Does World Wide Web provide better resources than library for learning ˇV A Case Study?

(paper presented at 6th Annual Conference on the Teaching of Computing/ 3rd Annual Conference on Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education -ITiCSE '98, on 18th - 21st August 1998 Dublin, Ireland)ˇ@

Raymond M. W. Leung and Eugenia M. W. Ng

Department of Science

The Hong Kong Institute of Education

Tai Po, N. T., Hong Kong


With the advent of technology, the traditional board and chalk teaching method is no longer the only way to teach. There were various success stories of using WWW as a learning tool but most studies were fragmented. Researchers at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) attempted to investigate the usefulness of WWW as a learning medium using a longitudinal study. The participants were pre-service student teachers studying at the HKIEd taking Computer Literacy (Information Technology) as one of their electives. Two groups of students participated in two case studies, each consisting of six students. Each case study consisted of: (1) a pre-test, (2) searching [using WWW in the first and second studies and using the library (paper-based references) in the third and fourth studies], and (3) a post-test. All the questions asked in the pre-tests were asked again in the post-tests so that students understood what to search for during the searching sessions and it was also easier to find out the usefulness of the searching exercises.

Perhaps due to the difficulties of the questions, students performed badly for all the pre-tests but were able to improve significantly in the post-tests. The improvements of library search (70% for group 1 and 85% for group 2) were almost double those of the WWW search (38% for group 1 and 35% for group 2). Students were also asked to give comments to questions related to searching mechanism, content of searched materials and recording information. Answers were varied but students in general thought that searching for materials using the library was easier and time saving as there were indexes and related books/magazines were put together. They perceived that the materials in the library were easier to understand but not up-to-date and some times not available. Interestingly, an equal number of students regarded using the web to search as easier as there are links in the web. Some students found searching using the web time consuming, as there was too much information there and some of it was rather irrelevant as well. However, most of them regarded recording materials from the web much easier since they could use ˇ§cut and pasteˇ¨ methods.

The researchers found students were very honest when giving comments when correcting the post-tests. Students appeared to have used cut and paste to answer post-test questions without digesting when using the web search as there were right answers given for the wrong questions. Some students scored better for simple questions involving identification of keywords, but not for more difficult questions which involved understanding them. On the other hand, the answers of post-tests were found much more limited in terms of both the depth and scope when students used library search but the presentation of the materials was observed to be better organized. To conclude, the WWW holds more and more up-to-date information than most university libraries, but students have not mastered the techniques of searching for and assimilating information obtained from the web. Perhaps, educators should take a leading role by educating students in a ˇ§smarterˇ¨ way to search for information, rather than letting students use ˇ§trial and error methodsˇ¨ on their own. We could familiarise students with use of webs by assigning some useful web sites as reference resources. With more practice and training, the WWW could become the major resource for learning.