Training Teachers with Hypertext: Using HTML and Internet Tools as Didactic Resources

Merce Gisbert
Education Dept. Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Tarragona, Spain

Jordi Adell
Education Dept., Universitat Jaume I
Castelló, Spain

Robert Rallo
Computer Science Dept., Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Tarragona, Spain


The aim of this paper is to introduce some results concerning the use of Internet and hypertext-based languages such is Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) in teacher's training.

This paper discusses the results of an experience carried out during the last two years with education students at two Spanish universities. During this experience a total of 1,500 students (future K-12 teachers) learned how to use Internet (e-mail, News, IRC, World Wide Web [WWW], etc.) as a didactic resource and also learned how to design and publish hypermedia didactic materials in the WWW using HTML.

A course (55 hours: 30 hours theory and 25 hours labs.) entitled "New Technologies applied to Education" has been designed and tested.

1. Introduction

Usually, we think about subjects as education technology from the curriculum theory point of view and we also tend to consider new technologies only as useful hardware tools.

Often, we forget the need of fully integrating new technologies into the curriculum, not only as a tool or an educative resource, but also as an important factor to take into account in the planning and development of new curriculum strategies.

The use of the Internet and its derived tools in an educative context will be a common situation for the teacher in the near future. As the interest in the Internet grows and more schools get connected to the Net, training teachers to use these technologies (in an efficient way) becomes an essential goal for education professionals. Nowadays, the Internet, mainly through the WWW, has become the biggest distributed hypermedia system in the world. A proper knowledge (what?, where?, how to?) of this "universe" of information and communication will be a fundamental aspect in the training of future teachers.

When we think about the application of so-called new technologies (NTs) to education and training, we discover two opposite positions:

Our aim in this paper is to expose a combination of the above criteria. We will consider NTs fully integrated into the curricular environment, but we also will take into account all the didactic and curricular aspects that could be affected by NTs (from the teacher's initial and continuous training until the day-to-day practice in the classroom).

In this approach we will be mainly concerned with training future teachers (education students). The introduction of all these new concepts could be done easier at this initial training stage than in the continuous training of professionals.

From the future teacher's point of view, our approach to didactic use of NTs will affect two different levels:

Our goal is, that at the end of the course, students will be able to use the Internet as a didactic resource from two points of view: navigation and information recovery and also authoring.

2. Application background

2.1. Geographic framework

This experience took place during the last two years and involved two Spanish universities and approximately 1,500 students. Participating universities were Universitat Jaume I (UJI) and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV). Both universities are located at two different autonomous communities (Catalunya and Pais Valencia) in the Mediterranean coast of Spain (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Geographic location

The URV is located in Tarragona (80 km south of Barcelona). Tarragona is a city with 100,000 citizens and the URV has 10,000 students. The education and psychology faculty has 1,600 students. This experience was done with K-12 teacher students and education students.

The UJI is located in Castelló (200 km south of Tarragona) . Castelló is a city with approximately 120,000 citizens and the UJI has 10,000 students. The education faculty has 1,000 students. The experience was done at UJI with K-12 teacher students.

The education departments of these two universities started their collaboration in 1993. Since then, people from both departments have been involved in research activities about the use of computers and telecommunications in education.

2.2. Student framework

Students involved in this experience have been from the education science faculties at both universities. The age distribution was:

Figure 2. Student age distribution

Their previous knowledge of computers was:

Figure 3. Knowledge of computer use

Concerning their use and knowledge of computer networks and computer telecommunications systems:

Figure 4. Experience using the Internet

As we can see in the above figures, students have a little knowledge of computer use (25 percent of them never have used a computer [Figure 1]).

Concerning the level of student's knowledge of the Internet, we can see that it varies from the first year of the experience, 1993, until the latest one, 1995.

2.3. Technical resources

This experience has been done using the resources in the computer labs at each faculty. Mainly, the computers used have been Macintoshes with ethernet connection and multimedia capabilities. The computer labs were connected to our campus-wide network using a 64 Kb leased line and our connection to the Spanish Academic Network (RedIris) is through a 2 Mb line.

We have used mainly shareware or freeware software resources:

And some other tools for authoring on the Web:

3. Course design and description

The first problem we encountered during the design of this course was: "How can we introduce all these new concepts to students?" And even more important: "How can we convince them to use the Internet in the classroom?

Mainly, our students (at an early stage in the course) did not know anything about the Internet and Internet tools; many of them did not know anything about computers (see Figure 3).

For all these reasons, we chose to introduce all these concepts in four stages:

Keeping in mind all the above steps, we designed a course to introduce our students in the use of the Internet and distributed hypermedia.

3.1. Course main objectives

We designed the course, taking into account the following objectives:

Students must acquire the necessary skills for:

3.2. Course contents

Introduction to computers and computer usage. This stage is an homogenization step that seeks to level the basic knowledge and skills of students. This step is done mainly in the labs, and students must work from the first day with computers. Our main goal is that students loss their "fear" of computers. The duration of this stage is 5 hours.

Internet history, basic concepts, and tools. This second level seeks to introduce the Internet as a basis for the development of distributed hypermedia materials. We begin with an introduction to Internet history: the birth of the network, its development, its metamorphosis from military to academic use, etc. All this is explained mainly in the classroom, using audiovisual materials and promoting discussion between students. The duration of this part is 5 hours. Also, at this level we begin to introduce Internet tools such as e-mail, News, IRC and the WWW. This introduction is done by the teacher in the classroom and then students go to labs to begin using these tools by themselves. The duration of this training is 5 hours.

Introduction to the use of distributed resources in education. This is one of the most important steps from our viewpoint. At this stage, we introduce the students to the use of the Internet in education. Our goal is that students conceive of the Internet as a gateway that removes borders in the information space. Nowadays, when using the Internet, it is not so important where in the world the information is located; the really important thing is how to find this information in an efficient way and how to use this information in the correct way (always from a didactic perspective). A couple of important concepts at this level are communication and collaboration. We must teach students how they can use tools like e-mail, mailing lists, Usenet news, or IRC from an educative point of view. The duration of this level is 5 hours theory plus 5 hours labs.

Design of distributed hypermedia for educational usage. Now, we introduce to students the basic concepts required for designing distributed hypermedia materials. At this level, we must teach concepts like:

The programmed duration of this level is 15 hours theory.

Development of a curricular unit based in the use of all these techniques. Finally, after the completion of all the above steps, students are ready to start building a real application. Students are organized as a team and they decide the subject in which they will work, how long the planned activity will extend, and the age level of intended users.

The duration of this stage is 5 hours theory plus 10 hours labs.

3.3. Methodology

The methodology is twofold. First, the main concepts of each stage are explained at a theoretical level. We make use of supplementary media such audiovisual materials and computer-screen projection systems showing how to use the needed applications. Second, teamwork techniques are used during course development. Students, grouped into teams of five persons, must develop a full distributed hypermedia application, including design, implementation, and testing.

At the end of course, students are assessed by the presentation of their projects. They must explain their objectives, the structure of designed application, and all the decisions made during the development phase.

4. Conclusions

We think that the best way to promote a better understanding in students, of the design and implementation of hypertext-based materials, is to relate the main underlying concepts in this task to more familiar ones. Taking this premise as starting point, we begin our course showing the equivalence between hypertext concepts and all the cognitive processes related to learning how to read and write.

Figure 5. Estimated time to understand hypertext structures

This technique has proved to be very useful and students quickly acquire the hypertext concept. Usually we found that the necessary time to acquire all this concepts varies from 16 to 25 hours. (see Figure 5)

The next step is the most complex: students must learn how to design a conceptual non-linear structure based on an established subject. Our students are habituated to using linear or quasi-linear structures in the development of didactic projects. Now, they must use a global thinking approach to take into account all the relevant information concerning the subject of their project. Through this global approach, they will be able to find the underlying non-linear structure of the developed didactic content.

Figure 6. Estimated time to complete an hypermedia design

The main problem we found during this experience has been how teachers must adapt the hypermedia materials to be used into the usual didactic program of the classroom. Usually, teachers are not familiar using this kind of resource and they are very reticent about its use. A complementary action to this experience could be the development of a didactic unit to introduce these technologies into the day-to-day professional practice of teachers.

After this experience our main conclusions are:

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6. Author information

Dr. M. Gisbert is a lecturer in the education science faculty at the Universitat Rovira y Virgili in Tarragona, Spain.,

Dr. J. Adell is a lecturer in the education science faculty at the Universitat Jaume I in Castelló, Spain.,

R. Rallo is a lecturer in the computer science department in the engineering school at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain.,