Creating the Electronic Textbook

Article excerpt

The first time I saw a Web page I said to myself, 'It's like they've invented this medium just for me,'" says textiles and apparel associate professor Charlotte Jirousek. "I knew it was perfect for my classes."

Two years of hard work later, Jirousek has created an "electronic textbook" with the equivalent of more than 100 pages of printed text and hundreds of images of paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles, jewelry, and other art forms. Not only is her site popular with the students in her course Art, Design, and Visual Thinking, it earned her a "Hot Site of the Month" award from The WELL, an Internet service provider and self-described Web "gathering place" in San Francisco.

"The Web is ideal for this course," she says. "The whole idea is to teach visual communication, and you can't do that without students' seeing the images. Most of our education focuses on words and numbers, yet so much information comes to us in visual formats."

Jirousek's leap into cyberspace was inspired in part by the sheer number of students in her class. When she first started teaching the course, she was told to prepare for 20. Instead, 50 showed up. Two years later, more than 80 were enrolled. Today, as many as 150 students take the course each year. And although there was no shortage of material to teach a class like that, finding it all within the covers of one or two books was impossible.

Jirousek attacked the problem with a combination of studio exercises and slide lectures. Her lecture notes were substantial, and she had them photocopied for distribution to the class. But including the images she used in her lectures was a problem. Reproducing the more than 1,000 slides she used in her course would have made the cost of any publication prohibitive.

Then she discovered the Web. Today, her lecture notes and all the images she needs reside in 90 megabytes of hard disk space on the computer in her office. Students can access a Web site from their dorms and apartments and roam from one lecture topic to another. As they do, they view a diverse selection of images, encompassing artists and designers from Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to Gary Larson and Andy Warhol, that serve to illustrate the individual lessons. …