Case Study: 1997-1999 Internet Resources: Undergraduate Teaching Applications in EAM

Case Study: 1997-1999 Internet Resources: Undergraduate Teaching Applications in EAM


To expand resource guidance and training in use of the Internet in teaching to all four Subject Groups located in the School of English and American Studies (American Studies, English, History and Philosophy), exploring the different subject-specific needs involved, and seeking to develop the teaching and learning potential of this resource through a faculty development and support programme to examine new modes of teaching and assessment. This project also aimed to continue previous projects in curriculum development for American Studies.

Specific Aims:

To identify and evaluate Internet sources for undergraduate teaching; to develop faculty interest and knowledge; to revise and adapt the guide The Internet and American Studies for other subjects; identify subject specific needs and differences for using the Internet; to devise and implement new modes of teaching learning and assessment, creating a part-time position of EAM Internet Adviser to evaluate resources, locate and advise on development of appropriate courses, conduct faculty training, and initiate a student intern programme. The EAM Adviser, through collaboration with the Project, will explore good practice in teaching and learning with new technologies, exploring the implications for disciplinary structures and complementary pedagogical practices. The project will create an EAM website which will be compatible with the Pier and library resource pages, consulting with other subject groups on applications of similar project models. The project will review and assess results and disseminate widely.

The initial application bid requested joint funding from the Teaching and Learning Development Unit and the School of English and American Studies for the following: wages for 2 undergraduate interns (5 hrs each per week x 6 terms) and one post-graduate Adviser (6 hrs pw x 6 terms); a new computer and printer; room and technical equipment; faculty buy-out time; printing and xeroxing costs. Thus the bid to the TLDU was for £10,694.

Actions and Outcomes: 

Website: Once funding was agreed the first step that the project had to take was the creation of a School of English and American Studies Website. It was a huge problem that no infra-structure existed to which the project could link or post course information and websites. Each subject group had a site designed using printed information from the subject group prospectus. Thus School information was made more widely available and accessible and the infrastructure was in place for further use as an information and communication tool. Creating this took up much of the time in the early weeks. In the final year of the project administrative staff were trained and advised on maintaining the subject group sites.

Information and Resource Centre: During the first term most of the faculty who contacted the project were interested in personal research queries. Few had thought of the Internet as a teaching tool, though many were interested in what new information could be accessed. Individual members of faculty were introduced to websites, search tools, and possible teaching uses. The office provided and information hub, providing access to printed reference on all aspects of the Internet and education. Faculty with low quality computers were able to use the office for searching the Internet. The orange booklet Using the Internet: A Guide for Students was created and printed for all students in the school.

Workshops: Over the course of the first year, four subject-specific workshops were run for faculty to illustrate the use of the internet as a teaching tool: for example, the American Studies workshop site gave educators the chance to see how others in their field were using the Internet. By the end of the project most faculty were aware of the teaching potential of the Internet but no one took on the task of maintaining a course or personal web page (reasons for this are detailed in problems below).

Course Web Pages: project staff working with targeted faculty volunteers researched and set up relevant course pages for individually targeted courses, over fifteen in all. Each course also had an email discussion group set up to facilitate discussion outside of seminar rooms. Staff ran student workshops to enable students to make effective use of pages and offered support to both faculty and students. The pages offered access to new resources, or course texts with limited availability, and 'guided' student use of the Internet towards more educationally appropriate sites. The best use of these pages produced excellent results: students cited websites in final essays, used email lists, seminar discussions were enhanced and material with limited availablilty became accessable to students: see the following for illustration:

Issues In Anglo-American Culture and Society
Women In North American Society
MA American Poetry after Modernism

Unfortunately many of the pages went into disuse after the project closed and none are currently being maintained by those teaching the courses. It should be noted that few students bothered to use the pages set up unless a tutor recommended or required it. Tutors were unable to do this because of the problems outlined below. As a result little critical evaluation of web resources took place.

Student Interns were employed from within the School who had little previous knowledge of web page creation. These students created much of the web site with guidance from the Internet Adviser. A further add-on project involved employing four humanities-based postgraduate assistants, all of whom created web pages for the first time, ran workshops, and explored the teaching use of the Internet. All are now qualified PhD's; thus the pool of of humanities scholars able to implement such strategies increased due to the project. The identification of students as a valuable hidden resource within the school was an unforeseen positive outcome of this project. The School Site could also have become enhanced by further participation by students: some suggestions might be an online journal for the school run by student volunteers, a bulletin board or the presentation of top essays selected by tutors. Student talents could be utilised and encouraged by the site and more involvement would make the site dynamic as well as encouraging students to improve their computer skills. It would also make students more familiar with the style of presentation that the web necessitates.

Dissemination and assessment: Each term the project provided bulletins and reports to the School and the wider University community. Student evaluations, faculty and student feedback forms were also collected to assess the usefulness of web pages to both the student and tutor.



Poor quality computers for both faculty and administrative staff hampered the project throughout. The staff computers were updated in the last months of the project. Faculty computers were only upgraded in January 2001. As faculty weren't able to view their own course pages, and staff were unable to see the subject group sites, morale for using the Internet remained low throughout the project.

Low priority IT and skills training for humanities students and staff. Although humanities subjects have been traditionally low-tech, many teaching quality initiatives, such as this project, now recognise the importance of skills acquisition and training. This is important not only for post-University employment, but to give access to new resources and make humanities researchers efficient managers of information.

Policy recommendations for the future:

To continue the success of initiatives a member of faculty should be appointed from each subject area to oversee Internet issues. The administrative staff for each subject group should be responsible for the maintenance of the website overall (with due training and a recognition of the time this takes in their job specifications), and technical support should be made available to faculty and staff as part of the School budget.

Creating new courses which utilise the internet, or adapting old ones, is a very time consuming thing. Even with better PCs and support there should be formal recognition of the time and effort that it takes to introduce students to new online resources and course materials. The University also needs to create an environment that will reward good use of the Internet in teaching and recognise the effort and time that such use takes (for example that such pedagogical research be recognised as part of the RAE). Faculty incentives, training, and advanced courses, are recommended. Faculty need to encourage students more strongly by assigning them concrete goals and to make time to include an element of C & IT in their course preparation. Faculty use of the Internet for teaching would be eased by more skills training and support for humanities students.

Page created 26/03/01 For more information contact Sue Currell