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Web Enhanced Education & E-learning

This page evolves from a presentation I gave to EMU's Diversifying the Curriculum Seminar, Winter 2001. Please check back for updates. [version: 07.10.04 ]

We need every available form of expression and all the new ones we can muster to help us understand who we are and what we are doing here

-Janet Murray

Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge: MIT Press.

© 2001 Paul Leighton. Permission is freely given to link to this page. Paper copies of this information can be distributed at or below cost and must contain both this copyright notice and the URL Please contact me for other uses. 


& Learning

‘E-learning’ is more than on-line classes and distance education. It explores the educational possibilities in using hypertext, which is a link to other related information. Hypermedia (media making use of hypertext) has the potential to be interactive and participatory by invoking the user’s agency to make choices about information. At its best, hypertext

"frees the user to investigate an idea or a series of ideas according to a personal way of thinking and to familiarity with the background information. Hypertext makes learning more enjoyable, and enhances data retention because hypertext is more efficient at meshing the information with the user’s thought process than a linear presentation of ideas can be" (Bonime and Pohlmann 1998: 45).

Why Web-Enhance Classes?

The internet contains more than 2 billion English language pages.

µ Use it as a copyright free coursepack that can be created and changed on the fly. Good starting places include Yahoo the web directories of Google and the Open Directory Project. Unlike search engines, listings in directories have been reviewed by humans for content and design. (The links go to the directories, but if you are reading this in print, make sure to go into the directories themselves, not the search option on the first page of Google or the Open Directory Project).

µ Webpages contain photos, video, music, demonstrations, songs, poetry and speeches, so there’s the potential to use "multiple media in order to engage more aspects of our minds in solving problems" (Cotton and Oliver 1997: 55) (see Ethics Updates for an excellent example)

Web enhanced learning only requires the professor to type the addresses of websites into the syllabus. A webpage helps when there are a number of internet assignments.

A study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that students are independently using the Internet for a variety of educational activities but do not think their schools take full advantage of the Web as a teaching tool

Getting Started

The basic questions is, 'What do you want your students to get out of your class?' But remember - using the web may also change your expectations over the longer run. 
When someone asked a friend of mine what he expected students to get out of his class, he said it took him five weeks to finally respond: 'A deeper sense of their humanity'. Learning outcomes can be specific and more broad. 

Techniques for Web-Enhancing


"We know how to make links" write Cotton and Oliver in their book Understanding Hypermedia 2000, "what is more difficult is making links that make a positive contribution to our understanding and ability to solve problems" (1997: 54).

  • Link to specific article to round out required or recommended reading
  • Link to a topic category in one of the directories mentioned above, and have the students evaluate one of the listed resources - perhaps in a report to the class. 
  • Link to website and have students find an article you mention (to encourage them to explore it) or have them find an article of interest to them within a site and report on it (critical evaluation)
  • Have students do a search of internet to answer a question or set evaluation criteria and determine the best site. Don’t feel that you always need to provide them with the information – sharpen their skills at finding & critiquing websites.

Problem of Derivative Thinking

People approach new media with ‘derivative thinking’ based on the old media of printed journal articles and books (Murray 1997). Marshall McLuhan called it "looking at the future as through a rear-view mirror" (in Cotton and Oliver 1997: 49). Early trains were ‘iron horses’ and cars were ‘horseless carriages’ – expressions based on older understandings that completely missed the new potential and revolutionary import for society. People writing about new media frequently indicate that ideas of ‘electronic books’ and web ‘pages’ are similarly based on rather limited derivative thinking.

Cotton and Oliver note that working in hypermedia "needs to be approached with a degree of humility, a willingness to learn and an openness to experiment. Above all, the opportunity for instant feedback from readers offers by the Web is something anyone writing for this new medium should seize willingly and gratefully as a priceless advantage in learning their craft" (1997: 71).

Recommended: Point. Click. Think? As Students Rely on the Internet for Research, Teachers Try to Warn of the Web's Snares (Washington Post)

See also - very deep and comprehensive collection of resources, even a blog for current material. 

Not surprisingly, MIT gets it and has embarked on a project whose brilliance will slowly dawn on people over the next 5 or 10 years. Full story at Learn for free online (BBC News) | MIT Open Course Ware page

"'I genuinely think there was an 'a-ha' moment when they said our mission was actually to enhance education,' said Anne Margulies, Executive Director of [MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) Project]. 'Why don't we, instead of trying to sell our knowledge over the internet, just give it away.' 

"Over the next 10 years, MIT will move all its existing coursework on to the internet.  There will be no online degrees for sale, however. Instead, it will offer thousands of pages of information, available to anyone around the globe at no cost, as well as hours and hours of streaming video lectures, seminars and experiments. 

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. MIT wants to start nothing short of a global revolution in education. 'Our hope and aspiration is that by setting an example, other universities will also put their valued materials on the internet and thereby make a truly profound and fundamental impact on learning and education worldwide,' said MIT's Professor Dick Yue. 

"MIT staff point out that if this initiative is successful, and other institutions follow, it will put the net back on track towards its original goal of sharing information and knowledge around the world, rather than selling CDs and t-shirts."

Ex-Talking Head Makes PowerPoint Art (Washington 12/29/03)

David Byrne, an accomplished composer, photographer and lead singer of Talking Heads, has evolved - some would say devolved - into an unlikely artistic medium: PowerPoint. Best known for vocals in "Psycho Killer" and "Burning Down the House," Byrne originally intended to spoof the ubiquitous software as a dumbed-down form of expression between communication-addled business executives.

But after spending several hours designing a mock slide show, Byrne became intrigued. He decided to experiment with PowerPoint as an artistic medium - and ponder whether it shapes how we talk and think. In his book and DVD compilation, "Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information," Byrne twists PowerPoint from a marketing tool into a multimedia canvas. The book includes mostly lucid musings on how PowerPoint has ushered in "the end of reason," with pictures of bar charts gone hideously astray, fields of curved arrows that point at nothing, disturbing close-ups of wax hands and eyebrows, and a photo of Dolly the cloned sheep enclosed by punctuation brackets.

Visual artists say Microsoft Corp.'s popular "slideware" - which makes it easy to incorporate animated graphics and other entertainment into presentations - lulls people into accepting pablum over ideas. Foes say PowerPoint's ubiquity perverts everything from elementary school reports to NASA's scientific theses into sales pitches with bullet points and stock art.

One of the Internet's inventors, Vint Cerf, gets laughs from audiences by quipping, "Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."

Cerf, now an MCI executive and chairman of the Internet's key oversight body, doesn't shun PowerPoint completely, but said avoiding it "actually improves communication because people have to listen rather than being distracted by fancy PowerPoint charts."

Edward R. Tufte, a Yale University professor and author of graphic design book "Envisioning Information," is perhaps the most vocal PowerPoint hater. He believes PowerPoint's emphasis on format over content commercializes and trivializes subjects.  (rest...)

Zemsky, Robert, and William F. Massy. Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to e-learning and Why. The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania. (76 page adobe.pdf)


Bonime, Andrew and Ken Pohlmann. 1998. Writing for New Media: The Essential Guide to Writing for Interactive Media, CD-ROMs, and the Web. New York: John Wiley and Son.

Cotton, Bob and Richard Oliver. 1997. Understanding Hypermedia 2000. London: Phaidon.

Murray, Janet. 1997. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge: MIT Press.

McGraw-Hill Online Teaching Guide - E-learning resources (nice collection of links)

Technology Training Curriculum (Maryland Faculty Online) (much of distance learning discussion applicable to web enhanced classes)

Pew Internet & American Life (surveys, reports, etc)

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