Should using the Internet change the way we teach?
(Are you making movies or just filming stage plays?)

How many teachers are involved in eLearning? And how are they using Net-based technologies and resources?

A recent survey of the e-teaching habits of staff at Douglas Mawson Institute of Technology (formerly a part of TAFE South Australia) revealed mixed messages. The encouraging part of the story is that lecturers’ use of web-based technologies has increased markedly. Approximately 80% of lecturing staff are using the Internet with students. However, the survey data also revealed a pattern of usage of the Internet that is still fairly conservative. Few lecturers are exploiting the potential of the Net to facilitate collaborative approaches. Use of communication tools like chat and forum, while sometimes used for communication with colleagues across campuses, were rarely used for teaching purposes. The use of email in teaching was quite widespread, but it is mainly used as one to one communication between student and lecturer, and typically around the sending and marking of assignments.

Use of webpages revealed a similar conservative approach. Many courses now have web-based resources on course resources lists, but web-based resources are still being treated as optional extras rather than key resources; as an add-on rather than a core component of the teaching methodology.

This presentation will briefly review the survey data, and discuss how the Internet can be used to more fully utilise the potential of elearning to promote more collaborative methodologies. It will also discuss what strategies can be employed to assist teaching staff progress to a stage where there is true integration of the Internet into their teaching approaches.

Teachers who have used the Internet with students know how different it is. Allow students use of the Internet and you offer them a myriad of pathways to unknown endings. And when students are online it is very hard to bring them back to focus on you – in classrooms real and virtual. The Internet encourages users to take a journey via hyperlinks. It inherently posits the interconnectedness of information and knowledge across all spheres of inquiry. Ask twenty students to focus on a particular website and it can be the start of a twenty quite different journeys, as each student sets off on their own pathway away from that site. Trying to bring students back to order in this virtual environment has been appropriately likened to herding cats.

The Internet is different from other new technologies in that a teachers’ ability to control it is sabotaged by the medium. TV, radio, video conferencing – these are essentially broadcast media that are still controlled by the teacher, and they easily accommodate the teacher led methodologies that characterise much of our teaching. Despite all the idealistic aspirations to the contrary, many teachers are more comfortable when they are conducting teacher led instruction.  A quick tour of most adult learning classrooms around the country will reveal that most desks still face the front of the room!

One can of course, as many teachers in the survey mentioned above are doing, use the Internet as a one way broadcast medium, or as a source of information that needs to be found to answer preset questions – these are legitimate and valid activities, but they use just a fraction of the Internet capabilities, and reinforce an old paradigm. I am constantly reminded of the comparison with the time when movies were first made. Early movies consisted of the filmed movements of actors doing live plays as if they were on stage. It was only after some time that creative directors began to realise the potential of the new medium. And so it is with the Internet in teaching. The Internet is more than a book.

Should using the Internet change the way we teach? If we wish to exploit its full potential for student centred and collaborative learning then yes we do. We need to move away from traditional teacher led instruction (this is often referred to as the paradigm shift), incorporate the rhizomic nature of the Net, and allow students to find their own paths to knowledge. And this applies to both on and off campus students.

The Internet is not just a passive resource. As someone commented after one of my voice online workshops, "I thought the Internet was just something for getting information. This view of the Internet ignores the great many opportunities for interaction with others via CMC (computer mediated communication) tools.

So how might this work in practice? How do we capitalise on the unique way the Internet allows access to information, and make best use of its innate communication capabilities?

In the figures below you can see approaches of the old and new paradigms contrasted. The column on the left, the traditional paradigm, shows how a teacher might use the new technology in the old way. The right hand column presents sample approaches from teachers who are exploring more teacher independent and collaborative methodologies.

‘Traditional’ Paradigm

Under the new paradigm

Students use website(s) to find answers to teacher set questions

Students evaluate websites’ value in assembling body of knowledge to solve problems

Teacher defines problems and gives directions to websites to solve the problem

Teachers or students identify issues and use the Net to define the questions

Teacher provides reading list of suitable websites

Teacher asks students to search for suitable sites that become course resources

Teacher suggests some websites as marginal to the area of inquiry

The web is an integral source of information about the area of inquiry

Course content pre-packaged by teacher

Nil or little course content up front. Majority of content generated by student discussion


Students post questions and findings to asynchronous forums for peer comment and assessment


It is true of course that some teachers were promoting collaborative learning in their classrooms long before the advent of Internet technology.  And it is not the case that all courses that utilise the Internet need to adopt the new paradigm at all times. But if you are using the Internet with your students and do not allow for some degree of learner autonomy where students are partners with you in collaborative course design, then you are still using moving picture technology to film live plays, and perhaps doing your students a disservice.


  1. Bensusan, Guy; The Escalator;
  2. Carrington, Alan (2003); Retooling for Creative Curriculum - Using Low Threshold Activities to Produce Best Practice Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia
  4. Coghlan, Michael (2002); Building a Course on the Run;
  5. Dodge, Bernie (2000), Thinking Visually with Webquests;
  6. Fannon, Kate;
  7. Gilbert, Stephen; Personalising Pedagogy;
  8. Jonassen, David H; Technology as Cognitive Tools: Learners as Designers;
  9. Murphy, Elizabeth;  Constructivism - from Philosophy to Practice
  10. Oliver, Ron; Using online technologies to support problem based learning: Learners' responses and perceptions;
  11. Ripley, D.E, Using Technology to Improve the Quality of Classroom Instruction, International Conference on Computers and Education Proceedings, Auckland, 2002)

Some Suggested Strategies for integrating the Internet into teaching practice

1.      Join a professional email list related to your teaching area (see, or Such email lists provide ample opportunity to contact other lecturers who may wish to organise collaboration between classes, and typically constitute a support group for all manner of questions relating to how to use the Internet in your teaching or vocational area.

2.      Identify parts of your course that require collaboration and explore how you might set up appropriate activities using the Internet

3.      Identify parts of your course that require higher order thinking skills and explore how you might foster that using the Internet

4.      try Webquests. A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation – use existing resources at or have students design them.

5.      Have students find and evaluate resources

6.      Have students peer assess on discussion boards

7.      Have students participate in web based collaborative problem based learning projects

8.      Have students create their own websites

9.      Have students host and moderate online discussions

10.  Use CMC tools for an online debate

11.  Invite outside experts to communicate with your students via CMC

12.  allow process to take precedence over content. You don’t always have to have all course content in place. 

13.  Have Internet enabled PCs in your classroom

Michael Coghlan
Educause, 2003

(page updated 7/4/20)