WebTeach: a Cooperative Web Environment for Teaching Science and Technology

Andrea Sterbini
sterbini@dsi.uniroma1.it
Computer Science
Rome 1 University "La Sapienza"
Via Salaria 113
Italy

Franco Bagnoli
bagnoli@dma.unifi.it
Applied Math. Dept.
University of Florence
Via S. Marta 3
Italy

Abstract

In this paper we show how the cooperative framework obtained by means of a extended Wiki Web is a perfect tool for distance learning of Mathematics and Sciences.

Wiki webs [1] are webs where all pages can be directly edited by the user through the web browser itself; a simple syntax allows the user to add content to the web without knowing HTML; topics are automatically linked and created whenever a link pattern is inserted in the text. The easyness of usage of a wiki web focuses the attention of its users community on the cooperative editing of documents and ideas. Cooperative Webs (CoWeb) are a very effective mean of teaching. For a deeper analysis of possible CoWeb usages see [2].

From the beginning we have chosen TWiki, a Wiki implementation with other desirable features:

This makes TWiki a full-featured content manager, perfect for creating Portals, as it combines web, ftp and hyperlinked discussions in a simple framework.

But to teach Mathematics we needed something more than a normal Wiki.

The immediateness of a wiki is the main point we have kept in mind while developing several extensions to the main wiki idea. To extend the original TWiki codebase we have developed a Plugin API that is now part of TWiki. Plugins can be activated on a web-by-web basis (each course has its web).

Our plugins are used to:

The cooperation through Wiki is so effective that we can easily keep in touch with our classes from everywhere.

A central repository of all teaching material, including the student's comments, is very effective in keeping very high the signal/noise ratio of the communication.

TWiki is enlarging the communication bandwidth between us and our students. We couldn't even think to switch back to normal non-interactive web.

Future work

In a future we intend to integrate in our wiki the automatic correction of exercises and exams [3] so that students can do self-assessment tests. The results of the tests will be used to better guide the student through the course topics.

We would like to enhance the usage of our wiki while keeping high the quality of contributes. For this purpose we want to reward the student's contributions.
Several models of reward can be used ... we will do experiments on them.

We would like to distribute the content over different servers, not always on-line, and manage trasparently the updates. This would allow us to design distance learning settings where several schools, not always on-line, share common discussion spaces.
In a similar setting we will teach to students that are not allowed to have direct contacts with us (students in jail).

Other plugins are planned to:

References

  1. Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham. "The Wiki Way: quick collaboration on the web". Addison Wesley. 2001.
  2. "A Catalog of CoWeb Uses". Collaborative Software Lab, College of Computing, Georgia Tech, 2000.
  3. Andrea Sterbini. "Automatic In-depth Correction of Exercises". Submitted to this Conference.


© ATCM, Inc. 2001.