interactive syllabi.
Creed, T. (November 8, 1996). Extending the classroom walls electronically. [Online]. Available.
Randall, N., & Jones, D. (1997). Special edition using Microsoft FrontPage97. Que Corporation.card gamesbest pc gamestime management gamesmahjongpc gamespuzzle gamesdownloadable games