Saturday, April 6, 2013

Everything You Wanted to Know About the World Wide Web As A Teaching And Learning Tool (1999)

Katie King with David Silver

Earlier versions of this paper were originally introduced as presentations for
the Mini-Center for Teaching Interdisciplinary Studies, May 10, 1999 and for
Academic Information Technology Services (now Office of Information
Technology), June 10, 1999

Introduction: Aspects Of The Web

  1. "teaching with technology": using the Web in teaching,
     teaching how to use the Web;
  2. research on the web: teaching how to research on Web, doing
     one's own research;
  3. cyberculture: teach how to use Web as a site for critical
     analysis of contemporary culture, analyzing the social
     forces constructing the Web oneself.

The Web as a Teaching and Learning Tool has three aspects: 1) the "teaching
with technology" part: that is, using the Web in one's own teaching, and also
teaching students to use the Web in one's classes; 2) the research part:
teaching students to use the Web as a research tool specifically, and using it
oneself for one's own research; 3) the cultural part: teaching students about
how the Web is part of contemporary culture and to use the Web as a site for
critical analysis, and to be critical oneself about this moment in history and
how the Web is an element of social forces as varied as the complexities of
globalization on the one hand, and world wide struggles for social justice on
the other.

I do research and teaching in a field I call "Feminism and Writing
Technologies." My department is Women's Studies. The Web is one of the sites
of my teaching and research and one of the tools I use in my research and
teaching. I'm concerned with the Web as a writing technology, defined
historically by the struggles for power it embodies, and I pay special
attention to struggles for social justice.

I teach one course that specifically focuses on the Web. It's called Women in
the Web: Ways of Writing in Historical Perspective. It's a course that looks
at issues of women and technology very broadly. But other courses I teach also
incorporate Web materials: Lesbian Communities, for example, uses Web
materials because international human rights movements now publish globally on
the Web; Nationalities, Sexualities and Global TV, among other things, studies
the media communities that create themselves in chat rooms, listservs and
commercial and fan Web sites; and Women, Art and Culture, an intro to women's
studies, is enriched by the new arts and artist sites on the Web, especially
those of Native American artists, or other artists engaged in social activism.

Now frankly, my ideas for ways to use the Web in classes far outstrip my
actual uses. I have gone through fits and spurts of ideas and implementation
of those ideas, and the amount of work and especially time involved are two of
the great limiting factors, but so are other factors such as access to
equipment and software (my own and my students'), resistance on the part of
students, colleagues and frankly at times myself, and a concern not to just
jump for new bells and whistles (fun as I think they are, truly!) but to be
sensible about what I get for the amount of time and work involved for both
myself, but also for my students. How useful are these new technologies
anyway, and aren't older technologies often just as good, or even better for
particular purposes or particular students or particular moments in my time?

Getting Started On The Web

   1. read, reread and re-reread all documentation. Like poetry,
      return to it after trying it out in the world;
   2. at first keep a little notebook beside the computer for
      notes and inspirations;
   3. give yourself 3-4 days to explore the Web full time and to
      see trial and error learning in action.

 I go through fits and starts using the Web. My first breakthrough was during
 my sabbatical, using the Web for my own research. To get going I needed
 several kinds of resources:

    * chunks of time I didn't have during the school year when everything was
      scheduled. Even more, I needed especially the mental space to get
      excited about something new, rather than feel overburdened by
      increasing demands -- to really have fun with the Web!
    * equipment and software, and getting that part together also took time:
      getting it, installing it and learning to use it, none of these
      elements was straightforward or easy; some of it cost money, although I
      also took advantage of all university resources I could, but during my
      sabbatical I was not at my own institution which made things more
    * education: including classes (I took ones at the university library to
      begin with), books (I bought stuff that looked good in the local
      bookstore), and friends and support people (all computer learning
      requires a great deal of oral transmission of information, official and

 In my view, the most important element of learning stuff using new
 technologies is to value trial and error learning. I think we tend to
 associate trial and error learning with stages of learning we think we are
 somehow beyond. But trial and error learning is not about the acquisition of
 unsophisticated knowledge, although it does foreground elements of learning
 such as play, risk-taking, learning primarily by mistake, loss of control,
 and oral transmission of information. For some scholars these are familiar
 and even preferred forms of learning and knowledge-making, but frankly, for
 most, they are not. So for many of us, teachers, students and researchers,
 we are going to be learning in our non-preferred learning styles. And one
 consequence may be that we expand our repertoire of ways of learning. But
 support and coaching and time to make things fun are absolutely essential
 given the trial and error learning which is required. And trial and error
 learning, like games, does turn out to be FUN!

 Some concrete tips then: For yourselves or to share with students:

   1. read, and reread and re-reread all documentation. Being a literary
      sort, I think you have to read documentation like poetry: that is, you
      read it the first time for what you initially get out of it, then think
      about it, connect it to your life a bit, then reread it with those new
      insights guiding what seems important the second time around, look for
      new patterns of meaning, then again go off and really work to see that
      stuff in the world, or in this case, you play on the computer or the
      Web trying out what you think you understood, then re-reread, this time
      going: oh, yes! I recognize that I did that! Or that's what I should
      have done then! Or how do you do that thing I was trying to do.... and
      so on.

   2. keep a little notebook by the computer at first, to write down how you
      got to some great Web site, or what little software thing you needed to
      do something, or what phone number to call for support services, or
      what problem you had you need to ask someone for help about, or notes
      on great thoughts you had in the middle of some Web search. AND
      ESPECIALLY NOTE MISTAKES YOU MADE! They are among your best resources
      for learning. Let this little notebook be a kind of coach, and even
      write down encouraging words to read when you feel frustrated and want
      to break the computer.

   3. If at all possible, give yourself a block of time, something fairly
      substantial, say three or four days, in which each day all you do is
      work on the Web. You will make the best use of the learning curve this
      way: you will learn more each day, and the improvement will be
      dramatic. This will give you a big psychological boost and the concrete
      value of trial and error learning will be very visible this way.

Fantasizing How To Use The Web And The Intervention Of Reality: What To Do
When Reality Strikes!

   1. have a backup plan and create redundant formats for
   2. recognize that you may learn how to do something in order
      to discover that it's not for you;
   3. notice that knowing how something is done is useful for
      encouraging others, and for evaluation and collaboration;
   4. don't assume that using the Web is an all or nothing
   5. be sure to have as much fun as possible and to communicate
      how much fun it is;
   6. notice that doing something rather minimal may work very
      well and be enlivening.

You may be wondering why I'm not up here showing you Web sites, using computer
generated overheads, or better yet Power Point to make this presentation to
you. No question that doing any or all of these would make this a much nicer
presentation, easier to listen to, able to engage a greater number of learning
styles. It would be visually more interesting, and allow for more conceptual
absorption. So these are some of the great reasons to use the Web and other
new technologies in classes and in all presentations. They are really great
and truly make a difference!

BUT REALITY INTERVENES! And that is what I will be an example of over and over
here. In a way that is I think, hopeful but also realistic. I didn't do these
things because I didn't have the resources at home in my increasing outdated
home computer system. This summer I'm working at home on my next book, and
frankly I only had a certain amount of time to prepare to speak with you. So
speaking is largely it! But let me make an example of this situation, not just
justify it. All presentations using new technologies have to have several
redundant formats. In other words, you need to be able to do what you need to
do in each case if the technology fails or is unavailable. Because at some
point it will fail or be unavailable. And having alternate formats makes it
possible to be calm in the face of error: this is the Zen of trial and error
learning. When I first began using a word processor on a mainframe computer in
the late 70s early 80s, the computer system would crash every few minutes!
Literally every few minutes! You had to save sentence by sentence, or you
would lose everything, and you had to sit in front of a blank screen for a few
minutes at least every hour or so. At first I could hardly bear this, but over
time I got into the Zen of it: I made notes during the down times, I learned
to save unconsciously and automatically, I waited in lines for computers in
labs, and read and wrote drafts while waiting. And when other folks were
trashing their computers in rage, I got into intervening and teaching them how
to use the system, and how to think about what was happening and how to take
advantage of the situation. So I hope to do something like that today, without
the computer rage part.

Let me give another example of what I'm calling the intervention of reality: I
learned Power Point here a few summers ago, and I just loved it! It was so
much fun! The class was wonderful, the software was exciting, and I could
easily imagine all kinds of uses for it. BUT I have never again used it. I
tried to get the software for my workstation in my department, and at that
particular time my department didn't want to buy it. I thought of buying it
myself, and played with presentation possibilities but the research venues I
thought of using it in for presentations required a lot of lead time for
getting the technology and I'm not a long lead time person. The faculty
mentor, David Sicilia, who showed us how he uses Power Point on our campus,
was wonderful, and I am convinced by him that when you've got all the
equipment together it's as straightforward as any other way of preparing a
lecture, but after a while I realized that I don't really do lecturing
particularly in my classes. He does big lecture courses, but I really don't.
In other words, Power Point was fabulous....for someone else. At least right
then, even maybe right now. But learning Power Point was not a waste of time.
In fact, I'm sure I will be using Power Point sometime in the near future,
that future just hasn't come yet. I'll be using it when it becomes just a
little bit easier for me to consolidate the resources it requires. And until
then it matters to know what Power Point can do. For example, having taken the
class in Power Point made it possible for me to encourage one of my graduate
students using it for his presentations, and even for oral exams; made it
possible for me to evaluate the work of other students and scholars using
Power Point in research venues, and made it simple for me to collaborate
easily with another presenter in one presentation in which he had set up a
Power Point show for our joint work.

My big insight was that learning the new technologies for teaching and
research is not an all or nothing thing. Although I have to say, I have to
relearn this one over and over again. I admit that when I see the big projects
of some of my colleagues I'm more than a little bit envious, and I am tempted
to use their great work as another way of feeling inadequate in my own work
and teaching, and to feel burdened that oh, my god! now on top of everything I
already do, I've got to do this too! And my students often feel the same way,
and this gives me empathy for their concerns.

After I took this course a couple of summers ago, I was very fired up and got
going on a new course in which I did the most with the Web that I have so far.
And it was incredibly fun! I put up class Web sites, taught my students how to
make Web pages, included their Web pages with my own class pages, began a
research Web site, found lots of resources on the Web, and so on. I was able
to include teaching with technology, doing research myself and teaching my
students to do research on the Web, and to engage them in the kind of research
on the cultural elements of the Web that I wanted to work on. I was using the
Web everyday, was working on my own Web pages nearly everyday, was trying to
recruit the colleagues in my department, was trying to get my department to
get various resources to do a department Web page, and to think about our
curriculum and teaching in relation to Web materials. As the master teacher
for our graduate teaching assistants, I was teaching them how to use the Web,
was giving presentations about using the Web: in other words, I was all fired
up, devoted an amazing amount of time to Web stuff and was very excited and
pleased. All of it was really fun!

No one around me was quite so excited and pleased, except for a few students
who were fabulous and made me feel great about these projects. My colleagues
were vaguely interested, but only if it was no additional work or time, which
of course was impossible. The graduate students were willing, but our
department didn't have equipment for them to use. Then I got sick, and for a
year I had to put everything that wasn't just the absolute minimum work on
hold. Graduate students I had cultivated for their interest in Web work
drifted off to work with other folks who were continuing these concerns, I
couldn't keep up my Web sites, or keep up with teaching how to make Web pages
in all my classes as I had begun to do before. The only thing I did continue
during that period was during my lunch hour I did Web searches for sites I was
interested in, and printed out pages and URLs for each of my classes of
relevant materials. I rarely had time to do other than mention them in classes
and pass around printouts. I was embarrassed about how outdated my Web pages
were, and I still am and they still are. Go look at them and you will see. I
even forgot my webspinner password and for a long time was too embarrassed to
try and find out how to access webspinner again.

But I learned that even this minimal handing around Web sites was enlivening
for my classes. Students referred to it in their evaluations of the course,
and mentioned using Web materials in some of their class projects, even though
I didn't teach them about using them. More students were getting this kind of
teaching in other courses too, so I wasn't the only source of information for
them anyway. And my outdated Web research site was mentioned in a scholarly
resource analysis of my field, accurately calling it outdated, but encouraging
in its analysis of my intentions and the possibilities of sites like mine.

Including Web Materials In Stages, With Concerns For Different Populations, Of
Students, And With Care For Oneself

   1. be ready to begin all over again if necessary, remember
      it's like poetry!
   2. you may create an entire class for Web work from the
      ground up, or you may include a bit more each time you
      teach the class again;
   3. challenging students' assumptions may include both
      questioning and justifying learning new technologies,
      addressing social concerns for those who haven't thought
      about them and those who are paralyzed by them, and
      require lots of coaching, handholding, encouraging
      risk-taking, and rewarding mistakes;
   4. reward your own violated assumptions about learning,
      teaching and researching;
   5. be willing for everything to take more time than you
      thought, and rather than pay the price by working harder
      and harder, do things in stages, over a longer time frame;
   6. reward your own mistakes and share with others what was
      hard, but also talk about what was fun, modeling how to
      learn something new.

This last semester I began all over again, but this time I had to do so in a
much more scaled back version than I had begun with. It's been very
frustrating to not be doing as much as I was before, and I've had to think
about using Web resources in classes as a stage process instead. That is,
thinking about how to include a bit more each time I teach the class again,
rather than create it all from the ground up. In several classes I thought I
was going to do more than I actually got going, and had promised more than I
could actually deliver. This was embarrassing and disappointing, but not at
all a disaster. Sometimes it actually worked out to some advantage for some
students. It was not as good for the gung-ho students who were the ones who
enjoyed the Web materials the most in that first class I did, but frankly lots
of those students have gotten that in other classes now. It worked better for
the students who had more difficulty, phasing things in at a pace they could
match easily, even letting them ask for more before it was offered, so that
they felt like they were on top of the curve. Still, I was embarrassed when a
student said, "I thought we were going to learn more about using the computer
than we did." I had thought so too, but I just couldn't pull it all off last

Recently I gave a presentation on teaching with Web materials with an American
Studies graduate student, David Silver, who is now very experienced. We
discovered that we had very different student constituencies, and that this
mattered in our approaches to using Web materials. I teach in a women's
studies program, my students are not exclusively but largely women and to some
extent are a fairly multicultural population as well. Many of these students
are reluctant to use computer resources. They are commuters, they often have
less access to such equipment and software, or have little time given that
they have to work and / or have demanding family responsibilities. On top of
that, many women have had experiences of being pushed away from computer
materials and resources, have not been the market that such technology has
been manufactured for, have been socialized to avoid the kind of risk-taking
that the trial and error learning requires, and have learned a kind of
math-type anxiety in dealing with what they think of as technology. (I find it
amazing that my students don't consider sewing machines, for example, as
technology. One student said: "its only technology if its new and male!" For
her the Web was still new and male, although I think I got her to question
that too.) And beyond even that, my students are very concerned about what
they feel are social issues related to technology. Some may consider
technology, as I just said, "male," but most are concerned that not everyone
has access to new technologies and that this creates new forms of inequality.
They do not wish to spend large amounts of income on new commodities that
become outdated very quickly, and they feel that these concerns are
justifiably "feminist." Many think that feminists should, in a principled way,
boycott, reject or resist new technologies. For some this may also justify
resistances that are unconsciously psychological, that have to do with the
socialization of women. This is very much in contrast with the groups David
finds himself teaching: there many are drawn from technical fields, such as
engineering, most of the students are white men, and most are uncritically
pro-technology, progress and commerce. David's challenge is to introduce some
questioning, some doubts, some critical reflection on computers, the Web, the
social forces they are part of, and to focus some of the technical knowledge
and energy of the students on large cultural questions. He doesn't have to do
as much hand-holding or encouraging when it comes to teaching skills as I do.
He doesn't have to justify why we are using or studying new technologies at
all. Each of us feels like we are having to challenge the assumptions of our
students, and when we compared them, it seemed to be in diametrically opposite

While David and I probably have somewhat exaggeratedly divergent populations
of students, comprising the two polar extremes, still a cross-section of
students is going to include both of these kinds of populations and teaching
with and about technology will more and more require teaching strategies that
do both questioning and justifying learning new technologies, addressing
social concerns for those who haven't thought about them at all and those who
are sometimes virtually paralyzed by them, and that include a lot of coaching
and handholding as well as encouraging risk-taking and rewarding mistakes.

What one does for students, one must do for oneself as well: reward your own
violated assumptions about learning, teaching and researching, in order to
value the processes you are going through in including these materials. Notice
what actually happens rather than what you hoped would happen, and value that
too. Be willing for everything to take more time than you thought, and rather
than make yourself pay the price by working harder and harder, do things in
stages, over a longer time frame, and notice what you can learn about the
process by stretching it all out. Reward your own mistakes, and share with
others what was hard, but also talk about what was fun. Students will also
appreciate that you are modeling learning something new in front of them,
showing them by example how to learn something. My own favorite teachers were
always the ones willing to model learning and I am inspired by their example.

Some Teaching Activities

   1. one class Web pages;
   2. computer experiences reflection paper;
   3. cyberculture summit;
   4. students gather links and resources and evaluate for class
   5. students create class Web page.

For me one of the things that is the most fun is teaching students to make web
pages. This last semester in both my classes I did a single two and a half
hour html class. I gave them a handout, which I tried to make as
self-explanatory as possible, and tried to include all the information I could
about connecting so they could replicate what they had done when I wasn't
around and without notes from orally transmitted information. (This is much
harder to do than it sounds! I'm still not sure exactly how successful I am on
this.) With Ellen Borkowski's help we set up computer accounts for each
student in a class account, and made reservations for a computer lab. We all
arrived together, and when the students used the handout individually I went
around and consulted with them one on one. I encouraged them to help each
other, to sit in pairs and figure the handout out with another person and to
ask questions of each other. The most exciting moment, for them and for me, is
when they first use the web browser to see their Web page! Even the most
skeptical, jaded or resistant person finds it amazing to realize that this
screen is now on the Web. I designed the handout so that they are able to
finish it in less time than we have scheduled for the lab, and I encourage
them to use that time to find out more on the web itself about how to make Web
pages, looking for background color charts, for clip art, for other Web
tutorials. I hand out information from the computer center on peer courses, on
lab locations and hours, and other support services. I try to give them
resources to be as autonomous in their learning of the Web as possible, so
that they are in control of the pace and kind of learning. Some of the
students just take off like rockets from this point, and by the end of the
semester are virtually web masters! Others don't even go back to their Web
page again. In neither class have I made making a web page an actual graded
assignment. But they all, those off like rockets, and those who stop there,
say that this was one of the most important classes of the semester, although
it is important to different students for different reasons. Some think of it
purely instrumentally: they learned a new skill that they hope to cash in on.
Some use it as a way of understanding what work goes into making a Web page,
so that they can evaluate Web pages differently in the future as they use
them. Others think of their Web pages as ways of communicating with the world,
and feel published, and work to connect with others on the Web. Still others
think about the forms of activism the Web makes possible, and engage with such
activism. Some start off gung-ho and encounter difficulties and limits of
time, money and equipment, and notice and talk about those. Personally, I
consider all of these consequences to be valuable, and although I understand
teachers who, including such materials, also require products for grades, I've
found for my own resistant population, that leaving that all up in the air,
makes the learning less stressful and more fun, and this is what I'm
emphasizing myself.

Even before learning the Web pages, in the Women in the Web course I had
students write a short paper, "Reflections on computer experiences." I
explained, "Say what you know how to do, what you've had troubles with and
why, what's fun, what isn't fun, what you refuse to do and why, what you love
and why, what equipment you have access to, and what you wish you could do." I
thought of this as a mini-survey, gathering information on the students I
would use to plan activities and discussions. I was unprepared for how much
they took this assignment to heart, what personal stories they told, and the
sophistication of their reflections on these experiences, needs and interests.
All of the papers were emotionally moving, and I asked students if they would
consent to our collecting the papers in a folder, so that others in the class
could read them. They did consent. I would do this exercise again, and would
like to think more about how to follow up this paper with activities that
build on it.

When I did the presentation with David Silver he had a class activity that I
haven't tried out yet but am excited to. He analyzed his class in terms of
disciplines and mind sets, and made a list of the groups he saw in the class,
from engineers and business majors, to a final category he called and students
self-described as "freaks." He had them put themselves into these groups and
each group met to come up with what they thought were the most important
issues relating to cyberculture and contemporary social concerns. Each group
then gave a mini-presentation to the class about what these issues were and
why they were important to their group and to the class as a whole. David
calls this activity the "Cyber Summit."

Finally I also want to suggest that class activities can be resources for
redesigning the course in subsequent semesters. Students can gather links and
evaluate Web sites for that term and for future versions of the course. They
can create a class Web page, that subsequent course versions can use and
elaborate. These are also ways of working in Web materials in stages, over
time, with less intensive labor on the teacher's part.

Some Readings

  1. Elizabeth Castro. 1997. HTML for the World Wide Web. Peachpit. (find
     latest edition.)
  2. Tim Evans. 1996. Ten minute Guide to HTML. Que. (find latest edition.)
  3. Rye Senjen. 1996. The Internet for Women. Spinifex.
  4. Lynn Cherny, ed. 1996. Wired_Women: Gender & New Realities in Cyberspace.
  5. Melanie Stewart Millar. 1998. Cracking the Gender Code. Second Story.
  6. Richard J. Barnet. 1994. Global Dreams. Touchstone.
  7. Ziauddin Sarddar, ed. 1996. Cyberfutures: Culture and Politics. NYU.
  8. Steven G. Jones, ed. 1997. Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication.

Some URLs

   * Gender & Race in Media: Cyberspace
   * Women'Space (both web site and paper magazine in redundant formats)
   * Media and Communications Studies Site
   * Media History Project
   * WomenWatch
   * Native Web
   * Dickinson Electronic Archives
   * Katie's still outdated HomePage
   * Katie's syllabus Women in the Web:

The Authors

 Katie King is an Associate Professor in the Women's Studies Department and
 Program and an Affiliate Faculty Member in Comparative Literature and
 American Studies at the University of Maryland. In Spring of 1999 she was a
 MITH Faculty Fellow. David Silver is a doctoral candidate in American
 Studies at the University of Maryland, the founder of the Resource Center
 for Cyberculture Studies, and during academic year 1999-2000 a graduate
 assistant for MITH. 

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