The use of computers and communication technologies in learning has a history going back at least 30 years. In that time it has been called by many names, including computer-mediated communication (CMC), computer conferencing, online learning, Internet-based learning, and telematics. The advent of the Web provides a new and interesting environment for CMC that offers a host of new possibilities together with many of the advantages of previous incarnations but without some of the problems that have dogged computer-based learning.
A Web-based classroom is an environment created on the World Wide Web in which students and educators can perform learning-related tasks. A Web-based classroom is not simply a mechanism for distributing information to students; it also performs tasks related to communication, student assessment, and class management. Your imagination and resources are the only limits to how you utilize the Web.
Many of the tools that provide the functionality of the Web-based classroom have very little to do with the Web at all. A Web-based classroom may use Internet applications such as e-mail. Usenet News, FTP, and a variety of other computer applications such as databases. The Web provides the simple, familiar interface by which the students and educators in a class can access and use these applications.
Client, Server, and Support Software. A large collection of software can be used in the development, maintenance, and daily activity of a Web-based classroom. One way of categorizing the software is to use the following three categories:
Support. Software in this category generally has little or no direct connection with the Web. Instead, it is software the participants use to support their activity within the Web-based classroom. Some examples include word processors, graphics programs, and databases.
Client. Students and educators participating in a Web-based classroom do so via a computer and a collection of client software. The client software provides the interface to the Web-based classroom that the participants use to perform tasks and interact in the Web-based classroom. Examples of client software include Web browsers such as Netscape, e-mail programs such as Eudora, and programs that provide access to other Internet services such as chats, MUDs, and videoconferencing.
Server. The client software provides the interfaces the participants use, but it does not provide a method for supplying the management and distribution of information required to allow a group of people to communicate and share information. Management and distribution of information in a Web-based classroom are the responsibility of the server software. Each of the major services provided by a Web-based classroom - a Web server, e-mail, mailing lists, interactive chats, and MUDs - all require a specific server.
Typically, the Web-based classroom participants' computers will provide the support and client software, while the server software will reside on one or two central computers. However, this is not always true. It is common for a Web-based classroom's developers to use one computer for development and to move to a server on a central computer when finished. During the development stage, the developer's computer can contain all of the necessary support, client, and server software.