< I.T. Times - Spring 1994 Teaching with the Internet
I.T. Times
Volume 2. No 3 Information Technology News of the University of California, Davis Spring 1994

Teaching with the Internet: What There Is and What There Might Be

by Kevin Roddy, Medieval Studies

There are three categories of information on the Internet that are useful in teaching:

I have explored all three categories in my Humanities 40 course, recognizing that each offers its own advantage and complementary disadvantage.

Regarding the first category, directly accessing a source can permit infinite treatment and manipulation, as, for example, discovering all the uses of "white" in Moby Dick. However, this capability cannot substitute for reading a book, listening to a symphony, or attending an art show.

Similarly, though the network has made scholarship on a subject more immediate and more widely available, the computer-screen is ill-suited to conveying broadly structured, tightly logical argumentation. The common practice of downloading and printing these articles simply means that the cost of publication has been shifted from the publisher to the university.

And finally, the Internet conveys, on a large scale, the interactive and fluid nature of all academic work, but it also produces chaos that is often at best only a waste of time.

On the basis of this experience, I feel I can make a few predictions about the future of the Internet in instruction. I believe that we will be able to enhance the Internet's advantages and (maybe less so) avoid its dangers. I also believe that the revolution will be slower and less traumatic than many fear.

Even so, the Internet will continue to change the way we receive and convey information. Faculty will rightly continue to insist that there is no substitute for experiencing a work as it was meant to be experienced, but in general we will benefit from a more convenient access to data bases, especially those in the fields where information quickly becomes obsolete.

For reasons having more to do with the cost of postage than with speed, more and more full-text scholarship will appear online. With the explosion of this sort of information, we can hope for finding and using filtering tools such as are becoming common in medicine to help us sort the relevant from the irrelevant.

And last, regarding the vulnerability of the network to unconscious or conscious abuse, this condition will unfortunately remain. However, it can be lessened by simple precautions made available to the user and largely the user's responsibility.

On this last point, the notion of some Internet police officer protecting us from potential harm is not in the best interest of higher education. It is a principle of great tradition at the university that the weaknesses as well as the strengths of intellectual discourse constitute educational experiences in themselves.