Instructional Media: The Internet Possibility


Anne Knowles

Literature Review Research Paper

EIPT 6333

University of Oklahoma

April 3, 1996

Instructional Media: The Internet Possibility

Instructional Designers have an important job. One facet of Instructional Design is media selection. Much has been written on Computer-Assisted Instruction. There is very little regarding Internet instruction. The Internet has received much public attention, and many instructional institutions are eager to offer instruction on the Internet. However, there has been little formal attention with respect to analyzing the Internet's application and potential for instruction. This paper will review the Internet's popular delivery methods and explore their current use and potential instructional capabilities.

There are three ways that the internet can deliver instruction. These three delivery methods are e-mail, Multi-user Object Oriented (MOO), and World Wide Web (WWW or Web). The strengths and weaknesses of each of these delivery methods determine the appropriateness of using the Internet as an instructional medium. Thus the main question and sub-questions to be answered are:

The format of this paper is to first address some assumptions based on CAI and to discuss the importance of Internet. Then, the Internet and its delivery methods are addressed. The Internet as an instructional media is evaluated and its current and future instructional effectiveness are discussed. E-mail is explained, examples given, an analysis of current instruction is next, followed by an analysis of potential e-mail instruction. This cycle of explanation, example, analysis of current samples, and analysis of potential instruction is repeated for MOO and WWW instruction as well. After the pieces have been examined, recommendations for further study are given. My final thoughts regarding effectiveness of Internet instruction concludes the paper.

The Internet: A facet of Computer-Assisted Instruction

how did it all start?

There is an incomplete, but substantial body of research that shows the benefits of Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) (Kulik & Kulik, 1987). Internet-based instruction is a specific instance of CAI. It is premature to expect empirical findings for Internet specific instruction. But it seems logical that the basic conclusions of CAI findings that have already been researched hold for the Internet as well. Thus, the findings and recommendations for screen layouts, feedback, and interactivity hold for the Internet flavor of CAI. Despite lack of formal studies on Internet effectiveness (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994), a healthy sampling of instruction does exist (Distance Education Links, 1995?). An analysis of this instruction will show what each of the delivery methods now have to offer. A further analysis of the strengths and capabilities of e-mail, MOO, and WWW show what type of instruction is best showcased by each.

the internet is important

Essentially no one questions the benefit of the Internet as an educational resource. However, is the Internet really suited for instruction? Should Instructional Technology include Internet Technology?

The Internet has impressive communication capabilities. It has the potential global range of the telephone and the data processing and storage capabilities of computers. Instruction is communication. Therefore, the impact and effectiveness of the Internet as an instructional medium must be assessed.

A term that often arises in relation to the Internet is "distance learning". This refers to any instruction that occurs at a location other than the source classroom, if any. Much instruction via the Internet is indeed included under "distance learning", but not all. There are classroom applications of Internet instruction.

It is important to assess Internet progress and determine if instruction is heading in the right direction. The right direction for each delivery method being the instruction that best capitalizes on the method's strengths.

Instruction on the Internet

The Internet has some common underlying threads that hold for each of the three common instructional delivery methods. The current limitations include that on-line instruction is scarce, computers are required, literacy is required, and there is a lack of cohesive effort. Internet advantages are multimedia capabilities and content source. Although the limitations are severe, there is great potential for the Internet.

analysis of current Internet instruction

The problem of assessing the value of Internet instruction is difficult. Not much instruction exists yet and technologies have largely not been integrated into classroom learning. The Federal Office of Technical Assessment reports that only 3% of instructional rooms are connected to the Internet. (From Now On, 1995[sad.html])

A distinct minus for Internet instruction is the required infrastructure. Fast computers, Internet connection, modem, special software, and training and support personnel are all required for a successful program using the Internet. Past successes have been largely limited to the individual efforts of a random population of educators (Short, 1994). Different delivery methods do require varying amounts of computer sophistication and cost. E-mail is the simplest, and WWW instruction the most difficult in terms of support, software, etc.

Given that text is the primary mode of communication on the Web, it is necessary that learners be literate, or at least be approaching literacy. This limits the uses of instruction on the Internet in early childhood situations (McManus, 1996). Learners must also be computer literate. This includes terminology and skills related to the mouse, keyboard, on/off switches, operating system commands, modem, etc. With support personnel nearby, they could participate in classroom-based Internet instruction. If the learners are not computer savvy, then they are unable to participate in the distance learning aspect of Internet instruction.

The previous paragraphs have given reasons why caution must be taken when considering the Internet. The Internet should definitely be considered, however. The following quote best describes why the Internet is important to instruction.

"The Internet can deliver video, but not as quickly as videotape, television, or CD-ROM. It can carry real time personal interaction, but not as well as telephone or video conferencing. It can display textual information, but not a usefully as a book or magazine. Why then should the Internet ever be used. The Net has two real advantages over other media. It combines advantages of other media so that it conveys video and sound better than a book, is more interactive than a videotape and, unlike a CD-ROM, it can link people from around the world cheaply. The second advantage, and one that is often overlooked when discussing the Internet as a delivery system, is that it can also be a content provider. The Internet is, arguably, the largest and most diverse information resource in the world today. It is possible to incorporate the wealth of information available on the Net in your design." (McManus. 1995)

analysis of potential Internet instruction

The nature of the Internet is dynamic and growing. New users are constantly discovering the wealth of information and resources on the Internet. Users are constantly communicating new ideas. The dynamic nature of the Internet is inherent in this type of communication. It is interactive and virtually instantaneous (Knowles, 1995).

Although some individual efforts are impressive, an effective paradigm must be found. Institution-wide initiatives are needed in which educators and computer professionals and managers collaborate productively (see Short, 1994). If more people were involved in the effort, more instruction would ensue. There are numerous learners who could benefit from Internet instruction despite the costly computer and literacy requirements.

Both major schools of Instructional Design theory, Objectivists and Cognitivists, can design effective instruction for the Internet. The Cognitivist approach, because it deals with ill-structured knowledge domains, is especially well supported in the Internet environment (McManus, 1996). Much more of this type of instruction could be developed.

"The Web uses text, graphics, interactively, and to a lesser extent video and audio. According to Reiser and Gagne's media selection diagram (Reiser and Gagne, 1983) and Merrill and Goodman's strategy and media selection technique (Merrill and Goodman, 1972) these characteristics make the Web most useful when used to explore intellectual and verbal knowledge, and to a lesser extent when exploring affective learning. With it's versatility and interconnectedness the Web offers one of the most effective ways to work with learners who are wide spread geographically." (McManus, 1996)

Instruction benefits via the Internet include access for students challenged with disabilities and minimization of minority and gender barriers (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994). There is a related, but distinctly contrasting opinion on this point about access. At a meeting of the National Education Association (NEA), some faculty union members believed that "…education's fascination with technology could lead to a future of 'virtual universities,' staffed by part-time instructors and attended by people who do not have the money to attend college in person." Many attendees agreed that the embrace of new, high-tech delivery methods represented an unconscious return to segregation and an attitude that women and minorities be given only a virtual education (Monaghan, 1996).

Electronic Mail (E-mail)

Electronic mail or e-mail is a way of sending an electronic letter or message between individuals or computers. E-mail travels through the systems and networks that make up the Internet. E-mail can even travel outside the Internet through other networks to deliver electronic messages (Knowles, 1995). E-mail is used for topics that can be covered using text. E-mail instruction is similar to correspondence courses. One person generally sends to one other person, or to a list of people and then waits for a response.

examples of e-mail instruction

E-mail is used for instruction in various ways. Teaching via the Internet with guest lecturers is one way to use e-mail (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994). Using e-mail to deliver instruction and materials between the teacher and students, as in correspondence courses, is another way.

E-mail is also used by students to communicate with each other. The Telecommunicated International Business Simulation was conceived of during the spring of 1992 by the University of Hawaii. It involved University students interacting with students enrolled at the Institute for International Studies and Training at Shizuoka in Japan which included students from Japan and eight different countries in Europe and Asia. The students at each location communicated interactively with their remote simulation counterparts using multimedia. The multimedia included video phone, facsimile, electronic mail, and electronic file transfer programs (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994).

analysis of current e-mail instruction

E-mail is limited to text. This limits its usefulness. In the case of using e-mail with guest lecturers,

…the degree to which students interact in meaningful ways seems related to the style of the lecturer. Different lecturers addressing students in a control experiment evoked markedly different degrees of response. The style and the experience of the lecturer in using e-mail are important elements in this delivery system" (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994).

It seems that some experience with e-mail is required to be effective. Most reports from instructors using e-mail seem to be positive. The instructor of an award-winning on-line computer course learned that instead of one big e-mail source, several e-mail lists with specific topics would have been much more effective (Perron, 1994).

analysis of potential e-mail instruction

E-mail pluses are that it is fast communication compared to correspondence courses, relatively cheap (in skills and software), and asynchronous (so that a pen-pal in Japan doesn't have read the message immediately). The big drawbacks are that e-mail is limited in efficiency to text and there is no immediate feedback.

Multi-user Object Oriented (MOO)

Multi-user Object Oriented (MOO) is a creative environment. It was first used as gathering places for individuals. It gradually became places where real-time classes are held (Lintz & Tognotti, 1995?). MOOs are also called "chat" sessions. Many individuals are connected at once. MOO is used for gaming sessions, instructor-led instructional sessions, and conferences. "MOOs are popular because they allow teacher and student to hang on to the classroom paradigm." (McManus, 1995).

examples of MOO instruction

Conferencing workshops for teachers and researchers are held by the Virtual Online University, a non-profit institution. These workshops use a MOO. Specialists from around the world direct sessions on-line. No MOO experience is required to participate in the sessions. (Distance Education Meetings on MOO, 1995)

Diversity University is another virtual campus MOO. Many on-line classes and meetings are held here.

analysis of current MOO instruction

"English and creative writing classes have found much success in this type of environment, for the natural reason that one develops their writing skills by default." (Lintz & Tognotti, 1995?).

Multi-user object oriented environments are powerful in facilitating electronic discussion. However, "this approach fails to recognize the full potential of text-based virtual reality as a means to experience the limits of representation" (De-constructing the MOO, 1995?). The author of that document tries to get students to experience some of those limits.

In MOO, only one person's typed message is readable at a time. It is a case of recognizing who has the "talking stick". Diversity University has developed some tools that they use to handle taking turns. Without such a tool or pre-arrangement, confusion easily ensues as to who is saying what and who's turn it is.

analysis of potential MOO instruction

"Numerous studies demonstrate that higher achievement, more positive relationships among the learning community, and the development of cooperative behaviors can result from cooperative learning experiences (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1988)" (Bailey & Cotlar,1994, p.186). Social interaction is the main advantage of a MOO.

MOO conferences are for interacting in real time. Since time of day differs around the globe, meetings can be awkward. Adjustments need to be made. Either multiple meeting times to accommodate different time zones or just leave out those in inconvenient zones. Global MOO instruction is thus largely impractical.

World Wide Web (WWW)

The World Wide Web (WWW or Web) gathers Internet resources from all over the world. It puts the data you ask for into a series of menu pages, or screens, that appear on your computer. The foundation of WWW is hypermedia. Hypermedia is a new way of connecting computer data. By selecting a button, text, or picture that connects to an additional page, you can explore related documents at your own pace, navigating in whatever direction you choose (Knowles, 1995).

examples of WWW instruction

University Online, Inc. houses programs from educational institutions and corporate campuses. The courseware catalog includes academic, nursing, technical, management, and finance courses. It is arranged much like the standard course catalog with recommended credit hours included (see UOL Courseware Catalog, 1995).

Learning Online Ltd. is the home of Included in their offerings is an example of interactive, hands-on instruction on HTML (see Hands-On HTML, 1995).

There is one generative instructional material called Engines for Education. It uses a list of probable questions at each level of the interaction. The questions that the learner chooses to pursue at each level generates a unique learning path (see The Institute for the Learning Sciences, 1994).

analysis of current WWW instruction

There are (a) tutorials, lessons that are self-contained. (b) Academic courses that use the Web as major or partial resource for such things as: readings, discussions, graphics, on-line exercises, homework notices, etc., and (c) Full courses (Parson, 1995). Instruction on the WWW is well suited to self-paced instruction.

The WWW has "a learning environment very similar to a more conventional multimedia computer based training program, as delivered on CD-ROM or laser disc. The main differences being that the Web is much slower at delivering large graphic, sound, and video files; and the content of Web based instruction can be changed with relative ease" (McManus, 1995).

The quality ranges from instruction converted straight from text with little regard for hypertext capabilities to some rather impressive instruction. Excellent instruction share these common points (a) several internal links and/or links within a "file" structure (b) opportunity for learner response and often a hands-on "do it yourself" section (c) evaluation and feedback.

Learning sequence as well as quality varies. Hypermedia is an enabling technology. It offers high levels of user control. The learners are not constrained by the subject matter structure or by the logic implied by the author's sequence of information." (Jonassen, 1986). This freedom may not be a benefit. "Numerous studies have failed to provide any performance advantage for learners who exercised their preferences for method of instructional treatment (Chronback & Snow, 1977)." (Jonassen, 1986, p. 287). This high level of user control is a concern for many authors. They take the position that hypermedia navigation is an unresolved problem (Landow, 1990). This may explain why there is virtually no hypertext links out of current courseware. Content is thus always included within the current instruction.

analysis of potential WWW instruction

"The possibilities of Web based instruction are boundless. But many educators, both teachers and designers, are at a loss for how to use this tool properly" (McManus, 1996). McManus offers guidelines on how to institutionalize the use of this tool.

The WWW holds certain advantages for distance education. 1) large scale distrubution, 2) low mailing costs, 3) corrections and updates only at server site, 4) interactivity, 5) collaborative writing, and 6) feedback from students (Lintz and Tognotti, 1995?).

Internet infrastructure has already been discussed. But, the Web has additional overhead costs. For this delivery method, software to browse the Web and additional sophisticated support are needed. The Web requires computing performance. Older PCs and Macs don't perform very well with the many graphics included on Web documents. Along those same lines, the Web should not be used if your instruction requires a great deal of audio or video, such as teaching psychomotor and other mostly physical procedural skills. On the other hand, if these skills can be successfully taught using primarily still graphics it is possible to use the Web." (McManus, 1996).

Future Research

Possibilities for research on Internet instruction abound. The selection is limited, but the range of needed research is great. Just as important as research on the Internet, is foundation research. Research on CAI and ID need to continue.

Internet specific instruction

Virtually no studies have been done with control groups. This is a prime area. Is the Internet as effective as classroom learning? Does global exposure and time saved in commuting balance the loss of personal contact? There are some case studies on Internet instruction (e.g. Perron, 1994) and only a few formative evaluations (e.g. James & Nahl, 1996). These reports are usually by the instructor of that course and are generally quite successful. This success bias may possibly be due to non-published failures.

An interesting area of research is the intermixing of the different delivery systems. One combination is called Virtual Education Environments. They combine the physical academic environment, the wide reach of the Internet and the creative environment of Multi-user Object Oriented (MOO). Are multiple delivery systems more successful than one? How does one determine how much relative instruction should be done using e-mail vs. MOO vs. WWW?

The lack of research is understandable in light of the fact that there is a limited supply of material. "The full potential and range of possible interaction have yet to be explored. New schemes are being explored daily, but an up-to-date reporting has not materialized." (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994). The lack of quantity can itself be explained by lack of incentive. There is currently no monetary incentive to publish instruction (or anything else) on the Web. For instance, once you publish an electronic magazine, anyone can read it. You cannot charge a dollar (or Lire) to each reader. The security capabilities to handle Internet money transfers have not yet been perfected. Once a global payment scheme is established, one can expect to see, and pay for, a lot more high quality instruction on the Web.

foundation in CAI and ID.

Debates continue about whether anyone has learned anything with educational technology. The research has focused on lower order tasks and basic skills. Not enough studies have been done to measure gains in higher order skills. Several Internet commentaries agree that the time has come to measure the results (e.g. From Now On, 1995[intro.html]).

Additional studies are needed in Computer Enriched Instruction, vs. Computer Managed Instruction vs. Computer Assisted Instruction for computer interaction effectiveness. This would determine whether the Internet would be most effective as supplemental instructional material or whole course work.

Finally, Objectivists and Cognitivists need to continue their debates and growth. Is the Cognitivist approach really better suited for Internet instruction? Is there another theory lurking around that would better explain and exploit the type of learning possible on the Internet? All these questions and more deserve to be answered.

Closing Comments

Use the Internet for instruction if it suits your needs. It is a great idea for showcasing some instruction or demonstrating pioneering leadership. It is new and exciting. It is heading towards, but not yet mainstream.

Some interesting and valuable small scale studies can be conducted now. However, there is as yet little common methodology to Internet-based instruction. The findings with regard to one particular instruction would probably not apply to others. Research should still therefore be concentrated on the underlying foundation - CAI.

Internet instruction is an exciting field on top of a revolutionary communications network. It will be interesting to see if future instruction can fully utilize the depth of the internet resources.


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