Catalysing web-based teaching with tutorial components

Mark Huckvale
University of London

Chris Bowerman
University of Sunderland

Anders Eriksson
University of Umea

Mike Rosner
University of Malta

Maria Wolters
University of Bonn

Computer-based teaching methods are very important for the Speech Sciences. First, practitioners work with all kinds of data, ranging from text-based transcriptions to audio and video. Therefore, conventional methods of teaching have to be supplemented by multimedia tools. Secondly, the field is so large and is evolving so rapidly that it is impossible for a single department to provide state-of-the-art teaching of all aspects of the Speech Sciences.

These are amongst the reasons why the Socrates Thematic Network "Phonetics and Speech Communication" formed a working group on "Computer Aided Learning (CAL) and the Use of the Internet". The group's aim is to stimulate the use (and eventually the production) of internet-based teaching materials in the Speech Sciences. Having surveyed the state of the art in [1,2], we felt there were several good reasons to focus our activities around web-based ``tutorials".

An advantage of web-based material in general is accessibility - it can be used by any student in any country who has the required linguistic skills and appropriate hardware. Tutorials are of particular interest for their granularity: large enough to present an non-trivial educational experience but small enough to be reusable in different pedagogical contexts. Tutorials are well-suited for web-based delivery, because they consist of both active and passive components, where students are not only exposed to information, but can also explore the material and test their understanding of it. Finally, once a general structure has been defined, tutorials can be developed cooperatively by researchers at different sites, with each covering their own particular area of competence.

It is not feasible for a teacher to develop a complete set of web-based materials for each course s/he teaches. However, there are already many tutorials available on the Internet which can be used as "set texts", or which can provide an opportunity for students to learn more about aspects of a topic that could not otherwise be covered in depth.

In order to promote awareness and use of what exists, we created an evolving database of web tutorials for the Speech Sciences [3] which contains information about tutorials on specific topics together with comments by people who have used them. Authors can register their tutorials via the web using a form where they indicate title, URL, contact, content (keywords), level of difficulty, length, prerequisites and objectives. A separate form is used to gather feedback from users. In this form, we ask for a summary rating on a scale from 1-5 and up to three positive and negative comments. There is also a box for free comments where the user can indicate whether she found the material suitable for her purposes. All users are asked to specify their status (teacher, specialist/non-specialist student, interested layperson). This information is then used to index reactions which will subsequently be available from the database. These reactions will be analysed in a future paper.

To promote the creation of web-based tutorials, we summarize relevant information for authors in [4], and provide both general guidelines for creating good tutorials and practical advice, including a short overview of relevant tools and techniques.

Our main point is sufficiently general to extend beyond the confines of Speech Sciences: it is not the tools that count, it is the pedagogical design. It is not very difficult to produce adequate teaching materials using one of the commonly available Office packages. The real problem is designing the material for open learning, i.e where the student designs his own "trajectory" through the material. Students require guidance and explanation when the subject becomes difficult, and therefore designers should help them as much as possible by structuring the material accordingly. Defining concise prerequisites and objectives for a given module not only helps to devise such a structure, but also ensures that it can be used adequately by others. A highly modular structure with well-defined components is especially important when teachers from several departments collaborate on a tutorial. The internet is ideal for presenting the material in a tree- or web-like fashion with a multitude of links between documents. The student, not constrained by the usual linear order of presentation, can then actively explore the topics at hand from different viewpoints. However, this requires that the material be easy to navigate.

Creating fully web-based, telematic courses is certainly beyond the power of the single teacher. However, teachers can and should try to integrate the internet gradually into everyday teaching. A course homepage is a good starting point. They might then want to add a mailing list or newsgroup for discussing their course. Subsequently, the material accessible from the home page can be enhanced through collaboration with other teachers and departments until maybe, one day, a new tutorial emerges.

In the future, we will further promote the creation of web-based tutorials by setting out guidelines for teachers from different universities who want to engage in collaborative authorship. Secondly, we will explore the use of computer-mediated communication for teaching in the Speech Sciences.

The research reported in this abstract has been carried out with
support from grant 25409-CP-2-97-1-NL-ERASMUS-ETN from the European Commission through the SOCTRAES/ERASMUS programme for Thematic Networks.


[1] M. Huckvale et. al., "Opportunities for Computer-Aided Instruction     in Phonetics and Speech Communication Provided by the Internet,     Proceedings of the 5th Eurospeech Conferernce, Rhodes, 1997.
[2] M. Huckvale, C. Benoit, C. Bowerman, A. Eriksson, M. Rosner, M.     Tatham, B. Williams, "Computer Aided Learning and Use of the     Internet", in "The Landscape of Future Education", vol 1, ed. G.     Bloothooft et. al., Utrecht:OTS Publications, 1997.
[4] Huckvale, M., Bowerman, C., Eriksson, A., Rosner, M., Williams, B.,     Wolters, M., "Computer Aided Learning and Use of the Internet", in Bloothooft, G., et al, editors, "The Landscape of Future Education in     Speech Communication Sciences, 2 Proposals", OTS Publications, Utrecht, 1998.