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Designing effective instructional strategies for a web-enhanced course on web-based instruction.


Courses in Web-Based Instruction (WBI) are at the forefront of every higher education institution and the need for guidelines on how to design, develop, and implement such courses is eminent. This article discusses an effectiveness evaluation of the process of designing, developing, and implementing a graduate level course aimed at teaching the concepts and principles underlying WBI. The evaluation revealed several important findings leading to the identification of successful and unsuccessful instructional activities and the level of pedagogical and technological scaffolding required to support students in implementing these activities.



Faculty from three higher education institutions collaborated to design a graduate course on Web-Based Instruction (WBI). The rationale for launching this course was based on four premises:
 1. Increasingly, higher education institutions and faculty members are
 feeling pressure to offer Web-based courses to meet economic and student
 demands, and to respond to the explosive surge of activity surrounding the
 development and use of WBI.

 2. Despite the advertised ease of creating WBI using Web-based course
 management tools (like WebCt and Blackboard), faculty members and
 instructional designers working to meet this demand are discovering that
 the creation of WBI comes at a considerable price in terms of time, effort,
 and resources.

 3. Many faculty are engaged in transforming their current traditional
 classroom-based courses to a Web-based format ending with little more than
 another "version" of the same course. This suggests that there is an
 eminent need for guidelines to redesign such courses in order to
 "pedagogically reengineer" them for Web delivery (Dabbagh & Schmitt, 1998).

 4. No course providing such guidelines previously existed at any of the
 higher education institutions' Instructional Technology programs where
 these three faculty members were employed.

Collaboration and Interaction

"Scholars and proponents of interactive technologies claim that collaboration and interaction are important components of course design (Spence, Stubbs, & Huber, 2000, p.2)." Collaboration on course design can help instructors avoid the pitfalls of courses that rely on new learning technologies and an emerging body of literature. The faculty members who collaborated on the design of this course were guided by at least two principles that lead to the formation of a partnership: a common intellectual challenge and complementary expertise. They were challenged by their respective institutions to design a course on WBI, having experienced teaching using online technologies and presented at several conferences on the topic of WBI. Additionally, one of these faculty members had just edited a book on WBI (Khan, 1997); the second had just finished teaching an online course to in-service teachers and was evaluating its instructional effectiveness; and the third was facing the challenges of interfacing between face-to-face and online instruction and how to successfully redesign instructional strategies to address both modalities. The faculty were convinced that a course on WBI would prepare students in their Instructional Technology programs to face the eminent challenges of designing and delivering Web-based courses.

Course Development

Course Objectives

The process began with a search for similar efforts at other higher education institutions, a review of the existing literature on WBI, and a content analysis of this literature to determine the course objectives and the appropriate instructional activities. After several iterations, the course objectives emerged as follows. Upon the completion of this course, students will be able to:
 1. Discriminate between WBI and other educational uses of the WWW.

 2. Demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental attributes of the
 Interact and the WWW and their implications on teaching and learning.

 3. Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of linear and non-linear
 multimedia design and the implications of each on teaching and learning.

 4. Demonstrate an understanding of the pedagogical frameworks that inform
 the design and development of WBI and their implications on teaching and

 5. Demonstrate an understanding of how to redesign instructional strategies
 for Web delivery.

 6. Demonstrate an understanding of Web-based management tools and their
 implications on the development of WBI.

Course Content and Instructional Activities

Three pedagogical frameworks that guide the design, delivery, implementation, management, and evaluation of WBI were identified to support the above objectives. The first is the Web-Based Learning (WBL) framework proposed by Khan (1997, 2001). This framework addresses issues at the institutional and administrative levels and can be used to guide the design, development, and evaluation of any instructional program that utilizes the attributes and resources of the Internet and the World Wide Web. It consists of eight dimensions: pedagogical, technological, institutional, ethical, interface design, resource support, course management, and evaluation. Each dimension has various items addressing its constituents in relation to W-BI. For example, the pedagogical dimension addresses issues such as instructional goals and objectives, the overall design approach of the course, content sequencing and organization, instructional methods and strategies, the instructional medium (the Web in this case), and the extent to which the course uses its attributes, accuracy of subject matter, and learner assessment. To learn more about this framework and its eight dimensions, visit:

It was determined that students would use this framework to evaluate an existing online course as an instructional activity in order to familiarize them with the various elements that need to be considered in designing/evaluating WBI.

The second framework is a three-dimensional framework proposed by Bannan and Milheim (1997) which can be used to analyze and describe educational Web-based materials. The first dimension describes the overall design characteristics of a Web-based course in terms of its instructional model (e.g. self-contained course or adjunct to classroom instruction) and its pedagogical philosophy (e.g. instructivist or constructivist). The second dimension describes the instructional methods and strategies used to facilitate learning and to deliver the course content via the Web. The third dimension describes the instructional activities that are mediated through the components (technological tools) of the medium such as electronic mail, Web page creation, posting projects to the Web, and computer conferencing. It was determined that this framework would be used to guide the development of the "design document" of a WBI prototype that students would design and develop as a culminating activity in the course. The framework would help students evaluate the congruency and effectiveness of mapping Web-based features to instructional strategies and activities, and the pedagogical philosophy underlying this mapping.

The third framework is the Web-based Instructional Framework developed by Bannan-Ritland, Harvey, and Milheim (1998). It provides a six-level hierarchy based on increasing levels of interactivity of instructional elements. The levels, information delivery (level 1), information delivery with pre-defined resources (level 2), information delivery with online interaction (level 3), pre-designed instructional delivery (level 4), information synthesis and creation of resources (level 5), and immersive collaborative environments (level 6), progress from least engaging to most engaging in terms of cognitive interaction. The higher levels of the framework "encourage learners to reorganize, manipulate and personally synthesize course content (Bannan-Ritland, Harvey, & Milheim, 1998, p.78)" resulting in a more constructivist approach to the utilization of Web-based features and components. It was determined that this framework would be used to guide the development of the WBI prototype due to its layered approach of integrating instructional and learning activities, progressing from low level to high level interactivity and immersive learning.

In addition to the instructional activities identified above, several other activities were designed to support the course objectives and the delivery approach selected for the course. Although the faculty's initial intent was to deliver the course in a fully online mode to model to students the appropriate use of instructional activities using Web technology, the author's institution where the course was implemented as a pilot course opted for a Web-enhanced course delivery mode due to several contextual factors that would impact the successful delivery of the course in a totally Web-based mode. It was necessary therefore to design both face-to-face and Web-based activities to support the course objectives. Face-to-face activities included presentations on special topics by the instructor and guest speakers, in-class discussions on the readings, and a two-page reflection statement (details and purpose of this reflection statement are discussed later in the paper). Web-based activities included weekly online postings to generate quiz questions, evaluating existing online courses, use of online resources; weekly online quizzes, an online final exam, and a WBI prototype design project (the project included face-to-face interaction as well). The classroom where the class was implemented was equipped with state of the art computers, Internet connectivity, and Web development software to support the Web-based activities.

Table 1 illustrates the instructional activities of this course, their relationship to Web-based features and to the frameworks discussed at the beginning of this paper, and the associated instructional strategy. See issue's website <>.


The course was implemented in the Fall of 1998 as a pilot course. A total of nine students enrolled. The students were employed full time and attended the Instructional Technology program at the author's institution on a part time basis, taking anywhere from two to four years to complete their degree. They represented a variety of teachers, multimedia developers, instructional designers, and technology coordinators. The course was recommended as an elective to be taken towards the end of their coursework to ensure knowledge of Instructional Design and Web development skills. The course was evaluated on two criteria: the perceived ability of the students in achieving the course objectives and the effectiveness of the instructional activities in supporting the students towards that purpose. The focus of this paper will be on the effectiveness of the instructional strategies in supporting students' knowledge acquisition of WBI principles and concepts. A qualitative methodology was used to analyze the data. The major data analysis techniques included content analysis of nine student reflection statements and comments and anecdotes recorded by a participant observer (another faculty member).


Evaluating the effectiveness of the instructional activities of this course resulted in guidelines that could be used to improve the delivery of courses designed to teach the concepts and principles underlying WBI. The framework used to present the results and ensuing recommendations will be the instructional activities themselves. General guidelines are presented in the conclusion.

Evaluating Existing Online Courses

This activity was described as an excellent learning experience and as instrumental in guiding the design and development of WBI prototypes. The activity required students to use Khan's WBL framework (1997, 2001) to evaluate existing online courses and synthesize their findings in a report to be posted to the course Website. Students therefore were able to explore each other's findings and the evaluations became a shared resource for all. A shared resource can be used for modeling, discussion, or review, providing learner guidance and scaffolding for further activities. Based on this finding, it is suggested that engaging students in the evaluation of existing online courses using relevant pedagogical frameworks is critical to enhancing their learning of WBI.

Weekly Online Discussions

Generating quiz questions through an online listserv was a fundamental component of this course. Each week students were required to prepare and post a quiz question on the readings, respond to another student's quiz question, and validate the response to their quiz question. The purpose was to provide students with a means of interacting with the reading material and promoting group communication. Although most agreed that generating quiz questions was a reflective activity, the results were a mix of positive and negative comments. Students experienced technical difficulties and time management issues and expressed discomfort with the restrictive format of the posting protocol. Instead of promoting reflection and collaboration, the activity was limiting due to its fixed format, making it questionable in terms of its usefulness in helping students understand the content.

Weekly Online Quizzes

Questions from the online listserv were used to generate a weekly 10-minute quiz, administered online to students at the beginning of class. The comments on the online quizzes were negative. The activity was perceived as anxiety producing and cumbersome in terms of online requirements. The participant observer noted that quizzes should be given less frequently and at the end of class, to give students the opportunity to discuss the material. Students echoed these comments in their reflection statements and added that the online quizzes did not enhance their learning due to the emphasis on recall of specific content rather than comprehension of the broader concepts discussed in the readings.

In-Class Discussion

This activity was a very positive learning experience in terms of enhancing knowledge acquisition and helping reduce the anxiety that preceded taking the online quiz. Students were able to ask questions about the readings and explain to others how they generated quiz questions and what they were looking for as responses. This provided the comfort zone that was lacking in the online listserv activity. As one student put it, the restricted posting protocol of the online listserv and the absence of the instructor's participation created an anxiety level that negatively impacted the learning process. It is strongly suggested therefore that an open discussion be used to complement a structured activity and that the discussion be facilitated by the instructor to provide the necessary scaffolding for students.

Use of Online Resources

Mixed results were expressed regarding the usefulness of online resources in supporting the instructional process. Given that the course was conducted in a face-to-face format, some students did not feel the need to visit these resources unless they were instructed to do so as part of a specific activity. Others enjoyed browsing the many sites provided and most liked the convenience of having anytime, anywhere access to the syllabus and other course material, although print-based handouts were also made available. Students suggested that use of online resources could be increased if they were held responsible for adding new resources to a designated area. This important suggestion promotes generative learning through student contribution of course content.

Presentations on special topics

This instructional activity was described as a positive learning experience. It was initially designed to provide elaboration on the multiple frameworks that facilitate the design and development of WBI and to present the stimulus material. Bringing experts to present on special topics was perceived as helping to contextualize learning by allowing students to interact meaningfully with experts. It is therefore strongly suggested that expert modeling and interaction with experts on relevant topics be included as an instructional activity when designing such courses. This activity may be conducted in a face-to-face setting as was the case in this course, or using a synchronous form of computer-mediated communication.


This case study revealed that certain instructional activities are more effective than others in facilitating learning about WBI in a Web-enhanced or Web-supported delivery context. The order of these activities from most effective to least effective is as follows: (1) evaluating existing online courses, (2) presentations on special topics, (3) in-class discussions, (4) online discussions, (5) use of online resources, and (6) online quizzes.

In mapping instructional activities to instructional strategies as outlined in table 1 above, it can be argued that:
 * In-class discussions were perceived as more effective than online
 discussions in promoting articulation and reflection;

 * Evaluating an existing online course was perceived as more effective than
 the use of online resources in providing learner guidance; and

 * Presentations on special topics were perceived as more effective than
 in-class discussions in providing elaboration on course content.

Overall, evaluating existing online courses was perceived to be the most meaningful activity, not surprisingly due to its direct relationship to the pedagogical frameworks discussed in the course. The analysis also demonstrated that some activities could be improved to increase the comfort zone of novices in this newly emerging and evolving field of WBI.

With respect to the process of course development, it can be argued that designing courses aimed at teaching the concepts and principles of WBI is a challenging task, particularly when the course is Web-enhanced. Careful consideration must be given to designing instructional activities that interface between face-to-face and online delivery formats in order to eliminate redundancies and create meaningful interactions (Dabbagh, 2000). Instead of creating activities separately for each delivery format, the instructional designer or faculty member should create activities that integrate both formats effectively. Another point is the appropriate instructional use of the technological tool. One of the reasons why the online quizzes activity was perceived as least effective could be attributed to the inappropriate use of the tool (the online listserv in this case). Instead of using the online listserv to post, answer, and validate potential quiz questions, it is more effective to utilize the listserv for an open discussion on the readings, with the instructor facilitating this discussion. In-class discussions could then be redesigned to synthesize the key points of the online discussion providing more learner guidance in preparing students for taking the quiz.


Bannan, B., & Milheim, W.D. (1997). Existing Web-based instruction courses and their design. In B.H. Khan (Ed.), Web-Based Instruction (pp. 381-387). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Bannan-Ritland, B., Harvey, D., & Milheim, W.D. (1998). A General Framework for the Development of Web-Based Instruction. Educational Media International, vol. 35, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 77-80.

Dabbagh, N. (2000). The Challenges of Interfacing Between Face-To-Face and Online Instruction. TechTrends, v44, n6.

Dabbagh, N. & Schmitt, J. (1998). Redesigning Instruction through Web-Based Course Authoring Tools. Educational Media International, v35, n2, pp. 106-110, June 98.

Khan, B.H. (2001). A Framework for Web-Based Learning. In B.H. Khan (Ed.) Web-Based Training. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Khan, B.H. (1997). Web-based instruction (WBI): What is it and why is it? In B.H. Khan (Ed.), Web-Based Instruction (pp. 5-18). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Spence, L., Stubbs, H.S., & Huber, R.A. (2000). TelEE: A Description of an Interactive Telecommunication Graduate Course. T.H.E. Journal, September 2000.

Dr. Dabbagh is assistant professor of Instructional Technology. She was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Instructional Systems by the Pennsylvania State University in 1996.
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Article Details
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Author:Dabbagh, Nada
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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