|Vol. 17, No. 17||Jan. 22, 1998|
Even though 85 percent of John Courtright and Elizabeth Perse's first-year communication students come to the University with some understanding of computers, many have almost no knowledge of the Internet.
"In my introductory level communication theory course," Courtright said, "3 percent of the grade is for use of an Internet newsgroup. To this day, only half of the class has posted on the class newsgroup, and it takes only 20 to 30 minutes to do."
Perse said her experience in her mass communication courses is the same. Being able to use the Internet for course work is an important skill for them to have, she said, but not many of her students feel comfortable with using on-line material.
The two communication professors decided to collaborate on a book and later on an on-line course that would give students the ability to use what Courtright and Perse say will be the premier information resource of the future.
Communicating Online, published in November by Mayfield Publishing Co., provides students with a clear, simple blueprint for navigating the Net.
In the introduction to the book, Courtright and Perse call the Internet one of the fastest growing tools of electronic communication and add that students who don't know how to use it will be condemned to technological illiteracy.
The book was designed to provide the guidance, vocabulary and a set of skills necessary to launch communication students on their journey toward technological competency.
The first few chapters explain the nuts and bolts of the Internet, such as what it is physically and how it gets to computers. Also covered are e-mail, the web, URLs, listservs, newsgroups, browsers, multimedia and hypertext-basically, defining most of the jargon associated with the Net, all of which is listed in a glossary.
And, the book does one other important thing: It gives students guidelines for judging the validity of the information they find at a website.
Anyone can create and publish a website with any kind of information. "It's buyer beware," Courtright said, "not unlike buying a used car. You don't know who drove it or if the mileage is accurate. Your only guarantee is the ability to verify what the seller is telling you." Courtright and Perse have devoted a portion of Communicating Online to explaining how to be sure the information retrieved is sound.
When students use information from the Internet in the two professors' courses, they must verify the data.
"You've got to know the credibility of the author, how current the information is and whether or not the information comes from a known organization, like a governmental agency or a well-known institution," Perse said. The authors show students how to cite web page material in the papers they write.
Collaboration on the book led to collaboration on a web-based course, which Courtright and Perse say they hope to offer first-year students this fall.
The on-line course will be self-paced, and students who have basic knowledge of the Net will be able to test out.
"To me, the Internet is a new mass medium and what we're talking about is using it as a tool that communication students must master or be considered illiterate," Courtright said.