Sharing Pedagogy with Java

An educator uses Linux and Java to share teaching tools with others.
Implementation

As this project has developed, the applets have evolved, in part due to user comments and suggestions. The HTML page for each applet has a mailto: tag to allow the user to send e-mail directly to me. Also, I have learned new Java tricks and thought of improvements. So, the code-change dates are provided on the index page. Future improvements will include homework-type problems with each applet.

After several months of hosting the applets, it became clear that some academic programs were being hampered by long download times in using the applets over the Internet. I now provide an archive file created with tar containing all the source code and HTML pages, so that the Java programs can be run locally at other universities. This tar file contains a Makefile, which provides a convenient way for the system administrator to compile all the source code at once. After installation, the local user points a web browser at the directory containing the applets and then proceeds in the same way as the user on the Internet, but faster. If you want to try this or see the source code, the anonymous FTP site is www.coastal.udel.edu and the file javapp.tar.Z is in the /pub/programs directory.

I could improve access speed for the Internet user in a couple of ways. For each applet, I could compress all the class files for a particular applet into a single zip file, reducing the number of times the downloading browser has to connect with my machine. (For Internet Explorer users, the files would need to be in CAB format.) Another option would be to move to the Java bean model. The problem with this solution is that the language is evolving rapidly, so the applets would also have to evolve.

Implications

I view the pedagogical advantages of applets such as these to be paramount and potentially leading to large changes in the way education material is delivered (until the next more convenient tool comes along). Another major implication deals with free delivery of course content. What is the motivation for people to provide these programs and what is the benefit to their institutions, particularly if there is a reduced need for textbooks?

Several scenarios may play out in the future. Free course content may soon dominate the Internet. This would follow the model of the Linux operating system and other free software packages. What do the developers get? Recognition. What do the institutions get? The same as they now get with textbooks—recognition. Alternatively, the advent of methods to bill small amounts of money safely over the Internet might permit such sites to charge for each use. This will most likely happen for sites that deliver an entire course on-line.

Conclusion

Java offers a new and flexible way to provide active educational content to augment classroom instruction, both for the local institution and institutions everywhere. Through the Internet or local downloads of applets or applications, the examples developed by one instructor can be shared by all.

Acknowledgements

Robert A. Dalrymple (rad@udel.edu) directs the Center for Applied Coastal Research (http://www.coastal.udel.edu/) at the University of Delaware. He has written LJ articles on Scilab, Xfig, Xfm and EXT2tools. He has been using Linux at home and work since 1.0 came out. This spring he built ORCA, a parallel computer consisting of 8 Pentium II machines linked with a high-speed Ethernet switched network.

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