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Literature class uses computers, not books (Released: 9/26/95)

Advisory to journalists: Barbara Johnson's virtual classroom is on display at the SNET Infoway in the New England Building at the Big E in West Springfield, Mass., through Oct. 1.

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Students in Barbara Johnson's English class this fall don't need to open a book. But they read a vast amount of literature.

At the click of a mouse, the students are able to read on a computer screen literature that ranges from Homer's Odyssey and the manuscript of Beowulf to works specially written for the computer, known as hypertext literature.

The classes take place in a lab at the University of Connecticut's Computer Center, where each student sits at a terminal. On a large screen at the front of the room Johnson shows students how to access a wide range of sites on the World Wide Web by clicking on the class's home page.

There are a growing number of courses at UConn that use the Internet, for posting a syllabus or class notes or providing access to extensive course material on-line. "We started last September with three virtual classes," says Andy Depalma of the computer center. "This semester there are 55."

"The idea of studying literature on the Internet and the World Wide Web is new," says Johnson, a graduate teaching assistant who designed the course. "The virtual classroom is just a tool to discuss literature in a new and different way."

When Johnson's students discuss a text in class, they have it on screen in front of them. When they're tackling a homework assignment, they can access the home page from the library, the computer center or, if they are hooked up to the Internet, on their own personal computer. And they can forward their questions to Johnson by electronic mail any time.

Through the home page they can also access the card catalog in the Homer Babbidge Library and use the writing lab at Purdue University as a stylebook for their writing assignments.

The home page is complete with graphics, motion and sound effects. Students can take a tour of James Joyce's Dublin, listen to a recording of Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake, or watch a scene from the movie of Shakespeare's The Tempest -- all from their own terminal.

With the help of students Sean Gervais and Walt Willett, and supported by a grant from the University's Teaching Institute, Johnson spent the summer assembling materials on-line for her course this fall.

For those who still prefer to read from the printed page, she says, books are available in the campus bookstore for everything the class will read on the Web.

"I'm not sure we'll ever replace the experience of reading a book, and that's one of the things we're going to discuss in class," says Johnson.

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