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'Today's digital kids think of information and communications technology (ICT) as something akin to oxygen: they expect it, it's what they breathe, and it's how they live.'
Seely Brown (2001)
When Tim Berners-Lee set up the first Web server in 1990, it is unlikely that he realised just how much this would revolutionise not only the world of communication, but also that of teaching and learning. Arguably, prior to the internet, the last technology that so revolutionised the way people sat and talked together was the invention of the table (Shirky, 2003). Yet one and a half decades on, the (often uncomfortable) reality with which we in the lecturing community have to contend is a culture clash between ourselves and the first online generation that we are now teaching.
Our students frequently text on mobile phones, gossip using instant messaging and access music via online sharing. Hayward et al. (2003) found that 96 per cent of 16-18-year-olds use the internet at least once a month, and 86 per cent consider themselves intermediate, advanced or expert computer users. Although a common misconception of internet activity is that of the lone 'anorak' surfing the net individually, the reality is more often that of the virtual community. Most students will be members of some virtual communities, whether they are simply chat rooms or developed interest groups.
Anecdotally, it increasingly seems that some students aim to get through their early years at university without buying a textbook, relying instead on the internet. Most certainly expect the academic, social and administrative facets of their learning at university to have online aspects that work seamlessly together.
For lecturers, the learning curve for this new technology is much steeper. A small band of adopters have long been using the Web in their teaching, but course websites have only become the norm in the space of the last few years. Many lecturers still find PowerPoint a challenge.
In section 2 of this chapter, we will explore what a course website can do and how you can make one without programming, using just your browser. Then in section 3 we consider some issues, such as disabled students and plagiarism, that warrant particular thought in the context of online learning. Section 4 looks at some specific online activities for economics, while section 5 contains case studies from two other economics lecturers. Our focus in this guide will be on areas where the Web provides a distinctive advantage, namely online communication and rapid access to interactive resources.
1.1 Online communication