CS grad students publish on lineBy Sally Harris
Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 18 - January 30, 1997
Students in Marc Abrams's graduate-level class "The World Wide Web: Beyond the Basics" are publishing on line a book about the World Wide Web (WWW).
The book presents an overview of the web in 26 chapters grouped into six categories: Introduction, Social Aspects, User Interfaces, Standards, Object-Oriented Programming, and The Future. Chapters include topics such as "Demographics," "Freedom of Speech," "Real-time Audio and Video," "HTML," "Java," and "The Internet for the Masses." Each chapter was researched and written by a student in the class, according to Vonda Patterson, an M.S. student in charge of publicity for the book and author of the chapter on "The Internet Today."
The book is being written for novice users of the WWW who want advanced knowledge of the web and also for professional users who want viewpoints on certain subjects, Patterson said. "It has a good summary of the privacy issue," she said, "and also a good chapter on education and the web." The latter chapter, she said, focuses on ways educators use the web and whether that use improves the web.
Abrams said there was a pedagogical and a practical purpose for having the class do the book. He wanted to get away from traditional teaching methods and employ a constructivist approach in which students together construct the knowledge about a subject and the teacher serves as a guide. The students learn by discovering information, writing about it, and critiquing each other's work.
Practically, he said, it is unlikely that a single person would know enough about the web to teach everything the students need. By writing and presenting the book chapters, they could learn more as all 26 students researched the subjects and presented them in class than they could if Abrams presented the material himself.
By doing the book this way, the students get a feel for the way they must submit a paper to a journal or a chapter for a book, Patterson said. The chapters are presented as they would be for publication, are reviewed and edited, and then are published as part of the on-line book. Also, each student in the class must serve an additional role such as reviewer of articles or member of the editorial board, style board, or advisory board.
A third motivation, Abrams said, was that the computer-science department has been looking for ways in the curriculum to use more large-scale teamwork, since employers are interested in people trained to work as a team. Abrams got the idea for doing the book from Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland who described in a lecture at Virginia Tech a course in which his students wrote two on-line works: The Encyclopedia of Virtual Environments and the Journal of Virtual Environments. and has had his students do a book in another field.
The Virginia Tech book, which is on line now in the form the students presented for peer review, can be read by anyone with access to the web. It can be accessed at http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~wwwbtb/fall.96/book/.