Web-Study Pages for Introductory Plant Pathology

James E. Partridge

University of Nebraska

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Beginning 1995, we have been using Web-Study Pages as an enhancment for a Junior Level Introductory Plant Pathology Course. The Web materials are intended for student use as she/he prepares before class. The format of our class is discussion and active learning based with little or no formal lecture; thus it is imperative that the student come to class prepared to engage in the discussion of the day. The Web-Study Pages provide a means to assist the student to prepare for class. It is not a replacement for a textbook.

In classroom research on using these materials was published in 1999 (Partridge, J.E, and Osborne, L. 1999. Designing and using world wide web study pages to support student learning outside of the classroom. NACTA Journal 43:43-46.) and is pasted below. Though this may have been the first complete web page to support an Introductory Plant Pathology Course, there are now many faculty using Web Pages to support their courses. The time has come to engage in discussion, to a world wide community, on the commonalities and differences in effective web pages being used to support Introductory Plant Pathology courses.

Discussion, in and of itself, is not sufficient. We must engage in assessment activities to determine efficacy of our efforts in "customer satisfaction", utilization, and learning. Without assessment, we have little more than opinion.

Designing and Using World Wide Web Study Pages to Support Student Learning Outside of the Classroom

NACTA Journal 43:43-46

J.E. Partridge and L. Osborne
Department of Plant Pathology
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE


The World Wide Web can be an effective pedagogical tool to improve student learning. Carefully designed Web Study Pages are easily delivered to students via the World Wide Web. Designing a useful Web Study Page requires careful planning. Students are pragmatic users and exercise a "print and go" attitude while instructors may focus on innovative and artful delivery anticipating the student will process information at the computer. Web Study Pages are easily updated to meet changing class needs. Web Study pages afford teachers the unique opportunity to be intrusive into the student's pre-class preparation process during the time when they are acquiring factual information. Students who used the Web Study Pages demonstrated better preparation for class and evidenced by improved factual understanding and ability to synthesize information to solve problems.


Innovations in teaching technologies have afforded instructors the opportunity to adapt their individual styles to the available tools. As new developments present opportunities and challenges to teachers, they also create uncertainties as to which technologies may actually be beneficial for enhancing learning in their classroom. Over the past three years we have developed, modified, and revised an extensive set of documents for publication to the World Wide Web (Web) (Partridge 1997). These Web Study Pages are designed to support a junior level university course titled Introductory Plant Pathology. The experience we gained in developing this system may be beneficial to others considering the use of the Web to support their courses.

The pedagogy of any course is an instructional package that reflects the planning of the teacher to support his/her teaching philosophy and style. In our course, in-class time is used for processing information and learning to use facts for problem solving and application. This is accomplished in an active learning/participation mode through question, answer, exposition, and discussion of the materials assigned for the day. The student's daily pre-class preparation of assigned textual materials is essential. The continuing challenge is to motivate students to prepare factual materials prior to class discussion.

We have observed this mode of teaching, which requires students to participate in an active intellectual discussion after having assimilated a factual information base through their own per-class preparation, was a new experience for many. Accordingly study guides (handouts) served to direct students in their preparations for class became an integral part of the course materials. These study guides reflected a 'constructivist' view of learning, that students must individually discover and process information in order to integrate it into their own mind (Brooks and Brooks 1993). The guides worked well but had some drawbacks, primarily their production and the repetitive, non-interactive nature of multiple handouts. We initially used the World Wide Web to replace handouts. The Web was an unqualified success in that regard. The Web Study Pages have expanded beyond the original handout replacement, but this discussion will be confined to the Web Study Pages.

A student accesses the Plant Pathology Web Study Pages through Internet connections at home or at a University-provided computer. On entering the site, a student is presented with the course Home Page. From this starting point, a student can view study materials, read test-study questions, and review the course syllabus with hyper-links to the Web Study Pages for each class period. The student also has the option of contacting the instructor via e-mail from any page.

In our course, the Web Study Page has become a very active teaching tool to support textbook study and pre-class preparation. The content and quantity of materials on the Web Study Pages is intentionally varied in content and quantity. The range of content is from simple major subject headings to detailed explanations of facts and concepts complementary to, but not included in, the textbook. Some Web Study Pages present an entirely different presentation of factual materials than those in the textbook. A conscious effort is made so that the Web Study Pages do not become "hand holding". Most of the pages present original graphics that serve to visualize concepts. Some of the pages have short format sound (.wav) files explaining facts and/or concepts. Many pages contain images of disease symptoms.

Web Study Pages are designed to assist students as they read the factual materials in the textbook in preparation for class discussions. The pages serve as the outline for reading and making detailed notes as the student progresses through a topic. The Web-based skeleton of notes gives students categories for their own note taking. This method has been shown to increase student learning (Kiewra, 1991). The student, through evaluating main concepts and then summarizing how concepts are integrated, will have mentally processed the information to a high degree (Bretzing and Kulhavy 1981). The introduction to each topic is provided and from that point the student proceeds through what is known as the PQ4R method (Thomas and Robinson, 1972, Slavin, 1997). The student first Previews material, asks Questions, Reads through the information, Reflects upon it, Recites it in order to remember the material, and Reviews the material to assimilate it completely.

As Web Study Pages were being developed, we have relied on the students, to provide active input on accessibility and hardware, the amount and type of usage, and usefulness. Understanding student attitudes towards, and usage of, this new technology is important if its intent is to enhance the educational experience. Server based direct assessment was made of usage/accession of the Web Study Pages.

Methods and Materials

The in-class pedagogy, course requirements, and grading procedures have remained constant over the past seven years (5 years Pre-Web and 2 years Web support). The examination format and content has remained constant. Knowledge of the exam procedure is essential to evaluate these outcomes. One week prior to each examination, ten study questions are released via the Web Page, previously as handouts. On exam day, a student draws five questions by lot. Thus though the questions are similar from year to year, each exam is unique. Exam questions are graded 50% for content and 50% for synthesis. The exams constitute 50% of the final grade, quizzes 25% and four "case study" papers 25%.

Accessibility and Hardware

The initial Web Pages were designed for a computer with a 286 microprocessor chip, 16m RAM, 9600 baud modem, 15 inch screen with 640x480 resolution. With this minimal computer it was felt that no student should be limited from fully accessing anything on the pages due to hardware. Our second concern was that students have access to computers. That turned out to be of no concern among the students who live on, or near, campus. Many have their own computers and all have ample access to computer laboratories on campus. Inconvenience is more a factor than inaccessibility. The non-residential student has the same university-provided support but may find it inconvenient to use. The technology has escalated in the last four years to the point that the Web Page is now designed for optimal usage on a Pentium based processor (133 Mhz) with a 28.8 kbaud modem. Neither screen size/resolution nor RAM are limiting factors for students irrespective of whether they use on-campus computers or their own computers.

Amount and Type of Usage

The amount and type of usage was determined from two sources. Web server resident software provided data on the number of times each Web Study Page was accessed and location of the accessing computer. No attempt to identify individual users was made though accessing computers outside of Nebraska were excluded in the data. Informal, voluntary, and anonymous feedback forms were used to gather student input on number of individual accessions per week.


Students were surveyed twice each semester through voluntary anonymous response opinionaires soliciting feedback on desires, needs, utility, and usefulness of the Web Study Pages. A minimum of 80% (32/40 in 1996 and 43/50 in 1997) of the students participated in each voluntary anonymous response opinionaire. Unsolicited anecdotal responses were taken from semester-end student. During the semester, students used the E-mail icon to make specific comments on individual pages.

Results and Discussion

The World Wide Web allows increased interaction between student and faculty. The active use of faculty-drafted Web Study Pages enables faculty to become an active part of the students' pre-class study process by providing intrusive comments and asking questions. These questions are used to stimulate questioning, reasoning, and discussion outside of the classroom period, in preparation for in-class discussion. Students respond positively to this type of guided study and come to class better prepared to engage in discussion. Because textbooks are dated soon after publication and consequently as new research results are published it becomes necessary to update information. The Web Study Page is a ready means to do all of these.

Because the Web Study Pages can be easily edited and modified, there was an unexpected response the first time the Web Study Pages were used. Students became exceedingly uneasy when a Web Study Page was edited after it was loaded up to the Web server. Therefore, we adopted a policy of not loading up pages more than three to five days in advance of student needs and not changing them during the semester.

The results on mean final percentages have been informative. Because the composition of classes and number of students per class varies from year to year, it is difficult to do direct statistical comparisons. The composite final percentage scores reflect 350 students (240 pre-Web support and 90 Web support). These data indicate the mean final percentage score has increased from 75% to 83% since the Web Study Page was introduced. Year to Year variation of the means is sufficiently large that this 8% increase is not significant. The range of mean high score and mean low score over this period was 94% to 45% for pre-Web support versus 98% to 35% for later years. The distribution of students in the 90%-100%, 80%-89%, etc. ranges show a significant redistribution. In the Pre-Web years, 78% of the students were in the 60%-78% ranges with only 2% of the students in the 90%-100% range. In the Web years, 58% of the students were in the 70%-89% ranges with 27% of the students in the 90% to 100% range and only 6% in the 60%-69% range. The upper quartile of the class seems to have benefited the most while some in the lower quartile may have actually been disadvantaged. The remainder increased in the quality and breadth of their ability to synthesize answers, respond to questions, and pose questions as is indicated by a general increase in the scores in the 80% to 100% range. Student satisfaction, as determined by end-of-semester course evaluations, indicates that students appreciate the Web Study Pages. Student learning of factual information, as assessed by the final comprehensive examination, has improved each year.

In order to be successful, an instructor must carefully, and specifically, explain to the students the intended use of Web-based materials. As presented here, this Web Study Page is intended to complement the required textbook, not replace it. The average Web Page accesses during a semester per student was 3 to 5 times per week. Some students regularly accessed the Web Pages more than 10 times per week while others used it no more than once a week. Over 60% of students accessed the pages and printed them without actually looking at them on the computer screen. Some students (35%) accessed the pages and read them before printing. The minority of students (less than 5%) interacted with the Web Study pages on the computer while reading the textbook. In total, greater than 75% of the students did use the printed study materials as a complement to their study of the textual materials. Unfortunately, up to 25% of the students relied solely on the Web Study Pages as their preparation for class. This group of students has not done well in the course as reflected in poor in-class discussion and examination scores. One cannot measure motivation; however, it appears (from examination of class attendance, quiz scores, case study papers, and in-class responses) that less motivated students may make the mistake of attempting to use the Web Study Pages as last minute examination preparation in lieu of the textbook.

From the number and type of accessions, some observations are inescapable. Students use the Web Study Pages to complement study with the textbook, as they were intended. While it is disappointing that the majority print out the Web Study Pages for use and do not interact with them on the computer, none-the-less they do use them during their pre-class preparation. Because they were designed to assist in pre-class preparation, one must conclude that they were successful in achieving their first objective. Owing to the "print and go" use of these pages by the students, complicated color graphics and additional enhancements such as sound files, animated graphics, and short movie (.mpeg) files may be an investment without a great return. One should not abandon these enhancements out of hand; however, if they assist only a few students who benefit from them, they are of value. Another reason for low use may reside in the hardware and connectivity. The on-campus computers do not have sound cards and movie file size (from 1 -5 mbytes) make them very slow loading over modems. The majority of students print the pages using a black and white printer. Consequently, colored graphics must be carefully constructed. While dark colored backgrounds on graphics with light colored text are visually pleasing, they may be unreadable when printed in black and white. This is not to say that time should not be spent on colorful visual presentations. Color is important, but remember that a black and white print will be the ultimate product and make color selections accordingly. Remembering that once material is available on the Web, it is available to an audience much larger than just a single class, visual presentations take on an added dimension and should be both visually appealing and informative.


The test of any pedagogical change is whether or not the students embrace or reject the change, and whether they demonstrate increased comprehension as a result of the change. Students have responded well to use of a Web Study Page and have found it useful to them. Over time comprehension, grades, and their ability to synthesize information for discussion and solution of problems indicate that it has a positive effect on their learning.

Literature Cited

Bretzing, B.B. and R.W. Kulhavy. 1981. Note taking and passage style. Jour. of Educational Psychology 73:242-250

Brooks, J.G. and M. G. Brooks. 1993. The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kiewra, K.A. 1991. Aids to Lecture Learning. Educ. Psychology 26:37-53.

Partridge, J.E. 1997. Introductory Plant Pathology. URL:www.ianr.unl.edu/ianr/plntpath/peartree. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.

Thomas, E.L. and H.A. Robinson. 1972. Improving Reading in Every Class: A Sourcebook for Teachers. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Slavin, R.E., 1997. Educational Psychology, Theory and Practice, 5th Ed. Boston, MA.: Allyn and Bacon.

Table 1.

Comparison of Mean Final Percentage Scores for Pre-Web Study Page versus Web Study Page Years.
  Pre-Web Web
Mean Percentage 75% 83%
High 94% 98%
Low 45% 35%
Distribution of Mean Percentage Scores
Scores Pre-Web Web
90-100 2% 27%
80-89 10% 33%
70-79 31% 25%
60-69 38% 6%
50-59 12% 2%
0-49 7% 6%
The Average Final Percentage Scores are composite class scores of Final Examination, Mid-term Examinations, Case Study Papers, and Daily Quizzes valued at 20%, 30%, 25%, and 25%, respectively, for the Pre-Web years (1988-1991,1994-1995) and Web years (1996-1997). The composite of Pre-web years involved 240 students and the Web years 90.


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