Using the World Wide Web to Enhance Classroom Instruction
First Monday


Using the World Wide Web to Enhance Classroom Instruction

The use of the World Wide Web (WWW) as an instructional tool is gaining momentum as more teachers, instructors, and trainers incorporate it into their repertoire. Grouped together, any instruction that makes use of a computer is called Computer Based Training (CBT), and those strategies that employ the Web as the repository for instructional information are known as Web-Based Instruction (WBI). WBI can be employed in a distance education model or as an adjunct to teacher-led classrooms.

Specifically, WBI can be used to meet the needs of a more diverse student group. Typical classes consist of students with varying abilities and previous knowledge, and WBI can help a teacher address these differences. WBI also allows students to work a pace that is more comfortable - some students work faster than their peers while others may wish to take longer. In addition, the use of WBI provides the opportunity for multiple grade levels to be accommodated in the same classroom at the same time.

From a teacher's perspective, SBI can help with many daily management tasks by reducing the paper flow required for paper-based instruction, allowing for quick and easy revisions to instructional materials, and ensuring that instructional materials are always available to students. In addition, because the bulk of instruction is delivered via the Web, the teacher is free to spend time working with individual students and small groups; less time is spent in whole-class instruction.

An added bonus of Web-Based Instruction is the fact that it can offer students a "virtual teacher" because students can access the instructional materials anytime, anywhere. This allows students who were absent the opportunity to access instructional materials away from school, and even the possibility to accommodate students in a course when their schedule is full.

Contents

Introduction
What is Web-Based Instruction?
Why use Web-Based Instruction?
Infrastructure Required for In-Class Web-Based Instruction
Instructional Design Behind Web-Based Instruction
Web Design Behind Web-Based Instruction
Locus of Control with Web-Based Instruction
The Future of Web-Based Instruction

Introduction

Recent technological advances have created the possibility for new ways of learning and teaching. The Web has captured the imagination of more people than any other computer innovation (McCormack and Jones, 1998, p. xi). Taking full advantage of the potential of the Web requires teachers to think about learning and teaching in new ways, as well as to master the technology itself. The Web-based classroom can support an existing teaching method or be used as a replacement, but according to McCormack and Jones, the former is currently the most common (p. 2). As Rosen (1998) points out, however

"The World Wide Web is merely a tool, as is a chalkboard, overhead projector, or VCR. Tools don't teach. When effectively implemented they assist in the learning process. If learning on the part of the students has been helped by the use of a tool, then the tool has been used successfully." (p. 1)

There are reasons why the use of the Web in classrooms is not more widespread, including, but not limited to:

  • knowledge
    it is not a simple and straightforward task to create and maintain an extensive Web-based Instruction site;
  • reluctance
    some educators are hesitant to adopt new methods of instruction;
  • resources
    few schools can afford the time, support, training, and recognition for teachers who wish to pursue new methods of instruction; and,
  • infrastructure
    some schools simply do not have the resources to develop large computer infrastructures.

The solutions presented in this paper do not require a large investment in infrastructure. This paper presents one method of enhancing the instructional process through the use of Web-based Instruction.

What is Web-Based Instruction?

Web-based instruction has evolved from any number of computer-based instructional methods, often referred to as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI), Computer-aided Instruction (CaI), Computer-Managed Instruction (CMI), Internet-Based Instruction (IBI), or Web-Based Instruction (WBI), but collectively called Computer-Based Education (CBE). For the purpose of this paper, CBE that uses the World Wide Web as a repository for instructional information and the Internet as the distribution channel for that content will be referred to as Web-Based Instruction (WBI). As McCormack and Jones (1998) wrote

"It means you can use the Web as a repository students can access to retrieve any information that would be useful to them. Not only can you use the Web to help distribute information - you can also place the information in a form that goes beyond text and takes advantage of the media that will help students understand better and to which they can relate more easily." ( p. 139)

The emergence of the World Wide Web as a pipeline for learning will have a profound effect on the manner in which our students learn and we teach. As Koonce states

"From Web-based instruction and distance learning to virtual reality and online peer communities, training and technology are converging in rapid and radical ways. The convergence - speeded by the Internet and by the growth of company intranets and extranets - is having a revolutionary impact on both the nature of training and the skills that trainers will need to do their jobs in the next century. ... Are you ready for what these changes will mean to you? Are you becoming an expert at these new technologies and the new modalities of learning that are developing? Or is your idea of training still centered on the use of flipcharts and stand-up presentations, icebreaker exercises, and extensive lecture?" (p. 1).

Why use Web-Based Instruction?

There are a number of reasons why a teacher might choose to use Web-Based Instruction, including:

  • enhancing student learning;
  • spending more time with students working in small groups or one-on-one;
  • reducing repetitive teaching tasks;
  • reducing paper flow and management, and;
  • providing improved instructional materials.

So why create Web-Based Instruction in your classroom? McCormack and Jones (1998) suggest that one reason for doing so is because "most educators aim to use a teaching method that is effective, efficient, and enjoyable" (p. 17). Using Web-Based instruction (WBI) is all of these things, but it is also pedagogically sound because it allows teachers to spend more time working with students in small groups and individually. WBI can begin to offer a variety of paths through the curriculum and offers students a self-paced learning environment, thus providing students with a sense of control over their learning. In addition, Web-Based Instruction facilitates multiple levels of instruction in one room with a single teacher. If implemented on the World Wide Web, students can have access to instructional materials at home. Because the instructional materials are stored and distributed electronically, Web-Based Instruction is also environmentally friendly, and there are not the management issues associated with paper-based instruction such as duplicating, revising, filing, and picking up after students. Students who miss school are also able to go to a Web site and find instructional materials they missed during their absence.

When used as an instructional tool, the Internet has the potential to meet the needs of a variety of students by presenting instructional materials to them in different ways, including a traditional linear form; or, with the addition of illustrations, video clips, and even sound, in such a manner that students can review or move ahead through content. Students need not follow a lock-step regimen to learning but are able to pursue learning in a self-paced manner. Bennett (1996) advocated this approach to teaching when he discussed the possibilities that computers in classrooms offer:

"Teaching to differing ability, background and interest has posed an eternal dilemma to educators. Instruction that is appropriate and beneficial to one student may have a negative effect on another. Teachers with a classroom of children know it is impractical to try to tailor lessons to each student. Personal attention, however, would be immensely helpful because of the varied needs of pupils. Some students require additional explanations, while others have grasped the material and are ready to go on. Since having forty million private instructors is impossible, compromises are necessary and teaching usually progresses at the average level of the class. Poorer students are left hanging in their confusion and the brightest students miss exciting challenges. With computers as tutors, the learning of one individual will never be hindered by the abilities and weaknesses of others. Each student will move at his or her own pace, unaffected by the rate of learning of any other student." (p. 31)

Throughout history teachers have used available technology for instructional purposes, including the use of slates and stylus, blackboards and chalk, video presentations and television, and computer-based instruction. In a report to the U.S. Congress titled Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, the Office of Technology Assessment (1995) made this statement:

"First and foremost, teachers want to ensure that their students are learning. If technology can be a resource to enhance student achievement and interest in learning, teachers are more likely to invest the time and energy to learn to use it in their teaching. However, the relationship between technology and student learning is too often framed as a seemingly simple question: is teaching with computers and other technologies better than teaching without them?" (p. 8).

Teachers choose to use new technologies in order to enhance their teaching. Just as we added the written word to oratory, added books, began to use pen and paper, film and video tape, so will teachers add computer technology and the Internet to their repertoire. Further, the Office of Technology Assessment (1995) stated:

"Teachers use new technologies for the same reason they use books, worksheets, and other teaching tools to help students learn. Evidence from an array of studies indicates that technology in the classroom can have a positive impact on student learning, in terms of achievement in certain subject areas, development of skills, and attitudes towards school." (p. 57)

The central question for any teacher is, "How can this help my students?" As the Office of Technology Assessment (1995) report above mentioned:

"Although early research tended to focus on 'the computer' as an independent variable that somehow affects the learning process, it is becoming increasingly clear that technology, in and of itself, does not directly change teaching or learning. Rather, the critical element is how technology is incorporated into instruction." (p. 57)

Infrastructure Required for In-Class Web-Based Instruction

The purpose of this paper is to discuss Web-Based Instruction, rather than the infrastructure required to operate it. Any discussion about infrastructure could be a lengthy paper in itself, and any such discussion usually ends up in the politics of the institution and the usual discussion of support, speed, Windows versus Macintosh, acceptable use policies (AUP), access policies, and issues dealing with inappropriate use. It may not even be necessary to have a fast Internet connection, or even an active Internet connection to use WBI. If you have a LAN in your school, that may be all you need, and it is even possible to implement WBI in a stand-alone mode. So, for the purposes of understanding Web-Based Instruction in the course of this paper, we will not concern ourselves with connections, protocols, or bandwidth.

However, it must be stated that you will need some basic tools such as a Web browser and a simple text editor, if you want to create instructional Web pages, both of which are found on most computers.

Instructional Design Behind Web-Based Instruction

Prior to implementing a Web-Based classroom, it is necessary to look at the instructional design process. The instructional design is a process that occurs outside of instructional delivery; it is the grand scheme by which curricula are disseminated to learners. The instructional design process may lead to the use of several delivery strategies, and Web-Based Instruction could be one of those strategies. Instructional design is different than instructional delivery in that it uses a variety of delivery methods such as peer teaching, mastery learning, or whole class instruction. Instructional design is a framework for delivery. Briggs, Gustafson, and Tillman (1991) define instructional design as "a systematic approach to creating effective instruction but has not had the test of time such as scientific principles for example" (p. 7). They state that it "has been accepted more by business and industry, and less so by post-secondary education and even less so by public education" (p. 7). One reason why proprietary schools are successful is that they often make extensive use of the instructional design process, but systematic design makes instruction more effective and efficient (p. 3).

Instructional design, according to Briggs, Gustafson, and Tillman, "ensures congruence between objectives, instruction, and evaluation" ( p. 4). There are several underlying values in the instructional design process:

  • goals and objectives can be agreed upon and are set at a higher level than the classroom; usually at a department or ministry of education level, or in business at the corporate level.
  • outcomes are directly measurable and learner skills can be described
  • focus is on the learner; the goal is learner knowledge, skills, and attitudes
  • there is much more to be learned about how humans learn - we are where the knowledge base of medicine was 100 years ago (adapted from Briggs, Gustafson, and Tillman. 1991. p. 8).

Briggs, Gustafson, and Tillman describe the six principles of instructional design:

  1. objectives, instruction, and evaluation are related and congruent and each affects the other.
  2. components must be related
  3. process of instructional design must be systematic but flexible to allow for changes and cyclical development
  4. instructional design should be research based
  5. must be open to testing and improvement
  6. compare final design to an alternative or at least to the objectives - "Does this work?" (p.6).

The first step incorporates the establishment of the objectives, methods, and evaluation criteria. Second, the instructional design process must use a planned approach in order to be effective. The third step is that the instructional design process must provide for an orderly but flexible sequence. Fourth, the instructional design procedure must be based on research. The fifth step states that the design process must be hermeneutic; testing and improvement must be built into the design. Finally, the sixth step requires that the final version of the instructional product must result in an acceptable level of performance by the learners.

WBI as a curriculum delivery model will be discussed in the next section.

Web Design Behind Web-Based Instruction

Assuming the instructional design process is completed and the underlying principles adhered to, the next step is to create the instructional delivery mode. WBI starts off the same way as any type of teaching by designing a learning experience, preparing materials, setting objectives, and using appropriate instructional methods. The learning materials may consist of text, sound, video, and graphics. Designing and implementing a Web-Based Instruction classroom is not a quick and simple process, but you may already be part way there. However, if you do undertake the task, it will be rewarding, time consuming, and may make teaching much easier.

The educational approach used with the WBI concepts presented here is influenced by the constructivist philosophy of learning, in which Langenbach and Bodendorf (1997) define learning as "an active, self-motivated, context and situation oriented social process" (p. 2). The most important factor in any learning environment is to focus on how individuals learn, then use technology to create that learning environment. Such an environment should be learner-centered where students are able to optimize their own learning opportunities. But, as Koonce (1998) points out "I'm not sure that left to its own devices, technology can do all that. ... There's a key role for [teachers] to play as mentors and facilitators of the learning process. We can't forget the high-touch component here" (p. 5).

When creating instructional Web pages, simplicity is the Web-Based Instruction designer's maxim. Don't attempt complicated solutions - technical or educational - the first time. It will be discouraging to you and the students if things don't work as expected. It is possible to make an instructional Web page with rich graphics, moving text, and bright backgrounds, but these are usually distracting for the learner. In addition, using many of the special effects available on the World Wide Web add a level of complexity that may not be necessary or desirable in an educational environment - and learning how to do these may not be the most beneficial use of the designer's time, especially in the early development of Web-Based Instruction.

The goal when designing any Graphical User Interface (GUI) - and a Web page is simply a GUI to your instructional materials - is to achieve a clear and structured, but appealing layout. The design issues described in this section should be considered when constructing an instructional Web site. The single most important consideration in an instructional Web site is the content. If the instructional material is not clearly understood by the learner, then the investment in all of the other design issues is wasted. Many novice Web designers become interested in the bells and whistles that the Web has to offer and have little content. For the same reason, movement - the use of blinking text, JavaScript, and animated graphics - should be used for attracting attention, not for decoration. Page layout should be simple and clean because cluttered layout on Web pages, just as in print and broadcast media, do not necessarily add to the instructional process. Icons should have some meaning and context and be used for an instructionally valid reason. Graphic overload, characterized by some commercial sites, should be avoided to reduce load time and clutter.

Another important design consideration is the use of contrasting text and background. This improves the readability of the Web page, especially for those who may be visually impaired. The best color combination is black text and a white background. Color can be used for emphasis or to indicate Web links, or to indicate the learner has to do something. Background images should be avoided in favor of content and legibility. According to Langenback and Bodendorf (1997) the use of backgrounds should be entirely avoided as these substantially reduce the readability of the page and may lead to fatigue (p. 3).

Color should be used not for the sake of color, but for a particular instructional purpose. One example of using color is to color code various levels of instruction so that when the teacher is required to help a student, a quick glance indicates the course or level the student is working at. For example, a colored sidebar could be used to indicate introductory, intermediate, or advanced curriculum, as illustrated in Figure 1 below.


Figure 1: The sidebar is color-coded to the course level.

In addition, color coding can be used throughout the Web site. Pop-up windows that contain additional information or self-test information, glossary windows, and links to other locations are all examples of items that should be color coded so the learner knows their position in the Web site. Figure 2 below illustrates how using color coding for the various modules of the Web site can be used.


Figure 2: Color coding Web site modules. The top window is the pop-up glossary, the second window is a self-quiz window, and the large window in the background is instructional window from which the other two are linked.

When designing instructional Web pages, the issue of whether or not to use frames often arises. Frames are used to split a Web page into multiple windows. This design decision affects earlier versions of browsers, because not all could properly display sites utilizing frames. However, most users now have frames capable browsers, so this technical issue should no longer be a concern. Nevertheless, the instructional issues remain valid. Frames should be used to enhance a Web page and make it easier for the learner to use or navigate the site. A frames-based implementation assures the learner will always have the navigation panel available and be able to navigate the site. Figure 3 below shows a Web site that makes use of frames. The left frame contains navigation aids and project titles, while the right frame contains the instructional material related to the project the student is working on.


Figure 3: Frames-based implementation.

The most important design issue of any Web site, but particularly an instructional Web site is consistency. The Web site must have the same look and feel throughout. Consistency in design, use of icons, color, and location will allow the user to know where they are, where they are expected to be, and what they are expected to do. Consist graphic and link references are necessary so learners know what to click and what they will find.

Another important consideration is to use a common start page that provides structured access to materials and a consistent set of links to other locations on the Web site. Using a common page structure for each page the learner will access help the learner progress through the instructional material easier. As illustrated in Figure 4, a suggested page structure includes:

  • title;
  • objectives;
  • new terms;
  • instructions linked to a glossary and self test and information windows;
  • review;
  • test if needed; and,
  • assessment.


Figure 4: Example of a Web-based Instructional page structure.

The design process involved in an instructional Web site is illustrated in Figure 5 below. It starts with a concept which is a result of the Instructional Design process where the objectives and assessment criteria are specified. This part of the process may be external to the place in which the curriculum will be delivered, undertaken at a corporate or Department of Education level. The instructional strategy, however, may be a local decision, perhaps even a decision the teacher can make. In this example, the instructional strategy being employed is Web-Based Instruction, so the second step is to design the Web site. Web site design was the subject of this section.

Once the Web site has been conceptualized, a test of the design of the Web site must be made. This usually encompasses one or more possible page layouts, graphic styles, backgrounds, text color, and so on. It is a good idea at this stage to have the learner audience look at the test designs and provide some feedback. Once you have decided on a basic layout, it should be piloted with a group of learners that will approximate the group that will be using the Web site. Because Web-Based Instruction takes some time to develop, the test group may not be the same as the implementation group. During and after the pilot phase of the development, the Web pages should be reviewed and revised as necessary.

Once the pilot phase is complete, the Web site can be build. As a teacher, you want to implement Web-Based instruction as quickly as possible, so the time from design to use should be kept as short as possible. However, taking care of some issues early on can save much more time later in the process. After the Web site is developed - and the entire Web site does not have to be completed before using it - the implementation phase occurs where learners actually use the site. On-going in the implementation phase is constant review and revision of the site with an eye for continual improvement. The design process described here is similar to the one described by Briggs, Gustafsen, and Tillman (1991).


Figure 5: The Instructional Web site design process.

Locus of Control with Web-Based Instruction

The use of Web-Based Instruction creates a classroom that looks and operates much differently than many traditional classrooms. Physically, the space is the same, or can be, although a Web-based classroom probably has a higher number of computers available for student use. The real difference lies in the way in which the students learn and the teacher teaches. In fact, very little "teaching" goes on in a Web-based classroom, at least in the whole-group sense, but much "learning" occurs. The Web-based classroom described here is used in-class instruction and is not intended to be distance education, although it could be used for that purpose. The most important thing to remember about a Web-based classroom is that the locus of control changes; a Web-based classroom is no longer focused on the teacher, but rather, it is very much learner-centric. This is a risky type of strategy if the teacher is not able to relinquish some control. It also dictates a responsibility change - from the teacher to the learner. While it is student centered, there is still much work to be done by teacher, teaching skills such as time management with students, planning, and organization. There is intense small group and one-on-one work done by the teacher with the students. Web-based instruction allows for students to progress at a pace they feel comfortable with - within certain constraints of the course such as progress deadlines. This type of instruction also allows teacher some more freedom - assessment is often done on the spot with the student, for example. As McCormack and Jones (1998) suggest, "the trend in Web-based classrooms is away from the student as a passive recipient of knowledge toward the student involved in the learning process as an active, self-directed participant. Both educators and students with experience on of traditional didactic methods may have problems adapting to this new approach" (p. 23). A Web-based classroom is a very active classroom, and students quickly become spread out over a variety of projects.

One of the most important tasks required of the teacher in a Web-based classroom is that of teaching the students how to work in a self-paced environment. In this respect, some teacher direction is still required, in terms of letting students know about any deadlines and where they are expected to be with respect to the course requirements. One method of helping students with this is to provide a daily agenda on the bulletin board, whiteboard, or on a projection screen. An example of a daily agenda, prepared as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation is illustrated in Figure 6 below.


Figure 6: A daily agenda prepared in PowerPoint is displayed each class.

As Briggs, Gustafson, and Tillman (1991) state, "in mastery learning environments - where time is allowed to vary - studies have shown most students can achieve the objectives" (p. 4).

In the Web-based classroom, collaboration occurs on a daily basis without having to create collaborative projects or group work for students. It is natural for students to help each other with problems they may encounter as they progress through the course content. As Koonce (1998) wrote, "the collaborative component is a big part of what makes Web-based learning and training avenues work. It isn't just technology" (p. 2).

There are other teacher benefits of the Web-based classroom, as well. One of the benefits is that repetitive teaching tasks are reduced. For example, students who miss a class can visit the Web site and "pick up" their assignments at any time, and the teacher need not re-teach the lesson. Because Web-based instruction does not use paper, the management tasks involved with preparing, duplicating, filing, and cleaning up paper-based classes is non-existent. Changes and revisions to curriculum materials are efficient and easy with Web-based instruction as the teacher can revise the materials, publish them to the Web, and the materials are immediately available to the students.

There are challenges associated with transferring something that has been classroom-based and putting it online. Formats and pacing, for example, are different in an online classroom than in a traditional classroom.

The Future of Web-Based Instruction

At this point in time, Web-based Instruction is in its infancy. There is much research to be done, both in terms of our knowledge of learning and in Web-based Instruction. If you are going to develop a Web-based classroom, keep a journal of your experiences - may be useful as a research tool later on.

In addition, this method of instruction allows students to explore concepts in a variety of ways and enables teachers to meet the diverse needs of students in single classrooms. Bennett (1996) also supported this concept by stating, "Although teachers will have to alter their accustomed practices, they will reach a new level of importance, will accomplish more, and will have greater job satisfaction when schools take advantage of the power of computers." He continued by saying that "computerized education, properly used, can provide a personal side to education that is impossible today" (retrieved May 23, 1997, from the World Wide Web at http://www.cris.com/~faben1/fullbook.shtml). The personal side becomes possible when teachers are released from repetitive tasks, enabling them to focus their attention on individuals and small groups of students.

About the Authors

Dr. Norman Mathew is Department Head of the Career and Technology Studies Department at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The topic of his post-graduate studies was Web-based instruction.
E-mail: NMathew@epsb.edmonton.ab.ca

Dr. Maryanne Doherty-Poirier is Associate Dean of Undergraduate Services in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
E-mail: mdoherty@ualberta.ca

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L. Briggs, K. Gustafson, and M. Tillman, 1991. Instructional design principles and applications. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications.

D. Frayer and L. West, 1998. "Creating a new world of learning possibilities through instructional technology," retrieved 12 December 1998 at http://horizon.unc.edu/projects/monograph/CD/Instructional_ Technology/Frayer.asp

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N. Mathew, 1999. The Use of Web-based instruction to create a self-paced learning environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Alberta: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

C. McCormack and D. Jones, 1998. Building a Web-Based Education System. New York: Wiley.

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Editorial history

Paper received 8 February 2000; revised 9 February 2000; accepted 18 February 2000.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Using the World Wide Web to Enhance Classroom Instruction by Norman Mathew and Maryanne Dohery-Poirier
First Monday, volume 5, number 3 (March 2000),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_3/mathew/index.html





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