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Use of the World Wide Web in Engineering Education:
A Status Report

Ji, J., Mahoney, A. W., Moylan, S. and Ortiz, T. M.

WWW Enhancement of Face-to-Face Lecture Courses
Implementation of Self-Contained WWW Courses
Web Distribution and Collection of Assignments
Text and Course Materials on the World Wide Web
Web Resources and Examples


The use of the World Wide Web has revolutionized many areas of life, and education is no exception. From its inception [H1] as a way for academics to share information among themselves, it has become part of the modern world economy and a commercial hub as well as enabling communication between diverse communities. Perhaps fittingly the Web has now come full circle to become a tool for academics to share information with their students.

The pace of innovation surrounding the development of computer technology, including the Internet and the World Wide Web, is staggering compared with the pace of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, some countries are still far from being industrialized as measured by the standards of the West. Adam and Wilson [H2] discuss this trend in the pace of innovation and its application to university education. The IBM Corporation [H3] has stated this conclusion in a somewhat more alarming fashion:

Every professional environment has changed so significantly over the past hundred years that if the workers of a century ago were transported to their workplaces of today, few would recognize the settings and tools of their trade--except teachers. Only now, with the advent of information and communications technology, have schools begun to see the present and potential transformation already affecting other industries. The Internet is altering the roles, functions and focus of teaching and learning.

Technology has played a role in education for many years. Distance learning has become more and more popular--particularly as delivered via satellite video with two-way audio. However, as Ricart [H4] notes, "Television is associated with passivity. The Internet is associated with interaction." Van Houweling [H4] expresses this interactivity in terms of available capabilities:

Two-way video alone simply attempts to substitute an inferior communication capability for in-person communication. Advanced Internet provides a more flexible video interchange environment and adds the ability to simultaneously interact with remote instruments, visualize computer models, and access global information resources. When video is run through a standard network into a computer, expense is reduced, setup is simplified, and access is ubiquitous. Further, you can couple the video with the other modalities that computers enable.

On the other hand, some question the use and practicality of advanced multimedia on the Internet for delivery of coursework. For instance, LaRose, et al. [H5] contend that "much of the interest in Web courses in higher education may spring not so much from improving the quality and accessibility of education as from making it more profitable." However, these authors also cite statistics indicating students in an experimental audiographic Web course had test scores, student attitudes and teacher immediacy ratings similar to those taking the same course in a traditional lecture format. Audiographic Web courses are those in which students listen to pre-recorded audio classroom interactions while viewing a detailed course outline and illustrative sites. In this case one could argue that at least one section of the class must be taught live in order to provide the input to an audiographic course.

Examples of Web utilization in university courses are legion and one could scarcely hope to provide anything approaching a comprehensive list of examples. However, a short list of useful sites can be found below.

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WWW Enhancement of Face-to-Face Lecture Courses

We can divide the use of the World Wide Web for instruction into two primary categories. Courses can be entirely Web based and delivered--students and professors need not enjoy geographic proximity and may never meet face to face. Traditional lecture courses can be augmented with the Web providing alternate means of distributing information and by offering students a broad range of tools less likely to be available in traditional classrooms.

We turn first to the augmentation of a traditional course and begin by presenting some examples. Schexnayder and Wiezel (1998) [H6] discuss a construction estimating course at Arizona State University that "employs the WWW to support instructional delivery of technical materials." In this course, lecture notes were available on the course home page at least one day before lecture, homework (answers and calculations) was submitted electronically and grades were e-mailed to students. Additionally, the professor encouraged students to communicate with him via e-mail at any time. Calculations were submitted on Common Gateway Interface (CGI) forms. Some students complained that it took more time to enter calculations on these forms than was required to actually solve the problem. However, the ease in submission and expedited grading of assignments were generally appreciated.

An important question when considering Web-based enhancements is how the lecture time will then be spent. Wallace and Weiner (1998) investigated two options. One option was using lectures as a supplement to the Web material; the other option was using lecture time to provide an experiential setting (practicum or demonstration) which would aid in understanding of the Web material. The latter proved to have a more positive impact. Students in the experiential group spent more time studying and received better grades. A survey of methods for using Web technologies in educational settings is also contained in their article. Of course, there are potential problems with such a system. Wilgoren (2000) reports on the experiences of students in an economics course at Wake Forest University, one of whom noted that "[he hadn't] skipped [the] class once. Even if there's something in class that's boring, there's other stuff you can do." Wake Forest requires incoming freshmen to purchase a computer as a condition of matriculation--tuition has been increased and the laptops are shipped soon after acceptance.

Although there were no specific complaints about the confidentiality of grade information sent over e-mail, an alternative does exist. Ashendel [H7] has recently introduced a Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language (DHTML)-based score reporting system for students to view individual assignment and exam grades, estimated course grade to date and estimated class rank. Faculty members maintain the database and students access personal data with a user name and password.

Partee [H8] claims "[t]he Internet can enhance the three major activities of all teachers: to counsel students individually, to deliver general information (lecture), and to encourage discussion." Furthermore, Iskander, et al. [H9] cite studies which indicate that computer aided instruction provides a significant opportunity to improve the quality of teaching, can be very cost effective and can achieve a 50% increase in student retention.

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Implementation of Self-Contained WWW Courses

The impact of Web-only courses is substantial, affecting both instructors and students. Several studies (Danielson and Wood, 1998; Wallace and Mutooni, 1997; Lancor, et al., 1996), suggest that Web courses allow students to learn wherever and whenever they desire and offer the additional benefit of allowing students to determine for themselves the order of coverage of course material. In other words, students are free to exercise their individual learning styles (Paterson, 1999). Additionally, reference material is now easily accessible with a simple mouse-click and active student learning is enhanced.

Student activity levels are specifically increased by having a variety of outside sources of information for the students to explore. For instance, sites at other universities, government agencies and industrial concerns will have content that enhances or broadens students' perspectives and knowledge bases. Using animation and computer simulation produces similar results (Danielson and Wood, 1998) with the added benefit of allowing visual learners a chance to exploit their strengths--something traditional lecture courses seldom do.

A study done to address the effectiveness of web learning versus traditional lecture showed that students enjoyed the idea that they could view the material however they wanted (Wallace and Mutooni, 1997). This comparison was done for a project that stemmed from a single lecture. The students either attended a traditional 90-minute lecture or only used a web page designed to convey the same material. The "web students" received better scores on the projects from an unbiased jury. In student feedback, the most common response from the web users was that they felt at ease spending as long as it took to learn a specific topic, where in lecture, peer pressure often deters them from spending that time. Data gathered from monitoring the web site showed that the site was hit at all hours of the day (or night), and that each student spent an average of 103 minutes on the material, in 33-minute average blocks. This illustrates the freedom the student using the web had compared to the lecture students who were forced to learn the material in one 90-minute block.

While the previously mentioned study provides excellent quantitative data, qualitative sources also discuss the benefits the web can bring to a course. "Dynamic supplemental materials such as interactive simulations and animations allow the student to observe and evaluate the behavior of systems under different conditions. Multiple media can offer a variety of visualization aids to better match the different cognitive styles of the students, and the interactive component requires students to control their exploration of new material in ways the predominantly passive reading of text and reference books cannot" (Danielson and Wood, 1998). This statement encapsulates very well how the power of the computer and the Internet can be harnessed to benefit students. Since the students control their work rate, they become more involved and learn by using their preferred style. The interactive simulations can simultaneously provide involvement and depth or breadth to the course content. Even actual hardware can be run remotely on the World Wide Web by students as demonstrated by Kirkpatrick and Willson (1998). Additionally, the ease and speed of the Internet makes including external sources very easy. As Kreabber states, "The Internet allowed the class to 'see' more and do more. Many industrial and technological leaders provide outstanding information and resources on their corporate web pages." Finally, higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy (Bloom, 1964) can be accessed by linking to real world projects and articles which highlight the analysis, synthesis and evaluation aspects of a problem. These aspects are not always adequately addressed in course assignments or exams.

Of course, a real and significant disadvantage to delivering courses over the Web is the amount of time it takes to create the site and any Java applets that go along with it. Also, these courses remove the focus of student attention from the instructor, which means he/she becomes less of a teacher and more of a facilitator (Bourne, 1998). Finally, it is worth mentioning specifically that Web courses cannot entirely replace the benefits of face-to-face interaction such as instructor-student rapport, development of communication and social/business skills and the opportunity to work on teams. In other words, some of the "soft" skills sought by ABET accreditors may be lost (Wankat and Oreovicz, 1993 [H10]).

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Web Distribution and Collection of Assignments

While the responsibility of meeting the goals of student assignments lies with the content, the distribution and collection system should not impair this mission. The primary goal is student learning, closely tied with student feedback in the form of grading. The grading also provides feedback to the instructor on the progress of the class. Evaluation of student performance is necessary for students to take the assignments seriously (Wankat and Oreovicz [H10], 1993). We will evaluate current methods for homework distribution on the Web in light of these goals.

It is common to find homework assignments distributed on the web; it is in general no more difficult than formatting or typesetting the assignment for hard copy distribution. This allows distribution unconstrained by class meeting time (which may useful for courses with numerous sections), though students may find it less useful if homework is assigned Friday afternoon. The dynamic nature of web pages allows clarifications and answers to questions to be posted along side the course assignment.

Once assignments are posted on the web, the natural next step is to allow for submission of student work as well. There are a number of different techniques that have been used successfully for this purpose.

Forms on a web page allow students to record their responses. This is very effective when integrated with an interactive tutorial, to give instant feedback on students' progress. The burden on teaching staff can be reduced through the use of automated grading, though this necessitates restrictions on the acceptable syntax of student answers. Even with human-graded responses, the flexibility of web forms is usually limited to simple text and numbers. While automated grading may reduce the feedback available to the instructor, this can be obviated by requesting a free answer rationale be submitted with each problem. These can then be sorted and provided to the instructor. This has been successful in providing feedback to instructors in at least one class ( http://sll.stanford.edu/highlights/humbio/ [H11]) One tool for developing online examinations with immediate feedback is described in Jong and Muyshondt (1999). Heed must be given to security issues, especially in the case of automated grading.

Standardized forms of submission are usually related to computer generation, such as computer code, output from engineering design packages, or calculations in computer packages such as Mathematica. These are often required for grading and may be submitted via email, blind file transfer, or through hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). All of these may be mediated by a web page interface. Written reports are also candidates for computer submission. In all cases, allowances must be made for feedback to the students, recommending some sort of portable document format that graders may annotate before returning. Automatic screening for similarities may also be utilized with computer submission.

Portions of engineering courses are focused on model and equation derivation and analysis. This is often done with pencil and paper, and the most promising technologies for portability are proprietary software packages such as Mathematica and Maple. Unless the use of these tools is specifically taught, requiring their use for homework submission is problematic. Additionally, the use of such packages often hides the underlying thought processes as students solve the problem on separate, ungraded, paper before transferring it to the computer. Also, encouraging good problem solving practices, such as drawing pictures, requires that this information be submitted as well.

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Text and Course Materials on the World Wide Web

In recent years Web publishing has become popular. In engineering education, the World Wide Web is used effectively in distance education. Even in traditional engineering courses, the Web is also often employed to aid student learning and to increase teaching and learning efficiency. Examples of the use of online textbooks in engineering education are available below.

Online textbooks can be created by using a variety of formats and tools. For instance, proprietary software may be used that allows access only to authorized customers. Several existing and freely available formats may also be used. Adobe PDF [H12], HTML [H13] (including Java [H14] applets) and Macromedia Shockwave [H15] animations are excellent ways to publish material online. Each of these software tools offers different capabilities. Adobe's PDF format allows any document to be converted into a look-and-feel preserving electronic snapshot which can be viewed using free downloadable software. The HTML format is the current standard for displaying Web content (including this page). Macromedia Shockwave allows sophisticated animations to be created which can be viewed using any Web browser equipped with a free plugin.

A prototype WWW-based textbook was developed for biomedical engineering applications (Blanchard et al., 1997). A Web textbook for molecular simulations was developed by Cummings et al., (1998). Long, et al. (1998) have created an online textbook in the absence of a hard copy equivalent in ceramic matrix composites. WWW based textbooks have the following advantages over traditional hard copy texts:

  1. more up-to-date material can be provided or referenced through continuous revision;
  2. illustrative concepts and applications can be accessed through convenient online links;
  3. the ubiquitous nature of the web improves accessibility;
  4. multimedia tools, tutorials and simulations are easily incorporated in the body of the text; and
  5. feedback to authors and maintainers is much easier, allowing for user comments and automated tracking of chapter/resource usage.

Most of the advantages listed above would also apply to distribution on CD or other removable media. However, updating the material becomes more cumbersome and students are required to have the medium with them whenever they wish to view the material.

Before online textbook adoption becomes widespread, it will have to be economically competitive with traditional print publication. One natural question to ask is how instructors and authors can protect their copyrights given the inherent lack of security on the Internet, especially since the best way to encourage use of one's publications is to distribute them in the aforementioned freely available formats. Password-protected subscriptions can be sold, but such schemes may be easily circumvented by students. Current technology seems insufficient for providing the same level of piracy protection as print publishers are able to achieve.

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Resources and Examples

Resources for Creating a Class Web Page

Toolkit for Teaching with Technology A superb comprehensive resource for using technology. Of special interest is "Getting started with web pages" which has links to local tools for course surveys, syllabus templates, and quiz generators. Some of this material is specific to the University of Delaware.

MSU LectureOnline Provides tools for putting lectures and homework online with security mechanisms to restrict access. Described by Kortemeyer and Bauer (1999).

A "virtual resource packet" From a workshop on constructing course web pages. Original material includes guidelines for the organizational process of creating the course web page. There are also links to reviews of editors, graphics.

Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction An outdated database of web resources, including multimedia authoring sites, a database of examples of the use of teaching on the web and other resources sparse in the engineering area.

http://ils.unc.edu/balus/oit/course/ This form will quickly generate an informative web page for a course that may be added to as the class progresses.

http://www.cll.wayne.edu/web101/welcome.htm Information on designing class web pages with a number of links, and an outline for involving oneself in the process, from a single web page to interactive features. Some of the information is out of date.

Center for Instructional Technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A collection of tools including quiz and survey builders.

Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology maintains a collection of links to all facets of technology use in education and many of these links useful to readers interested in both learning how to implement the technology and seeing examples "in the field." Some links are outdated.

General Page Building Sites

www.htmlgoodies.com A comprehensive reference with tutorials for achieving many effects. Much of the data is provided in an as-needed format.

www.bignosebird.com provides access to both soft (images, fonts, graphics) and hard (CGI scripts and tutorials) resources.

www.fluffbucket.com provides tutorials for beginners on creating webpages with Microsoft's Frontpage Express.

http://www.lib.rochester.edu/webtools/ provides links to numerous resources including the creation of interactive features via CGI and Java, and document design. Most content is off-site, and varies in quality.

For a more up to date list, http://dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Internet/World_Wide_Web/Page_Creation/Beginner_s_Guides/ provides a current search in the Yahoo database.

Commercial Products

Serf Integrated tools for managing online components of a course. Sales to universities.


WebCT provides tools for grades, notes, chat rooms, etc. Licensing is based on total number of students making use of a particular server. May be run from either a local university server, or WebCT's with premium pricing.

Examples of Online Textbooks Currently in Use

http://www.uscolo.edu/mech_et/reportwriting/emote.html An engineering technology text produced by the University of Southern Colorado. Includes images and video which illustrate concepts and provide examples of course deliverables.

http://web.cvut.cz/macce/fme/k212/personnel/tesar/skripta/obsah%5Ea.htm Basic fluid mechanics text from the Czech Technical University in Praha.

http://www.kasap.usask.ca/server/Kasap/TheText.html Principles of Electrical Engineering Materials and Devices by S. O. Kasap. This is a downloadable textbook which may be purchased from the publisher in one of three formats: Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF or Adobe EPS.

http://www-ee.eng.hawaii.edu/~tep/EE150/Book/book.html A C Programming text offered as an electrical engineering course. This is a complete text in its own right but is claimed to be a supplement to a printed text rather than a replacement.

Ceramic matrix composites. Textbook with many photographs and diagrams. Online homework is included.

Places to Submit Homework on the Web

Chemistry 1201-1 Homework Page Homework submission pages requiring fill-in-the-blank answers carefully constructed to allow for automatic grading.

SLL: Publications, Presentations - Problem Sets Experiment a Success. An article describing the successes of online homework collection and grading using the Web.

CENG 221 Homepage Email submission via Microsoft Word attachments.

Examples of Web-Based Interactive Tutorials

The Virtual Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University

The Industrial Applications of Statistics course at Purdue University. Requires Macromedia Director.

Interactive Experiments Hosted by Hewlett-Packard at www.educatorscorner.com

Interactive simulations of ferrous metallurgy processes at www.matter.org

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Blanchard, S. M., Dewolf, D. K., Dillon, A. E., (1997), "Biomedical Engineering Applications--a prototype World Wide Web textbook," Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Engineering in Medicine & Biology, V. 2, pp. 922-923.

Bloom, B. (1964), Taxonomy of educational objectives, Longman's and Green Publishing, New York.

Bourne, J. R. (1998), "Asynchronous learning networks and world-wide engineering education," Engineering Educator, v. 2, no. 1, pp. 3-10.

Cummings, P. T., Cochran, H. D., dePablo, J. J., Evans, D. J., Kofke, D. A., Panagiotopoulos, A. Z., Rowley, R. L., (1998), "World wide web based textbook on molecular simulation," Proceedings of the 1998 Annual ASEE Conference, Seattle, WA.

Danielson, R. and S. Wood (1998), "Stimulating introductory engineering courses with Java," Proceedings of the 28th Annual Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference, pp. 897-900.

Evans, R. M., Murray, S. L., Daily, M. and Hall, R. (2000) "Effectiveness of an Internet-based graduate Engineering management course." Journal of Engineering Education. v. 89, no. 1, pp. 63-71.

Jong, I, and Muyshondt, A. (1999) "Simple scripts to produce interactive Web-based tests with immediate feedback: software and illustrations." Journal of Engineering Education, v. 88, no. 4. pp. 509-525.

Kirkpatrick, A. and Willson, B. (1998). "Computation and experimentation on the Web with application to internal combustion engines.", Journal of Engineering Education, v. 87, no. 5 Supplement pp. 529-537.

Kortemeyer, G. and Bauer, W. (1999). "Multimedia collaborative content creation (mc3): the MSU lecture on-line system.", Journal of Engineering Education v. 88, no. 4, pp. 421-427.

Kraebber, H. W. (1998). "Using the World Wide Web to support teaching in manufacturing engineering technology." Proceedings of the 1998 Annual ASEE Conference, Session 2247.

Lancor, L., Wurst, K. and K. Barker (1996), "A methodology for web-based learning in engineering," Proceedings of the 26th Annual Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference, pp. 1342-1346.

Long, L. N., Morris, P. J., Morooney, K and Kellogg, S., (1998). " The teaching and learning of high-performance computing." Journal of Engineering Education v. 87, no. 5 Supplement pp. 591-597..

Paterson, K. (1999), "Student perceptions of Internet-based learning tools in environmental engineering education." Journal of Engineering Education v. 88, no. 3, pp. 295-304.

Schexnayder, C. J. and Wiezel, A. (1998). "Construction engineering using the World Wide Web. "Proceedings of the 1998 Annual ASEE Conference, Session 1221.

Wallace, D. R. and P. Mutooni (1997), "A comparative evaluation of world wide web-based and classroom teaching," Journal of Engineering Education, v. 86, no. 3, pp. 211-219.

Wallace, D. R. and Weiner, S. T. (1998), "How Might Classroom Time be Used Given WWW-Based Lectures?" Journal of Engineering Education, v. 8?, no. 1, pp. 237-248

Wankat, P. C., Oreovicz, F. S., (1993) Teaching Engineering. McGraw-Hill. New York.

Wilgoren, J. (2000), "A Revolution in education clicks into place." The New York Times, March 26.

World Wide Web References

H1. http://www.w3.org/History.html A history of the World Wide Web provided by the World Wide Web Consortium.

H2. http://elmo.scu.edu.au/sponsored/ausweb/ausweb96/educn/adam/paper.html. Adam, S. and Wilson, D., (1996), "Technological Convergence in Higher Education: Are the Educators Ready?"

H3. http://houns54.clearlake.ibm.com/solutions/education/edupub.nsf/Files/VirtualSchoolWhitePaper/$File/VirtualSchoolWhitePaper.pdf Snitz, J. and Young, J.E., (1999), "Models of Virtual Schooling."

H4. http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm00/pp046051.pdf "Report from the Panel on the Future of Networking and the Internet," Educause, an organization for application of technologies to education.

H5. http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol4/issue2/larose.html LaRose, R., Gregg, J., and Eastin, M., "Audiographic Telecourses for the Web: An Experiment."

H6. http://www.foundation.ua.edu/publications/asee98/00080.PDF Schexnayder, C. J. and Wiezel, A. (1998). "Construction engineering using the World Wide Web."Proceedings of the 1998 Annual ASEE Conference, Session 1221.

H7. http://www.pharmacy.purdue.edu/~ashendel/scoresys/index.html Ashendel, C.L., "How to set up a Score Tracking and DHTML-based Score Reporting System on Your Office Computer for Zero Cost."

H8. http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/A401.cfm Partee, M.H, "Using E-Mail, Web Sites & Newsgroups to Enhance Traditional Classroom Instruction."

H9. http://fairway.ecn.purdue.edu/FrE/asee/fie95/3a2/3a21/3a21.htm Iskander, M.F., Catten, J.C., Jones, A., Jameson, R. and Balcells, A., "Interactive Multimedia Lessons for Education."

H10. http://www.asee.org/pubs/html/teaching.htm Wankat, P.C., and Oreovicz, F.S., Teaching Engineering.

H11. http://sll.stanford.edu/highlights/humbio/ "One Highlight of Innovation Pedagogy-Human Biology Problem Sets"

H12. http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readermain.html Adobe Acrobat Reader.

H13. http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimer.html A Beginners Guide to HTML.

H14. http://java.sun.com/ Homepage for Java.

H15. http://www.macromedia.com/ Macromedia, makers of shockwave.