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Use of the world wide web in the delivery of education: A case study

Athula Ginige, Varuni Witana and Zhenya Yourlo
University of Technology, Sydney
An important aspect of the new graduate program in Information Systems Engineering at UTS was the provision of an active learning environment. Thus traditional lecturing was minimised and extensive use made of problem based learning, hands on labs and student presentations to the class. A decision was made to make available all lecture and reference material available in electronic format on the World Wide Web. At the end of the semester we analyse the Web access logs and the student feedback to determine how the course notes were being used We found that method of delivery of the course notes was successful and that a well designed information repository can greatly enhance the delivery of education. In this paper we share our experience in delivering education using this technology.


At the beginning of 1995, the University of Technology, Sydney commenced a new graduate program in Information Systems Engineering. The aim of this program is to provide the technology and skills required to engineer large digital information systems.

Now we have a new medium; the digital medium, to publish and communicate information. Until recently this medium was mainly used to store, process, access and analyse very structured data such as business or corporate data. This data mainly was in the form of text and numbers.

Recent technological advances have made it possible for us to develop large distributed information systems that can handle unstructured data. These systems are not only limited to text, but also can handle other forms of data such as images, sound and video.

Today the cost of producing these large systems is very high and prone to errors as the process is very inefficient. The way these are produced today are analogous to how cars were produced before the introduction of mass production techniques and assembly lines when every part had to be hand crafted (Ginige and Lowe, 1995).

Today in Australia and in other developed and developing nations a large investment is made to provide high speed digital communication links to our homes. This opens up a whole new range of possibilities such as news on demand, video on demand, home shopping, home banking, virtual museums, edutainment and entertainment applications online books and magazines etc (Ginige and Fuller: 1994). The platform used for development, storage and presentation of information in these new generation of information systems is the computer. Thus we see a growing demand for information systems engineers to work along side with information scientists and visual communication specialists to engineer this new generation of information systems.

The Information Systems Engineering graduate program was started to cater for this demand.

Education philosophy

An important aspect of this course with respect to its delivery is to provide an active learning environment for the students. The traditional method of lecturing mostly provides a passive learning situation. Thus we decided to minimise traditional lecturing and make extensive use of problem based learning, hands on labs and student presentations to the class.

We see learning as a life long process. Thus we are also aiming to assist people already in the workforce to reskill themselves. These people may find it hard to attend every lecture; but would like to access the lecture material at some other time convenient to them. Thus a decision was taken to make available all lecture material, as well as reference material available in electronic format and students assignments on the World Wide Web (WWW).

The first subject that we taught was Hypermedia Technologies. One of the information systems that they studied was the World Wide Web itself The students developed their own home pages as an assignment. These home pages and reports of their other assignments were made available to the class using WWW. This enabled peer review. Also these reports became an additional reference source.

We provided SLIP connections to enable students to access the course notes from their home or work place. The setting up of the SLIP connection was a part of the learning experience.

The access to lecture notes was password protected. This enabled us to track the usage patterns to determine how the notes were being used.

Application design and structure

The organisation of the course notes is shown in Figure 1. This has a hierarchical structure with the main topics on the first level of the hierarchy . This was mapped onto a hierarchical directory structure on the Web site. HTML document nodes are contained at each level. A single node (HTML document) corresponds to a single topic. The course material were created in various formats by their authors. These notes were then converted to HTML and broken up into nodes and added into the Web directory hierarchy. In order to enable the students to navigate easily within this structure, structural links (Next Previous and Up) were added at the top and bottom of each node. (See Figure 2)

Figure 1
* "As We May Think" by Dr Vannevar Bush
See http://www.isg.sfu.ca/~duchier/misc/vbush/

Figure 1: Organisation of the course notes

Figure 2

Figure 2: A node in the course notes

Reference material (both on local and on remote sites) were directly linked into the appropriate places in the course material. Figures were embedded as in-line images in the HTML document. These in-line images were half the original image size and were a link to the full size image. By clicking on the in-line image the user could access the full size image.

The student home pages and assignments were also included in the hierarchy and formed additional reference material.

Technical problems and solutions

When creating the HTML course notes for the Web the most tedious part was the addition of the structural links. This was very time consuming and prone to error as it had to be done by hand. This problem was addressed in one of the student mini projects (Yourlo and Ginige, 1996). In the solution proposed and implemented the document nodes are stored in an objected oriented database. The structural links are then created on the fly based on the information stored in the nodes.

Due to the cutting edge nature of die subject, it is expected that the course notes would be subjected to considerable revision for the next semester. The maintainability of the notes have been greatly improved by the solution proposed, as the structural links can be maintained as nodes and inserted, deleted and reorganised.

Analysis of usage patterns

As the course notes were being presented in a novel manner we decided it was important to analyse how the students accessed them. We did so by analysing the web access logs. An excerpt from the access log is shown in Figure 3. The first line shows a generic log entry. As can be seen each web access causes the hostname from were the access came from, the user name, the date and time, filename and bytes transferred, to be logged. The last two lines show an instance where the documents accessed were password protected, as can be seen the username under which they were accessed (third field) is also logged.

hostname - username [date:time] "METHOD filename" status bytes
lisa - - [23/Mar/1995:14:35:12 +1000] "GET /pranot/pranot.html HTTP/1.0" 200 444
lisa - - [23/Mar/1995:14:35:13 +1000] "GET /images/pranot.gif HTTP/1.0" 200 47205
lust - klchow [23/Mar/1995:14:37:09 +1000] "GET /courses/pg/ise/local/hyptech/3-0/3-1/cgi.htm HTTP/1. 0" 200 1420
lust - klchow [23/Mar/1995:14:37:10 +1000] "GET /courses/pg/ise/local/hyptech/3- 0/3-1/images/w4fig2s.gif HTTP/1.0"200 5386

Figure 3: Excerpt from web access log

Packages to analyse web logs such as Wusage (Boutell, 1995) and WWWstat (Fielding, 1995) exist in the public domain. However these packages are designed to generate cumulative statistics for a whole Web site. The sort of analysis we had in mind needed statistics on a finer grain, therefore we wrote our own Perl scripts for this purpose.

There were two means of accessing the notes. These were, access to the online copy (from a machine on the Internet or via a SLIP connection) and access to the offline version of the course notes on diskettes (to be used by the students on their home computers). The offline version contained only the basic notes and did not contain the external references. From the student feedback questionnaires we established that the students have accessed the online course notes 89% ( 68% from the Internet and 21% over SLIP) and the offline version 11% of the time. Of the 29 students, 11 used the offline version exclusively while the others predominantly used the on line version (one student was involved in the development of the course notes. We have not included him in our analysis).

By analysing the access logs in Figure 4 we graph from which sites the online course notes were being accessed. Here a session is defined as the continuous period in which a particular student accesses the course notes on a particular day. As can be seen from the graph most of the sessions were from the computer labs in the School of Electrical Engineering followed by the labs run by the Computer Services Division of UTS. There were some sessions from elsewhere in UTS and Australia. There has even been some international accesses by a student who had to travel for work reasons during the semester. While he was unable to attend lectures, he was able to access the course notes from where he was. The usage of the SLIP lines doesn't correspond to the fact that the student questionnaires state they were used 21% of the time. It is possible that the students who said they used SLIP exclusively didn't use it very much.

In Figure 5 we graphed the total number of sessions per day over the Semester. The subject lectures were on Wednesdays. It can be seen that during the first half of the semester most of the accesses have been on Wednesdays. However as the semester goes on the notes were being accessed throughout the week. There is a peak in the number of sessions just before the end of the semester and the final Quiz.

We then analysed how individual users accessed the notes. In Figure 6 we have plotted the number of sessions for each student. It can be seen that students have accessed the notes an average of 9.4 times with some students accessing up to 27 times. It can be seen that 3 students have never accessed the online notes at all, while 1 has accessed it only once. When looking at the questionnaire we see that 1 student has only used the offline notes while 3 students have not stated in what manner they accessed the course notes.

Similarly in Figure 7 we plot the total duration each student spent reading the notes. Here the Total duration is defined as the time between the start of a session and the end of a session. We find that the average duration has been 250 minutes with some students using it up to 600 minutes (10 hours).

We then tried to determine access patterns of individual students over the semester. These are shown in Figure 8. We found the usage patterns broadly matched the four type shown here. In (a) the student have accessed the course notes fairly regularly throughout the semester. In (b) the student has accessed the notes regularly with increased use towards the end. In (c) the student has accessed the notes regularly with decreased use towards the end. In (d) the student has access the notes only at the end of the semester. We found that 11 students followed the pattern (a), 5(b), 3(c) and 5(e). 1 student accessed only once and 4 students never.

Figure 4

Figure 4: From where course notes were accessed

Figure 5

Figure 5: Access pattern of course notes over semester

Figure 6

Figure 6: Access pattern of course notes by user

Figure 7

Figure 7: Access duration of course notes by users

Figure 8

Figure 8: Access patterns of course notes by individual users

Level 1Level 2Level 3

300Introduction to Hypermedia
145Types of Information Systems
89Evolution of Information Systems
106Hypermedia and Human Memory
42Representation and communication of knowledge
160Structure of Hypermedia Information Systems
89Basic Components
62Examples of Information Structures
82Types of Structures
74Development Process
45Underpinning Technologies
210Networking Technologies
55Intercommunication Between Two Computers
60Local area networks
112Wide Area Networks
76The Internet
75Distributed Systems
45Client Server architecture
244W3 Technologies
65WWW Architecture
54HTTP protocol
41Future of W3
71Authoring tools
13MIME - Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions
202Design Issues
113Document Design and Style
50Browser Capabilities
44Images, Audio and Video
41Bandwidth issues
32Access Control
34A review of the authoring process
36Productivity Issues
33Experimental Systems
27Matilda Project
161Digital Media
65Digital Representation of Media
52Storage Requirements
65Structuring and retrieval methods
46Basis of Image Compression
39Basis of Video Compression
72Software Engineering Technologies
27Software Engineering
29Why use Software Engineering?
29Aspects of Good Software Development
29Software Development Life Cycle
15Functional Composition
16Logic Programming
20Structured Development
18Object-Oriented Development
41Object Technology Concepts
16Managing Complexity
14Software Modelling
20Associations and Links
17Inheritance and Polymorphism
19OO and Hypermedia
35As We May Think

Table 2: Number of accesses to individual course note nodes

The course notes were useful 1872201
The use of the WWW was appropriate 1793001
I found it difficult to use the WWW 2061192
I learnt a lot from using the WWW 1195311
It was easy to access the notes through the WWW 1652042
SA - Strongly Agree; A - Agree; N - Neutral; D - Disagree; SD - Strongly Disagree; NA - Not applicable

Table 3: Answers to student questionnaire

In Table 1 we table the number of accesses to each node of the course note hierarchy. On the left the number of accesses to each node are shown. These are grouped according to their level in the directory hierarchy (See Figure 1). The topics on the right are indented to reflect this hierarchy. By doing this analysis we were able evaluate the efficiency of our course note structure. That is the structuring of the notes has not resulted in students not following links to any particular node. By looking at the access figures we note that topics which covered fundamental concepts were most frequently accessed.

Student feedback

The analysis of student feedback also helped us evaluate our course notes and their method of delivery has been. Apart from the standard questionnaire issued to all students at the end of the course, we added some additional questions regarding the method of delivery of the course notes and the use of the W~ These questions and the student responses are shown in Table 3. It can be seen that most students agree that the use of the WWW both for delivery of course notes as well as for their practical work was appropriate. Among the individual comments made by students, many felt that use of the WWW in a practical manner as a hypermedia system was one of the best parts of the course. Most students found the WWW a useful resource.

On the negative side, some students has practical difficulty using Unix Workstation and SLIP lines, which they felt hampered their learning. There was 2 students who felt they could not manage without hardcopy notes.


Overall we found that the use of the Web for the delivery of the Hypermedia Technologies subject was a success. Therefore we decided to continue and the second subject, Image Computing, is also delivered using the same methods.

The ability to link to resources all over the world was a major benefit both to the course developers and the students.

Some students found it very useful to be able to access the notes from home and office. In fact one student was able to follow the lectures while on an overseas visit.

We conclude from Table 1 that the design of the course note hierarchy was appropriate. From figure 4 we see that the access of the notes over SLIP and the Internet could be improved. We attribute the low figure of for the latter type of access to the low bandwidth (128 kbits/s) congested link that UTS is currently connected to the Internet. (This due to be upgraded to 34 Mbits/s shortly).

Based on our study we have decided to enhance our course notes by providing a search facility and a keyword index for the notes. We will also provide a fill out form to enable students to provide instant feedback on their experiences accessing the notes.

We found that some students were seriously hampered by their inexperience with UNIX. While teaching UNIX is beyond the scope of the course. We decided to provide UNIX and SLIP tutorials to help such students overcome these hurdles.


Boutell, T. (1995). Wusage3.2 [web page]. http://cuiwww.unige.ch/Stats/wusage.html

Ginige, A. and Fuller, C. (1994). Magazine of the Future - A Vision and Challenge. IEEE Multimedia, 1(2).

Ginige, A. and Lowe, D. (1995). Proceedings of Multimedia Information Systems and Hypermedia. In Next Generation Hypermedia Authoring Systems.

Fielding, Roy (1995). Wwwstat [web page]. University of California, I. http://www.ics.uci.edu/WebSoft/wwwstat

Yourlo, Z., Ginige, A. and Witana, V. (1996). A maintainable solution for publishing documents on the world wide web. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 439-446. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ry/yourlo.html

Authors: A/Prof Athula Ginige, Varuni Witana and Zhenya Yourlo
Ph: +61 2 330 2393 Fax: +612 330 2435
Email: athula@ee.uts.edu.au, varuni@ee.uts.edu.au, firefox@ee.uts.edu.au

Please cite as: Ginige, A., Witana, V. and Yourlo, Z. (1996). Use of the world wide web in the delivery of education: A case study. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 140-148. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/ginige.html

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