Constructivist Dimensions of the Electronic Textbook: Learning about Measurement and Evaluation with Web-Enhanced course

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Information technology has become a major resource for Higher Education. Using the power of Internet to distribute courseware is an example of how the technological advances are applied in academic settings. Combining multimedia technologies with the Web creates new possibilities for the development of instructional materials as well as for the delivery of instruction. A multimedia application increases the student interest and the incorporation of the World Wide Web into the learning process helps the instructor organize the course providing opportunities for interaction beyond the classroom's four walls (Fraser, 1997).

While the concept and service of distance learning have been around for many years, today, an increasing number of Universities are offering entire academic programs online in order to address the needs of a diverse student population (Cotton, 1997). Educators are thus faced with the demands of finding new methods for organizing and managing courses while taking advantage of the means already existent for delivering online resources. According to Kumari (1996) teachers view the Internet as a dynamic tool to facilitate teaching and learning, to enhance understanding, and to provide rich environments for their students. Designing effective instructional material is necessary to promote interactive teaching and to insure that instructional technology facilitates learning.

Pedagogical Implications in Teaching and Learning

McLean (1996) suggests that "The use of computers requires understanding of pedagogical techniques as well as an understanding of the limitations of computers as a single learning tool." For several years, the Internet has been used to present examples of course material but practically most of this material were electronic versions of what has been offered in print. Those who have developed instructional resources such as text and images and presented information in a linear manner could not include the visualization of concepts in a more interactive way (Fraser, 1997). According to Windschitl (1998), the application of computer technology in the classroom is effective in teaching and learning because of its ability to perform tasks that are difficult to do without this technology. Instructors need to examine how web-supported pedagogical approaches help the students learn from the information presented online and how they benefit from this approach. Educators' definitions of the appropriate role of technology depend on their perceptions of goals and objectives and on the appropriate instructional strategies to help the learners attend those goals (Roblyie, Edwards, & Havriluk, 1997).

Constructivism and Technology

A constructivist framework for instruction encourages critical thinking in the learners and offers the students an opportunity for reflection on the content learned (Bazilion & Braun, 1998; Jones, 1996). In the constructivist classroom students are viewed as thinkers and their questions are highly valued. Teachers behave in an interactive manner presenting the curriculum with emphasis on the big concept allowing the students to go beyond traditional memorization of facts and they are able to explore other learning styles that work best for their cognitive abilities. Consequently, computer technology is most suitable in teaching strategies associated with the constructivist learning methods because it helps convey the information to be learned in a format appropriate to the learner's level of understanding (Roblyie, Edwards, & Havriluk, 1997). Thus, today the World Wide Web has become an example of how to make classrooms more interactive, collaborative, and student-centered.

The Web-Enhanced Course

Based on principles of the constructivist learning model, a web-enhanced course was developed in Measurement and Evaluation in Physical Education for undergraduate majors. This course incorporated the functionality of today's technology into the classroom activities. The primary goal was to enhance the students learning and enrich their understanding of Measurement and Evaluation in Physical Education. Wittnburg and McBride (1998) suggest that the development of an interactive web site has the potential to be a dynamic tool in the formative evaluation of students, providing feedback in an ongoing basis.

The Measurement and Evaluation in Physical Education Web-enhanced course consisted of a web site containing materials such as syllabus, schedules, lectures, assignments, exam reviews, notes, and information about the instructor. With a simple mouse-click the students are able to communicate with the instructor or a classmate. Students have access to different research tools and professional organizations that offer information of interest to their field.

Measurement and Evaluation Electronic Textbook

Another component of the web-enhanced course is an electronic textbook. The students use the textbook as a workbook to do interactive problem solving, and watch multimedia presentations. The Web browser becomes an effective tool for presenting the information in the classroom using a large projection screen at the front of the class and the computer from which the material is projected. This material can be presented in a manner that promotes discussion by posing questions, lecturing, and interacting with the students. Jones (1996) maintains that posing problems, questions, and issues, are good sources of motivation for the learners. The multimedia applications of the electronic book focused on teaching the process of concepts. For example, the statistical concept of variation in the distribution of scores according to different mean and standard deviation values can be demonstrated using visual animations.

The Electronic Textbook is a non-linear book that contains text, graphics, self-running and interactive animations, everything the instructor would want to enhance the lectures and elaborate on every topic in the course. It is structured into 10 units of study linked by a main menu. Each unit stands alone and contains several screens. Each screen introduces a topic and delivers information using interactive animations. For example, one unit includes Introduction to Measurement and Evaluation: concepts, examples of assessment, and case scenarios for critical analysis. In this section the students are presented with a set of questions; by clicking on the questions a pop-up window will open allowing the students to compare their responses with the right answers. Another unit discusses topics on statistical techniques for summarizing data: scales of measurement, frequency distributions, graphing techniques statistical. A similar set-up is used to present these concepts.

A third unit presents techniques for describing data: measures of central tendency, measures of variability, standard scores, and correlation. The concepts on statistics such as measures of central tendency are supported with multimedia presentations allowing the students to interact with the content by entering information and getting immediate feedback. For example, the students could calculate means, standard deviation, and standard scores as well as viewing the results numerically and graphically. Each unit includes questions and problem exercises to encourage students to apply the different concepts presented. The students click on different links that take them to problems, examples, and other information that helps them think critically and solve the problems posed to them.

Other units include grading, psychomotor assessment, health-related and performance-related fitness, cognitive assessment, construction of knowledge tests, and measures of affective behavior. The unit on health-related physical fitness presents examples of activities for each component of fitness as well as definition for each fitness area. See for example some video demonstrations on how to administer a fitness test and instructions on how to use a computer application to assess physical fitness.

Building Blocks

The electronic textbook was constructed in HTML using frames and JavaScript. Navigation of the textbook is performed using a toolbar at the bottom of the screen with links to the University homepage, the Department web site, the course initial page, and a link to the course glossary. For example, clicking on the course glossary link (navigation bar) will open a new browser window with the course glossary items.

Developing the electronic textbook consisted of the following steps: (a) selection of the units or chapters for the electronic textbook, (b) stating learning objectives for each unit, (c) outlining the topics and subtopics for each unit, (d) developing a Multimedia application by posing a pedagogical problem and building a visualization sequence to solve the problem, (e) presenting review problems and learning activities, (f) developing a Web page with user guidelines and techniques to view the electronic textbook on the Internet, (g) posting and transfer the course material to the server, and (h) conducting formative and summative evaluations throughout the course of the semester.

These resources were posted on a Web server, thus available to the students outside the classroom. Now the students can explore and access the same material presented in class by the instructor anywhere in the Internet and further review and explore the concepts.

Toolbook, an authoring software, was used to organize and develop the statistical component of the textbook. This program provides all the components needed to develop and organize the course material. The statistical applications are incorporated into the Textbook and distributed over the World Wide Web using a Neuron plugin. Plugins are programs which add extra functionality to the Web browser. These programs are usually viewers which allow the user to display applications from different vendors. For example, the browser (Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator) does not normally know how to display applications written in Asymetrix ToolBook. By installing the Asymetrix Neuron plugin, the browser can display ToolBook applications without having to have the full version of ToolBook installed on the computer. Sound and video are executed using a Quick-Time plugin.

Value and Outcomes

A web-enhanced course is extraordinary flexible. It can be offered both in the classroom setting and at a distance, and can be easily revised and edited. Moreover, the creation of a web-course together with an electronic textbook facilitates active learning. Integrating the functionality of today's technology in the classroom activities offers the opportunity to combine the electronic access to information with face-to-face interaction between students and instructor. Today, a web-enhanced course provides instructional simulations, explanatory animations, useful audio and video, as well as assessment activities, besides just presenting paper handouts converted to web pages. These resources create a powerful learning environment that is also available to the students outside the classroom. Exposing the students to the use of computers, will not only help them through their learning process but will provide them with cutting edge skills in current technologies.


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Critical Reviews

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Critic GG:

This paper could have value if it were re-written to focus on telling people how to use Toolbook to make an electronic course. Some claims do not seem warranted. For example, I see very little evidence that the environment he created provides more interactivity or collaboration than one can ordinarily get in a traditional classroom. The rationale for showing Web pages in a standard classroom may have some merit, but a more compelling argument is needed.

The specific layout and teaching approach are a little naive. The author is justifiably excited about these new ways of doing things, but should realize that this is now "old hat" to a lot of technically savvy teachers.

Specific comments follow:

First section is a little wordy, and takes too long to make the point of the article (in fact, it really does not state the point of the paper).

Second section, second line: awkward verb usage (also, the Internet does more than just present examples). Third sentence: make clear that this refers to traditional print material. Last sentence is edu-babble (which also occurs elsewhere).

Third section: Not only are student questions valued, but true constructivism aims to teach students to make their analysis and insights valuable. Third sentence is wordy and awkward. Fourth sentence: the idea should be to RAISE the level of learner understanding through constructivist activity. Last sentence: on the contrary, the Web - as usually employed - is very passive and a poor way to make classrooms more interactive and collaborative. This article does not convince me that this course is that much different. Where are the Web-based constructivist activities? How do students provide input to the Web? How do they get feedback from the Web? Where is the collaboration and team learning? What are the deliverables?

The Web-Enhanced Course section: Second and third sentences unnecessary. Say something more meaningful. Last sentence: have you really said what an interactive Web site is? The second paragraph suggests that there is nothing innovative about this course presentation.

Electronic Textbook section: HOW do students do interactive problem solving with this text? How do they supply input? How do they get feedback? Third sentence mentions for the first time that you are using the Web in a traditional classroom. Most people would think you were using it in distance education. Is the electronic textbook actually a set of hyperlinked html files? (I see later that it is).

Although neat, the animation illustrated by the link is contrived. Moving the slider is just a way to show three versions of the graph. It does not correlate with items on the x-axis and has no intuitive meaning. The streaming audio linked to "central tendency" also seems contrived, given that you are using this Web instruction in a traditional lecture hall. Also, the video that is supposed to be associated does not display in my browser (IE4). Where do students enter information? This was not evident. Or does it display after listening to all the audio? The last sentence: so far, it is not clear that this is much different from many other instructional Web sites.

Value and outcomes: some of this needs to be in the first paragraph of the paper, in order to set the tone and purpose of the paper.