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Web-Enhanced Learning Environment Strategies for Classroom Teachers

Barbara GRABOWSKI <>
Tiffany KOSZALKA <>
Pennsylvania State University

Marianne MCCARTHY <>
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


This paper presents a model for conceptualizing the components of the WWW and merges resources with six sound pedagogical classroom practices. Six Web-enhanced learning environment strategies result from this merger. The resources, the pedagogy, and the strategies, along with examples, are explained in detail.



Exploring the World Wide Web can be a frustrating experience until one grasps an overall understanding of the layout and contents and then the kind of resources that are specific to an individual's needs. This paper presents a "Use the Web" model that provides an overall conceptualization of the World Wide Web and merges its resources with specific, fundamental classroom teaching strategies. This model was developed as part of the NASA Dryden Learning Technologies Project and is led by the Instructional Design team at the Pennsylvania State University. Originally conceived to help teachers incorporate NASA learning technologies products into classroom instruction, the model has been elaborated to serve a broader audience.

The model shown in Figure 1 represents a conceptualization of the Web and how Web resources can be used to enhance classroom learning. The model focuses on three areas: "what" the Web resources are, "how" teaching and learning occur in the classroom based on strategies that work, and the "use" of Web-enhanced Learning Environment Strategies that integrate the two. Each of the three components is discussed in detail.

Figure 1. Use the Web model

Resources on the Web -- the "what"

More specifically, the "what" portion of the "Use the Web" model outlines two major Web resources -- information links through sites and resources, and human resource links through synchronous and asynchronous networks. An analysis of Web information sites and resources appropriate for teachers yielded two other categories -- those which would help teachers write lesson plans or generate instruction and those which would provide instruction that is easily replicable. Databases, general information, references, and tools provide the building blocks for a good lesson plan, whereas existing tutorials, student activities, projects, and lesson plans provide a "lesson" that has already been constructed. An analysis of human resource links or Web networks resulted in the identification of four types of synchronous access to people: electronic bulletin boards and video, audio, and text conferences; and three types of asynchronous access to people: e-mail, listservs, and newsgroups.

Sites and resources -- building blocks for a good lesson plan

There are several different types of sites and resources available to help teachers generate instruction. Teachers can use existing databases, general information sites, references and links sites, and tools to help generate lesson plans. These resources can provide the building blocks for a good lesson plan. A vast array of materials is now available to teachers as resources for their lessons.

The Web contains thousands of databases or storage sites that contain archives of information, pictures, or sounds. Many of these databases contain dynamic, real-time information, that is, information that is constantly updated. Examples include weather readings and satellite images of geographic phenomena such as volcano eruptions. Others include archives of static information. There are databases of visuals, graphics, and animations, such as NASA database photos, descriptions of different types of aircraft, news clips of historical significance like the first steps on the moon, and, more recently, investigations of Mars. The Web, being a multimedia resource, also provides a source of sound clips such as radio broadcasts, news, music, and sound bites.

Web browsers can be used to display Web documents and navigate through the Internet to find general information sites. General information sites are both text- and graphics-based files that provide definitions, narratives, examples, pictures, graphics, animations, or sounds related to specific topic areas, information on past or current events, or procedures on how to do something.

The Web also has sites dedicated to references and links. Many sites contain their own links to information outside the home site. Reference Web sites are generally organized lists of other sites that facilitate locating information about a particular topic and generally provide active clickable links to those sites.

Web resources that can help teachers generate lessons are Web tools. There are two major classifications of tools: search engines and plug-ins. Search engines help locate specific information. A phrase or words are entered into a search engine and with a click of a search button, information related to your topic is identified. Plug-ins, on the other hand, are mini-applications designed to supplement one's browser to allow certain features, such as video, sound, and virtual reality, to be used over the Web. Some Web sites are created with special coding languages and require that a plug-in be resident on a computer for it to run correctly. There are Web sites that allow free and low-cost use of plug-ins.

Sites and resources -- instruction and lessons plans provided

Teachers are busy; their time is consumed with conducting lessons, managing the classroom, and other academic responsibilities. The World Wide Web provides sites and resources that facilitate replication of existing successful instruction, thereby saving teachers time in planning and developing lessons. The Web has a variety of tutorials that range in topics from how to use the Web to how to develop Web pages. The Web also contains thousands of Web-published activities and projects and complete lesson plans. Many of these sites contain comments from the teachers who had created or used them in their classrooms. Most provide grade-appropriate information, implicit instructions on how to run activities, and background information explaining concepts and expectations for the students. Although available on the Web, many of the lessons do not require student Web access; they are merely communicated to teachers over the Web. Finding existing tutorials, activities and projects, and lesson plans on the Web can save teachers preparation time; in essence they provide a "lesson" that has already been constructed.

Teaching and learning strategies -- the "how"

The "how" portion of the model refreshes and updates teachers on accepted teaching strategies for use in their classroom, including inquisitory instruction, collaborative learning, expository teaching, generative learning, anchored instruction, and problem-based learning. A brief description of each strategy follows.

Inquisitory instruction

In inquisitory instruction, questioning strategies are used to engage students in discovering rules and relationships. The role of the teacher is shifted from presenting subject matter to activating conversation with the students to encourage them to discover the answers. The key role of the teacher is to coach the students by questioning, providing context to the subject area, drawing upon prior and prerequisite knowledge, giving feedback, and providing help (Merrill, 1988).

In this questioning and conversational teaching strategy, the students are required to discover the rules behind concepts. Students discover the rules on the basis of practice examples. Feedback (correct rules and examples) and elaboration (help, prerequisites, and context) are provided to students during this inquiry. These may include pictorial relationships, application of the rules, context through historical information, and prerequisite information.

Collaborative learning

In a lesson which uses collaborative learning, two or more peers are engaged in some activity that forces them to maintain some agreement and reach a shared solution. Collaborative learning assumes that a shared, understood goal, mutual respect, tolerance, trust, and clear lines of responsibility are established and that the team works on common materials that can take any form. The teacher facilitates decisions; however, the students are actively involved in conceiving of and internalizing the materials to come to some solution. Communication is continuous, but not necessarily continual, and occurs in formal and informal environments. With this strategy, skills continue beyond the collaboration (Khan, 1997).

Expository presentation

Expository presentation is a teaching strategy in which the teacher presents students with the rules and provides examples that illustrate the rules. The teacher is in control of presenting the subject matter and directs the students through the lesson. A rule is presented with an example and then practice is provided. The teacher focuses the students' attention on the key points of the subject and may use graphics, diagrams, or other representations to elaborate on the subject (Merrill, 1988). Teachers may present pictorial relationships, application of the rules, context through historical information, and prerequisite information. Examples are provided to give contextual elaboration and to help students see the subject matter from many different perspectives.

Generative learning

Generative learning activities must provide the students with an opportunity to mentally "experiment with" information to create a personal understanding of the subject to be learned. In a generative learning lesson, the students actively participate in the learning process and generate knowledge by forming mental connections between concepts. In one type of generative activity, students are encouraged to generate organizational relationships such as titles, headings, questions, objectives, summaries, graphs, tables, and main ideas. In a second type, students generate integrated relationships between what they see, hear, or read with what they have in memory from prior experience and learning by creating metaphors, analogies, examples, pictures, applications, interpretations, paraphrases, and inferences (Wittrock, 1990).

Anchored instruction

Anchored instruction requires that the students be put in the context of a problem-based story. The students take on an authentic role while investigating the problem, identifying gaps in their knowledge, researching the information needed to solve the problem, and developing solutions. For example, the students play the role of a pilot to learn about aeronautics subject matter such as gravity, airflow, weather concepts, and basic flight dynamics. The teacher facilitates and coaches the students through the process. For anchored instruction, learning and teaching activities are designed around an "anchor" which is based on a contextualized case study or problem situation. The curriculum materials should allow exploration by the learner to allow active manipulation, questioning, and involvement in the situation (Bransford, 1990).

In an anchored instruction lesson, the task must also be realistic, making the problem anchored or focused. Students need to take ownership based on relevancy of scenario and relatedness to problems and goals seen every day. Content appropriate for anchored instruction is complex, solved through interconnectedness of subproblems, with multiple scenarios presented, presented in a narrative format or a story with embedded data. The learning context is generative; students identify with the problem and become actively involved in generating a solution. The result of anchored instruction is deep development of knowledge structures, highly transferable to other situations (Bransford, 1990).

Problem-based learning

In a problem-based learning environment, the instruction begins with the introduction of a real-world problem; students, provided with the instructor's guidance and resource material, are encouraged to dive into the problem, construct an individual understanding, and finally find an answer to the problem (Dillon and Zhu, 1997).

As noted by its name, problem-based learning relies on problems to drive the curriculum. The problems do not test skills; rather, they assist in development of the skills themselves. The problems are not meant to result in one, static solution, but rather solutions evolve as new information is gathered in an iterative process. As in anchored instruction, students solve the problems, while the teachers are coaches and facilitators who give only guidance on how to approach problems. Like the solutions that are found, there is more than one approach to solving the problem (Stepien and Gallagher, and Barrows, 1985). Anchored instruction is an example of problem-based learning; however, problem-based learning also encompasses other strategies in which students do not role-play. Rather, the students function as problem solvers and the problem is simply a relevant context for learning.

Web-enhanced learning environment strategies

The center of the model represents an integration point between the "what" and the "how" to encourage teachers to "use the Web" purposefully and intentionally to access information and human resources to enhance their lessons in a manner that is conducive to learning. Six strategies represent the merger between the use of good pedagogy and the use of information and human resources on the Web. These Web-enhanced Learning Environment Strategies (WELES) include Inquisitory, Collaborative, Expository, Generative, Anchored, and Problem-based learning strategies, named by the pedagogy each represents. It is important to reemphasize that each of the Web-enhanced teaching and learning strategies taps into techniques that teachers already use in their classroom. The idea behind the WELES is to help teachers take advantage of Web resources to enhance their instruction, rather than replace what they already do.

These six Web-enhanced learning environment strategies are divided into two groups: the ICE WELES and the GAP WELES. The first three (ICE) WELES address the "who and how" of instruction. For example, all three focus on how students are involved in the learning process. During an inquisitory presentation, the teacher is prompting the student to discover relationships between concepts, whereas in an expository presentation the teacher is providing the student with the facts and concepts associated with the lesson. Collaborative learning focuses on providing a learning environment where students work together to "build" knowledge.

The second three, GAP WELES, address the results and context of the instruction. For example, generative learning is concerned with providing an environment where students can physically and mentally "experiment" with subject matter and form a relationship between concepts and knowledge. Anchored instruction and problem-based learning are strategies that focus on providing realistic environments and pose problems which students can work to solve while learning the associated concepts.

Each of these strategies can be enhanced, made more interactive, contextualized, realistic, and interesting by incorporating appropriate Web resources. This section provides examples of how Web resources (described in the "what" portion of the Use the Web Model) can be used to make up a lesson that uses each Web-enhanced Learning Environment Strategy.

Web-enhancement of an inquisitory presentation lesson

Since inquisitory presentation is based on a questioning and conversational teaching strategy, teachers can find World Wide Web sites to present to students that define the rules of a subject area. The resources teachers can use as triggers include pictures, graphics, simulations, and video clips. Text elaborations should also be considered as triggers for the teacher/student dialogue. Students can also be tasked with finding sites that support the rules being learned.

To enhance a lesson that teaches students how and why volcanoes erupt, students could be asked to review various volcano sites and then engage in a dialogue with the teacher about volcanoes. Since a component of this lesson is to get the student to discover the mechanism that causes the phenomenon, a list of questions could be generated with the teacher after which students could search other identified sites to provide supporting evidence about the concepts identified.

Web-enhancement of a collaborative learning lesson

For collaborative learning strategies, human resources available on the Web are used as global learning partners. These partners could be peers or experts. First and foremost is to use e-mail, chat rooms, or other communication features used to link these "peers" around the world on collaborative projects. While we typically think of student-to-student global collaborations, lessons can be enhanced by identifying different experts on a topic to provide different perceptions of a problem in a content area. Web resources, such as views of weather concepts from radar, local weather station maps, actual weather conditions, and animations, can be used as collaborative material for team work.

Using the volcano lesson example, the teacher can assign global collaborative teams to track volcano activity. In this situation, students can be assigned to work in groups, after or while reviewing various sites, to develop a list of characteristics of warning signs of eruption. They can also adopt an active volcano and track its activity over a semester. A Web site can be created in this situation for the global partners to enter their findings and create conclusions based on the tracked data.

Web-enhancement of an expository presentation lesson

The expository presentation is one of the most common teaching strategies used in the classroom. For this strategy, both informational and human resources available on the Web can enhance these lessons. Teachers can show students specific World Wide Web sites that support the content of the day's lesson, including pictures, diagrams, simulations, animations, video clips, or audio clips. These sites are easier to find, more accessible, more targeted, and most importantly, more current than other resources available to teachers in a nonlinked classroom.

For the volcano lesson, the teacher displays the site to the students and walks them through various facts about volcanoes. The teacher can note characteristics of active volcanoes, describe the process that volcanoes go through during eruption, and demonstrate the phenomenon before their very eyes.

Web-enhancement of a generative learning lesson

Generative learning strategies focus the teaching and learning on what the student does. The strategy suggests that when using people and informational Web resources, the student should actively search or construct understanding from what and whom they encounter on the Web. The teacher can provide students with World Wide Web-based simulations that they can manipulate to learn concepts. They can also provide students with database sites and ask them to interpret or make inferences or predictions about what they find. Other informational sites can function as triggers for discussion about concepts. Students can generate tables, charts, or concept maps or generate elaborations and analogies about what they find. Numerous sites, especially those with conflicting information, can be assigned as a compare and contrast activity that forces students to create deeper conceptual understanding of a phenomenon. In other cases, they can design "objects" and find sites that support the validity of their design.

For the volcano lesson, a teacher can ask students to chart the changes that occur to a volcano during an eruption. From this chart, the students analyze the relationship between geologic factors and the eruption. First, they review a volcano eruption sequence of a specific volcano on the Web and chart the activity. They would then investigate other volcanoes on the Web from around the world and note factors on the chart. Finally, they would analyze the chart, looking for relationships between location, size, etc., and draw conclusions about specific geologic or geographic variables.

Web-enhancement of an anchored instruction lesson

Anchored instruction strategies suggest selecting real problems from information sources on the Web or collaborating in a specific role as a team member with other individuals available through the Web. Using this strategy, the teacher can use Web sites in demonstration or through student searching to provide the context of a problem. This may include news clips, pictures, or graphics, with student teams being asked "What caused this to happen?" Features such as a virtual field trip, virtual tours, simulations, and pictures can also be used to set context and involve students in virtual situations. Students would then be assigned specific roles in a team to solve the problem. Students can also use the World Wide Web to research information needed to solve the problems by identifying pictures, graphics, video clips, and audio clips that help them develop a solution to the problem.

For the volcano lesson, some students are put into the role of scientists investigating an active volcano and are given the problem of accurately reporting to an emergency evacuation team (other students) details about is expected to occur. They must work against time to figure out how, when, and whether inhabitants need to be evacuated. The "scientists" start their mission by looking at current news about an erupting volcano. Their initial task is to gather as much information about the volcano and region as possible. The "evacuation team" investigates the impact the volcano has on the inhabitants and reviews the details about the volcano location and current activity. Both teams work together to "develop" a strategy for communicating details and solving problems related to evacuation.

Web-enhancement of a problem-based learning lesson

Problem-based learning uses Web resources for selecting a problem to give context to what a student is learning. The types of problems that can be used in this type of learning go beyond those specified in an anchored instruction lesson. In the case in which the teacher demonstrates or has students go to a particular World Wide Web site to provide the context for a problem, the student examines a problem, not through a role, but as a problem solver. The Web sites chosen for this activity are the same as for anchored instruction -- that is, news clips, pictures, or graphics, such as a news clip on an airplane losing altitude during a flight. The student also may be asked to explore possible solutions to the problem using the World Wide Web as one resource. Web sites to "ask the expert" can be identified to help students seek out information about the problem situation.

For the volcano lesson, students are presented with the following problem: "You are hiking around the Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. The ground begins to tremble, and smoke starts billowing out of the volcano. How much time do you have to get away from the volcano?" The teacher then shows the Kilauea volcano and surrounding region to set the context. The students then determine a course of action and break into teams to investigate potential solutions. The student teams search for volcano information and report back on their results and agree on an answer.


The six Web-enhanced Learning Environment Strategies are presented to stimulate thinking about appropriate uses of the Web in the classroom that are not labor- or time-intensive to create, as generating Web sites for learning can be. They have been created to capitalize on existing information and human resources that can enhance time-tested teaching strategies that are familiar to teachers. As is evident from the characteristics of the strategies, each is not totally unique from the others. That was not the intent. While they are not mutually exclusive, each, however, does make a unique contribution to thinking about the resources of the Web for teaching.

These strategies have been "teacher tested" with teachers during two 1996 NASA education summer workshops and revised based on the teachers' suggestions. The strategies are currently being further piloted with teachers of Native Americans and those in a rural school district with Internet access to study their impact on teaching practice. They will be further refined based on the results of this study and additional input from teachers.


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Bransford, J. (1990). Anchored Instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education, and multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Dillon, A., & Zhu, E. (1997). Designing Web-based instruction: a human-computer interaction perspective. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-Based Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Khan, B. H. (Ed.). (1997). Web-based Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Merrill, D. M. (1988). Applying component display theory to the design of courseware. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Instructional Design for Microcomputer Courseware. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

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Wittrock, M. (1990). Generative processes of comprehension. Educational Psychologist, 27(4), 531-41.

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