Guided Learning and the Web: Keeping it simple

An invited paper in session T40 Special Session I in Honor of John C. Butler: Water Where the Grass Is Greener - Emerging Uses of Technology in Geoscience Education, at Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, October 2002.

SUTHREN, Roger J., Geology (BMS), Oxford Brookes University, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0BP, UK,


The Internet contains vast quantities of data of potential use in learning. However, highly variable quality presents hazards for students, and can deter sceptical colleagues from using Web-based resources in their courses. Those who have already embedded Internet resources in their teaching can guide students and faculty towards high quality materials. The resources may have been reviewed by us, or by a trusted third party such as an electronic library. Researching, describing and linking to good resources can be a much more efficient use of time than writing resources from scratch. John Butler continually encouraged the sharing of resources on the Internet. One of his major contributions as Virtual Geosciences Professor was to give us all access to many high quality web sites which he reviewed and documented.

Guided learning resources for students can be as simple as a short list of links to web sites on a particular topic - for preparation before class, or reading, reinforcement and revision afterwards. Suggested guidelines include:

· Keep it short
· Review the resources yourself before recommending them
· Differentiate essential from supplementary reading
· Be a good gardener: as your web pages grow, keep them well pruned!

For our sometimes reluctant colleagues, issues include time and quality. How can we involve them with minimal time and effort?

· Help them to produce simple links pages as described above
· Provide templates, short training workshops, and written or electronic guides
· Show them how to turn lecture notes (often of limited use on the web in their raw state) into an illustrated online lecture
· Suggest their students research and write web pages for them: a valuable learning experience as well as a source of reusable resources

Quality: is information from the Web necessarily less reliable or 'respectable' than that which appears in print? Ask colleagues to consider these points:

· When did you last look in detail at the textbook you recommend for your intro course?
· Students need to develop critical faculties whatever the medium used to convey the information
· How much convergence has there been between the printed word and electronic delivery? How much more will there be?

We may contribute more to geoscience learning by acting as guides to good existing Web resources than by creating new ones.