Touring campuses, via the Web Colleges: Nearly all of the state's campuses maintain sites that reflect their personalities through information, humor -- and junk.

The Education Beat

July 14, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

YOU CAN'T JUDGE a college by the Web site it keeps, but you can get a good idea of its personality.

Almost all of Maryland's colleges and universities maintain sites on the World Wide Web, that vast, largely uncharted region of the Internet that may be (or may not be) transforming education.

With the help of The Sun's library, The Education Beat surfed the Web sites of the state's colleges and universities last week. (On the day of our tour, more than 1,000 new organizations and individuals around the planet set up shop on the Web, which is growing exponentially and startlingly.)

We found much useful information, some humor and much junk. We found lots of hype. We found stuff we suspect few have read or ever will read. Several of the schools, for example, head their home pages -- the title page of a Web address -- with lengthy promotional letters from their presidents, while the Johns Hopkins University offers Web visitors access to every word uttered by the speakers at its May commencement.

Most of the sites include catalogs and registration information. Several have campus and area maps. Morgan State University's regional map, borrowed from one of the big Internet services, locates Hopkins and Towson State University but, alas, not Morgan. (Morgan, however, has a good campus map; some of the others are useless because of their tiny detail.)

We found that the college and university Web sites reflect the character of the sponsoring institutions. The University of Maryland College Park's site is big and strapping, a Terrapin lineman in action, if you will, once you get past the opening claim that UMCP is "nestled in the suburban town of College Park."

Coppin State College says it's "set" on 38 acres. Like the school that produced it, Coppin's Web site is down to earth and unpretentious: two pages and a class schedule.

Hopkins' site is, well, Hopkins. Called JHUniverse, it shows the university in its many parts and roles, worldwide and somewhat ponderous. (The site was visited by 8,760 people during a recent summer week.)

In the vast Hopkins site, we found ourselves several hypertext stops removed from those opening commencement speeches, reading a review of Hopkins psychiatry professor Kay Redfield Jamison's book about her battle with manic depression. One could spend days at the site.

Although Western Maryland College got high marks for taking the trouble to advise visitors on searching the Web, our favorite site was that of Goucher College.

Perhaps the most cheerful school in Maryland higher education, Goucher is equally smiling at its Web site. Under "Goucher Traditions," we discover the school colors and the date of the Blind Date Ball. The campus chapter of B-GLAD (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians and Straights for Diversity) models its T-shirts for site visitors.

Goucher also allows us to visit 10 faculty and staff and 19 students who have their own Web sites. Student Lara Diamond invites us to sign her guest book, meet her siblings and thumb through her family photo album. Novelist Madison Smartt Bell includes selections from his work.

Building Web sites is clearly still a primitive art. Much of what is happening amounts to trial and error, but that's probably how old Johann Gutenberg got started half a millennium ago.

Task force to remove jargon from education documents

Here's a welcome development: The state Education Department has a task force reviewing public documents to make sure they are in plain English.

The panel's work focuses on reform of the high school curriculum and testing but probably will be expanded to other public writing produced by the department, according to Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant state superintendent.

"For a long time, educators felt their primary customers were teachers and superintendents," Peiffer said, "so we developed an inside vocabulary, like two neurosurgeons talking to each other. Finally, we've realized that the primary customers are students and parents."

A series of "focus groups" with parents around the state helped the department realize that many people don't understand what the educators are saying and writing, said Peiffer. For example, despite the attention given to testing by the news media, "we found that testing is largely invisible to the public," he said.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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