The Internet as a Teaching Tool
Using It Well

L. B. Cebik, W4RNL


The internet contains a wealth of opportunities to enhance the education of prospective hams and new licensees of all ages. The trick is to use it selectively and wisely. Like every other teaching tool, internet resources require careful evaluation, sometimes for deciding whether or not to use one at all, sometimes to find the best use for a good resource.

What's Available on the Web: The World Wide Web (WWW or simply the Web) contains a vast array of personal, commercial, organizational, and informational materials, some strictly text (with or without graphics), some embellished with audio and moving images. As teaching tools, we are most interested is the information available to us. In the amateur radio arena, what we can access would fill a library. Here is a partial list arranged by categories:

Operating Modes: Activities: Operating Aids:
CW Youth Radio RST
RTTY/PSK31 Emergency Services Q-signals
SSTV ARES/Races Time Standards
FM Field Day Maps/Headings
ATV Fox Hunting Grid Squares
Packet DXing Call Look-up
FAX Nets Solar Flux
Satellites MARS Repeater Guides
. VECs/Examinations QSL Information
Technical: County Hunting Beacons
Amplifiers . .
DSP Equipment: Organizations:
RFI Manufacturers FCC
RF Safety Dealers ARRL
Antennas Reviews (Other National Organizations
Transistors . in Canada, Great Britain,
Attenuators History: Japan, South Africa, etc.)
Transmission Lines Antique Radios AMSAT
Toroids Call Signs 10-10
Microwaves Origins of "73", etc. TAPR

This highly abbreviated listing is derived from one of several "ham link" sites: "AC6V Amateur Radio and DX Reference Guide" (http://www.ac6v.com). The actual main index page fills 4 complete sheets, and even includes separate references for the Wouff-Hong and the Rettysnitch.

Notice that the ARRL is listed only once in the table. Actually, there are extensive references to the ARRL site (http://www.arrl.org), which has a long index of its own covering virtually every aspect of League activities and services. Not the least of these services are the special ones available to ARRL members.

With so much available, the big task is becoming familiar with the resources and figuring out how best to use them.

Print Supplements: Some web pages can be downloaded in print form and then reproduced for students as class supplements. Not every web page is suitable for this use. Here are a few cautions to observe.

Print reproduction allows an instructor to control student contact with material. Amid the many excellent presentations on various topics, there are items that display misconceptions and errors. Hence, the control afforded by print reproduction can usefully guide students to correct as well as readable material.

Student Browsing: As we approach Y2K, most students are likely to have direct access to the web, whether at home, in school, or through activity centers. This offers the student a special educational dimension beyond ordinary print materials: the excitement of discovering information for himself or herself. At the same time, this new dimension reduces the amount of control an instructor has over the absorption of misinformation or disinformation.

Despite this danger, the instructor can take a few steps to limit damage and enhance the positive directions of discovery. All are based on having a good familiarity of what is available.

Ultimately, the existence of general ham-link sites cannot be hidden. Therefore, it is better to approach them head-on, informing students of typical URLs. However, also offer guidelines for their use, lest the student get caught in a maze of links that interferes with the learning process. Show them how to extract useful information without printing everything in sight. Let them bring one or two key pieces of information to class for individual or group discussion. Help them to distinguish casual interesting reading from useful reference material. Reference material may not be just technical or regulatory information, but as well may include how hams live and operate around the world. This latter type of data can be useful when students make their first DX contacts.

In short, teach students to be as selective in their web browsing and searches as you are.

Lists, Chatrooms, and New Groups: Whether in paper or on-line form, web sites are generally one-way instruments of teaching and learning--from the site to the student. Interaction is largely after the fact in the form of student-teacher or classroom discussion. When not in class, students often want to pose questions or share information. Lists, chatrooms, and news groups offer three different opportunities for doing so.

Chatrooms are web creations for real-time conversations. News groups and distribution lists are e-mail creations that allow conversation on a somewhat slower basis, but still with less than a 1-day turn-around in most instances.

Of the three conversational modes, the distribution list is, in my experience, the most productive for learning. Some lists are monitored, which means that inappropriate subject matter and behavior are detected and corrected. Some lists are moderated, so that inappropriate material is blocked from the list. These practices tend to reduce the occurrence of "flame wars" and other distractions from the main purposes of each list. Hence, the level of information transfer tends to be much higher than on other conversational modes.

The means by which a student becomes part of a distribution list is by e-mail subscription to the "listserver" or the "majordomo" of the list. One list of special note is QRP-L, a list based at the lehigh.edu site. This list focuses on QRP activities and construction and afford subscribers a chance to ask question and pass along news to other subscribers. It is one of the best places for relative beginners to HF operation to ask questions about equipment and antennas, although holding to the low-power focus is important as well. We may use this list as an example of how a distribution list works.

In this example, the message data is shown in capital letters for clarity, although either upper or lower case will do in the real message. Sentence ending punctuation has been omitted so that it will not be confused with punctuation used within the addresses and message texts. To subscribe to this list, an individual sends a message to LISTSERV@LEHIGH.EDU using no subject line and only a simple text (here using my information as an example): SUBSCRIBE QRP-L LB CEBIK W4RNL

The procedure might vary a bit from list to list, and some lists may have a confirmation procedure (to exclude commercial automated advertising systems from mass distributing advertisements on the list). Once subscribed, the individual should read carefully and keep at hand the welcome message, which will contain any procedural rules and limits to be observed. To send a message to the group, use the list address, in this case QRP-L@LEHIGH.EDU The automated list server distributes a copy of the message to everyone who subscribes. On active lists, replies begin to emerge almost immediately. Some may go to the entire list. Others will come directly to the person who posed the question.

Lists require special attention to courtesies, such as not simply including the original message in the reply message. That maneuver wastes reader time and mail-box space. Also important are staying within the subject area of the list and speaking respectfully in all messages.

There are numerous special interest distribution lists, such as ANTENNAS and TENTEN-L. As the student refines his or her interests, other lists will become attractive as a place to be helped and to render help from one's own experiences, not to mention sharing both achievements and hard-won lessons.

This very brief introduction to the teaching and learning opportunities available on the internet cannot do justice to what is available. Nor can this note cover all the points of guidance that an instructor should give to students in order to make their internet ventures both pleasant and productive. However, if the ideas here capture only a little bit of your attention and interest, then you may already be headed down a road of new opportunities in teaching the next generation of radio amateurs.

From Proceedings of the 1999 National ARRL Education Workshop, (Newington: ARRL, 1999), pp. 76-80. L. B. Cebik, W4RNL. Data may be used for personal purposes, but may not be reproduced for publication in print or any other medium without permission of the author.

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