Published in Inside UVa, 24 January 1997

Martini Demonstrates Web's Added Dimension in Teaching

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

Photo: Rebecca Arrington
To faculty who say they either don't see how using the World Wide Web in the classroom might enhance their teaching or don't have time to learn how to use it, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Engineering Kirk Martini would say that a little time invested can go a long way to improve a professor's communication with students.

In his Jan. 13 talk, "Investing Time in the Web: Scholarly Risks and Rewards," delivered at the plenary session for the Teaching Resource Center's 1997 Teaching Workshop, Martini questioned why only 1.3 percent of U.Va. faculty applied for Teaching and Technology Initiative grants last year, while 10 percent applied for University Teaching Fellowships, which disperse about one-seventh of the TTI funds.

Martini, who developed his use of technology in the classroom with a 1995-96 TTI grant, encouraged his audience of teachers and graduate students to spend some time learning to incorporate the Web into their teaching. He explained how the Web can be used in the classroom to illustrate concepts, and outside the classroom to survey students' grasp of material, give detailed feedback on tests, solicit feedback from students about the course and facilitate connections with other scholars.

Martini, who has taught at U.Va. since 1992, demonstrated how he uses the Web in the classroom by giving a brief lecture on earthquake damage to a concrete column. He began by showing illustrations of a quake-damaged building on a Web page projected onto a screen. Then he demonstrated the principles behind the illustrations using wooden blocks and masking tape, asking audience members to theorize solutions and then trying them out with the blocks and tape. He said that in an actual class, he would have proceeded to teach students the relevant mathematical equations, using the Web images as a reference point.

The block-and-tape demonstration is the most engaging part of the lesson, Martini admitted, but "the Web images help to set it up and relate it to the real world."

Outside the classroom, Martini uses the Web to assess his students' progress by posting questions on the class' Web page and having students submit answers using Web-based forms that can be retrieved into a single Web document. With answers from 80 students in one file, Martini says he can skim them and chart a class' grasp of the material in 15 minutes. Then he can cut and paste the students' answers and post these and his comments on the class's Web page, offering a broad collective review.

As well as using such architectural icons as the Golden Gate bridge to illustrate certain types of construction, Martini (above left) also incorporates simpler structures, like the swings he and his daughter are on in his electronic course materials. This photo demonstrates Hooke's law: forces are proportional to deformations. However, this is more of a conjecture than a law, Martini notes, since it is not always true.

"The Web allows for a rich feedback loop," he said.

Martini uses a similar approach when handing back tests and quizzes, directing students to consult the class' Web page for the answer key. For each question, he presents an array of student answers, showing that there are many ways to solve a problem.

The key has greater credibility because it is written by students, he said.

Students get a chance to offer feedback to Martini before the end of the semester by filling out anonymous feedback forms on the course's Web page. Reading these allows Martini to "defuse things as they happen" by responding to students' comments during his lectures.

"The anonymous feedback form concretely demonstrates my willingness and eagerness to listen," he said. "I think a lot of students are skeptical whether anyone ever reads evaluations, but they know I read what they say on that form."

Martini also encouraged faculty to post a summary of their current research on the Web in a simple text version. "If you want to make a research cold call to someone doing similar work, you can send them an e-mail and direct them to your Web page," he said.

From a time investment standpoint, "not putting your work on the Web is like keeping your money under a mattress," Martini said.

Though he was on leave last fall, Martini's "Introduction to Structural Design" and "Ancient Reconstruction of the Pompeii Forum" Web sites received 1,400 hits, 90 percent of which came from off Grounds and 20 percent of which came from people overseas, representing 40 countries.

He suggested the following design guidelines for Web pages: only the cover of a document should have decorative graphics, there should be a table of contents, and high gloss should be avoided.

Martini urged faculty to put their work on the Web to draw in the next generation of students (and possibly become ceWebrities).