Instructor in front of class.

"Why would one put educational materials online in the first place?"

It may occur to you to ask this perfectly valid question. There are a variety of reasons:

  • Faculty at many levels can share, reuse or adapt materials to cover a wider array of scientific inquiry in a multidisciplinary fashion (Sumner and Dawe, 2001)
  • There are resources that can't easily be incorporated into classes without using the web (Butler et al., 1996 )
  • Sometimes, online resources are necessary to facilitate faculty's learning goals, such as the use of real data sets or investigative cases in class (Manduca and Mogk, 2003 )
  • Instructors can reinforce or replace lectures with interactive labs where students complete research of their own (Grove, 2002 )
  • Faculty teaching large introductory classes can more easily manage the workload by using automatic grading of web assignments (Shroder et al., 2002 )
  • Students in far flung areas can collaborate with faculty to do real research on a grand scale (Perspectives on Case-based Multimedia Web Projects in Science (more info) )
  • Students can gain access to courses that aren't offered at their school or in their area through web-based distance learning
    (Gore, 2000 )

These and many other benefits can be products of utilizing the powerful tool that the internet has become. Students have access to all the information available on the web, which gives them powerful research opportunities to augment their assignments. The internet also offers additional mediums for students and faculty to communicate with each other. For these reasons, many faculty and institutions are looking at creating their own resources.

It should be noted, however, that there is a lot of misleading, misinterpreted and just plain wrong information out on the web. Faculty and students should have this in mind and should attempt to verify the validity of the sources they use.

As more and more resources are created, educators are more likely to find activities and modules on the internet that others have created which they, with little or no adaptation, can incorporate into their own courses. This can reduce the amount of time necessary for course planning and preparation, which can, in turn, present the opportunity for them to create other modular resources that can then be of use to other educators. As the number of content authors increases, the task at hand becomes easier and the probability of finding appropriate resources already extant on the web continues to rise.

A key aspect in determining if developing an online resource is the thing for you is to consider your goals. Your learning goals will drive not only your decisions about content but whether or not an on-line exercise is the best way to deliver that content. Spending time now to explicitly lay out your goals for the activity you envision will pay off later as you try to create it. For example, if one of your goals is to create a resource that will be used as a part of a distance learning program, you will have to address different issues than if the same resource were being created for use in a classroom setting with network access.

Augmenting a traditional classroom setting with internet access to enable use of web-based learning resources is what we are calling "network" learning (Prothero, 2000 ). It also includes use of the web by students outside of class as another source of information. This obviously contrasts with Distance Learning where instructors and students are separated in space and/or time. While many of the resources available today on the web can be adapted for either use, there are some additional questions raised by Online Distance Learning.