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: http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~hrollman.

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 source.

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 and culture.

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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