Vol. 15 : No. 5
Decision Making in the Development of Web-Based Instruction
Deborah Case, MEd.
Debra K. Bauder, Ed.D.
Thomas J. Simmons, Ph.D., CRC
Preparation of this report was supported, in part, by the University of Kentucky and Grant #H029D70065 Special Education Doctoral Program in the Delivery of Distance Education from the Division of Research to Practice, Office of Special Education Programs, U. S. Department of Education. The conclusions drawn do not necessarily represent the official position of the University of Kentucky or the U. S. Department of Education.
Advances in instructional
technology are changing both the way education is delivered by
faculty and received by students. One such advance has been the
use of the Internet's World Wide Web (otherwise known as the Web).
Web-based instruction (WBI) is
A potential set of questions have been identified and placed into a decision making model for use of WBI. The first set of questions concerns motivation: First, why do we want to engage in WBI? Second, what are our reasons for investigating WBI? The second set relates to content and pedagogy: What is the subject matter to be delivered through the Web? What style of instruction will be used in the content development and delivery? The third set of questions involves the target audience: Who is the intended target audience of the WBI? What are the characteristics of successful online students? The fourth set involves timelines: When is the course to be delivered over the Web? What timelines are dictating the development, completion, maintenance, and evaluation of the course? The fifth set of questions addresses resources needed: What resources are available to develop, deliver, maintain, and evaluate the course? The need to ask these important questions is discussed in the following paper along with research supporting the implications of such an inquiry.
Decision Making in the Development of Web-Based Instruction
Distance education (DE) is transforming higher education pedagogy at an increasing rate. There are many reasons for this rapid increase including student considerations, cost effectiveness and advances in technology. Additionally, there is a great need for alternate methods of instruction for the adult learner who is in need of a degree, certification, or continuing education credits. Using the traditional method of instruction many students must fit coursework within constraints of family and part-time work (Bertram, 1999). Technology is changing the way education is delivered by faculty and received by students. One such advance has been the use of the Internet’s Web to deliver coursework. The accessibility of Web-based instruction (WBI) is increasingly finding consumers, including faculty, interested in furnishing educational opportunities through the Internet.
As defined by Khan (1997), WBI is "a hypermedia-based instructional program which utilizes the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web to create a meaningful learning environment where learning is fostered and supported" (p. 6). The availability of Web-based courses makes higher education attainable. This includes meeting the potential educational needs of special groups such as single mothers, persons with disabilities, individuals that work multiple jobs, etc. (Bertram, 1999).
There are many components and features inherent to WBI, including: interactivity; multimedia capabilities; independence from device, distance, and design; global accessibility; online resources and support; learner control; convenience; ease of use; cost-effectiveness; non-discriminatory application; and collaborative learning (Khan, 1997). While many of these features may be attractive to educators, the vast array of capabilities associated with WBI creates the need for consideration of a number of factors prior to the implementation of WBI.
However, when designing
Decision Set One - Rationale for WBI
The first set of questions deals with the reason for pursuing WBI. Why use WBI to deliver course work? What are the advantages -- and the disadvantages?
Rudenstine (1997) identifies four characteristics of the Internet that make it a suitable match for learning. The Internet offers (a) access to potentially unlimited sources, (b) opportunities to develop extensive course content, (c) informal learning processes, and (d) reinforcement of the student's active construction of knowledge (Rudenstine, 1997). Potential benefits of using the Internet include increased enrollment income through the ability to attract students at a distance. Additionally, since students are typically no longer occupying classrooms and university computer systems, there could be a reduced need for infrastructure in equipment and physical plant (Berdine et al., in press; Brooks, 1997).
The Web will be used as a means for delivering instruction despite the absence of a solid research base supporting its effectiveness. The Web is driving the way we live as we evolve into a digital economy, it is trendy, and our perception is that the Web is an effective means of meeting needs (Courier Journal Article, 2000). Online learning outcomes such as program completion, skill acquisition, and student satisfaction have been shown in some instances to be equal or superior to face-to-face (F2F) classroom instruction (Hiltz, 1988, 1994; Wells, 1990). However, while both WBI and traditional instruction are effective educational pedagogues, like all instructional methods, they possess both advantages and disadvantages.
There are many advantages to using the Internet to deliver WBI (Barnard, 1997; Kirby, 1997b; Starr, 1997). Kirby (1997b) considers the ease of delivering content, the ease of modifying content, linking capabilities, and the decreased need technical support to be primary advantages of WBI. Ease of delivery, according to Kirby, is important due to the increasing number of students that have computers, allowing students to access the content and information being offered nearly anytime and anywhere. Concurrently, the content that is being offered can be modified easily by simply rewording or changing the Web connection. Additionally, the ability to link to many sources across a multitude of States and Countries allows for content to be easily accessed and disseminated. Barnard (1997) concurred with Kirby (1997b) regarding the linking aspects of WBI, but suggests that Web-based education prohibits individual students from dominating conversation, potentially drawing out intimidated students who ordinarily choose not to speak up in class. Another advantage that Barnard points out is the issue of anytime and anywhere access to instruction, limiting needs for travel (i.e. a student can sit at the computer in their home or at a local library and take courses at a university in another state or country). Barnard, (1997) considers this a paradigm shift eliciting on-demand learning, 24 hours a day.
Starr, (1997) has also attributed advantages to WBI. The aspects that Starr (1997) sees as useful include the ability to expand content, seamless integration-true interactivity and the delivery of multimedia. WBI is a very fluid environment. Content can be added to or substituted for with limited effort. New issues or research can be provided or linked into the content. Interactivity is important to enable feedback and support for students. Because the WBI instruction affords both asynchronous and synchronous interchanges many different aspects of instruction may be accomplished. Finally, Starr indicated that various forms of information could be presented via multiple methods that are not so easily utilized in other pedagogical contexts. For instance multimedia and varying forms of electronic approaches can be easily presented in the WBI environment. However, when attempting to perform the equivalent strategies in a non-virtual environment, the instructor must carry along many forms of equipment and support systems.
Finally, Kirby, (1997b) and Starr, (1997) have indicated that the options for security, and speed in turn around time present some of the most important aspects or advantages to this relatively new pedagogical alternative. In most circumstances the information that is presented along with the use of various codes and passwords affords the student and the instructor much greater security than in other circumstances. The advantage here is that other unauthorized individuals have limited access to the material and thus distribution is controlled. Further, due to password protection and access, much of the information can be kept securely between the student and the instructor.
The Web is not without its weaknesses. Limitations attributed to WBI include the potential for (a) the lack of non-verbal feedback (Barnard, 1997), (b) fragmentation of educational systems, (c) a “disconnect” with students and faculty, (d) misinterpretation or misreading of asynchronous textual communications (Starr, 1997), and (e) unknowing access of unauthentic, unreliable, and incorrect information (Brooks, 1997). In addition WBI holds the potential for passive instruction (Brooks, 1997) and presents copyright (Starr, 1997) and intellectual property issues.
Barnard (1997) indicates that significant amounts of communication during class time can be transmitted through non-verbal behavior. Web-based instruction prohibits the use of such visual cues, which can be used to emphasize specific information and perspectives for student benefit. Further, because of loss of connectivity, students might feel that the educational process is quite removed or fragmented to the degree that they feel they are not learning what they should be learning (Banard, 1997). Starr, (1997) concurs with this point of view but goes further by indicating that distance learning students may even misread or misinterpret information that is being presented due to a lack of contextual cues. Other potential negative aspects of WBI include the potential for providing unreliable or incorrect information (Brooks, 1997). This may occur by connecting to URLs that do not deliver actual or reliable information, in addition to those that have changed or no longer exist. A substantial disadvantage to the instructor, on the other hand, is related to maintaining intellectual property and copyright to the content. While there are controls with regard to instructor and student information via using passwords and other “firewalls,” once the student has access, the student may download and distribute the information to others thus putting those property rights in jeopardy, whether intentional or not.
Another class of weaknesses related to WBI includes issues with computer equipment and related interfacing technology. Included is this equipment area are servers that hold the information, the phone lines or hard wires that connect the equipment, the quality of the software that is used to download the information and, finally, the skill of the people using the equipment. Mingle, (1995), found that not only do phone lines dictate quality and speed in connection, but servers also crash. With these limitations the quality of learning is effected. Mingle also indicated that weaknesses exist due to high cost of building and maintaining networks that can meet the demand of students/learners. Other weaknesses that affect the quality of learning through the WBI process include rapid changes in technology that require large expenditures to keep up with speed and consumer needs, formatting issues around browser settings and preferences, and variance in browsers being used to access the information (Kirby, 1997b; Starr, 1997). Another area that confounds the issue of successfully using WBI is the continued existence of computer or technological illiteracy and lack of motivation of students/learners to make use of web based instruction. An issue related to customer utilization is that of formatting issues in a multitude of browsers, including user control on multi-user machines (Gottschalk, 1996b; Kirby, 1997b; Starr, 1997). A final but not the least important aspect that weakens the learning experience is bandwidth limitation. Briefly stated, bandwidth is the amount of information that can be transmitted across a phone line or dedicated/non-dedicated wiring that connects one’s computer to the server that transmits the information. The limitations are those that restrict either at the server or the computer or somewhere between. Bandwidth is generally described in kilobytes. The larger the kilobytes transmitted the quicker the information is downloaded. An unfortunate aspect of bandwidth is that the communication between the two linking computers is based upon the least common denominator. Consequently, if your computer is on a phone line utilizing a modem that is able to transmit at 36 K and the server is able to transmit at 1000 K, the information will be downloaded or received at 36K (Kirby, 1997b; Starr, 1997). Although the disadvantages appear numerous, many problems may be overcome with thoughtful planning and implementation, beginning with understanding the content and pedagogy.
Decision Set Two - Pedagogy and Content
The second decision set of questions addresses content and pedagogy: What philosophy will underlie instruction? What is the subject matter? What style of instruction will be implemented?
The mode of delivery is not critical to effective instructional delivery (Berdine et al., in press). Curricular goals, objectives, and competencies should not change simply because the delivery medium changes (Berdine et al., in press). The instructional paradigm needs to be contextually appropriate and instructionally sound (Barnard, 1997). Constructing meaningful educational materials takes time, commitment, and a level of institutional support (Rodenberg, 1999). Instruction via WBI may require adjustments of strategies, materials, and activities to overcome and balance the limitations in technology and distance education (Cheney, Cummings, & Royce, 1990; Collins, Hemmeter, Schuster, & Stevens, 1996; as cited in Collins & Grisham-Brown, in press, p. 2). The student, however, must remain the focal point of instructional decisions when using online education.
McManus (1996) defines pedagogy as “the deliberate organization and presentation of information with the end goal of promoting specific learning” (p. 5). Pedagogy is dictated by the educational philosophy of the instructor. Philosophies may vary, some lending themselves to WBI more than others, but too often content and pedagogy are overlooked as technology personnel, not educators, lead the drive toward WBI (Rodenberg, 1999). Excitement about the potential of the technology and its capabilities may lead to a focus on design elements, overpowering the instructional goals and objectives.
One approach to the development of Web-based content and instruction is supported in the theory behind online learning. As defined by Firdyiwek, “the pedagogy of online instruction is based on the effective use of electronic learning environments for the development of cognitive skills through access to information, interactivity with tools, and communication” (p. 29). Theories of learning and cognition underlie pedagogy. These theories can be viewed in terms of what knowledge is, how it is transferred, and what it is that motivates individuals to learn (Firdyiwek, 1999). Resnick, Greeno, and Collins (1996) have defined three categories of theory: behaviorist/empiricist, cognitive/rationalist, and situative/pragmatist-sociohistoric (situative/pragmatist). In the behaviorist/empiricist model, information is presented in a clearly defined series of instruction reinforced with feedback. This model emphasizes individualized environments, as well as direct skills, teaching, and test-based assessment. The cognitive/rationalist model focuses on interactivity; information is organized in developmental stages of learning and assessment is performance based. Lastly, the situative/pragmatist model stresses “environments of participation.” The learner practices active learning, which also serves to assess the learner. Flexibility is a defining element (Firdyiwek, 1999).
A second perspective or approach to WBI is taken from instructional design models. According to McManus (1996), there are two basic underlying theories in instructional design: objectivist and constructivist. The objectivist leads the learner through a series of steps, developing materials that will enable the learner to exhibit the desired behavior. Motivation is assumed to be intrinsic or extrinsic to the learner (McManus, 1996). Constructivist theory is nonlinear and provides learners with opportunities to "construct" their own knowledge from the educational materials provided for them. Instructors determine what they intend to create from the instruction, defining a design goal, and then students determine what they want to learn, establishing a learner objective (McManus, 1996).
Regardless of the underlying theory, the instructor makes pedagogical decisions and the instructor or a subject-matter expert makes content decisions. Yet, the student and not the technology must remain the focal point of instruction. Further development then cannot take place without identifying the needs of the target audience.
Decision Set Three - Target Audience
The third set of questions in the decision model involves the target audience: Who is the target audience of the WBI? What student characteristics are common to success or failure?
Innovative education will lead to a more diverse group of students entering the system, students with greater or differing expectations, varied educational backgrounds, and technological expertise (Plater, 1995). The freedom from time and place permits education to move beyond the campus into rural areas typically prevented from higher educational opportunities due to geographical distances. WBI enables the student to learn wherever they have access to the Internet, with access being critical since not all rural areas have access to the Internet or solely at the local library.
Instructors need to know the students: who they are, what they need, what they expect, how they learn best, and when and where this learning will take place (Plater, 1995). Berdine et al. (in press) note several characteristics of students enrolled in WBI that contribute to success. Successful students typically (a) are older and more ambitious, (b) are self-motivated, (c) incur distance or employment barriers to traditional education, (d) have limited access to instructional and technology supports, (e) are inexperienced in research, and (f) need to be current and competitive in their field(s).
As individuals engage in WBI, the instructor and the student must develop new skills (Collins & Grisham-Brown, in press). This necessity impacts both immediate and future expectations. Trends in education, business, and technology mandate that both become life-long learners (Plater, 1995); in the process, each becomes both student and teacher.
As WBI processes between instructor and student are no longer solely through face-to-face (F2F) contact, communication expectations change, necessitating specification of all modes of support at the beginning of coursework (Institute for Distance Education, 1997) and consideration of both instructor with student expectations. These supporting technologies include phone, mail, fax, and e-mail (Institute for Distance Education, 1997), as well as other means of support as determined by the instructor such as F2F meetings, conference calls, chatrooms, listservs, and two-way audio or visual systems. Throughout the course, students should be encouraged to make use of the communication tools available. Emphasis should be placed on asking questions and requesting clarification when in doubt about assignments or subjects, thus opening the lines of communication and fostering a higher success rate and positive overall experience.
The lack of visual cues, a limitation described above, also renders the instructor void of expected feedback from students typically relied upon for signs of understanding and participation. Students, in turn, are void of nonverbal signs as well as verbal emphasis placed by the instructor on important content matter. The absence of eye contact with students can slow the establishment of student-instructor relationships. Communicating also requires greater efforts by the student and instructor. Communication must be initiated and then maintained by ongoing efforts. Barnard (1997) has indicated that it is not uncommon for an instructor to spend four to five hours a week in e-mail communication with a class of 50 students. Text-based communication, typically the essence of distance education (DE) communication, can be easily misread; therefore, care must be taken to provide clear communications and prevent miscommunications.
In addition, the misconception must be overcome that online course work requires less time than does traditional course work (Caldwell 1993, as cited in Berdine et al., in press). Course work delivered over the Web requires equivalent if not more time than a traditional lecture course. Besides the time spent performing traditional work for a F2F course, students generally have to do more reading, write research papers, participate in practicum experiences and collaborate with other students to implement projects. Additional activities that a student has to carry out regarding WBI courses includes (a) purchasing or acquiring computer equipment that can access the WWW, (b) acquiring a WWW account, (c) utilizing software for interacting with students and faculty, and (d) utilizing email and research software that enables the student to perform the required course requirements. It also is important to note that WBI presents opportunities for off-task behavior through the exploration of links, resulting in longer engagement times than those resulting from on-task behavior and traditional instruction.
Traditional instruction has revolved around the philosophy of the student as the passive recipient of information presented in the form of lecture by the instructor. Online instruction requires that the student become an active learner, constructing his or her own knowledge from the direction provided by the instructor. WBI can transform passive students into active students, with instructors guiding and facilitating, aiding them in the tasks of analyzing and synthesizing information (Young, 1997). Educators in WBI become more like coaches and facilitators linking students directly to desired resources and sources of information (Barnard, 1997) rather than acting in the traditional role of delivering information. However, as students continue to be overloaded with information, they will need to establish information competency (Daigle & Jarmon, 1997). Information competency is defined as the ability to access, retrieve, manipulate, relate, understand, and evaluate information (Berdine et al., in press) in order to fulfill expected levels of performance (ROI) -- awareness, information, application, and systematic integration (Todnam & Warner, 1983, as cited in Berdine et al., in press).
The basic characteristics of WBI result in changes in the dynamics of the relationship between instructor and student. Not all faculty or students adjust or acclimate well to such a student centered, independent mode of learning. Careful planning to meet student needs, however, will enhance the learning experience. The process in developing courses for seamless transition to WBI not only requires time, but also can be impacted by a number of timelines.
Decision Set Four - Timelines
The fourth decision set involves identifying timelines. When is the course to be delivered over the Web? What timelines are dictating the planning, development, delivery, completion, maintenance, and evaluation of the course? What timelines are dictated by university schedules, semesters or quarters? What timelines are artificially driven?
Some of the obvious differences between Web-based and campus-based instruction include an increased reliance on technology, the need for advanced development of instructional materials, and a shift in learning responsibilities to the student. As a result, time constraints differ when using WBI (Institute for Distance Education, 1997). According to Young (1997), there is no need to prepare and deliver weekly class sessions, presenting professors with time to do what they most enjoy and do best. Yet the creation of WBI is a time consuming process, especially when performed thoughtfully and thoroughly to include planning, design, development, delivery, evaluation, and maintenance. Gottschalk (1996a) views the development process as an ongoing process conducted in a series of stages, beginning with design. Design considerations include determining the specific needs and characteristics of the audience, and establishing the goals and objectives of the course. The second stage, development, consists of creating a content outline, reviewing existing materials for compatibility with medium and course, organizing and developing content to be as integrated as possible, and selecting and developing materials and methods integrating modalities. In the third stage, the evaluation stage, goals and objectives are reviewed, an evaluation plan is developed and decisions are made regarding the use of formative, summative, quantitative, and qualitative evaluation; then data are collected and analyzed. Evaluation is conducted on the use of technology, course formats, course atmosphere, quantity and quality of interaction, acquisition of content, assignments, tests, support services, student achievement, student attitude, and instructor. The final stage, revision, should be anticipated and completed immediately following course completion (Gottschalk, 1996a). Maintenance then becomes an ongoing task until change merits re-creation of the course, which will begin once again with the planning stage.
Hall (1997) has estimated that an online course can be developed in 12 weeks from start to finish. This appears to be an optimistic goal and reaching it will depend on the developer's background and experience with not only the hardware and software, but also the specific software or language being used for development. Often a learning curve is necessitated; as new products and upgrades become available offering enhanced efficiency, learning curves become more the rule than the exception. The pure nature of technology also brings the unexpected; therefore, time for delays due to technological problems with both hardware and software must be incorporated into planning. Technological issues also impair timelines set for course work as problems from both the server or delivery side and the user side can prevent accessibility and result in delays in access to materials and assignment completion, as well as in barriers to communication.
Developing coursework for WBI can be a time consuming and an ongoing process. In order to develop successful instruction for use on the Web, considerable thought should go into each and every stage of development, including initial consideration and evaluation. Yet, university driven time constraints may impact development processes, as well as, the availability of needed resources.
The rationale for WBI has been addressed, as have pedagogy and content, the target audience, and timeline. The last and greatest level of decision making, however, becomes that of resources. What resources are available to develop, deliver, maintain, and evaluate the course?
Decision Set Five - Resources
Academic policy and processes determine the use of University resources. Resources both within the University and external to the University may affect the decision to pursue WBI due to the associated financial implications. What resources are available to develop, deliver, maintain, and evaluate the course? What resources are available including infrastructure - policy, physical plant, technology, and personnel (Berdine et al., in press)?
Academic Policy and Processes
The mission of the institution must be considered when deciding whether or not to pursue WBI (Berdine, et al., in press). If the mission does not support the expansion of education to the Web, obtaining necessary support within the university will be difficult. This, however, does not prevent engaging in the development of WBI.
Major issues in an Institution of Higher Education’s (IHE) DE policy include planning (physical plant and personnel); accountability (faculty incentives and finance and fiscal responsibility); and technology (hardware, software, accessibility, and maintenance) (Berdine et al., in press; Miller & Clouse, 1993-1994). According to W. H. Berdine (personal communication, November 22, 1999), there is typically no existing policy to support WBI. The administrators of educational institutions need to understand and anticipate the restructuring of higher education in the new millennium (Plater, 1995). Not only does the shift towards WBI affect classroom availability, but WBI may necessitate additional faculty, programs for professional development, review of definitions of faculty workloads and awards, and attention to issues surrounding intellectual property rights. Cost effectiveness measures will focus on access, productivity, and quality. In addition, faculty will need access to hardware, software, network resources, and support (Berdine et al., in press). The transformation in IHE toward technology-driven education requires a strong human infrastructure (Daigle & Jarmon, 1997). According to Plater (1995):
Universities and colleges must become more effective managers of resources and re-deploy faculty and staff time to meet needs more efficiently at a higher level of quality... Since most other resources are fixed, faculty and staff time is the only resource that can be changed significantly to improve performance" (p. 26).
Mingle (1995) claims technology is not about doing what we are doing now -- teaching and learning -- but about doing it better. Policymakers need to realize that the vision is about growth, not budget-cutting. The vision is of a quality education that is relevant, affordable, and accessible anytime/anyplace; a learner-centered and value-centered education that increases student choice and fulfills specific needs (Mingle, 1995). This vision, in turn, compels universal systems, commitment to life-long learning, a shift to a student-centered approach, re-engineering of delivery systems, customized content, gains in productivity, and financing and regulatory reform (Mingle, 1995).
WBI requires the consideration of a substantial number of resources, each of which carries with it a cost. Costs associated with WBI include: (a) purchase/lease of instructional materials, including software and hardware; (b) equipment maintenance, (c) telecommunication fees - broadcasting, connecting, delivering, and disseminating information; (d) personnel, including full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, graduate and undergraduate assistants, technical personnel, clerical personnel, contracted personnel from other departments, and outside designers and consultants; (e) components of direct costs - planning, course production, course maintenance, mediating/tutoring, and student assessment (Mingle, 1995); (f) delivery of the instruction and associated costs; and (g) time and money for training faculty and staff in the use of hardware and software (Hall, 1997). DE delivery systems consist of a complex mix of capital, operating, technological, and human-labor costs (Mingle, 1995). As measures to cut costs continue, WBI is a suitable alternative (Young, 1997). Miller and Clouse (1993-1994) center cost effectiveness on access, productivity, and quality (efficient instruction) (Berdine et al., in press).
When considering costs in WBI, development costs alone can be deceiving. The development cost of a low-tech and low-end course is approximately $15,000, whereas a high tech course with all the "bells and whistles" may be as much as $30,000 or more (Berdine personal communication, November 22, 1999). Responses to personal survey of cost estimates for a fully interactive instruction ranged from $200 per page to $800 per page. Cost is a factor of a co-mingling of elements and thus difficult to compare meaningfully. The initial cost of the development of WBI is greater than the costs incurred once the process and materials have been obtained (Gregory, as cited in Hall, 1997). Perception of audience need, learner objectives, and the array of tools required will drive the process of creating WBI, thus influencing its associated costs.
WBI potentially offers several cost benefits: (a) a smaller number of faculty can reach a larger number of students; (b) expenses for physical building space and operational costs such as air conditioning, electricity, water, etc. may be reduced; and (c) students carry the financial responsibility of accessing the hardware and software necessary to complete course requirements. The costs of WBI, however, cannot always be addressed in terms of a return on investment. Klevans (1987, as cited in Berdine, et al., in press) suggests looking at the cost of meeting the need versus the cost of ignoring the need. Several critical cost factors to the delivery of WBI are addressed in greater detail below.
Physical space. Physical resources can be defined as typical bricks and mortar or physical space. WBI limits physical space requirements. A classroom is no longer required for delivery, freeing up a valuable commodity within a university. WBI requires physical space only for the server, the development hardware, and, possibly, for software storage. A computer laboratory housing hardware and software for production may already exist within the department or university, thus providing the needed physical space for development of instruction and materials.
Tools - hardware. Planning for WBI includes determining the location of the instruction. Instruction can be stored on a university server, a department server, the instructor's server (set up and managed by the instructor), or on a server belonging to a partner organization. Once location of instruction has been determined, the capabilities and needs of the server must be identified. These include storage space, server software features impacting Web design, access for development, monitoring, and maintenance. Compatible course work can then be developed. Access to a digital camera, digital camcorder, scanner, color printer, zip drive, VCR, and a recordable CD-ROM drive also may be desirable.
Tools - software. Development of the instruction and associated materials can take place on any computer system meeting minimal software requirements. Increased capabilities in software can result in greater quality and efficiency, but also require more random access memory (RAM) and hard drive space for materials produced. Not all users will be accessing the course with computers whose specifications match those of the development machine or server, so state-of-the-art equipment may not be appropriate. The more technology incorporated into the design, the less accessible the instruction becomes to the majority; therefore, students should be provided with high caliber instruction even if using a slower speed computer and modem.
It is critical that WBI incorporate accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Guidelines for creating accessible Web sites can be found on the Web itself. Sites also exist which provide feedback on the quality of access provided by a Web site. Again, it is important to stress that although the inclusion of multimodal instruction may aid in learning for an individual with a sensory impairment, it also may serve as a barrier to others. Cautions are given on the use of multimedia since additional modes may interfere with accessibility software and hardware and vice versa. Yet Coombs and Banks (1999) surmise that the use of redundant modes of information display makes the information accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities, and meets the preferred learning styles of individuals, although the subject of learning styles itself remains controversial. Coombs and Banks (1999) also contend that today’s students have been raised on multimedia and its components.
It must be determined whether the course will be developed in HTML or using pre-packaged software. User-friendly Web page development software can be purchased to create Web sites, although knowledge of HTML is helpful for editing purposes. Software can be used to create, alter, and animate images, as well as to create full motion video and high quality sound. Authoring software also provides opportunities to incorporate interactive multimedia components, and additional utilities can aid in creating searchable, Web-accessible document files. However, if the course will include audio and/or video, several factors must be considered: the quality of the media and its potential download speeds, the worthiness of including such media, the possible necessity for the download of plug-ins for accessibility, and the source of plug-ins should the user require them. In addition, applications vary in both capabilities and costs; as capabilities increase, costs and complexity of use rise as well. Shareware or freeware also may perform some desired functions.
Interactivity is one of the attractive components of Web-based education and is not limited to the use of hypertext and the media. Asynchronous and synchronous communications can take place in the form of email, listservs, chat rooms, and discussion areas. These components also vary as to whether one must go to a specific separate location to access messages versus receiving the information in the form of e-mail.
Courseware tools also have been developed over the past few years to aid in the development of electronic learning environments by integrating access to information, interactivity, and synchronous and asynchronous communication (Firdyiwek, 1999). Kearsley (1998, as cited in Firdyiwek, 1999), however, points out that the increase in options and features available to instructors and course designers can inhibit the selection of suitable functions for course content areas. Firdyiwek (1999) reviewed three tools purported to handle the design, delivery, and management of online courses: WebCT, TopClass, and Web Course in a Box (WBC). According to Firdyiwek no one tool appeared superior in comparison to the others as each appeared to have both advantages and disadvantages with regard to the handling administrative and instructional tasks. Firdyiwek (1999) then concludes that simply looking at features alone does not provide a clear answer as to which tool is best. Firdyiwek’s full review can be found in the article, “Web-based courseware tools: Where is the pedagogy?” in the 1999 issue of Educational Technology, 39 (1), 29-34.
Copyright Lastly, copyright issues often arise when developing Web-based instruction and the supplementary course materials to be presented over the Web. Courses may not incorporate any course content and materials developed by others without obtaining the creator’s permission. After spending the time and energy developing a course, copyrighting all material is desirable. Weiss (1996, as cited in Berdine et al., in press) suggests copyrighting all materials developed for DE as a standard operation.
Personnel - infrastructure. It is suggested that the student-teacher classroom model, though interactive, will no longer dominate, but it will not disappear (Plater, 1995). Human infrastructure is the foundation of student learning, and physical, technological, and human elements must be integrated (Daigle & Jarmon, 1997). Daigle and Jarmon (1997) and Plater (1997) believe faculty, as well as students, should be just-in-time, life-long learners.
Instructors are already spending less time on teaching and more on scholarship and research (Honeyman & Bruhn, 1996, as cited in Berdine et al., in press). When planning, delivery, and maintenance are included, DE appears to require more rather than less faculty time (Berdine et al., in press). As a result, collaborative efforts are encouraged to share expertise and resources, as well as to establish faculty accountability within the peer group. Partnerships and the trend in resource sharing have proven to be mutually beneficial to institutions and students (Barnard, 1997).
Guiding principles for faculty development as denoted by Daigle and Jarmon (1997) must: (a) be integrally related to the mission of the institution, (b) be based on empirical data linking technology to learning outcomes of students, (c) employ a collaborative model (i.e. train the trainers), and; (d) be seen as part of infrastructure in serving students. Human infrastructure is critical to total institutional infrastructure; technology is impacting not only physical infrastructure but human infrastructure as well. As new teaching-learning paradigms evolve, faculty must be strengthened through training and university supports. Investment in the development of faculty will build the human infrastructure essential to technology-driven higher education (Daigle & Jarmon, 1997). In order to meet the multitude of needs and goals in DE, faculty must have convenient, universal, and affordable access to hardware, software, network resources, and support, as well as assistance to foster professional development (Daigle & Jarmon, 1997).
Personnel - preparation. Because "poorly planned and delivered instruction can sabotage any learning situation" (Berdine et al., in press), the development of Web-based instruction merits the consideration of a number of variables concerning knowledge and experience. The Web is not an interactive tool unless elements are incorporated to promote that interaction. Creating interactive and multimedia courses requires a level of technical expertise many instructors lack (Young, 1997). McFarlane and Turner (1995) find knowledge of computers and of how to access electronic information essential for educators and administrators. The development of WBI, however, requires an even higher level of understanding.
Berge (1998) states, "The constant learning cycle (as it gets simpler at the user end, it gets more complicated at the provider end)" (p. 2). Personnel preparation programs increasingly offer instruction to promote technological competence (Berdine et al., in press) and knowledge in DE, but in the meantime, faculty will avoid WBI or their products will lack quality and expertise unless they are provided with opportunities for professional development and supplied with outside assistance as needed. Pedagogy, however, should remain the responsibility of the instructor and content the responsibility of the instructor or a subject matter expert. University graduate students with the desired expertise may be hired from within or outside the department for $8 to $10 per hour to assist with development and, possibly, with subject matter. Outside consultants or contractors also can be hired, though given the fast pace of technological innovation, individuals marketing themselves as consultants or contractors may not always possess sufficient knowledge and expertise, expertise being defined as knowledge of content, pedagogy, and the tools available to offer WBI. Web page developers external to the University may cost as little as $30 to $100 per hour, though fees may be higher depending on the nature and extent of the development.
Other participants in establishing the desired Web-based course must have an understanding of and level of expertise in important characteristics of WBI. For example, Kirby (1997b), of the WBT Information Center, suggests eight rules to follow in designing Web-based training: (a) establish a formal development process focusing on the needs of the user; (b) select media based on defined learning objectives; (c) provide the user with opportunities to interact with the information; (d) adapt products to the user's knowledge and abilities, providing remediation when necessary; (e) although controversial due to the lack of empirical evidence, consider the types of learners that will be accessing the instruction; (f) abandon linear thinking; (g) clearly demonstrate respect for the learner; and (h) test all aspects of the instruction with real users. Starr (1997) considers the following to be essential design considerations for Web-based courses: (a) learner analysis, (b) setting analysis (hardware and software), (c) internal resources, (d) external resources, (e) collaboration, (f) Web design features, (g) development, (h) updating and expansion, and (i) evaluation. A number of additional print and electronic resources exist which outline characteristics of quality WBI, as well as tenets for successful Web design. Those selected for inclusion above were incorporated to indicate some of the many factors that must be considered when developing WBI.
Personnel - expectations. Engaging in WBI requires not only the instructor or developer to have a level of expertise in WBI but the student as well. Both must possess a level of knowledge or aptitude enabling them to perform the basic operations of both the computer hardware and system software (operating system). Both must be able to apply simple problem solving techniques as well as have a general understanding or foundation in how to navigate the WWW and use functions such as e-mail and/or fax. If they do not possess these abilities, support must be provided. Students also will require knowledge in basic software applications needed for the completion of assignments.
Personnel - student support. The remote student in WBI will also need access to the same student services as on-campus students, such as registration, tuition payment, student support, examinations, and library services. Although improving (Mingle, 1995), electronic access to university resources and support must continue to improve to the point of transparent access. Seamless access to library resources is an innate goal (Barnard, 1997) for student success and the overall success of DE. In WBI, librarians become partners (Plater, 1995), with both the instructor and librarian offering direction and guidance to students (Barnard, 1997).
Personnel - marketing. Creating WBI without marketing and promoting the availability of such course work deflates the potential profitability that increased enrollment can offer. It also prevents meeting the identified need. If the department or university does not have an individual or group of individuals designated to promote Web-based courses, marketing efforts will become a faculty responsibility. Marketing can be time-consuming and costly, but failure to do so also can increase overall costs of a Web-based course.
Although popular, the decision to pursue WBI may not be the most appropriate for all individuals. Careful inquiry must be made in several areas. The decision making model proposed can lead to a checklist of critical questions to ask prior to pursuing WBI. Although the list is not totally inclusive, key elements for successful WBI instruction have been addressed. First, because the reasons for pursuing WBI vary, a concrete motive for engaging in WBI must be realized. Second, not all instruction is appropriate for or lends itself to the Web. Identify the style of instruction that will be used, the content to be covered, and the outcomes desired. Remember that learner goals should be at the forefront of WBI. Third, determine the target audience as well as the characteristics for successful participation in WBI. Not only will the audience affect the overall decision to engage in WBI, but the audience also will affect development decisions; instructional elements will need to address factors necessary for successful learning experiences. Fourth, although ultimately dictated by decisions on what to include in the online instruction, timelines will impact decision-making. Time is a factor in planning, design and development, completion, delivery, maintenance, and evaluation. Is that time available and justifiable? The fifth and last probe, inquiring into the resources available for the development of effective, quality WBI, may be the most important area of decision making. The depth and breadth of resources to be considered can prove overwhelming. Resources impact the decision to engage in WBI at all levels, from administration to software and student services to levels of expertise.
If engaging in the five decision sets described in the decision making model leads to the decision to pursue WBI, the model can then provide direction for careful planning and development. Decisions will need to be made on the resources that will be used in the online instruction. However, if questions or apprehensions remain after reviewing the critical questions in the decision model, the decision can be made to pursue WBI through successive approximations moving gradually through the categories described previously by Hall (1997). Replacing text with pictures and other media does not necessarily bring about enhanced learning. The development of an online syllabus and readings could be the entrance into WBI, followed by the incorporation of hyperlinks and the addition of text and image-based instructional materials (Brooks, 1997). Professors are currently creating Web pages for courses, syllabi, readings, and links (Barnard, 1997). E-mail may initially serve as the primary mode of communication, followed by the incorporation of a listserv, then synchronous chats. Additionally, online tutoring can be followed by online exams (Brooks, 1997). The decision sets described in the model can provide critical insight in deciding whether to pursue WBI completely or in stages.
Adams (as cited in Hall, 1997) has developed a Decision Aid for WBI which assigns point value to the responses made to each of 27 considerations. The total value then falls into ranges suggesting the future direction to be taken in regard to the desired online course. Following review of the sets of questions suggested, the aid can serve as a final step. The aid can be found in Hall's Web-based Training Cookbook or obtained from the publisher’s Web site, www.wiley.com/compbooks/hall.
Summary and Conclusions
This article has provided an overview of sets of questions to aid in the decision to engage in WBI: Why should WBI be used? What is the rationale for its use? What will be its content and pedagogy? Who will be the target audience? What timelines will be imposed? What resources will be required? The questions identified in the decision making model for WBI affect each of the stages of WBI.
Unfortunately, although WBI raises many questions, there are no easy answers. Brooks (1997) indicates that there is little solid empirical evidence to consult when considering WBI. The lack of empirical evidence supports the need for additional research in WBI, yet fast-paced technological innovation and its sheer abundance serve as barriers to relevant and current research. Literature reflects an increase in the implementation of effective DE (Winn, 1990, as cited in Berdine et al., in press). Perhaps by defining what is and what is not WBI or expanding upon the suggested decision sets, research topics related to WBI can be refined that will enable replication and result in empirically based implementation. Web-based instruction has heretofore been defined in broad terms, resulting in variation and confusion as to exactly what constitutes Web-based instruction. The very availability of such a wide array of possibilities in the production of multimedia adds confusion in that an immense combination of modalities of varying qualities can be incorporated. The server, the computer system of the user, and related services such as the internet service provider all impact the way the instruction will be experienced, as does the instruction itself. Although evaluation concerns exist for WBI, the development of such materials continues, perhaps due to our confusion as to the operational definition of WBI, not to mention quality of WBI.
In addition, much depends on individual situations and circumstance, as well as personal preference. No course or project is the same. As the design, delivery, instructional approach, etc. of each online learning experience is unique, so is that of the instructor and the student. As a result, generalizations are not possible. Yet as the amount of information available within each of the sets of questions described increases, decisions can be made with greater confidence and support.
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About the Authors
Deborah Case, MEd. is a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky. Her areas of study include distance education, assistive technology, and early childhood special education. Ms Case is currently employed as a research associate at the University of Louisville and is involved with online assistive technology training and the research component of a distance-based assistive technology assessment project to assess students in rural areas for assistive technology. Prior to this role, Ms Case worked as an assistive technology specialist/practitioner in an assistive technology resource center and as an early interventionist. email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Debra K Bauder, Ed.D. is a teacher, technical consultant, computer specialist, technology training specialist, instructor in higher education, and a director of statewide training in assistive technology. Dr. Bauder has her educational specialists and doctorate from the University of Kentucky with an emphasis on preparing personnel in the use of technology in special education.
Dr. Bauder is a faculty member of the University of Louisville's Distance Education faculty. She is involved in the development of implementation of distance education assistive technology courses provided through the University of Louisville's Special Education/Distance Education Program. She coordinates assistive technology online workshops for Project Icarus, Kentucky's State Improvement Grant. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas J. Simmons received a Ph.D. in Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling from Kent State University. He is certified in LD, BD, and Moderate & Severe disabilities and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Dr. Simmons has published numerous articles on special education, supported employment and transition. His experiences include management, supervision, and direct service in rehabilitation and in the classroom in special education.
Dr. Simmons is a faculty
member of the University of Louisville's Distance Education faculty.
He has been involved in the development of implementation of distance
education special education courses provided through the University
of Louisville's Special Education/Distance Education Program.