Web-Based Instruction. Badrul H. Khan, Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 1997. 480 pp., ISBN: 0-87778-296-2 (hardcover) $89.95; ISBN: 0-87778-297-0-(softcover) $59.95.
Reviewed by Douglas C. Smith
This book is just what it purports to be-a comprehensive source for information related to design, development, delivery, management, and evaluation of web-based instruction (WBI). Khan has compiled 59 readings that establish an introductory dialogue about a medium that is so new that the dimensions have yet to congeal into distinct areas of investigation. A major contribution that Khan makes to web-based instruction through this book is to organize the readings into reasonable topic areas. These areas may evolve as an appropriate topical structure for forthcoming literature.
The first section, Introduction to Web-Based Instruction, contains three readings. In the introductory chapter, editor Badrul Khan provides a working definition of WBI as "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). He offers a distinction between the components that are integral parts of the WBI program and features which are characteristics of a WBI program contributed by those components. His appendix outlining features and components and their relationship to WBI is particularly useful.
Alexander Romiszowski integrates the Web as an instructional tool within the system's view of networked communication and instruction generally. He effectively develops the meta-cognitive skills required in information analysis and reveals how little we know about how to implement computer mediated communication (CMC), particularly in creative thinking skills. He questions the premise of the book as positioning web-based instruction as revolutionary design by indicting that the object WBI is not merely the transition from a computer network to a collaborative conversation network of exchanged ideas and shared materials, stored and presented as information networks. Rather the object of WBI is to help ind8ividuals build conceptual networks of interrelated ideas, strategies, and theories.
The second section of the book, Web-Based Learning Environments and Critical Issues, presents 11 readings intended to clarify the major questions posed by this quickly developing but infant medium. Those issues emerge as contrast of WBI and other modes of instruction, interactive and transformative potential, WBI as distance learning, cross-cultural perspectives, fostering a sense of WBI community, building motivation for learning in WBI, and facilitating change from traditional modes of instruction to WBI. For example, Hedberg's chapter on Interactive Multimedia and Web-based Learning examines the similarities and difference between the two. The chapter on the dimensions of interactive learning on the web detailed by Thomas and Patricia Reeves could be very helpful in analyzing WBI for future research. Sherry and Wilson's focus on transformative communication that details the possibilities for changing the instructional landscape between student and teacher places WBI within the constructivist rhetoric of the day. Cornell and Martin's chapter on motivating designers and learners may become, especially for faculty construction of web pages, a key are for investigation. The chapter by Jennings and Dirksen on adoption of WBI effectively draws on a model for diffusion on innovation.
Williams and Peters's reading provides a very straightforward discussion of faculty incentives for the preparation of WBI. Unfortunately, they make a convincing case that there are now more disincentives than incentives to WBI development. In our attempts to bring other faculty into WBI, I think that many of us can relate to this discussion. Williams and Peters point out that the preferred faculty incentives of release time, travel funds, development funds and recognition in promotion and tenure decisions become disincentives to faculty development of WBI because these preferred incentives have yet to be recognized in this context. The authors do, however, outline significant administrative and instructional incentives.
The third section of the book, Designing Web-Based Instruction, contains 18 readings and represents the strongest section of the book. Jonassen and his doctoral students provide a thought-provoking discussion of cognitive flexibility in web-based hypertexts. Donn Ritchie and Bob Hoffman, in another chapter that we can all appreciate, provide solid ideas about incorporation of classic ISD principles into web-based instruction.
In this third section of the book, Welch's discussion of the Event-Oriented Design (OED) model provided a strategy for using a single design model, regardless of technological mode of instruction. Hilary McLellan's reading on virtual communities on the Web provided a case report of what was done with a class and went beyond the familiar anecdotal rendering to describe the experiences of a student immersed in WBI. Hackbarth provides a good summary of the possibilities for K-12 educators or parents to promote learning with their children. Dillion and Zhu provide the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) perspective on WBI design to remind designers to consider the compatibility of their WBI designs with information processing characteristics of the human mind. Jones & Fahrquhar provide a strong reading piece on user interface design of open and closed systems.
The fourth section on the book, Delivering Web-Based Instruction, includes 17 articles. Don Descy launches this section with a strong review of the basics of web delivery of information. We all recognize that there are significant amounts of poorly designed, rudimentary attempts at WBI out there. Several of the chapters in this section, however, contribute to the critical topic of evaluation of WBI. For example Hansen & Frick's chapter on evaluation outlines a solid set of WBI evaluation guidelines. Rossner and Stockley's discussion of institutional perspectives examines an important concept. Before WBI is to be broadly accepted across an educational community, that institution must be willing to accept and adopt that innovation.
A common problem throughout the books, particularly in this section, is that topics from traditional literature are discussed without adequate WBI context. For example, the Boling and Frick chapter on holistic rapid prototyping largely is developed with only fleeting reference to the specific context of WBI. The result is a rather generic lecture of prototyping that represents an equally fleeting contribution to the purpose of the book.
The fifth and final section of this book provides 10 case studies of web-based courses. While the first four sections of this book frame the dialogue about the important issues in WBI, they do not, however, provide the insight that the actual experiences of current WBI designers and implementers can shed. The final section contributes that dimension. The experiences expressed as case studies range from K-12on-line instructional alternatives, middle school virtual worlds, foreign language, and literature to electronics and systemic change.
This book represents a starting point in identifying the theoretical and conceptual implications of designing and learning through web-based instruction. Khan describes his process for soliciting manuscripts as open and democratic. The editing, however, also may have been a little too open and democratic. As much as I resist the urging of my students to indicate an appropriate number of pagers of composition for a particular paper, I am compelled to note in this review that 22% of the chapters in this book are only four pages in length. Reading 59 chapters to glean these implications takes a degree of patience that probably in unnecessary. A narrowing of the topics and enhanced development of major topics would have more succinctly contributed to the literature in the emerging field of web-based instruction.
At this point in the evolution of web-based instruction, however, this book represents a reasonable place to initiates your professional reading. After reviewing the issues presented in this book, you will be able to establish where in the professional literature your particular interest will take you.