Employing the Union Institute's World Wide Web Site in Scholarly Research

Online Peer Day, February 1 - February 8, 1996

Convener: Anthony Curtis

1998 John Perkins


This self-evaluation will include the following parts: The On Ramp, the proposal, the delivery, assignments, andragogy, other learner's reactions, my own overall evaluation, and a recommendation.

The On Ramp

Anthony Curtis announced this peer day around the beginning of December. At that time I had not decided to get full access to the Internet, but the promise of this peer day, curiosity, and my life partner's growing interest in using it for her book research tilted the decision towards signing up for the class and getting full access.

We (my partner and I) went past America Online and other intermediate service providers in favor of direct access. We settled on getting full access with unlimited time because the fewer the restrictions and worries about time we felt the freer we would be in our Internet use. We purchased the Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh by Adam Engst and I downloaded from my local Mac User Group's bulletin board the needed start-up software.

Just before Christmas we called the provider and before New Year's we were fully up and running. The instructions in Engst's book, in conjunction with telephone support from the provider and a couple of questions to the "Mentors" on the bulletin board made the beginning easy. We used the month of January to become familiar with the Netscape browser and different "search engines" or Internet programs for searching Internet sites.

The Proposal

Learner Anthony Curtis is the "Webmaster" at Salisbury State University (SSU) and maintains that institution's Web pages. In his proposal he wrote:

Participants should be prepared to do real research on the World Wide Web. The online explanations and presentations will be suitable for both beginning and advanced Internet users. In addition to posted learning notes and group discussions online, the convener will answer specific questions to help individual learners.

The Delivery

Anthony, with the active support of the other learners in this peer day, delivered well on the promises in the proposal. He had set up two conferences, one he would use strictly for announcements and the other for us to hold our discussions in.The announcements conference did not become open for all of us to use until the fourth day. On the second day I suggested to him that he post his notes in the the discussion conference instead of waiting for the announcement conference problem to get fixed. This he did, and we were able to use the notes.

The notes included definitions of many Internet terms, a list of assignments, explanations of part of the Internet (such as WAIS, WWW, FTP, Gopher, etc.) and even editing shortcuts for the Union's Wildcat BBS.

One useful part of Anthony's notes was a general approach to conducting online research from a vague perception of a topic to writing a draft.

The Assignments

To his immense credit, Anthony kept the assignments simple. This gave us lots of time to get lost, ask questions, try again, and feel successful before another assignment came due. The assignments were:

Introduce ourselves
Share goals for online research
Group discussion of how to get started using Union's Web site
Group discussion of jumping off points from Union's Web site
Group discussion on doing research via Union's Web site
Concluding group discussion

The quiz and task assignments added a bit of fun to this peer day, and challenged our skills. Nothing feels better than using a new skill successfully. Tony asked us to:

Look at the Union home page and comment on it
Visit Tony's school's home page and find out the name of the "image wrangler"
Find out the name of the President of E! Entertainment Television
Find out the subject of Dave Frary's home page
Find out how many Ph.D. degrees the president of Arizona State University
claims ASU grants.

Of course, as with any research, the correct answer is located in many different places.
Turns out that I possessed the right heuristic for answering the quiz questions, which proved useful, shortened my search time and reduced my frustration level to nearly zero.

I presented this research question: how to get things done when no one is in
charge? Often groups such as coalitions, task forces, commissions, and care teams are given the mandate of working together without a clear structure or procedures for getting a good start and avoiding wasted time and emotion. How are people learning to deal with these situations?

I suggested in my discussion of my approach that useful topics to search might be: alternative dispute resolution, conflict resolution, consensus, mediation, face
work, coalitions and coalition building, anthropology, sociology, political science, agonistics, trust building. Sources of information I suggested included: National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution, National Institute for Dispute
Resolution, the Carter Center in Atlanta, National conferences of mayors, governors, etc., United Nations, State Department (diplomacy etc.). Looking at this list now I can add the Project on Negotiations at Harvard and George Mason University which has a strong program in conflict resolution.

One day I spent three hours using the following key words to search Web sites:

mediation process
negotiation training

I used the Lycos search engine and tried both "loose" and "strong" match constraints for the search. I received lots of hits, sometimes in the tens of thousands. Preferred the "loose" because it returned the most sites. "Mediation" turned up more useful sites for my purposes than the other terms, particularly when combined with "process."


Andragogy is the term Malcolm Knowles coined for the education of adults, to distinguish it from pedagogy or the education of children. As Knowles points out:

Adults are motivated to devote energy to learn something to the extent that they perceive that it will help them perform tasks or deal with problems that they confront in their live situations. Furthermore, they learn new knowledge, understandings, skills, values and attitudes most effectively when they are presented in the context of application to real-life situations. (p. 59)

I cannot imagine a more motivating topic in Union than how to do research on our PDE topics. Tony's genius lay in setting minimum goals and letting our natural enthusiasm carry the learning load.

Other Learners Reactions

Tony...well done. You have handled the hardware and software issues extremely well...as well as all of the participants... PB

I must say, even though the answers haven't been easy or forthcoming, I've learned a lot as I strayed through the WWW looking for them. Good exercises. DH

I would appreciate some statement as to the length of time spent in this venture. I am going to lobby for two days! PE

The amount of material generated by this peer day has been awesome. I will still be going over my downloads for some time. Thanks again for the wonderfully clear notes. A valuable plus for me from this peer day is knowing that I am not alone in computerland confusion, and there is help available. RV

This has been a lot of fun and very informative, but I'm exhausted! DH

My Overall Evaluation

Excellent job, Tony. I really liked the clear instructions in the beginning, simple and potentially easy assignments and lots of time for questions and reporting.


I recommend that Union change the rules for online peer days. Two seems to be the minimum number regardless of the size of the group. I spent sixteen hours on this peer day without question, as did many other learners who will be lobbying their core's to count the extra time. I would also suggest adding two additional days, so that the expectation would be 16 hours of participation spread over a 10 day period. For example, during this peer day I printed 421 downloaded pages in 10 days, or an average of 42 pages a day. It takes a bit of time to prepare, read and respond to that much information.


Engst, Adam. (1995). Internet Starter Kit For Macintosh. Third Edition. Indianapolis, IN: Hayden.

Knowles, Malcolm. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 3rd Edition. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.