Lloyd P. Rieber
of Instructional Technology
The growth of the Internet in just the last few years has been remarkable. The Internet, and especially the World Wide Web (WWW), affords the possibility of providing both formal (e.g. college courses) and alternative education (e.g. home study) opportunities. Unfortunately, some educators are being pushed into putting courses on the web for the wrong reasons, such as school administrators who smell extra tuition dollars or State legislators who want local schools and colleges to expand service to their constituencies. Other educators are jumping on the Internet bandwagon in response to the demands of today's students. Electronic media pervade all aspects of our daily lives and so legitimizes, in the minds of students, the expectation that schools provide educational opportunities without the need to ever step foot on school grounds or a college campus. Of course, this troubles many educators by equating education to just another commodity for exchange via electronic means - something else to throw into the online shopping basket.
The political pressures associated with putting education online are real and considerable, but there are justifiable reasons to take the Internet seriously for education that take full advantage of the Internet's educational capabilities without compromising what we know about learning and teaching. Among the most compelling is that the Internet offers the chance to truly democratize education by giving everyone equal access to information and knowledge. The Internet offers as many advantages for a ten year old struggling to learn fractions as the executive needing to learn about tax law changes. Fair and equal access to educational opportunities remains one of the most significant problems facing the United States today (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Kozol, 1992). The Internet has the potential to "level the educational playing field" by allowing anyone to tap its vast electronic information resources regardless of the quality of the one's local schools. Of course, access to this information assumes an individual has another kind of access, that to a computer, a modem, and an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Unfortunately, the most recent data indicate the division between those who have and do not have access to these technical resources continues to increase. According to the report "Falling through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide", issued through the U.S. Department of Commerce (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1998), although there have been significant increases in the overall access to computers and Internet, the disparity between rich and poor, urban and rural, and various ethnic and racial groups has increased in the last 5 years. These data should be both alarming and arming -- each of us needs to look for ways to influence policy makers (especially in our local arenas) to ensure that the democratic potential of the Internet is realized. The most obvious places to lobby for increased access are our schools, but all forms of community access should be supported (e.g. one's local library). Despite these problems, it takes little vision to imagine that access to the Internet could soon be as commonplace as telephone access.
As a result of the Internet's growth and the public's interest in it, more and more educators find themselves struggling with the concept of online education. What is it? How does one do it? What does one gain from it? What are the potential problems? It is naive to think that classroom instruction can merely be "converted" to the web. The complexities of the interactions needed for learning to occur do not merely translate from one medium to another. Online interactions, when taken from an individual student's point of view, has three types (Schrum & Berge, 1997). First, there is the interaction between the teacher and the student. Second, there is the interaction between the student and other students in the course. Third, there are the interactions between the student and the content itself. The instructional attributes of the Internet that make each of these three interactions possible can be grouped around the areas of presentation, communication, and dynamic interactions (Doherty, 1998). The first two areas -- presentation and communication -- represent the majority of today's web-based education activity. The web is well known and well suited for the presentation of information via text, graphics, sound, movies, and animations. Communication includes e-mail and its related technologies (such as listservs and newsgroups), bulletin boards and discussion groups, chat rooms and other forms of "groupware." Likewise, the tools available to educators for designing, delivering, and managing online courses are currently focused on presentation and communication. HTML editors, such as Adobe PageMill, Claris HomePage, Netscape Composer, and the many word processing packages with HTML features (such as Microsoft Word), allow for relatively easy means for educators to master the construction of web pages with multimedia elements. High-level web-based course management systems, such as WebCT and TopClass are particularly suited to the presentation of information and subsequent discussion and dialog between the teacher and students about the content.
As a consequence, current web-based instruction is very "explanation heavy," both in words and pictures. Most of the interaction that does exist is also contained within words -- discussions (synchronous and asynchronous) using e-mail, chat rooms, and bulletin boards. I have nothing inherently against these forms of conversational interactivity, but my personal philosophy is to anchor learning in meaningful experiences upon which discussions or conversations can build. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of instruction is meaningful interaction with the content, guided by the teacher, and shared with one's peers. Distance education experts agree that "dynamic interactions" between the student and content represent one of the weakest elements of web-based instruction (Doherty, 1998; El-Tigi & Branch, 1997). Dynamic interactions include activities ranging from simple drills to simulations, games, and microworlds (Rieber, 1996).
The good news is that computer technologies afford the design of activities to permit students to explore complex and dynamic relationships in subject matter. The past two decades have witnessed tremendous growth in the design of such interactive multimedia, such as computer-based simulations (Sims, 1997). Of course, teachers do not have the programming expertise to create these kinds of interactions. What we need is a model which brings together the developers, content experts, teachers, and students and allows them to share the efforts of each.
In response to the potential and perils of the Internet for learning and teaching, I propose a web-based delivery model that allows everyone with web access -- students, teachers, multimedia developers, scientists, etc. -- to use it and contribute to it. I call this model the "World Wide Interactive Learning Design Team", or "WWILD Team" for short, to underscore the potential for the world to become one big collaborative design team for education. The WWILD Team mission has the following components:
I see all kinds of benefits if this model could be implemented on a large scale. People who have the programming expertise to create interactive modules will have a framework for sharing their work with the world's educational community. Teachers can use existing modules by giving out the URLs of the modules to students or embedding the URLs in their own web pages (just as I am doing here). I envision content experts (e.g. physicists, biologists, chemists, etc.) taking a large role in developing the modules -- modeling their domain is something scientists do anyway. (A good example is http://www.explorescience.com, an amazing collection of surprisingly approachable interactive modules for science designed and maintained by Raman Pfaff, a nuclear physicist.) However, the application of their interactive modules to educational pursuits is something I feel is best left to educators. The WWILD Team would naturally support and encourage this type of collaboration and division of labor and expertise. There are already other searchable databases that complement the WWILD Team goals. The Apple Learning Interchange (http://www.ali.apple.com) has thousands of educational resources available to teachers and students. The Instructional Management System (IMS) Project (http://www.imsproject.org/), an initiative of Educause (http://www.educause.edu/), consists of a partnership between major corporations, publishers, and universities to come up with standards to promote a modular approach to online education. The WWILD Team is as much a philosophy about technology-supported learning as it is a searchable database, so the existence of other resources is not viewed as "competition" but as support for the ideas that the WWILD Team hopes to promote. A unique characteristic of the WWILD Team is the emphasis on creating or identifying "interactive modules" to be shared freely on the Internet.
It is very important to understand that interactive modules are not web-based lessons, but instead offer experiential learning opportunities that are appropriate for inclusion in a lesson. Interactive modules are meant to be used in creative ways by teachers, parents, and students, probably in ways that the original designer of the module never anticipated. Interactive modules can take many forms, but have two important characteristics: 1) very interactive, with little emphasis on explanation; typical modules will include games, simulations, and drills; and 2) generalizable and flexible, so as to be used by teachers and students with greatly varying needs. One of the premises of the WWILD Team is that teaching is an idiosyncratic process. Therefore, interactive modules are not meant to be complete lessons which supplant the teacher, but rather should be easily integrated and adaptable by teachers and students with different teaching and learning needs and styles. Indeed, such a view elevates the role and value of the classroom teacher by depending on their diverse skills which computer technology falls sorely short.
To be sure, there are lots of weak links in the WWILD model at present. A big problem, of course, is the need for lots of interactive modules. The WWILD model would need thousands of modules to even begin to have an impact. Fortunately, there are thousands of interactive modules already designed. The problem is just that people don't know where they are located. Given the magnitude and scale of the Internet, sufficient numbers of quality material could be quickly indexed if only a small fraction of the number of groups that seriously evaluate existing educational software were to submit the best of their searches to the WWILD Team database. Also consider, for example, the impact if only 30 or 40 universities with graduate programs in the design of interactive multimedia around the world likewise had a way of indexing the very best projects developed by their students. Another important issue is quality control. One of the most difficult aspects to maintaining a database such as this is ensuring that the interactive modules recommended or submitted are of the highest quality. The WWILD Team has several mechanisms in place to address this issue, but this will surely be one of the central problems that the WWILD Team (or other groups) will need to confront.
In conclusion, the Internet is here to stay and it can become the source of valuable -- and equitable -- resources for educators and students alike. But this will not happen without guidance from the educational community. There are many ways to get involved in ensuring that the educational potential of the web is not lost or misguided. One recommendation is to join the WWILD Team today by supporting the philosophy on which it is founded and by becoming both a contributor and consumer of its ever-growing database of web-based interactive modules.
Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America's public schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Doherty, A. (1998). The Internet: Destined to become a passive surfing technology. Educational Technology, 38(5), 61-63.
El-Tigi, M., & Branch, R. M. (1997). Designing for interaction, learning control, and feedback during web-based learning. Educational Technology, 37(3), 23-29.
Kozol, J. (1992). Savage inequalities: Children in America's schools. New York: HarperPerennial.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (1998). Falling through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide [On-line]. Available: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/net2/falling.html
Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational Technology Research & Development, 44(2), 43-58.
Schrum, L., & Berge, Z. (1997). Creating student interaction within the educational experience: A challenge for online educators. Canadian Journal of Educational Communication, 26(3), 133-144.
Sims, R. (1997). Interactive learning as an "emerging" technology: A reassessment of interactive and instructional design strategies. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 13(1), 68-84.
As mentioned above, this is probably my most favorite example of a collection of interactive learning modules and all were designed by just one person, Raman Pfaff, a nuclear physicist by training. It's an astounding collection:
You can get familiar with Shockwave technology by visiting Macromedia's Shockzone. There are lots of examples of interactive multimedia created using Shockwave (few are educational, however):
Finally, here is a wonderful list of sites pointed out to me by Dr. Ann Barron, Associate Professor in the Instructional Technology program at the University of South Florida (http://www.coedu.usf.edu/inst_tech/faculty/barron/), in a wonderful essay she wrote on designing web-based training. (She presented and discussed her essay recently on a listserv I moderate called ITFORUM in a format very similar to this discussion.)
Travel Specialist (frame-based)
Go to http://cybertravelspecialist.com/ and click on Demo Lesson
Go to http://www.digitalthink.com and "Click here for a free Internet search course"
Series III Online User Guide (frame-based with RealVideo)
Learning Group (page-based)
Go to http://www.gglearning.com and click on Demo Course.
HHMI Virtual Lab (frame-based with embedded Shockwave Authorware) http://www.hhmi.org/grants/lectures/vlab1
HIV Lifecycle (frame-based with embedded Shockwave Flash) http://www.roche-hiv.com/lifecycle/flash/index.html
to Screw in a Light bulb (a classic produced with Shockwave Authorware)
Training, Inc. (screen-based; produced with Shockwave Authorware)
Learning Center (page-based)
Web Interactive Training (page-based)
Go to http://wit.ksc.nasa.gov/html/courses.html and click on "Introduction to Technology Transfer@KSC"
Anatomy Interactive Quiz (page-based; developed with Java)
-- Environmental Safety, & Health Training (page-based)
Go to http://www.slac.stanford.edu/esh/training/study_guides/study_guides.html and select one of the options for Course 219.
Situations (screen-based; developed in Authorware)