Using the World-Wide Web in teaching: An interview with Hans Rollmann
by Joyce Joyal. News about teaching and learning at Memorial
January 31, 1998. Copyright © 1998, News about teaching and learning at Memorial,
Memorial University of Newfoundland. Reprinted with permission.
Dr. Hans Rollmann is professor in the Department of Religious Studies
at MUN. We spoke with him about the ways in which he has incorporated
the World Wide Web into his teaching.
His Religion, Society, and Culture in Newfoundland and Labrador home page
can be accessed via the following URL:
Q. Can you tell me generally how you have incorporated
the World-Wide Web into your courses?
A. I use the Web as an adjunct in teaching Religion in
Newfoundland and Labrador. But the resources placed on-line
are also being used by people outside my own teaching. The
University of Georgia, for example, has used some of my on-line
graphics for one of their civilization courses.
Q. Are students using material as a supplement
to regular course materials?
A. Yes. But the sources and entire books I have placed
on-line are also a repository for research projects.
In some sections, the Web takes the place of a textbook.
In other instances it becomes the resource for the research
component of the course. For example, I have on-line most of the
propaganda that encouraged settlement in Newfoundland in the 1600s.
Students can use these books and research the relative role religion
may have played in the colonial settlement ideology.
The materials available consist of texts,
pictures, maps, and interpretations. Eventually,
these items may serve as well as a basis for distance
education. Continuing Education, for example, attempted
at one time to provide equal access to resources through
regional libraries. But this became impossible to maintain.
With Web-based resources, greater equality of access can be
achieved. This works especially well with my older materials
where copyright is not a problem and where the instructor can
furnish her or his own interpretative essays.
Q. Do you think the Web is better suited as a supplement
to a course rather than being the main resource?
A. In my case, yes, although others have had success
with entire Web courses. There are sometimes excessive
hopes placed on technological solutions in teaching. I
still think that technology, especially information
technology, will not displace the teacher and the classroom.
In fact, I use very few media in the classroom itself. But
I do have a lab along with some of my courses, in which
I introduce students to the World Wide Web as an information
Q. So, with the Web, students have access to materials they
otherwise wouldn't have?
A. Yes. Many of the 17th and 18th century books are very
rare items which exist only in vault copies or Xeroxes.
The Web makes them available in the student's own study.
Also, the text becomes more manageable in that it can be
searched more easily. The student has the benefits that
come with electronic texts, but also the disadvantages:
a screen instead of the tactile materiality of the book.
He or she can, however, print out these materials and
get hard copies.
Q. Does this make your teaching a lot richer than when
you did not have access to the Web?
A. Yes, it can, especially as we strive for greater
inclusion of other media. Once again, the Web can have
a democratizing function as long as we don't create by
insurmountable financial and proprietary obstacles
electronic Lazaruses who cannot dine at the tables of
the cyber-lords. Sometimes, the interaction that results
from the Web gives considerable satisfaction to the teacher.
One student, for example, a high school music teacher in
Gander, took the initiative to have her church choir
perform the Ode to Newfoundland and sent a digitized
version to me for placement on my Religion, Society,
and Culture in Newfoundland and Labrador Web page. The
result was that another displaced Newfoundlander wrote
to me a letter of appreciation from Hawaii. The world
has indeed become a global village, and we have great
opportunities to export Newfoundland culture world-wide.
MUN is a leader in this regard, even beyond the immediate
area of class room instruction. In fact the Web has taught
us to tear down walls in communication. Take for example
that rich cultural resource, The Newfoundland and Labrador
Heritage web page (http://www.heritage.nf.ca/),
with which I am associated as editor. Many in this university
community--faculty, students, staff, and administrators,
in concert with high school students, foundations and the
private industry-are collaborating in creating a rich and
diversified profile of Newfoundland's natural and cultural
heritage. This, too, is teaching, when university know-how
uses the Web to communicate reliably to the wider public and
the world what we have been and who we are as a community
Q. Do you find that there is a lot of encouragement and
promotion here at the university to the develop Web
material for courses?
A. There are varieties of supports. I think the Arts faculty,
of which I am a member, has been well served through the dean
of arts computing initiative as well as support structures, such
as the Arts Computing Resource Centre. But also the university as
a whole encourages these developments. There are obviously tensions
and limitations in such a complex organism as a provincial university,
but, on the whole, we have been more fortunate than other institutions.
In many regards, our computing facilities are first-class. I have also
found MUCEP students and graduate assistants to be invaluable in
helping me develop and maintain Web pages and create resources.
Q. Do you think as time goes on you'll probably become more
involved in the Web with more of your courses?
A. I can envision it, particularly the development of Web-related
courses, although the caveats I already mentioned remain. The
computer is no panacea for pedagogy.
Q. Do you think it would hinder your teaching if you had to do
without the Web in your teaching now? Could you go back to
being without it?
A. I have come to rely on it very much in some areas. And yet
the major aspect of teaching (to use a phrase of my wife who
teaches modern languages) real communication still takes place
for me face-to-face, student-to-prof, rather than in front of
a monitor. I consider the Web a powerful tool in teaching but
not a substitute pedagogue.
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