Guided Surfing: Development and Assessment
of a World Wide Web Interface for an
Undergraduate Psychology Class
University of Missouri - Rolla
Although the World Wide Web has great potential as an educational
tool, and many educational practitioners have begun utilizing the Web
in many ways (e.g., Dodge, 1995; Logan, 1996; Mounts, 1996; Weiler,
1996), as yet, there has not been much systemat ic, theory based,
research aimed at examining these methods. The principal purpose of
this experiment was to begin to address the issue of how best to
structure an interface between learners and the vast jumble of
resources at their disposal on the Web. The need for the development
and investigation of such an interface is indicated by research,
which has found that some degree of learner guidance is particularly
important in effective web learning (Anderson & Joerg, 1996).
Seventy-five sites were selected, within the domain of Sensation
and Perception. The guides consisted of a series of node-link maps.
The map designs were strongly based on the work of Novak and
colleagues (i.e., "concept maps"; e.g., Novak, 1993; 19 90a; 1990b;
Novak & Gowin, 1985 ), and Dansereau and colleagues ("knowledge
maps"; e.g., Patterson, Dansereau, & Newborn, 1992; Rewey,
Dansereau, & Peel, 1991).
Twenty students participated in the assessment. Half studied the
pages presented in a map format (Figure 1 is
an example) and half studied in a list format (an example is
displayed in Figure 2). After studying,
students filled out a questionnaire consisting of Likert-style and
open ended items. The principal findings that emerged from the
analyses of questionnaire items were: Students in the list group
tended to focus primarily on two of the four areas, while those in
the Map group were more balanced (see Figure
3). Those in the list group also agreed to a much larger degree
with the statement that their search was focused, as opposed to broad
(see Figure 4). Students in the list group
were more likely to see studying as a "positive" experience and
reported lower levels of anxiety (see Figure
In general, with respect to the guides, those who were in the map
group had more positive comments. (see
representative comments below.)
The finding, that students in the map group tended to report a
more broad search, indicates that students in this condition were
able to, more quickly, note the breadth of the domain, as represented
by the web pages included, and subsequently to broad en their
exploration of the pages, relative to those in the control group. In
this sense, the maps may have acted to enhance the students'
metacognitive knowledge of the domain.
The more negative affect reported by those in the map group may
have been due to a number of factors, the most likely being that the
map format was unusual/unfamiliar compared to the more traditional
displays of links. Previous research, which involv ed affect
associated with studying from knowledge maps, indicates that this is
very possibly the case (Hall & O'Donnell, 1996). It's also
important to note that students' open ended responses clearly favored
the guides, in terms of rating their educational effectiveness,
indicating that any reported negative affect, did not carry over into
students' perception of the educational efficacy of the technique.
Project supported by Education and Training Funds; College
of Arts and Sciences; University of Missouri - Rolla
Keywords:Education and the World Wide Web; Web
Interfaces; Guided Learning; Knowledge Maps; Concept Maps; Hypermedia
The three primary goals of the project were:
- To identify a group of world wide web sites relevant to an
undergraduate class in Sensation and Perception.
- To develop an interface/guide for the display of these
- To carry out a preliminary assessment of the guide.
The World Wide Web represents a revolution in the display and
dissemination of information, which has been likened to the
development of the printing press, with the exception that the growth
of the Web is occurring at a much more dramatic pace (Flake, 1996;
Glister, 1996). In particular, the web has great potential as an
educational tool, considering the breadth of information available,
the accessibility of the information, and the multi-media types of
displays that are possible (Anderson & Joerg, 1996; Shotsberger,
1996). It is no wonder, that a number of educators have begun
utilizing the World Wide Web in a number of ways (Anderson &
Joerg, 1996; Dodge, 1995; Kinzie, 1996; Logan, 1996; Mounts, 1996;
Weiler, 1996). In fact, an entirely new mode of education "distance
education" has been introduced into the education community, based on
courses presented via the World Wide Web (Dodge, 1995). However,
despite the phenomenal growth of the Web in general, and its
implementation in educational settings in particular, very little
systematic, theory based, development of instructional methods, or
assessment of these methods has been conducted. In fact, very little
assessment has been carried out at all with regard to Web based
instruction. Indeed, some have suggested that this is true with
respect to the use of multi-media instructional tools of all kinds
(Jacobson, 1994; Jacobson, Maouri, Misra, & Kolar, 1995). The
research that has been conducted indicates that some degree of
learner guidance is important (Anderson & Joerg, 1996). This,
again is particularly important with respect to educational
hypermedia, in general (Jacobson et al., 1995; Jonassen ,1991).
Guided Surfing Project
The selection of World Wide Web sites, and the development of
the Guide for this project were based on principles gleaned from a
number of educational theories. First, situation action theory as
laid out by a number of researchers (e.g., Brown, Collins, &
Duguid, 1989; Collins, Brown, & Holme, 1991; Greeno & Moore,
1993) served as an over-riding impetus for the project. Perhaps the
fundamental principle of this theory, which in many ways has become
the over-riding metaphor for educational research and theory, is that
all learning is strongly imbedded in a given context, and this
context should be meaningful, practical, and relevant to "real life"
(Brown et al., 1989; Jacobson et al, 1995). The Web certainly has the
potential to provide such a context. The basic information the
instructor is attempting to convey in the class, can be greatly
enriched by the information available via the World Wide Web.
However, it is important that the student is directed or guided
towards the appropriate information sources, which leads to a second
theoretical principal which strongly influenced the current project,
During the 1960s, discovery learning, a term introduced by
Jerome Bruner (1960) became a popular educational practice. In
general, the fundamental idea behind discovery learning, was that the
learner should be left on their own, with the appropriate tools, so
that they would eventually "discover" the appropriate answer/method,
and this discovery would constitute a much more long lasting and
meaningful learning than traditional direct instruction techniques.
While research has born out Bruner's basic notion that active
learning is much more effective than passive, studies that have
examined discovery learning indicate that the technique is often
ineffective. It is important that the instructor strike some sort of
balance between giving the learner the freedom to actively engage the
material, while also providing the learner with enough guidance and
feedback that he or she learns efficiently and effectively (Gagne
& Brown, 1961; Mayer, 1987). Many students' experience with the
World Wide Web is analogous to an episode in discovery learning, in
that there is so much information available, yet finding relevant
information, and knowing what to do with it, is often far less
obvious (Anderson & Joerg, 1996). The notion that the learner
should be supported through coaching or "scaffolding" is also one of
the tenants of situation action theory (Brown et al., 1989; Jacobson
et al., 1995).
A third theory, which served as a framework for this project
was cognitive flexibility theory (Feltovich, Spiro, Coulson, 1989;
Jacobson & Spiro, 1995; Jacobson et al, 1995; Spiro, Vispoes,
Schmitz, Samarapungavan, & Boerger, 1987). Cognitive flexibility
theory is a theory of complex knowledge learning. The theory is based
on the metaphor that the learning of complex knowledge is analogous
to criss-crossing a conceptual landscape. The theory has been applied
effectively in self contained hypermedia learning environments
(Jacobson et al., 1995; Jacobson & Spiro, 1995), so it extends
readily to the present project. Some of the basic principles of the
theory that are relevant to this project are: a) Introduce the
learner to the complexity of the to be-learned domain up front; b)
Stress the interconnected, web-like nature of complex knowledge; c)
Introduce the learner to multiple representations of the knowledge
domain; and d) Tie the information to be learned to case examples.
A fourth set of theories that were particularly important in
the development of the guides in the present experiment, were a
general class of theories that I'll refer to as spatial-verbal
processing theories i.e., contiguity Theory (Mayer, 1997; Mayer &
Anderson, 1992); spatial-verbal processing model (Dansereau, 1989;
Lambiotte, Dansereau, Cross & Reynolds, 1989); and conjoint
retention (Kulhavy, Lee, & Caterino, 1985;)). All of these
theories borrow heavily from Paivio's dual-coding model (Paivio,
1971). Paivio suggests that some type of information are learned much
more quickly and readily since the lend themself to a dual
verbal/abstract and imagic/concrete code, so that the information is
stored diffusely/redundantly. A host of research has, since that
time, supported Paivio's theory (e.g., Clark & Paivio, 1991;
Mayer, Bove, Bryman, Mars & Tapangco, 1996; Paivio, 1986;
Schwartz & Kulhavey, 1981). The spatial-verbal processing
theories extend dual-coding, in that they apply not just to verbal
information that lends itself to verbal and imagic storage, but to
pictorial/spatial and verbal (i.e., multi-media) displays. Research
based on these models has supported the idea that spatial-verbal
presentations can indeed greatly enhance retention, and subsequent
application (Abel & Kulhavy, 1986; Hall, Dansereau, & Skaggs,
1992; Mayer & Anderson, 1992; Mayer, 1997; Rewey, Dansereau,
Skaggs, Hall, & Pitre, 1989 ). Dansereau's spatial - verbal
processing model is particularly germane to the present project,
since it was developed as a framework for research in map-like
node-link displays such as the guides developed for the present
Site Selection and Guide Development
The first step in the current project was the selection of
appropriate web sites for a Sensation and Perception class (to be
taught by the principle investigator in the fall of 1997). An outline
for the class was developed and then a number of search engines were
used, and many web pages examined, and eventually a set of
seventy-five web sites were selected, within four broad categories:
vision, audition, smell/taste, and somatosensation. These sites were
selected based on five criteria: 1) The site is relevant to the
framework of the course as specified by the instructor; 2) The site
ties the basic information to be learned in the course to "real
life", "meaningful" information; 3) The information contained in the
site appears to be accurate, as determined by the class
instructor/domain expert; 4) The information is presented in an
interesting way, making effective use of the hypermedia tools
available to the site developer; 5) In the case of sites that were
relevant to what the instructor considered "core" concepts, a number
of sites, which presented different perspectives/representations of
the information, were often selected.
The guides consisted of a series of node-link maps. The map
designs were strongly based on the work of Novak and colleagues
(i.e., "concept maps"; e.g., Novak, 1993; 1990a; 1990b; Novak &
Gowin, 1985 ), and Dansereau and colleagues ("knowledge maps"; e.g.,
Dees, Dansereau, Peel, Boatler & Knight, 1991; Patterson,
Dansereau, & Newborn, 1992; Rewey, Dansereau, & Peel, 1991),
which have indicated that these types of displays can enhance
learning relative to traditional linear text. The domain
expert/principal investigator constructed these maps by forming
categories of the web pages, based on the class outline, and on the
nature of the sites selected, and then noted interrelationship among
groups. From this, ten different guide maps were constructed. The
vision and smell/taste groups of sites were each represented by two
levels of maps - a map, and more specific "sub-maps". When a students
clicked on a node on the main maps a second, more specific map would
appear on the screen. All of the other nodes on the maps served
either as place keepers to aid in the accurate representation of the
information displayed within a given map, or were a direct link to
one of the seventy-five World Wide Web sites selected. Audition and
somatosensation sites were represented by a single map.
here to view program
Twenty Students, enrolled in either General Psychology,
Theories of Learning, or Theories of Motivation participated in the
pilot assessment of the guided surfing program. Those in the General
Psychology Class participated as a regular part of their class, and
those in the other classes participated outside of the regular class
time, for extra credit in the class. All sessions were conducted,
using Netscape, on Power Macintosh's in the Language lab (room 202)
and the Macintosh computer learning center (105a) of the Humanities
Students read a set of directions displayed on the screen,
after which the experimenter reiterated these instructions. Students
were randomly assigned to two conditions. Ten of the students then
studied the selected sites for thirty minutes using the guide maps,
ten studied the sites using 4 different guides which listed the links
for each of the four highest level categories (i.e., vision,
audition, smell/taste, and somatosensation), in an outline format.
here to view the program used by the "list" group
After studying, students completed a questionnaire, presented
on the computer, including specific questions, with Likert scales,
and one open ended question.
Site Categories Visited
The analysis began with a two-way repeated measures analysis
of variance. Group (map versus list) served as a between subjects
independent variable, and the first four questionnaire items (time
spent on: vision vs audition vs smell/taste vs somatosensation),
served as a within subjects independent variable. Students ratings
served as the dependent variable.
The effect for site category was marginally significant
F(3, 54) = 2.29, p = 2 = .07. The means for
the three category groups were, M = 4.70, M = 2.35,
M = 4.65, M = 3.35, respectively. In addition, the
group X site category interaction was suggestive F(3, 54) =
1.73, p = .17, 2 = .03. The cell means
associated with this interaction are displayed in
Focus of Search
In order to examine how focused vs broad the students' rated
their searches a two way repeated measures analysis of variance was
computed with group (map versus list) as a between-subjects
independent variable, and questionnaire items #5 & #6 ("My search
was very focused..." vs "My search was very broad...") serving as a
within-subject independent variable, and ratings as the dependent
A significant main effect was found for focus, F(1, 18)
= 17.03, p < .01, 2 = .38. The means for
the focus variable were M = 7.70, and M = 1.60, for
concentrated and broad search respectively. A significant group X
focus interaction was also found, F(1,18) = 5.82, p
< .05, w2 = .12. The means associated with this interaction are
displayed in Figure 4.
Effectiveness of Guide Pages
Questionnaire items #7, #8, & #9 ("I found the guide
pages, helpful ..." "for learning" vs "...for helping me to get an
overview..." vs "...in aiding me to remember information while I was
completing my essay...") served as a within subjects independent
variable in the third, two-way, analysis of variance. Group (map vs
list) again served as a between-subject independent variable.
A significant main effect was found for guide, F(2, 36)
= 8.79, p < .01, 2 = .28. The means for
"learning", "overview", and "remembering for essay" were M =
5.4, M = 6.6, and M = 3.3 respectively.
Lastly, a two-way repeated measures analysis of variance was
conducted to examine students mood while studying. Questions #10
& #11 ("I found the ... studying to be a positive experience"
versus "I was anxious and nervous as I studied the web pages.")
served as a within subjects independent variable, group was the
between subjects independent variable, and ratings were the dependent
A significant main effect was found for affect, F(1,
18) = 20.35, p < .001, 2 = .46. The means for
the "positive experience" versus "anxious and nervous" items were
M = 7.2, and M = 3.4, respectively. In addition, the
affect X group interaction was suggestive F(1, 18) = 2.38,
p = .14, w2 = 03. The cell means associated with this
interaction are displayed in Figure 5.
In general, with respect to the guides, those who were in the
map group had more positive comments. For example, some
representative comments from the map group:
The guide pages helped to make the huge amount of information
more manageable. It was helpful to have fewer choices and to
narrow down the subject.
I found them to be very effective in helping me to find
information I wanted. The nodal guides were effective in
localizing my searches.
I liked the guide pages because you could see how everything
was connected. It let you see everything that was associated with
one major topic.
I found the guide pages to be effective because they aided
in going through the various information that was supplied.
Representative comments from the control group:
I found the guide pages to be fairly helpful, although I
mainly just stumbled upon the topics that I thought to be the most
Some of the guide pages were not helpful simply because I
did not know what some of the things listed were
I found the guide pages to be somewhat effective and useful.
They directed me in the direction that I wanted to go, so I guess
you could say they served their purpose.
Personally, I found the guide pages to be only somewhat
helpful. I used the guide page to find a basic topic and only went
back to it if I ran out of links, or at least interesting
The guide pages were not very helpful to me. The reason is
that I never look at them (usually).
One of the first lessons learned in the development of the web
guides was the importance of including a domain expert. No matter how
skilled the programmer, the information contained in the web sites is
ultimately of the most importance. Initially a programmer was hired
to select the sites and develop the program, with the subject matter
expert as a reviewer, but eventually the subject matter
expert/principal investigator took over the selection and development
of the program himself. While it's certainly true that all subject
matter experts can not be expected to have a working knowledge of
World Wide Web programming techniques, such as the principal
investigator in this project, they certainly will need to spend a lot
of time carefully reviewing the web sites and the nature of their
representation in the guides. Thus one important finding based on the
present project, is that the pedagogical effectiveness of the guides
and sites, will be directly proportional to the amount of time and
effort that a subject matter expert spends with the program. In fact,
the basic idea that the content is paramount, rather than the medium,
has become somewhat of a "mantra" among instructional designers
(Clark, 1983; 1994; Clark & Salomon, 1986).
Continuing on this same general theme, the amount of time and
effort required for the development of an effective guide is also an
important lesson learned from this project. An instructor who wants
to utilize such a guide should recognize that to find truly accurate,
interesting, and relevant sites takes a lot of time, given the amount
of information, and the
nature of World Wide Web Search engines. This is probably not due to
ineffective search engines, but due to the lack of over-riding
structure in the Web. Whichever is the case, the principal
investigator spent a great deal of time, using number of different
search engines, in order to come up with the pages for this class. To
continue searching for relevant pages will be an ongoing process. Of
course the positive side of this is that this activity, will aid the
instructor in being on top of information relevant to the class.
Moreover, any good instructional tool is only as good as the effort
the instructor is willing to put out in it's development and/or
One of the most clear findings which emerged from the analyses
of students questionnaire data, was that those who studied from the
guides in the concept map format, tended to study in a more broad
fashion, while those in the control group, whose guide simply
consisted of a list of web pages, tended to be more focused (see
figures 1 and 2 in Appendix 1). These findings provide some support
for the purported function of the maps to serve as a model for the
complexity of the domain structure up front, which is consistent with
one of the tenants of cognitive flexibility theory (Feltovich et al.,
1989; Jacobson & Spiro, 1995; Jacobson et al, 1995; Spiro, et
al., 1987). Apparently students in these conditions were able, more
quickly, to note the breadth of the domain, as represented by the web
pages included, and subsequently broadened their exploration of the
pages, relative to those in the control group.
The questionnaires items which asked students to rate the
effectiveness of the guides did not indicate any differences between
the two groups. It was clear, however, that students felt that both
the map and list guides were most effective as a tool for learning
the information, rather than a memory aid while writing the essay. In
information processing terms, the most important impact of the guides
appears to be in acquisition, rather than retrieval/utilization.
However, students' subjective responses clearly favored the map
guides, in that the majority of students in the map groups made
positive comments about the guides, while those with the list guides
were much more neutral, in terms of the guides' effectiveness. (See
representative comments in the results section.)
Over all students tended to have a very positive attitude
about the, regardless of which type of guide they had. This was
indicated by the analyses of students' ratings involving their
positive feelings, and feelings of anxiety while studying. This was
no doubt partly a function of the purposeful and careful selection of
web pages that were interesting, motivational, and relevant to
everyday life. Although none of the other effects in this analysis
were statistically significant, there was a very interesting,
suggestive, group X rating interaction (see Figure 3, in appendix 1).
Those in the map groups reported lower ratings of the session as a
"positive learning experience" and higher ratings in anxiety. There
are a number of potential explanations for this, initially
counterintuitive, finding. First, those in the concept map groups
were viewing web interfaces that were unusual/unfamiliar compared to
the more traditional lists viewed by those in the control group. In
fact, a previous experiment involving students studying knowledge
maps on paper found that those who studied materials in these formats
experienced higher levels of anxiety. However, in this same
experiment, those in the map groups still reported significantly
higher levels of motivation, and scored higher on recall tests, than
those who studied traditional text (Hall & O'Donnell, 1996). In
addition to the novelty of the map guides, the results of the
focus-of-search analyses may partly explain the higher levels of
anxiety for those in the map groups. Perhaps their increased
metacognitive awareness, with respect to the extensive and complex
nature of the domain structure, acted to increase their anxiety
Figure 1: Map Guide for Vision
(Click on green nodes to links, and yellow nodes for other maps.)
List Guide for Vision Links
Figure 3: Reported Time Alloted
to Study as a Function of Group and Category
Figure 4: Rating of Search Focus
and Broadness of Search as a Function of Group
Figure 5: Rating of "Postive
Experience" and "Anxiety/Nervousness" as a Function of Group
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