Summary: The Emperor's New Web
Assist. Prof. Helmer Aslaksen
Department of Mathematics
When I first joined the NUS more than ten years ago, I immediately realized that what
Singaporean students wanted more than anything else was "the notes". If you gave them
lecture notes, they would love you and give you great teaching evaluations. It seemed to me
that a lot of them confused collecting lecture notes with learning. I found this very frustrating,
but at the time the message coming down from the top was clear: The NUS wanted to move
away from spoon feeding, and we were discouraged from handing out notes.
But everything changed with the coming of the web. It seems like somebody has
decided that the way to become world-class in teaching is to have a web page. Now what are
you going to put on that web page? The beauty of the web is that it allows for interactivity and
hypertext. Creating such course material, however, requires a lot of both work and knowledge.
So what to do? Easy, just put the lecture notes on the web! Our servers are now filled with
course pages containing static, linear text. But just because it is on-line, rather than in the co-
op, it is somehow supposed to represent a great leap forward in teaching.
I believe very strongly that learning is not a spectator sport. The main thing is to make
sure that the students really read the material, and I believe that most people find it much
easier to read a printed textbook than an on-line version. So what will we achieve by putting