Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

Some strategies for promoting student
adoption of Internet services

Roger Atkinson and Geoff Rehn
Academic Services Unit, Murdoch University

Introduction

"Cleo" is an Internet connected host with the address cleo.murdoch.edu.au, operated by Murdoch University Academic Services Unit since March 1993. Cleo's principle objective is to "attract sustained attention to and use of computer mediated communications for education and information purposes by developing a viable base of modem users and a range of attractive services" (Atkinson and Rehn, 1995).

The phrases "attract sustained attention" and "viable base of modem users" represent two important features of the context within which cleo commenced operations at Murdoch University. Although staff use of Internet email for research and administrative communications grew rapidly at Murdoch University during 1993-95, use of email and other forms of Internet based communications for teaching and learning purposes attracted very little attention. Very few students had access to email and other Internet services. Any attempt to incorporate these into teaching would require unit coordinators to devote an excessive amount of time, effort and very scarce funds towards organising an effective way to overcome that barrier. Thus cleo adopted a primary purpose in drawing attention to "computer mediated communications" being attractive to and being used by students, overcoming the access barrier without requiring any special effort or major funding by the University.

Cleo's operations tackled the creation of a "viable base of modem users" because Murdoch University lacks on campus facilities for student access to email and other Internet services. Developing a user base amongst undergraduate and graduate coursework students depends very much upon modem communications, although on campus access to Internet services via cleo has been trailed for some students, notably with several Law School classes in a CAUT Project and a group of international students (Atkinson, 1995i). This feature of our context is unlikely to change significantly until late 1996 or 1997. Modem communications, for which students purchase and house at home their own personal computer and modem, and use their own telephone line, constitute the only way to proceed, when on campus workstations are not available.

Modem communications

Connecting to Internet services such as email, newsgroups and world wide web servers from home based personal computers requires a modem, telephone line and communications software. Modem communications are not an easy matter. Apart from the expense of a modem, usually in the range $200 to $500, it is often quite a demanding matter to install and learn how to use it effectively and efficiently. However, there are certain advantages for modem communications. Typically, a student's home is also his or her personal work space, favoured by a sense of ownership and control which is usually not possible with communal facilities in classrooms, laboratories and libraries on the campus.

The University has to provide the modems and telephone lines which answer a user's modem call, a host computer and the local area networking infrastructure. User training and support services, host management, fund raising and other tasks have to be undertaken. However, connecting users via a modem pool does not entail the rather large expenses and maintenance work associated with providing laboratories filled with personal computers for on campus use by students. Also, use of modem communications can attain a momentum for rapid growth more readily than is the case with on campus access to the Internet, at least in some contexts such as that faced at Murdoch University.

How we developed attractive services

The overall strategy for obtaining "sustained attention" and "a viable base of modem users" is to develop attractive services. We sought the broadest possible basis for this strategy, including the features summarised in this list:

Outcomes from cleo operations

The number of student users of cleo grew rapidly during 1994 and 1995, until cleo growth was placed "on hold" by the University's Information Technology Policy Committee (ITPC) in mid 1995:

      Feb94    Jun94    Mar95    Sep95    Dec95
        45      308      459      607      541

The pause in cleo growth was due to concern over cleo users taking a dominating share of the capacity of the University's modem pool, uncertainties about the impact of traffic volume charges which were introduced for AARNet members in 1995, and a view that development of University policies on Internet access for students should not be pre-empted by the rapid growth in cleo's operations as the only provider. However, after a period of declining numbers and an extensive deletion of inactive users and users who had left the University, the main uncertainties have been overcome by a series of actions and events which open the scope for a resumption of growth. These include:

In 1994-95 an estimated 6 - 8% of Murdoch's undergraduate and graduate coursework students (500 to 600) obtained some experience of Internet access via cleo using modem connections, and a further 1 - 2% (about 100 students) obtained experience via private providers or employers. About 130 law students obtained Internet communications experience via the Law School computer laboratory and cleo. About 30 of these used modem access to cleo from home in addition to on campus access.

We cannot predict the ultimate extent to which Murdoch students will provide their own home based equipment for Internet access via cleo or other hosts, but 40% by the end of 1997 could be a realistic forward estimate. The extent to which this growth will cater for equity considerations is also uncertain. The principal area of difficulty is off campus, geographically remote students who do not have low cost Internet connections available. Another area of difficulty, also impacting mainly upon off campus students, is that students who experience difficulty in access to user training programs for information technology skills will be disadvantaged, just as those who do not acquire language, literacy, numeracy and library skills are disadvantaged in tertiary study.

Regulation of user behaviour is not a major issue amongst cleo users, although many staff appear to be fearful of the risk that student actions on the Internet may lead to criticism of the University. Cleo has an extensive record of freedom from significant incidents in the contentious areas of content regulation, hacking and copyright. Cleo user interest in "objectionable materials" appears to be a level similar to that found on Internet hosts generally. In line with the Internet community at large, bushcourt@cleo debaters are very much opposed to the simple blanket forms of censorship sought by some sections of society.

Cleo's strategy of promoting student adoption of Internet services by "attracting sustained attention" and a "viable base of modem users" attained maturity, and a sustainable momentum, by the summer of 1995-96. It is now time to increase the effort towards the next phase of growth, in the carriage of teaching and learning applications. The final section of this paper examines some implications and give suggestions on how to broaden out from the user base secured during 1993-95.

Some implications for teaching and learning applications

In developing teaching and learning uses of computer mediated communications, we need to aim for the same kind of "natural" ease of use and familiarity which we associate with using lectures, tutorials, books, the University Library, and face to face communications with students. Whilst cleo's user base demonstrates some modest progress towards that goal, under difficult circumstances in technical and resource aspects, the next major step in bringing computer communications into the "mainstream" will depend to a large extent upon on campus facilities.

Student adoption of on campus access to Internet services is likely to be enhanced by offering a wide choice of environments. These may include traditional "computer laboratories", workstations in the Library environment, workstations in a "coffee shop" or "cybercafe" environment, and workstations in Student Village (the University's student housing). Experience with international students at Murdoch through the Council for International Educational Exchange, Institute for Study Abroad and other schemes who became users of cleo for their one or two semester visits gives some indications. Small, informal rooms each with a relatively small, socially coherent group of users are likely to be favoured by students, in two variations, "quiet" environments in the Library or within School Buildings, and "social" environments in School Buildings or elsewhere such as Guild of Students offices.

If modem access is complemented by on campus access from a variety of environments and with full access to Internet services, we will meet one essential prerequisite for teaching and learning applications. This is a very extensive student user base, familiar and at ease with computer communicated "reading" and "discussion". The second essential prerequisite is a body of staff who are also familiar and at ease with teaching via Internet services. In this aspect the development strategy promulgated by the Academic Services Unit is to build up a relatively simple infrastructure for delivery, comprising world wide web server and listserver.

World wide web and listserver delivery of teaching and learning activities have a number of advantages compared with more complex forms of computer assisted learning. A web server provides a form of "lecture presentation", which is complemented by an email listserver providing a form of "tutorial group discussion". Our initial experiments in "tandem" operation of web pages and emailing list are very encouraging. These are in progress with the list edtech-aus@cleo and web pages http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/aset/, for Australian Society for Educational Technology, and the list trdev-aus@cleo and web pages http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/trdev-aus/, for the TAFE, vocational education and training sector. Initial experiments with Murdoch University units supported by web pages and emailing list will develop during 1996.

Designing units for delivery support via world wide web pages and an emailing list is simplified through relative ease of use by unit coordinators and tutors, compared with the greater complexities associated with authoring tools for interactive multimedia resources. For email, the typical tools are one's word processor and an email handler such as the widely used public domain program "Eudora". Web page writing is more complex than email, but support services and training courses are available locally (Rehn, 1995). Colour photographs are readily incorporated into web pages (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Netscape web reader view of cleo and carmen's statement on hardware (only the first 8 lines of text are visible). This picture occupies 24 kB of disk space on cleo, only about one eighth of the file size required for word processor handling of the image. It was taken with an Apple QuickTake digital camera and normally would never be viewed via a paper print.

By using standard Internet services such as world wide web and email, infrastructure developers avoid the very large investments of resources required to produce alternatives. Furthermore, it would be rather pointless to embark upon some kinds of developments, for example an email system specifically for teaching purposes, when great tools are readily available from the public domain (all of cleo's listserver software and associated Unix utilities are free from the Internet).

Strategies for introducing Internet services into teaching and learning are likely to vary widely between different universities, depending upon context factors such as allocation of funds, extent of dual mode teaching, nature of the student population, staff experience with new technologies and many others. The details of our experience with cleo may have only marginal relevance in other universities, but we hope that the major principles concerning accordance of a role to student participation will be considered widely.

References

Note on references: In the world wide web version of this paper, the URLs given below are replaced by hypertext links. The URL for this paper is http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/atkinson.html (Previous URL 6 Feb 1996 to 8 Apr 2002 http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/pubs/tlforum/atkinson_tlforum96.html)

Atkinson, Roger and Rehn, Geoff (1995). About cleo. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/info/about-cleo-carmen.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995a). Offering users full access to the Internet. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/accounts/gen/cleo-internet-access.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995b). Cleo services - listserver, www and others. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/info/tlc-hostserv.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995c). Graphical interface software for modem access to Internet services. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/cleo_web/graphical-interface.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995d). Supportive induction for new users. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/activities/new-users.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995e). Emailing lists eff_one and bushcourt. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/caut94/why-lists.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995f). Users own web pages. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/info/users-web-pages.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995g). Community access via cleo. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/info/commserv-net.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995h). Cleo conditions of use. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/accounts/accounts.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995i). Collaborative learning through computer conferencing. CAUT Project 1994. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/caut94/collab-learn.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995j). Cleo user charges. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/help/accounts/bulletins/bulletins.html

Atkinson, Roger (1995k). Innovative delivery methods for Murdoch University's South West Campuses. National Priority Reserve Fund 1996 Grant. URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/projects/nprf96/nprf96.html

Rehn, Geoff (1995). Geoff's lessons on writing web pages (ASDF 95 Project). URL: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/asdf95/lessons/lesson_index.html

Authors Roger Atkinson [atkinson@cleo.murdoch.edu.au]
Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, and
Geoff Rehn [rehn@cleo.murdoch.edu.au]
Lecturer in Educational Technology
Academic Services Unit, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia

Please cite as: Roger Atkinson, R. and Rehn, G. (1996). Some strategies for promoting student adoption of Internet services. In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p13-19. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/atkinson.html


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HTML: Roger Atkinson, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch University [rjatkinson@bigpond.com]
This URL: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/atkinson.html
Last revision: 12 Apr 2002. Murdoch University
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