Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Teaching the World Wide Web with a Text-Based Browser - Part Two

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Teaching the World Wide Web with a Text-Based Browser - Part Two

Article excerpt

Some people think it makes little sense to teach about the World Wide Web and text-based browsing in the same classroom ... or magazine column. To them, the Web exclusively implies a graphical environment, and it's "oxymoronic" to enter it with a text-based tool. But that's not true, as I discussed in my April column. There's much to discover on the Web, and the bulk of it is still text-based. This month, we'll talk about lynx, a text-based Web browser, and how you can teach people with less than state-of-the-art access to the Internet to use lynx.

Lynx differs from graphical browsers like Mosaic or Netscape in that it only provides direct access to text, not pictures, sounds, or video. It was developed at the University of Kansas by Lou Montulli and others specifically to provide access to the World Wide Web.

Some Basics

Thanks to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), words, phrases, or even images in a document or file on the World Wide Web can have embedded links to other documents or files on the Internet. Both the text-based lynx Web browser and the graphical Mosaic Web browsers allow you to follow the embedded links to related information. These links have addresses "behind them" (usually invisible to you) that the browser software uses to retrieve a copy of the associated Web page, document, image, etc. In a text environment, high-lighting, bolding, or underlining indicate a link and its embedded address. That address is called a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Here's an example of one: http://www.ukans.edu/.

The ability to link your way all over the Web allows you to access to a remarkable array of information. But let's face it, it also allows you to be confused. Since almost anybody with Internet access can put information "on the Net," there is little overall structure or organization. In teaching about the Web, you'll want to address this confusion factor--I'll talk about ways to do so in a future column--but for now, let's focus on using and teaching about lynx as a Web access tool.

Lynx and the ASCII-Filled Web Page

As we mentioned last time, it's easier to use, say, Mosaic, and browse a graphics-filled Web page with its various fonts, type sizes, and icons than to use lynx and browse a run-of-the-mill ASCII-text-filled Web page. A side-by-side comparison of the two often helps your lynx-using students. The first thing to do is help your students become familiar with the layout of a Web page and how to move around on it.

Virtually all Web pages share some basic similarities. They'll generally have a title or header at the top. As we mentioned earlier, highlighted words or phrases represent hyperlinks. Often, Web pages are long, so they run off the screen. Lynx indicates this with a numbering system in the upper right-hand screen corner, which indicates how many screens comprise the Web page you're on, and which screen you're viewing (1 of 9, for example).

When you're "at" a Web page, lynx displays a menu bar at the bottom of your screen to remind you of the most often-used commands (for moving around the Web page; activating hyperlinks behind highlighted text; selecting print and/or e-mail options; keying in URLs yourself, in case you know another Web page address you want to link to, etc.).

A Framework

Your goal in teaching lynx and the Web is usually twofold: to teach people the "mechanics" of the text-based browser's features, and to show them how to use those features to find information on the Internet. You'll need to determine learning objectives for each audience you address, as their levels and needs may vary. Here are some questions to consider in setting objectives:

* What do you want to teach to this audience? What is their level of experience? What are their information needs? What should you emphasize?

* How will you teach it? What method--lecture, hands-on, combination? What support material will you need--verbal examples and analogies, overheads, live demo? …

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