Information Discovery and Communication with Meta-Documents over the World-Wide Web

Richard Furuta and Frank M. Shipman III

Department of Computer Science
Texas A&M University

Contact Information

Richard Furuta and Frank Shipman
Department of Computer Science
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-3112
Phone: (409) 845-3839 (Furuta) / (409) 862-3216 (Shipman)
Fax : (409) 847-8578
Email: and
URL: and

WWW Page

Project Award Information

Award Number: IIS-9812040
Duration: 10/01/1998 - 9/30/2001
Title: Information Discovery and Communication with Meta-Documents over the World-Wide Web


Hypertext/hypermedia, guided paths, computers and education, document structure

Project Summary

This project investigates use of an additional layer of structure, called a meta-document, to organize decentralized network-accessible information, such as that found on the World-Wide Web. By developing meta-documents, documents whose components are themselves documents, discovered information can be placed into context and communicated to others. Consequently meta-documents hold promise of being useful in applications where information, created and maintained by others, needs to be transferred; educational applications at all levels have this characteristic. To make meta-documents effective, the project will study basic issues in information representation, presentation, personalization, structuring, location, and exploration. In addition, practical study will be required of the means for authoring meta-documents and the means for keeping them in synchrony with the rapidly shifting contents of the Web. The resulting concepts have theoretical implications in understanding how to structure and communicate network-based digital information. They also have immediate practical application in producing materials that can be used in teaching and in providing overviews that will help the general public better identify relevant Web-based information on selected topics.

Goals, Objectives, and Targeted Activities

The research program will use the current implementation of the Walden's Paths system, which will provide a testbed for implementing and evaluating new ideas in prototype implementation. We plan to focus on qualitative rather than quantitative evaluation in educational settings by involving local teachers and their classes. We plan to gain access to teachers in two ways. The first is to draw from contacts made by the Cognition and Instructional Technologies Laboratory to build alliances with teachers in the Bryan and College Station Independent School Districts (K-12). The second is by working with instructors in our College of Education to incorporate versions of Walden's Paths into their graduate classes, thereby gaining access to feedback from the already practicing teachers (again K-12) in those classes who have returned to Texas A&M for advanced degrees. Our ultimate goal in evaluation is to gain insights that will permit enhancement of our project's prototypes in two specific areas: first, easing the organization of Internet-based materials by teachers (questions of authoring) and second, structuring the students' browsing of Internet materials in order to remove impediments to initial location and contextualization of information while not discouraging the free-form browsing that leads to developing effective skills for learning through focused exploration.

Indication of Success

Our goals for year one are to accomplish the following tasks:

Project Impact and GPRA Outcome Goals

The project includes continuing funding for two graduate students. We expect that over the lifetime of the grant, that we will graduate at least three individuals: two at the Master's level and one at the PhD level.

A focus of the project is organizing Web-based materials, with one of the natural applications being curriculum development. Based on our earlier experience, we expect that the results of the project will find useful application in curriculum development at the K-12 and also at the college undergraduate levels.

Project References

In addition to the project's Web pages, referenced above, see the following published articles:

Shipman III, Frank M., Marshall, Catherine C., Furuta, Richard, Brenner, Donald A., Hsieh, Hao-wei, and Kumar, Vijay. "Creating Educational Guided Paths over the World-Wide Web," Educational Telecommunications, 1996: Proceedings of ED-TELECOM 96, June 1996, pp. 326-331.

Shipman, Frank M., Furuta, Richard, and Marshall, Catherine C. "Generating Web-based Presentations in Spatial Hypertext," 1997 International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, (ACM conference), January 6-9, 1997, pp. 71-78.

Furuta, Richard, Shipman III, Frank M., Marshall, Catherine C., Brenner, Donald, and Hsieh, Hao-wei. "Hypertext Paths and the World-Wide Web: Experiences with Walden's Paths," Hypertext '97: the Eighth ACM Conference on Hypertext, Southampton, U.K., April 6-11 1997, pp. 167-176.

Shipman III, Frank M., Marshall, Catherine C., Furuta, Richard, Brenner, Donald A., Hsieh, Hao-Wei, and Kumar, Vijay. "Using Networked Information to Create Educational Guided Paths," International Journal of Education Telecommunications, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 383-400, 1997.

Shipman III, Frank M., Furuta, Richard, Brenner, Donald, Chung, Chung-Chi, and Hsieh, Hao-wei. "Using Paths in the Classroom: Experiences and Adaptations," Hypertext '98: The Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, June 1998, pp. 267-276.

Shipman III, Frank M., Furuta, Richard, Hsieh, Haowei, Francisco-Revilla, Luis, Karadkar, Unmil, Rele, Abhijit, Shenoy, Gurudatta V., and Brenner, Donald A. "Using the Internet in the Classroom: Variety in the Use of Walden's Paths," To appear at ED-Media '99 as a full paper.

Area Background

Our investigation of meta-documents, as encapsulated into the Walden's Paths project, draws from a long-standing area of investigation in Hypertext/Hypermedia systems. Vannevar Bush's pioneering article "As We May Think", published in 1945 in in both the Atlantic Monthly and in Life Magazine, introduces the notion of paths for two purposes: as a personal means for remembering and organizing found information, and second, to provide a means to communicate that information to friends and associates. Paths were incorporated into stand-alone hypertext systems beginning around 1988--Randy Trigg and Polle Zellweger describe two implementations carried out on systems at Xerox PARC at that time.

The Web raises novel issues, not faced by these earlier projects. Although the technology underlying the Web is largely foreshadowed by earlier hypertext applications, its use environment is new. Unlike its predecessors, the Web is highly heterogeneous, both in readers but also in information provided. Readers range from highly-educated academicians to elementary school students. Ages range from retirees to pre-schoolers. People make material available on the Web for all conceivable reasons--to communicate, educate, persuade, promote, defraud, and delude, to name just a few of the possibilities.

Many issues are technological (seeking ways to provide stability in an inherent unstable environment) but others relate to the contextualization of the material. This is especially evident in the classroom, where it becomes noticable that the encyclopedic materials available on the Web often must first be placed in broader context before they are accessible to students.

Area References

Pointers to the literature may be found as references to the papers identified above. Of continuing interest is Vannevar Bush's essay, also available online at The Atlantic Monthly

Bush, V. "As we may think." The Atlantic Monthly (July 1945), 101-108.