Creating a Virtual Materials and Resources Index for Health Education Using the World Wide Web

Article excerpt

Over the past several years, much has been said and written about advances in digital communication technology and the "information highway" - the Internet. Technopunds claim the Internet represents the most important technical development since the microchip.[1] While no one can predict precisely the effect of the Internet on the future, it will become the principal system for distributing information worldwide.[2] For health educators, the Internet represents a medium for locating and retrieving data and reference materials, researching information, displaying projects, delivering inservice programs, posting news, participating in continuing education, and talking with colleagues.

No matter the form - digital or static - health educators devote substantial effort to assembling and managing information. Accordingly, professional preparation programs devote attention to developing students' information retrieval and management skills. The traditional methods and materials course gives special emphasis to these skills. In methods courses, students often create a health resources and materials index. Although these assignments differ in breadth and sophistication, students usually must demonstrate how to use information services, identify health information sources, retrieve relevant teaching-learning materials, assess their value, and create a system for organizing the materials as part of the course assignments.

This article describes how to adapt this traditional assignment to take advantage of advances in communications technology, particularly the World Wide Web (WWW). The activities provide an extension to the traditional assignment of creating a health materials and resources file. Students develop skills necessary to explore the World Wide Web, the graphical menu-driver pathway of the Internet. Specifically, they 1) access the Internet and its principal domains, including the World Wide Web, 2) use Netscape Navigator tools, 3) develop a customized directory of their favorite World Wide Web Pages, 4) select search engines appropriate for specific search strategies, 5) explore the World Wide Web, and 6) download information from a Web page. By successfully completing the assignment, students learn how to navigate the World Wide Web and develop a virtual index of resource materials for health information.

New advances in digital communications technology will spawn new applications, such as multimedia, requiting health educators to learn new skills. New skills inevitably will emerge, evolving into competencies. The National Task Force on the Preparation and Practice of Health Educators[3] challenged faculties in professional preparation programs to design and implement curricula reflecting the responsibilities and competencies for entry-level health educators. In this assignment, students develop and practice skills that complement skills associated with selecting valid sources of information about health needs and interests, using electronic health-related information retrieval systems effectively, matching information needs with the appropriate retrieval system, and accessing principal online and other database health information resources.[3]

THE INTERNET

The U.S. Dept. of Defense developed the Internet more than 20 years ago as a high speed communications networld, connecting military centers and defense system researchers. During the 1980s, the Internet evolved into a scientific network connecting universities and research centers. Today, the Internet is the largest computer network and the most powerful communication medium in the world.(1-4) The Internet's main services and applications include the following:

Electronic mail (E-mail). Send and receive information to and from users via the Internet.

Usenet. Discuss your favorite topics with people all over the world using the thousands of bulletin boards and discussion groups operating over the Internet.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol). …