The Virtual Seminars Project: Creating, Using, and Evaluating On-line Teaching and Research Materials

multipaper session
  1. 1. Stuart D. Lee

    Centre for Humanities Computing - Oxford University

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Session Topic

This session will look, in depth, at the Virtual Seminars for Teaching literature project funded by the UK's JISC Technology Applications Programme. This project is notable in the fact that it is exploring equally the potential of using the Web for on-line teaching of literature, creating and using a digital archive of primary source material, intregrating this material into courses in Universities throughout the U.K., and formally evaluating its effectiveness. The subject area of the project is British poetry from the First World War.

The first paper presented by Lee looks at the project's deliverables of 1996-1997, namely four web-based tutorials which act as a supplement to a course on First World War literature. This will build on a similar paper presented by Lee and Groves at the Digital Resources in the Humanities conference (Oxford, 1997) but will present new information on the feedback to the tutorials, and how they have had to be edited or added to in the light of this ongoing evaluation.

The second paper by Groves will look at the hitherto unreported work of the project from October 1997 onwards. This involves the creation of a digital archive of material relating primarily to the poet Wilfred Owen. The talk will discuss the digitisation and storage of the manuscripts held in the collections of such institutions as the English Faculty Library, Oxford, and the British Library. It will look at how these are being presented via the Web to allow users to search through the material and create their own paths. In this area the paper will discuss the issues of using the TEI to mark-up the individual items of the archive (which also include photographs, audio clips, and video clips), the use of the EAD, and the financial and time pressures involved.

The third paper by Porter will look at the formal evaluation of the project which has been performed jointly with the Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for Textual Studies. Outlining previous work with the ELib project 'On-Demand Publishing in the Humanities', the speaker will look at on-line evaluation of the tutorials and single out some case studies of their actual use in the classroom.

Paper #1

Web Tutorials: The JTAP Seminars to Teach Literature

Stuart D. Lee

Humanities Computing Unit, University of Oxford

Keywords: teaching, Web, literature

Head of the Centre for Humanities Computing, Oxford University Computing Services, 13 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6NN
FAX: 01865-273221
PHONE: 01865-283403

This paper will outline the activities of the first phase of the JISC Technology Applications Programme 'Virtual Seminars' Project, namely the development of four on-line tutorials to teach First World War poetry.

To begin with the talk will look at other projects which are using the Internet to teach humanities-based subjects. What do these have in common? Are there any design features which can be distinguished as common to all the projects, and which in turn could be identified as being wedded to the humanities. At the same time the numerous advantages of using the Web as a successful teaching medium will be outlined, as will a the recent EC-funded initiatives such as ACO*HUM and EUROLITERATURE.

The mainstay of this talk will be a discussion of the four tutorials developed under the JTAP project which have been freely available on the Web since 1st October 1997, moreover, the tutorial entitled 'Isaac Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches'' (the second tutorial in the JTAP series) has been available since January 1995 making it one of the first humanities web-based tutorials developed.

The tutorials are structured as follows:

1) An Introduction to First World War Poetry in which simple hypertext is used outlining the main poets (British) from the Western Front.

2) Isaac Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches' - a more elaborate hypertext system is used here to teach close reading of a text (and to record users' responses to the poem).

3) An Introduction to Manuscript Studies using a frame-based approach the user is presented with digital facsimiles of the four manuscripts of Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum est' and asked to create their own edition.

4) An Introduction to Text Analysis using TACTWeb and the most recently edited version of Wilfred Owen's war poems the user can run increasingly more complicated text analysis routines. In addition to these there is a Web-based bulletin board and an extensive links of material relating to the subject of the War. From the project management side the site also contains several reports, one introducing 'Existing Tools and Projects for On-Line Teaching', another is a case study by an MA student on the development of the site, a third is an outline of the process of manuscript digitisation. The talk will include a brief outline of the contents of all of these reports and of the tutorials themselves.

However, the talk will predominantly look at the design of all the tutorials. At which point should a linear approach be adopted as opposed to a more elaborate hypertext structure. How can one design a tutorial to allow users to compare manuscripts and create their own editions? What solutions are there for delivering straightforward text analysis via the Web at a minimal cost? How does one secure copyright to use such material in teaching packages? All of these issues will be answered and solutions and advice will be offered to other projects.

Although some of the content of this talk is similar to the paper delivered by Groves and Lee at the Digital Resources in the Humanities Conference in Oxford, 1997, it will have substantially more information to present in terms of feedback, project reports, and future initiatives. Furthermore it provides essential background to the detailed papers by Groves and Porter.

Paper #2

The Wilfred Owen Multimedia Digital Archive

Paul Groves

JTAP Project 'Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature',Humanities Computing Unit, University of Oxford

KEYWORDS: (Online) Seminars, Evaluation, (Digital) Archive



Whilst it is hoped that the 'Virtual Seminars' prove useful in the teaching of literature, from the project's point of view they are really just intended to be examples of how the material from the WOMDA can be used for educational purposes. The WOMDA has a number of purposes: to provide access (via the Web) to digitised primary source material (information about which is given below); to provide a means of making context-based searching and browsing of the archive possible; to provide a means of making seminar creation possible for users via the Web, utilising the material in the archive - this is referred to as the "Path Creation Scheme"; and to digitally preserve high quality images of the primary source material for future generations, taking into account the issues involved with this.

Archive Content

The archive will comprise the following material:Virtually all of Wilfred Owen's original manuscripts for his war poetry, mostly drawn from material held at the English Faculty Library at Oxford University and the British Library. Permisson to use this material in the manner stated has been given. It is also hoped to be able to use a small number of poem manuscripts held by the University of Columbia (New York) and by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre at the University of Texas, Austin.

From a scholar's point of view, access to the original manuscripts is essential , since Owen died before hardly any of his work was published - therefore there is much to speculate about authorial intention.

18 issues of The Hydra, The journal of the Craiglockhart War Hospital, to which both Owen And Sassoon contributed. This is the most complete run in existence.

Twenty photographs of Wilfred Owen in uniform and various army orders, including the one publishing Owen's Military Cross.It is also hoped that permission will be granted to incorporate a selection of letters that Owen wrote during his war service -mainly to his mother, but also to his siblings, as well as to Siegfried Sassoon, Leslie Gunston and Robert Graves.From the Public Record Office at Kew, it is hoped that we will be able to incorporate appropriate parts of his battalion's diary, some of his medical record, as well as other related ephemera. From the archives of the Imperial War Museum we will be incorporating a large selection of general information from the war mostly photographs, but also some sound and a tiny bit of video.In addition some relevant current-day video and photographic material from the area around the Western Front (cemetaries, battlefields etc.) will be included.


The Hydra and the poem manuscripts held at Oxofrd's English faculty library were digitised by Dr. David Cooper of Oxford's Library Automation Service. Specialised equipment, based around a Kontron Progress 3012 digital CCD camera was used to capture the images (see _ for further information about this process. The British Library use a similar system for digitising.

The images were captured at 300dpi and 24-bit colour and saved as uncompressed TIFF files on the University's Hierarchical File Server (<>). This is superb for archival and research purposes , but impractical for use on the web, as the resulting images come out at about 35Mb! For Web delivery, the resolution was reduced to 72dpi (screen resolution) and the images saved as compressed JPEG files.


"the willingness of the scholarly community to give serious weight to electronic information depends upon scholarly trust in such information being dependably available, with its authenticity and integrity maintained" (BL R&D Report 6238)

To make the archive usable, both now and in the future, it is necessary to encode the material with at least a basic level of metadata (data that describes other data). Encoding the material is necessary for preservation purposes, contextual searching and browsing, and will also aid the development of the "Path Creation Scheme" (see above). Encoding is also essential if the material is to maintain its "authenticity and integrity".

The encoding scheme used is SGML, following the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (<>), specifically making use of the TEI-Lite DTD (<>). Each of the digitised artifacts is associated with TEI-Lite SGML data that provides some metadata about the artifact such as: full description, physical location of original, copyright information, date digitised (and where) as well as any other bibliographic information.

In addition to this metadata, a means of searching the archive is required. Ideally this would be achieved by referencing richly marked-up transcriptions of the manuscripts themselves. Unfortunatlely the time, money and manpower available for the project does not allow for this. Instead, the poem manuscripts will be referenced via a transcripton of Jon Stallworthy's edition of Owen's War Poetry (which is generally regarded as the most accurate), marked-up to a fairly minimal level.

The Hydra is being transcribed at Napier University, the current owners of Craiglockhart, and then marked-up to a fairly minimal level.

For Web delivery and searching, use is made of OpenText's PAT SGML-aware search engine coupled with a set of Perl CGI scripts which convert the output to browser friendly HTML (though in the future it may be possible to deliver the output directly as XML).

Paper # 3

User Responses to Online Teaching of Literature

Sarah Porter

CTI Centre for Textual Studies, Humanities Computing Unit,University of Oxford

KEYWORDS: user needs, evaluation, online teaching



The use of technology when teaching the humanities has traditionally been faced with a number of challenging issues, including problems of re-use of information, user and staff resistance, and lack of IT awareness. Two projects based on the teaching of literature using the WWW have taken different approaches to their use of web technology in a learning situation: using the WWW as a tool to deliver largely unmediated text resources direct to the desktop, and using the WWW to create hypermedia, interactive seminars based around collections of texts. This paper draws together and contrasts findings of formal evaluation of each approach, and makes some comments on their implication for the design and use of web technology in teaching the humanities.


Evaluation of the eLib funded 'On demand Publishing in the Humanities Project' (hereafter ODP project) brought out certain key findings regarding the use of web technology to create and deliver online teaching materials. The ODP project ran over a two year period (September 1995 - August 1997) with evaluation in various forms taking place over the last eighteen months of that period. Substantial sets of evaluative data were collected, including statistical data relating to use of the materials, interview transcripts, questionnaire data, and the findings of focus groups and show-and-tell sessions. An overall pattern of responses was collated and presented in a paper at the Digital Resources in the Humanities Conference (Porter and McRory, 1997) which focussed on students and tutors responses in three areas: whether users were willing to make digital resources a central part of their studies, whether they had sufficient IT skills to make appropriate use of the technology, and whether their patterns of working could be adapted for the digital medium.

Difference of approach The ODP Project took at resource-centred approach to the implementation of digital resources. Whilst academics had input into the selection of materials, and in some cases added to these materials with their own essays and overviews, their interaction with the project was equivalent to the role that they would play in the selection and provision of traditional library resources to students. That is, the academic had sole responsibility for selecting materials for inclusion in the project's textbase according to the content of their courses, and some ongoing input in terms of advising the project team on providing training and support to students, but in general added no further pedagogic structure or content to the textbase. The textbase was intended for private study or guided use in the classroom, but was not intended to replace traditional teaching; in general, most of the materials allowed students access to primary resources, with a minimum of cross-reference and commentary, and without the benefit of a directed or guided route through them, which contrasts strongly to the tutorial-based structure of the Virtual Seminars Project. Tutorial and seminar time is used separately from the textbase, with the materials used exclusively for individual study. In contrast, the Virtual Seminars project has taken a tutorial approach, by providing materials within a tutorial-style, subjective context, with a framework of commentary custom-written for the medium by an academic. In addition, the Virtual Seminars project has broadened its scope away from simple information provision using the WWW, by adding a range of interactive tools. These include a concordance generator which a user can employ to manipulate texts within the textbase, search tools, and a custom-built framework which allows a student to compare digital manuscripts in close detail. A discussion forum using hypermail allows students to interact with other users and to build an archive of responses. Each individual user's own interaction with the materials and progress can be monitored. The range of tools and design of the web-based tutorials creates a challenging and innovative learning environment, which requires adaptation and assimilation by staff and students if it is to be used in a classroom setting, or for individual study. The Seminars intend to provide a more complete pedagogic experience for the student; this intention is supported by the addition of further teaching instruction materials which are intended to help tutors make best use of the medium in teaching.

The approaches of the two projects have many similarities; however, it is the pedagogic relevance of the differences in approach which is of key interest and which will be considered in the comparative evaluation. Contextand structure for the ODP materials was given in the classroom; the Virtual Seminars Project instead aims to include some of this direction and context within the tutorial materials themselves. This difference in approach will form a strong element of the evaluation.

Analysis of Response

The responses from the ODP project raised issues which have fed into evaluation of the 'Virtual Seminars' project in two areas:by providing a sound evaluation methodology which can fruitfully be applied, and by providing a basis for direct comparison between two projects which have many common facets, but which also demonstrate a number of distinctly different approaches. A substantial section of this paper will look at the different approaches taken by the projects and look at the effect that they have had upon the users' perceptions. Users perceptions of the materials will illuminate the positive and negative aspects of each approach. Of particular interest and importance will be the parallel comparison of the response of students and tutors staff who have used materials from each project in their teaching and learning experiences.

Drawing from experiences of the ODP project, evaluation of the Virtual Seminars project will focus on feedback from targeted user-groups, and less formal evaluation based other data, such as adhoc response forms. User groups, consisting of tutors and students, based in a number of Higher Education Institutions in the United Kingdom will be asked to respond the questionnaires, some interviews, and focus (discussion) groups. Some quantitative analysis of responses will be carried out, based upon responses given to a structured questionnaire, and some usage statistics. Qualitative feedback, with full answers and personal responses, will be collected using structured discussion (or focus) groups, and open questions within a questionnaire. Additional data will draw upon provision for automatic collection of user (staff and student) responses by employing feedback forms within the tutorials themselves; analysis of the form-based responses.


Responses will be collated for each project in certain areas, namely:

% implications for teaching and learning;
% technology's role as an information provider in teaching;
% implications for resourcing of tutors;
% implications for IT training and support;
% adapting patterns of working to technology.
The response data will be compared in the light of the two approaches to the use of WWW technology to teach the humanities as detailed above, and the pros and cons of each methodology described in terms of user responses.

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Conference Info

In review

"Virtual Communities"

Hosted at Debreceni Egyetem (University of Debrecen) (Lajos Kossuth University)

Debrecen, Hungary

July 5, 1998 - July 10, 1998

109 works by 129 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (10), ACH/ICCH (18), ALLC/EADH (25)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC