Craig Bozzelli <email@example.com>
Laura Ruffin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc.
The capabilities of the World Wide Web (WWW) are relatively new and evolving so quickly that it's difficult for any of us to keep up, much less figure out the best implementation approach to address our needs. Why should the education, training, and public relation communities be interested in WWW technologies? How can individuals and organizations make the most of WWW technologies for training, education, and outreach purposes? This paper answers these questions, provides experience-based examples of valuable WWW initiatives, and proposes the use of development methodologies for Web applications targeted at these communities.
First, the paper describes several approaches to online training and associated technologies that are currently available. Approaches can be static or dynamic. Static approaches allow information to flow only one way, from the educator/trainer to the student. Informative or procedural courses that usually follow a lecture, book, or simple question-and-answer format are easily implemented through static approaches. Dynamic approaches allow information to flow both from the educator/trainer to the student and from the student back to the educator/trainer, interactively. Online searches initiated by students, questionnaires to collect student responses, interactive test scoring with immediate feedback for students, and simulations require dynamic approaches.
The paper describes the best approach for applying Web technologies to training, education, and outreach programs and outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Criteria for selecting one approach over another is based on typical business requirements, which include system development costs, system maintenance costs, time to market, course distribution costs, ease of accessibility, security, ability to track system use, ability to track user responses, and system effectiveness.
The paper provides a case study of how WWW technologies have been applied to a federal outreach/training program for the general public. This program provides information for both introductory training and detailed learning on a just-in-time basis. The paper describes the outreach/training problem, requirements gathering, approach selection, and implementation techniques used for the project.
Finally, the paper contemplates the future of WWW technologies and the impact they can have on training, education, and outreach programs. The WWW is evolving from a simple presentation environment to a more complex programming environment. JAVA and other programming languages will provide more sophisticated logic and processing capabilities. Interactive voice and video features will become standard tools that will enhance presentation capabilities. In turn, Web browsers will allow more powerful programming and more flexible presentation capabilities. These interpretive capabilities may eventually be built into computer operating systems. All of these changes will make the use of structured development methodologies more important. Use of these methodologies will ensure reliable, reusable, portable, and maintainable Web applications.
Keeping up with the new and rapidly evolving capabilities of the Web is difficult. Determining the best approach to implementing these capabilities to meet our needs is even more so. Shortly before NCSA introduced Mosaic in early 1993, there were approximately 21,000 domains on the Internet. By January 1996, there were approximately 240,000, and 55 percent of these were .com domains (Network Wizards, http://www.nw.com/). What's all the fuss about? Why should the education, training, and public relation communities be interested in WWW technologies? This paper addresses the value of the WWW to the education, training, and public relations communities, then focuses on the need for and benefit of applying system development methodologies to Web development projects.
The WWW provides many benefits that, until now, have been unavailable with other more traditional types of media. The greatest benefits provided by the Web include increased information sharing, low cost distribution/implementation, faster information deployment, interactive exchanges, and ease of use.
Any one of these benefits is reason enough to warrant further investigation of the Web as a new media for reaching customers, but considering the combination of all these benefits as being available through one medium makes the Web hard to ignore. That means organizations must be aware of what their customers really want and provide them with it. It also means that advertising the availability of information is critical to the success of an organization's site. Students are the customers of education, training, and outreach organizations, and those students are looking for something. A Web site is an efficient and fun way to reach students.
How can individuals and organizations make the most of WWW technologies for training, education, and outreach purposes? The first step to creating an effective Web site is to determine the purpose of the site. There are several ways to interact with students, and the Web site can incorporate any number of these depending on the site's purpose. Various Web technologies can be used to incorporate special features and achieve the appropriate level of interaction with students. A Web site can include any of the following types of approaches, each one implies an increasing level of interaction:
These approaches form a continuum of interaction with the Inform approach being the most static and the Request approach being the most interactive. The Inform approach only allows information to flow one way, from the educator/trainer to the student. Informative or procedural courses that usually follow a lecture, book, or simple question-and-answer format are easily implemented through the Inform approach. The Act and Request approaches are more dynamic and allow information to flow both from the educator/trainer to the student and from the student back to the educator/trainer, interactively. Online searches initiated by students, questionnaires to collect student responses, interactive test scoring with immediate feedback for students, and simulations require more dynamic approaches.
Criteria for selecting one approach over another is based on typical business requirements, which include system development costs, system maintenance costs, time to market, course distribution costs, ease of accessibility, security, ability to track system use, ability to track user responses, and system effectiveness. The process of selecting the appropriate approach for the Web site is best illustrated through examples.
The approaches outlined above (Inform, Act, and Request) have been widely applied to education, training, and outreach Web sites. The following examples show how several federal programs have implemented these approaches, making the most of Web technologies and increasing the effectiveness of their Web sites.
A real-life example of an informative Web site is a Web-based document, such as a very simple question-and-answer guide. A government client developed such a guide to provide information to the public for both introductory training and detailed learning on a just-in-time basis. The purpose of the guide was to explain a new set of regulations that were about to be put into law. This client published their guide as a paper booklet and distributed it through their field offices. However, there was a major concern with this approach. The new regulation had not yet been passed into law, and changes to it were anticipated. The guide would require updating, re-printing, and re-distribution for each set of changes. It was both an expensive and time consuming process. Implementing the guide as a Web document was an attractive alternative because it would:
Much of the targeted audience for the guide, including regional users, had access to the Web. For those who requested the booklet but did not have access to the Web, the guide could be easily printed in its ASCII form and mailed to the requester.
Because the booklet had already been developed, the majority of the requirements for the project were embodied in the booklet. The approach being sought was to inform users of the impact of the new regulation. Obviously, this project needed to produce a static Web site because the questions and answers were provided to the user as information.
While this project was not technically challenging, it clearly demonstrates the power that the Web provides as a mechanism for the distribution of information to a targeted audience. Implementation of the booklet on the Web simplified the distribution of the information, reduced the cost of providing the information, and provided a unique ability to update the information quickly with an immediate impact to the users of the information. More people were prepared for, and knowledgeable about, this new set of federal regulations before they were put into place as a result of their ability to access this information over the Web.
One way to implement an active Web site is to provide a Web interface to an existing database so users can perform personalized queries. Another of our government clients developed this capability to improve accessibility to public information that is maintained in one of their databases. The purpose of the database was to track data on a major government program.
Previously, this client received numerous inquiries on a daily basis from all kinds of people who were interested for a variety of reasons: citizens concerned about their communities, lawyers researching case facts, business people investigating purchases. Inquiries were handled by multiple offices in the field, at headquarters, or at contractor sites. There were obviously a lot of redundant work processes with this distributed approach. Staff productivity and response times suffered. Because the inquiries were frequently received by staff that didn't know how to handle them, the requests were handed off many times before a response was found. A typical response took days and often took as long as a month. Furthermore, the client was not able to track requests or measure the effectiveness of their data. As a result, they decided to open up access to the database and allow the public to perform their own queries through a Web interface. The Web interface was an ideal solution because it would:
The targeted audience for this data was spread out across the country and most had access to the Web. Of course, the traditional avenues for requesting information would still be available for those who did not have access to the Web, or who needed an "official" agency response.
Since the outreach process had already been developed, the majority of the requirements for providing information to the public had already been addressed. Since information in the database was being used for such a wide variety of purposes, a dynamic approach was appropriate for this project. By rethinking the most efficient way to implement this particular outreach process, the government was able to both improve service to the public and reduce administrative overhead.
A simple way to implement a request Web site is to create a Web-based form to collect user comments. One of our government clients deployed this capability to gather public feedback on proposed public documents. The purpose of the site was to both present the proposed documents and provide a means of collecting public responses.
In the past, this client distributed paper copies of the document for review, the public submitted their comments on paper forms, and the agency evaluated, consolidated, and incorporated the comments. This process would be repeated several times before a document was finalized. Each coordination cycle of the paper process was very time intensive, largely because it involved physical documents that were delivered by traditional mail carriers. Converting the paper process to a Web-based collaboration application was clearly the best solution because it would:
A dynamic approach was appropriate because of the distributed nature of this project. Documents were being widely distributed; people from all over the country were collaborating on those documents; and comments were being incorporated for an extended period of time. The agency greatly improved the efficiency of their document review process by implementing a Web application. More people got involved in the review process, time-to-market was drastically reduced, and more widely accepted documents were the result.
How is a Web site developed? Whether the site is simple or complex, static or dynamic, a structured development process is highly recommended. A Web development methodology is similar to a software development methodology and helps to ensure that requirements are captured and understood, a design is developed, and that the product is thoroughly tested. A Web site development life cycle should involve site definition/plan, system design/specifications, system development, system integration/implementation, and site operations/maintenance.
Figure: Web Site Development Methodology
The best method for implementing this methodology is to iteratively cycle through the design and development steps until user representatives and developers are comfortable with the site's capabilities. This approach is similar to the spiral model of software development. It emphasizes interaction with users to ensure that the development effort is focused on meeting user needs.
An overriding consideration in developing the Web site is deciding whether to build the site internally or hire outside help. If a decision is made to hire outside help, it is important to understand their development process and to get involved at the appropriate steps. In the methodology described above, the key steps for user involvement are site definition/plan, system design/specifications, and system integration/implementation.
The Web is evolving from a simple presentation environment to a more complex programming environment. Java and other programming languages will provide more sophisticated logic and processing capabilities. Interactive voice and video features will become standard tools that will enhance presentation capabilities. In turn, Web browsers will allow more powerful programming and more flexible presentation capabilities. These interpretive capabilities may eventually be built into computer operating systems. All of these changes will make the use of structured development methodologies more important. Use of these methodologies will ensure reliable, reusable, portable, and maintainable Web applications.
The examples described above illustrate the development of relatively simple Web sites. However, the Web is rapidly transforming into a much more complex media. The WWW started out with a relatively simple toolset: HTML. This tool provided the basic capability necessary to share information with other Web users. As users look for more sophisticated WWW capabilities, more sophisticated tools are being developed.
The evolving capabilities of the Web are similar in nature to the evolution of PCs (that is, Macintosh, DOS, Windows operating systems). In comparison, early PCs also had a relatively simple toolset. Generally, these tools were spreadsheets and word processors. As the power of PCs increased, so too did the power of application development tools. Customized applications soon became the norm. Users quickly became accustomed to having these powerful applications, which were formerly available only on mainframes, available on their desktops.
The powerful applications that users have been become accustomed to on PCs are influencing the expectations of WWW users. The novelty of the Web is quickly being replaced by the demand to do more while still retaining the power to share information widely. Simple applications that provide static capabilities are no longer adequate. Users are looking for more advanced capabilities, such as the ability to track and report on student progress. Dynamic database queries and updates, event-triggered procedures, and other traditional programming technologies make some of these capabilities a reality today. However, more sophisticated demands and capabilities are already on the horizon. For example, it is not hard to envision users asking for the ability to monitor and interact with students as they work through new materials. In this particular case, collaboration tools are rapidly coming onto the market and quickly bringing this capability within reach.
Users are asking for the current capabilities of their PCs to be shared across the Web. Experienced WWW users want to share their desktop information, databases, and applications. This demand is creating a market for a whole new set of tools, which in turn is creating a new development environment for the Web. These new Web tools fall into three general categories: programming languages, code generators, and application enabling tools.
Each of these tools provides the ability to bring greater capabilities to Web developers, and ultimately Web users. They also create a more programming intensive environment. To maximize the benefits of these tools without being penalized by their flexibility, a structured development methodology should be employed. A development methodology helps to ensure that programmers produce reliable, reusable, portable, and maintainable Web applications.
Beyond the need to apply development methodologies to Web development, there are significant implications that come with providing greater capabilities over the WWW. These implications include performance considerations, security considerations, code reusability, and influences on operating systems.
WWW users looking for training, education, and outreach over the Web are expecting more and more sophisticated capabilities. The Web is evolving from a simple presentation environment to a more complex programming environment. Tools are arriving on the market that make adding sophisticated capabilities to Web sites much easier. New programming languages will provide more sophisticated logic and processing capabilities. Interactive voice and video features will become standard tools that will enhance the ability to interact with students over the WWW. With these more sophisticated capabilities, comes a more sophisticated programming environment. As this trend continues, providing reliable, reusable, portable, and maintainable Web applications will require the use of methodologies like those described in this paper.