This paper has been prepared for presentation at APWeb96:
The Asia-Pacific World Wide Web Conference, August 23, 1996 - Beijing
The Second Hong Kong Web Symposium, August 27-28,1996 - Hong Kong.

The Content-Based Approach To Internet Literacy

Dana Ward
Professor of Political Studies
Pitzer College (on leave)
Julia Karet
Fellow in Comparative Culture
Miyazaki International College
ABRIDGED CONTENTS: The Six Internet Literacy Skills
EmailingWWWHTMLTeleconferencingTelnet Ftp GopherUsenet
The content-based approach to second language acquisition is a well-
established method among language instructors. The idea of increasing language proficiency as the student takes a course in another academic discipline works (Brinton, Snow and Wesche, 1989). The strength of the content-based method is that language learning is contextualized and purposeful. The more language is used in the pursuit of a specific goal, the sooner the language is acquired. Language proficiency sneaks into the student's tool kit almost without noticing as the student's interest in the content leads to language solutions. If we think of computing as having a language of its own, then moving toward a content-based approach to internet literacy is only a simple adjustment. This paper will briefly discuss the philosophy underlying our content-based approach to internet literacy, and provide extensive practical examples of its implementation.

Content-based Second Language Acquisition

The essential difference between a content-based approach to language
learning and traditional approaches is that the focus is not exclusively, or even primarily, on language learning. Instead, the focus is on learning the content subject. Widdowson (1968) first proposed academic subject matter as an ideal vehicle for language teaching, noting that vocabulary, linguistic structures and modes of expression tend to appear repeatedly in a given subject area. The practice necessary for linguistic mastery is gained through a natural cycle of language pattern repetition native to the discipline of study. In art history courses, for example, native patterns are descriptive, while the social sciences use argumentation structures involving cause and effect.

The rationale for the content-based approach is reinforced by Anderson's
cognitive theory of learning (1985) which posits two different kinds of knowledge: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is what a person knows about, while procedural knowledge is what a person can do. The content-based approach produces both declarative and procedural knowledge. The student gains mastery of the language (procedural knowledge) and mastery of the subject (declarative knowledge) simultaneously. Since internet literacy demands procedural, not declarative, knowledge, the content-based approach should produce internet skills just as it produces linguistic skills.

The content-based approach uses task-based teaching principles to provide
the learner with purposeful tasks, the mastery of an academic subject, and repeated opportunities for meaningful communication. The key then to the content-based approach is to increase students' procedural knowledge by providing them the right tools (linguistic or internet) that they need to master their academic tasks.

The World Wide Web (WWW) is, in many ways, an ideal teaching tool for
any discipline because it provides opportunities for both procedural and declarative learning. For learning language in particular, the WWW not only provides abundant comprehensible input (Krashen, 1981), but the multimedia environment is highly contextualized, an important factor in second language acquisition (Cummins, 1984). The WWW's graphical interface provides a myriad of contextual clues to aid students' understanding of the content.

There are other features of the internet which facilitate learning as well,
both for language students and for students of other subjects. Through applications such as CU-SeeMe and Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the internet provides an authentic environment and real audiences for students. The internet environment offers more resources than a single classroom teacher ever could. Students can work independently, discovering ways of finding, presenting and organizing information that is uniquely theirs.

Students who post their work on the WWW know that their audience is real
and, therefore, their communication must be meaningful and appropriately presented. Knowing their audience extends beyond the teacher is a powerful motivater for students. Therefore, the internet characteristics which make language learning more exciting also make learning any subject more enjoyable.

Computing as a Second Language

The content-based approach to internet literacy borrows basic principles
from the content-based approach to second language acquisition and produces internet competency as a by-product of mastering an academic subject. A more traditional approach to internet competency would have students enroll in an information science course and spend 100% of their course time learning computer skills. Students highly motivated to learn computing no doubt would learn much more computing in such a traditional course than they would in a course using the content-based approach. Many students, perhaps an overwhelming majority, however, never take an information science course. Indeed, many students are computer phobic, literally jumping out of their seat the first time they touch a keyboard. To reach these students, alternative approaches to computer literacy are necessary.

Currently, we are visiting professors at a Japanese college where all
instruction is in English using a content-based teaching model: every content course has an English language instructor assigned as an adjunct to facilitate language learning. The average language proficiency of our Japanese students is below 430 on the TOEFL. As we struggle to find effective teaching methods that lead to mastery of content and increase language skills, it has become apparent that computers are uniquely suited to the task. We have found that the same language principles used to support course instruction in political science, art history or applied information science can be used to teach internet literacy.

Although the genesis of our approach came from a content-based second
language acquistion model, it is intended for course instruction across all disciplines at all educational levels. Our main purpose in this paper is to free the content-based method from its language learning roots and transform the method into an interdisciplinary approach within the university used to advance computer literacy in all fields, including language learning. In sum, the content-based approach to internet literacy is a method designed to weave internet skills seamlessly into the university curriculum, whether the course is a political science course, a biology course or a language course.

The principle loom used to weave these skills into the curriculum is the
World Wide Web. The WWW opened access to other internet applications in a way previous internet components were unable to do. The WWW's multimedia capabilities, its ease of use, and its publishing potential place the WWW at the center of the content-based approach to internet literacy. The WWW is quickly absorbing and supplanting the other major internet systems. Today, from within a single web browser it is possible to send email, view USENET bulletin boards, telnet to other computer systems, transfer files and programs, and engage in real-time communication with other users. What were once separate components are now becoming functional strands in a single world wide web of computer communication. The WWW is the door through which we must pass to achieve full internet literacy, even if it is the most recently constructed passageway onto the internet.

Constructing Courses Following the Content-Based Approach to Internet Literacy

Our concept of the content-based approach to internet literacy uses a
combination of step-by-step computing instructions and the learning of discrete computing applications in order to complete content projects. The internet or computing skills for each course segment are presented in class and through written and audio-visual modules.

Internet Learning Module
Viewing Word to Web, a "Director" movie,
requires the Shockwave Plug-in.*
(© Dana Ward)

Mastering each computing application always involves learning content material. In addition to completing content-based tasks during the course, there is often a "cap stone" project which requires students to combine several computing and internet applications.

The course syllabus, reading assignments, research resources, computing
instructions, and sometimes quizzes are all online as part of the internet acculturation process. As the course is planned, these basic, common sense principles will help create a course resulting in internet literacy:

1. Each new computing skill should be introduced in the
context of a content task.
2. Each step of the new computing task must be clearly
documented, with supporting explanations readily available in a variety of formats (e.g., written instructions, audio and/or video demonstrations).
3. Skills should be introduced sequentially so that each
new skill builds on previous learning.
4. To the extent possible, new tasks should require
recycling of previously learned skills to reinforce learning.
5. Design a "cap-stone" course requirement that cannot
be accomplished without acquiring internet literacy.
6. Encourage students with more advanced internet skills to
share their knowledge in order to bring the entire class to the same level as quickly as possible.

A student should be considered "internet literate" when the student has
mastered the following broad skills:

1. Emailing, including attachments and the ability to use
2. Web browsing, including the ability to configure helper
applications, set all options, manage bookmarks, download files and applications, take digital notes from online resources, and use search engines;
3. Writing simple Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML)
code, including construction of homepages, links, image embedding and simple colorizing.
(a) Scanning text and visuals for HTML markup.
4. Using real-time internet communication tools
including text based tools (e.g., IRC), audio (e.g., e-phone, Maven, etc.), and video (e.g., CUsee-ME).
5. Telneting and logging onto other servers, downloading
files and applications using file transfer protocol (ftp) and using gopher tools.
6. Utilizing USENET newsgroups and bulletin boards.

The remainder of this paper will provide examples of relevant task-based
activities designed to move students toward mastery of these six internet skills.

Introducing Email

The first internet skill to be introduced is always email. Email is
easy to master, it places students on the internet immediately, provides a means of communication between and among faculty and class members, and connects the class to a much wider set of resources via well chosen discussion lists. Students can immediately set up a group mailing list so assignments, feedback, and information can be shared by the entire class.

English language learners can be introduced to the internet and personal writing through email penpals from around the world. An excellent resource for teachers looking for penpals is through the Intercultural Email Classroom Connections.

Within email, the next level of mastery involves discussion lists relevant
to the content of the course. Virtually every academic discipline and every topic within a discipline has at least one, if not dozens, of email discussion lists to which one subscribes via LISTSERV. Subscribing to a list brings students into contact with people sharing similar interests, many of whom are experts in the field.

English language learners at the college level can be introduced to moderated discussion lists by joining a student list. In addition to two general discussion lists, CHAT-SL (low level) and DISCUSS-SL (high level) students can choose to subscribe to topical lists. There are currently lists dedicated to learning English, current events, movies, music, and sports.

An excellent resource to learn about the internet in general and LISTSERV
in particular is Patrick Crispen's Internet Roadmap. The roadmap itself originally was available through LISTSERV, but now it is permanently lodged at the Library of Congress's FTP site. Instructors merely need to download a copy of the desired lessons, paste each lesson into an email message, and forward a copy to the class list. The Internet Roadmap is also available on the WWW.1 In class, the students could be shown the web site, but the first message sent out to the class discussion list should be a forward of Crispen's second lesson on LISTSERV.

Although discussion groups and chat rooms are an exciting and engaging
introduction to the internet, students should also be warned that discussion lists can be a tremendous time drain, are sometimes of only limited utility, and almost all wear thin in time. Consequently, instructors should choose discussion lists carefully to insure the list is useful for the course content. 2

Later in the semester, when the first writing assignments are due, handling
email attachments should be added to the students' repertoire of internet skills. Most students already know how to use a computer for word processing (if not, "remedial" sessions should be arranged outside of class) and how to cut and paste documents into email, but many do not know that documents can be electronically transmitted in ways that preserve the formatting. Students can be taught to save documents in Rich Text Format (RTF) and then compacted to ease the rate of transmission. Utilities such as Compact Pro (download for MAC), Stuffit-Lite (download for MAC), and Stuffit-Expander (download for MAC) should be required for the course.

To integrate course content with learning these tasks, the instructor might
prepare a set of reading assignments which can be used to illustrate how to use email attachments. For example, a lecture on the origins of committees in the U.S. Congress could be preceded by learning how to save, compact, and attach a set of documents including statistics on the number of committees formed, members of the committees, and discussion records. An internet module on detaching, decompacting, and filing the documents would be part of the homework assignment.

Introducing The World Wide Web

The second internet tool to introduce is a browser for accessing the WWW.
Netscape or an equivalent browser3 is essential to the success of the content-based approach to internet literacy. The course syllabus should be designed as a web document containing course readings, research resources, class assignments and, most importantly, the internet modules to which the student will turn for help implementing the various computing applications used in the course.

Comparative Political Issues

Make sure each student knows how to use the browser and configure the
preferences within the first or second class session. The first content reading assignment, ideally, will be a WWW resource. Assigning experienced students the task of instructing less experienced students quickly brings the class to a common level. Providing a checklist of basic techniques to be covered gives students a chance to get to know each other early in the class and mitigates against boring the students with more advanced web skills. Ending the session with teams competing in an internet treasure hunt is a fun way to hone new browsing skills.

Below is a list of questions that can be answered by "surfing" the internet. You have until the end of the Political Science class to email me your answers. Be sure to use the search engines found on "Web Connections".

Prizes will be awarded to the first four people to answer all the questions, or to the four people who have answered the most questions at the end of the hour. You must properly cite your source.

1. What was the rate of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Egypt in fiscal year 1992/93?
2. If you are in Hong Kong, and want to go by subway from Diamond Hill to Kowloon Bay, what line do you take and how long will it probably take?
3. In what year did La Trobe University in Australia open?
4. What is the Italian word for government?
5. How many Yuan is a U.S. dollar worth in China?
6. Who wrote "Alchemy for a New World Order -- Overselling Preventive Diplomacy" in the May/June 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs?
7. What does the first paragraph of the "Final Act Embodying The Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (GATT treaty) say?
8. Who is the current President of Costa Rica?
9. What is the Japanese word for profligate?
10. What is the exact text of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Throughout the semester add to students' browsing capabilities. Early on
teach how to save notes from online sources and how to cite electronic references. For example, to introduce basic internet skills in a content-based art history class, students were assigned the task of finding an example of Greek or Roman architecture on the WWW, writing a description of it, and then using the computer image for an oral report. The students were sent several appropriate URLs through email. They were introduced to the Netscape browser and shown how to cut and paste the URLs into the Open Location window.

The English language and computer skills used to accomplish this task
complemented and reinforced each other in the service of learning content. One of the great benefits of this type of integrated approach is the immediate reward the WWW provides. As students learned each new skill -- opening a location, capturing an image, saving the image, resizing it and importing the image into their own document -- the immediate visual feedback resulted in undisguised delight.

Art History Student Papers

As students begin research projects, learning the parsimonious use
of search engines is essential. An online guide to Boolean searches and contests to see who can find discrete information most quickly with the fewest number of extraneous "hits" will help students learn basic search techniques.

As a follow-up to the art history task described above, students were
introduced to search engines and were required to complete a table comparing the lives and works of three famous artists of the Italian Renaissance: Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Students drew slips of paper out of a bag, each with the name of a different work of art on it. One student picked "DAVID, sculpture". Her task was to find the artist. She confidently typed the name DAVID into Web Crawler's window. The search did not yield the name of an Italian Renaissance artist, but gave her 10,000 references for the name David. That one failed attempt provided her with the motivation to focus on the process of narrowing, classifying and using appropriate key words to locate resources.

After each student identified an artist, the students were taught an
additional computing skill -- how to make a table. This was followed by more computer searches to find and classify the specific information about "their" Italian master.

Hypertext Mark-up Language

The easiest way to introduce students to HTML is to have them link their

course projects to the class syllabus. The first research paper assignments can be put on the web within a single class session. Taking a word document which has been saved in RTF and turning it into a document ready for the WWW is a simple three step process: 1) Save the original in RTF, 2) Open the RTF file with the application "RTFtoHTML" (download a copy), 3) Link the resulting html file to the syllabus. As the students call up their papers in a browser for the first time, the room always fills with excitement.

Once a document is on the web, students easily can be taught the basic
elements of HTML style. There are many excellent resources online from the most basic simplified html commands to the complete html language. Once students see how easy it is to put work on the web, all the instructor really needs to do is link the "how to" resources to the syllabus, show students how to scan text and graphics, sit back and watch their work progress. Later, more advanced audio and video embedding techniques can be added to the students list of internet skills.

A group project is a good way for skills to be disseminated among
students. In any course students can be assigned the task of creating a course homepage with links to resource materials and to each student's work in the course. Constructing a basic homepage is a short task, usually lasting only two class periods. As a result of classroom instruction almost all students have produced their own homepages (Class of 1998 and Class of 1999).

A group "cap-stone" project involving writing HTML can usually be
designed for any course. In Introduction to Information Science, the capstone project one year produced The Digital Consumer.

HTML Project
Student Projects and Project Guidelines

Each student produced a Consumer's Guide to Online Shopping for a particular product or service, consisting of several web pages of their own text, linked to WWW shopping sources all over the world. The projects were "published" when students linked their final product to their own homepages.

Real-Time Internet Communication

Text, audio and video real time communication is now easily available
for internet use. Internet Relay Chat is the basic application for text based real-time communication, CU-SeeME is the state of the art low cost audio-video system, while there are several competing audio only transmission systems including MAVEN, Internet Phone and so forth. All three forms of real-time communication can be employed to link students with classes at other universities anywhere in the world.

Two classes in Japan employed this technology to teleconference with a
CU-SeeMe Sessionclass at Pitzer College in California. Students from both sides of the world shared their knowledge about environmental problems and solutions, providing the Japanese students with a unique opportunity to communicate "face-to-face", in English, with their American counterparts.

Telneting, FTP & Gopher

Once the backbone of the internet, these tools
have been overshadowed by the WWW, but are nevertheless indispensable. Most students will not be able to place files on the web without the ability to telnet, many important library resources are still only available via telnet, substantial archives remain accessible only through gopher, while FTP has become fully integrated with the WWW. A session teaching telneting and logging onto a UNIX machine could be used to teach students how to manage files, search for information, and explore the text-based side of the internet. If nothing else, students will appreciate the ways in which graphic information has actually slowed traffic on the internet and may lead some students to save time by downloading information without accessing the WWW. A good stop on the WWW to find useful telnet sites is at Hytelnet.

An English language activity using TPR (Total Physical Response) was developed to teach both vocabulary and show students how FTPing works. Computers in the classroom were labeled as "clients" and "servers". Students were given roles and signs identifying them as "Fetch" (a MAC application for transferring files, download a copy), and as "Compact Pro" (the file compression application). By acting out the sequence necessary for FTPing, students mastered both the language and the application.

USENET Newsgroups

The internet owes a great deal to USENET and it will continue to
occupy an important niche on the internet even though other systems are slowly eating away at its edges. The most important USENET resource for students are the various newsgroups which carry the major news wire services. Clarinet is the principle supplier of these services. While public bulletin boards can be useful, private, internal bulletin boards set up on local area networks (LAN) can work well as discussion forums for content classes.

News stories relevant to course content often do not make it into the
major media. These stories, as well as the headlines, can be regularly read by students via USENET or a combination of USENET and the WWW. InfoSeek is a WWW search engine which will provide a personalized news feed for each student in the class. Simply filling out an on-line questionnaire will return stories on the selected topics each time the student returns to their personalized InfoSeek bookmark. Many of the news stories returned are found on USENET. It is also a good idea to teach students how to select their own newsgroups in applications such as "InterNews". That way they will be able to quickly access current information relevant to the course.


The internet has brought those who use it closer together. We can
be communicating with someone in China at one moment and someone in Argentina the next. Instantaneous worldwide connection is having a major impact on how the world's peoples interact. We have an obligation to equip the next generation with the tools necessary to survive in a "virtual" environment.

Consequently, the content-based approach to internet literacy makes
both educational and economic sense. The model presented here stresses an infusion approach in which computing skills are sequentially introduced into regularly scheduled content courses. Because it means adding to what is already there, not starting from scratch, it is possible for educators to bypass many of the major drains of time and energy spent proposing and implementing new courses. As more and more educational institutions go online, computers are becoming available to students everywhere. It makes sense to make optimal use of the resources already in place by incorporating internet proficiency into each student's educational plan. We must also remember that the digital environment is a relatively paperless environment; an important consideration given the earth's limited resources.

If the authors of this paper are any indication, becoming internet
literate is within every student's reach, for as recently as eighteen months ago, we, too, were counted among the internet illiterate.


*A special thanks to Jesse Ward-Karet for his html expertise, graphics, design advice,
and knowlege of the internet.
Anderson, J.R. (1985). Cognitive psychology and its implications.
(2nd ed.) New York: W.H. Freeman.
Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Brinton, D.M., Snow, M. A., and Wesche, M.B. (1989). Content-based second
language instruction. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.
Cummins, J. (1984). "Wanted: A theoretical framework for relating
language proficiency to academic achievement among bilingual students." In C. Rivera (ed.) Language proficiency and academic achievement. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: how children think and how
schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.
Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language
learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Widdowson, H. (1968)."The teaching of English through Science". In
J. Dakin, B. Tiffen, & H. Widdowson, Language in education:the problem in Commonwealth Africa and the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. pp.116-170. Oxford: Oxford University Press.