Re: WWW Strengths & Weakness

Kannan Thiruvengadam (kannan%CS.UALBERTA.CA@vm.ucs.UAlberta.CA)
Wed, 7 Jun 1995 11:26:30 -0600

> This is definitely true, and it's a limitation of the Web that's important
> to remember. Nobody wants to read long textbook sections - or even a novel -
> on a computer screen. CBT designers long ago realized that they would
> quickly lose their audience if they forced students to wade through page
> after page of text.
> On the Web this effect seems to be even more pronounced. People tend to be
> looking for quick information nuggets;  they don't usually read for depth.

I didn't read Martin Owen's posting (no time) but I think
I understand what Mr. Wooley is saying (hence the justification
of my response).

People do read for depth.

What HyperMedia (A generalization of the term hypertext - hypertext
is text embedded withtin text) truly stands for is Object
Oriented Information Organization. In describing a
complex system, one should first of all give an overview of
the system. Take the following picture of a computer

                        THE COMPUTER

        -------   ------------------------------ --------
        |     |   |  Central Processing Unit   | |      |
        |Input|-->|                            |->Output|
        |Unit |   |                            | |Unit  |
        ------    -----------------------------  -------
                              |    |
                            | Secondary |
                            | Storage   |

Now what the reader gets on looking at this picture is a
"black-box" knowledge of the system (what each box does
rather than how it does it). Let's say I want to go deeper
into the Central Processing Unit, and I couldn't care less
about the Input and Output units (black-box knowledge will
do for my current purposes). I just click on the middle
box and voila ! comes up the following picture


        |              |  Arithmetic | Memory Unit |
        | Control Unit |   & Logic   |             |
        |              |     Unit    |             |

What I now have is a "white-box" knowledge of the CPU.
This way of hierarchically representing knowledge so the
reader can mix breadth-first and depth-first exploration
according to his own requirements/interests ("requirements "
in the case of a member of the working comuunity who
might want to refer to,say, seventh grade math for solving
a particular problem that came up in his work; "interests"
in the case of a regular student whose exploration is not
end-based but curiosity based).

This type of organization of information is referred to
as object oriented. The ability of hypermedia to hide
information gives it the capability to exhibit "knowledge
abstraction", which is very often required for efficient
working. HUmans use knowledge abstraction a lot (We don't
know how the camera works [well some of us do.. not talking
about them :)] but we still use it don't we ?).

So, the point is that depth on demand is what the WWW supports.
And looking to get an overview of the subject in the first
few minutes of reading is nothing wrong. This is exactly
what I meant when I said "more interactivity between [well
organized] content and the student means more efficiency
in the [ensuing] student-teacher and student-student
interation" in my previous posting.

Proceeding on these lines, one can conclude that placing
loooong (educational) documents on the web is no way to *use* it.
Break the information into smaller units and make them
the leaves of a tree. Each internal node doesn't have
to be a menu (like in gopher). It should be an independent knowledge
unit (which makes sense by itself). Shortness of the units
also means the unit will be over before the reader
loses interest. And since every unit that comes up
does so entirely because of the reader's asking for it,
there is no way he is going to read it with indifference.

So I guess I answered the main question here eh ?
(What the WWW means to the education community)
The 'Sage on the Stage' paradigm is gone folks..
Welcome to the age of student-centered learning !

Kannan Thiruvenagadam