Educational Media International
Vol. 35, No. 2, June 1998, p. 141 - 143

Web-Based Instruction, Badrul Khan (editor) (1997), Educational technology Publications, ISBN 0877782962, Hardcover $89.95.

Finally a book that addresses the application of instructional theories and strategies to the design of Web-based resources for learning. Web-Based Instruction is a cornerstone in Web technology literature. It represents a departure from the cookbook approach that previous books have adopted in facilitating the delivery and access of Web-based information. It sets the stage for the next level in Web technology which is the use of the Web as a viable medium for learning and instruction.

Web-Based Instruction is an edited collection of 59 chapters organized into 5 main sections including: introduction to Web-based instruction; Web-based learning environments and critical issues; designing Web-based instruction; delivering Web-based instruction and case studies of Web-based courses. By keeping the average chapter length to seven pages Khan helped the authors articulate their thoughts concisely and pragmatically, which resulted in an insightful and information rich publication. Another advantage of the short chapters is the ease with which readers and practitioners can use the book to meet specific information needs. As is the case with the most edited books, the chapters are not necessarily sequential and therefore they can be read or used in almost any order depending on the goals of the reader and the objectives of the educational context.

With the exception of one author the chapters were contributed by university academics primarily involved in the theoretical underpinnings and application of Instructional Technology. The look and feel of the book therefore is conceptual and conjectural. Readers accustomed to perusing Internet and World Wide Web publications will not find page after page of Netscape browser visuals or HTML code nor will they find diagrams explaining procedures such as how to send an e-mail message or download an Internet file. Instead they will find models explaining the application of learning theories to the design of Web-based resources and tables relating instructional strategies and activities to Web-based features and components.

Wasting no time, Khan begins the first chapter with a table that defines how Web-based instruction (WBI) can be conducive to learning environments. He discusses the components and features of WBI and their relationship to learning and instruction. Khan also provides the readers with the first comprehensive definition of WBI. In Chapters 2 and 3, Crossman and Romiszowski discuss the underlying principles that enabled the emergence of Web technology and the implications of this technology on our educational system. Section II discusses critical issues facing web-based learning environments. The authors compare and contrast traditional learning environments to learning environments that have been influenced by the developments in technology and by the learning paradigms defining the field of Instructional Systems Design. An example is Reeves and Reeves' chapter in which they propose a model that can be used as a guide to develop, implement and evaluate interactive learning via the World Wide Web. The model consists of ten learning dimensions: pedagogical philosophy, learning theory, goal orientation, teacher role, metacognitive support, collaborative learning, cultural sensitivity, and structural flexibility. Each dimension is presented as a two-ended continuum with contrasting values at either end. Practitioners can use the learning dimensions collectively as a framework to determine the instructional design of a WBI programme. Hill discusses similar issues from a broader perspective. Using Schrum's 1995 framework for distance learning environments, Hill looks at the pedagogical, technological, organizational, institutional, and ethical issues that practitioners need to consider when developing a WBI programme.

Section III focuses on the design of Web-based instruction. The first two chapters use contrasting theories to guide the design of WBI. Chapter 15 by Jonassen et al. demonstrates how Web technology and in particular hypermedia technology can be used to build learning environments that promote advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. Based on cognitive flexibility theory that has its roots in contructivist epistemology, instructional designers can build cognitive flexibility hypertexts that expose learners to multiple perspectives of a knowledge domain stressing the conceptual interrelatedness of ideas through a linking structure. This pedagogy works best when the knowledge domain is complex and its concepts are characterized by variable attributes and ambiguous criteria. Ritchie and Hoffman present a more instructivist perspective for the design of WBI. They adapt Dick and Reiser's 1989 instructional events' framework to Web technology by detailing how specific web features and components can be used to motivate learners, specify what is to be learned, prompt the learner to recall and apply prior knowledge, provide new information, offer guidance and feedback, test comprehension, and supply enrichment or remediation. Other authors in this section discuss the design of WBI that supports a range of learning and instructional strategies including collaborative learning, apprenticeship learning, project-based learning, learner-centred instruction, and active learning. A discussion that I found particularly interesting was the design of a Web site (Literacy Online) that serves as an electronic performance support system (EPSS). Reviving the instructional principles of EPSS through its adaptation to the Web as a delivery medium seemed a natural development for this emergent technology. Kirkley and Duffy argue that EPSSs built on the Web can serve the needs of many educators who are seeking to provide their learners with integrated resources that help meet specific learning needs.

Section IV addresses the nuts and bolts of delivering and accessing information via the Web. Descy discusses the basic hardware and software components that enable the World Wide Web (WWW) as a computer medium. This chapter is a must for readers who need to get acquainted with WWW terminology. I recommend that novices peruse this chapter concurrently with chapter 1 in order to facilitate comprehension of the technical attributes of this medium and to be prepared for any learning tasks that they need to master if they are planning to develop WBI programmes of their own. Another 'required reading' for novices is the chapter on search engines by Maddux. The chapter begins with the obvious yet ill-addressed issue of the frustrations and problems that search engines present to users in general and educators in particular. The author evaluates four search engines and leaves the reader with a bit more confidence to face the overwhelming task of searching the WWW. Other authors in this section discuss Web-based course authoring tools. Reading Chapters 36 and 37 in this order was very useful. In Chapter 36, Hansen and Frick present a pragmatic framework for evaluating Web-based authoring systems and in Chapter 37 Goldberg discusses WebCT (a Web-based authoring tool) and its features. The reader therefore can automatically apply the framework to the tool and determine if the authoring tool is appropriate for developing a WBI programme for a specific content or course.

One thing I felt that this section fell short on was a theoretical framework for evaluating the effectiveness of WBI programmes. Although several authors presented valuable evaluation strategies and tactics, their purpose targeted the usefulness of specific WBI features and components rather than the effectiveness of WBI as a teaching and learning environment. Perhaps this is due to the novelty of the Web as a medium for instruction. Educators, instructional designers, and faculty have just begun to investigate the possibilities of this medium for instructional purposes and the need for parameters that define research designs is prevalent. As discussed above section II of this book provides many theoretical models that guide the design of WBI which when developed and implemented can help set the parameters for conducting research studies aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of WBI. This task will remain a challenging one due to the unique architecture of WWW information. In their chapter, Siegal and Kirkley warn us of the future of WBI by pointing out that a new paradigm shift, consistent with emerging models of WBI, is needed to change the focus from content-centred to problem-centred learning. It is interesting to note here that this was not the case with Computer-Based Instruction (CBI) due to the fact that the information manipulated via CBI was not ever-changing and expanding, and the learning environment was not open-ended or unbounded as is the case with WBI programmes.

The final section of Web-Based Instruction features case studies that demonstrate the application of WBI to classroom instruction. The section begins with a framework by Bannan and Milheim designed to situate Web-based courseware in a context that defines the overall design characteristics of the course, its general instructional methodology, and the various course attributes related to Web-based delivery. Two tables matching specific instructional strategies and activities to Web-based components and features are presented. This chapter may very well constitute the basis for a research design methodology due to its comprehensiveness yet definitive structure in addressing instructional methods and activities that are useful for WBI and in describing the basic instructional model and conceptual learning theory represented by the design of the course. Other chapters discuss applications of WBI to K-16 content areas such as astronomy, introductory electronics, foreign languages, and literature. The authors present on-line learning environments and discuss the context of the course, the pedagogy underlying the instruction, the instructional activities engaging the students, and the expected learning outcomes. URLs to relevant sites are included.

In conclusion Web-Based Instruction was written by college faculty for a university setting. Most if not all IT programmes around their country now have at least one course.

Nada Dabbagh
Towson University

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