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Progress towards a holistic web: integrating open-source programs, semantic data, wikis and podcasts


Henry Rzepa
Imperial College London

Marion Cass
Carleton College

05/10/06 to 05/11/06

The way educators typically use the Web to support their teaching in 2006 is arguably a regression from many of the ideals first anticipated in 1994. Time pressure, a reluctance to learn "difficult HTML", and pressure from the publishing industry has allowed the Web to retreat into "shrink-wrapped" black holes known as Acrobat files. An ever greater reluctance (by both authors and publishers) to appreciate the importance of deploying meta-data in a meaningful manner means that most often, these Acrobat files represent the bones lying in an information graveyard, stripped of any "reusability" and really fit only for printing (e-books have yet to take off in any significant sense). In our article (we hesitate to perpetuate the above by calling it a "paper"!) we discuss two particular themes. Firstly, how a greater emphasis on data capture and its re-usability, together with the use of open-source software such as the remarkable Jmol, can result in a much more meaningful and future-proofed way of presenting chemical knowledge to students. We illustrate this via two resources, one designed to introduce symmetry to chemistry students, the other a dynamical introduction to pseudorotation in fluxional molecules. These can be viewed at and Secondly, we address the issue of how to create holistic resources and to overcome the reluctance of stressed and pressured academics by discussing two recent phenomena, that of the "Wiki" and the "Podcast". The Wikipedia is perhaps the best known illustration of how a community can coalesce and produce something far greater than the sum of its parts. Podcasting, which seems to be taking off in chemistry, focuses on audio and video content, but seems divorced from other forms of content, and is currently rather less than holistic. Currently, these two broad themes about how the Web should evolve are more or less developing independently. The prospects of coalescence are discussed.


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