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Hypertext: A Critical Analysis

Hypertext:  A Critical Analysis

John C. Bradley
EME 6507


Hypertext is a computer-based system for organizing, storing, and accessing print-based information in a non-sequential manner.  This paper discusses the hardware that makes hypertext possible and describes some prominent hypertext software.  The psychological basis for hypertext are reviewed--schema theory, web learning, and generative learning.  Issues related to hypertext as a learning medium are discussed, as are implications for instructional design.

Issue Addressed by Paper

Jonassen (1986, 1988, 1991) describes hypertext as a computer-based software system for organizing, storing, and accessing information in a non-sequential manner.  Hypertext is dynamic rather than static.  Hypertext allows for multiple pathways by readers with different interests, permitting them to determine their own individual presentation sequences based on their own preferred styles of reading or information needs.  Hypertext gives the user immediate access to any of the information in a knowledge base.  

Each chunk of information is called a node.  These nodes are connected by "links," which are generally key words identified by highlighting, color coding, or reverse video.  Sometimes links are identified as icons embedded in the text.  

Jonassen (1986) describes three levels of hypertext:  Chucked hypertext is completely random.  Each node carries the same weight and can be accessed from any other node.  Structured hypertext consists of sets of related nodes, each set accessible form any other set.  In hierarchical hypertext, more detailed nodes are subsumed under more general concepts, requiring users to move up and down through the hierarchy in order to access related concepts.

Jonassen identifies several general applications for hypertext systems:  Browsing systems enable users to navigate and explore information knowledge bases.  Problem exploration systems are work-related and facilitate specific task domains.  These systems help users organize and construct information.  Macro-literary systems are not single documents but are a collection of material linked together by hypertext.  General-purpose systems are not designed to facilitate any specific function, but can be tailored to a variety of needs.

Purpose of Paper

This paper will provide an overview of the technological, psychological, and pedagogical perspectives related to hypertext as a learning medium.  Implications for instructional design are discussed.  Significant issues are raised and conclusions are made.

Critical Review and Analysis

Technological Perspective

Although the concept of hypertext in print form was proposed forty years ago, the advent of microcomputers has made hypertext technologically feasible (Marchionini, 1988).  Microcomputers have a variety of attribute that make them ideal for hypertext.  

Computers can store large amounts of data in digital, electronic form.  The compact disc with read-only memory (CD-ROM) is a well-established new technology.  Each side of a 4.75-inch CD has the capacity to store 150,000 pages of text. (Locatis, 1989)

Computers can be networked into even larger databases.  Commercial systems such as TELENET, and university systems like Internet, link computers and terminal together by telephone, allowing individuals to access different databases, send electronic mail, and browse bulletin boards.  Although it has been difficult in the past for users to access multiple information systems--since the systems use different operating systems and commands--gateway software is being developed which will translate commands across systems.  With such software, users will be able to log onto a single system to obtain information from different systems.  (ibid.)

Computers are fast.  Microcomputers with processing speeds of 10 megahertz are common.  Even faster devices exist (ibid.).  Such speeds make it possible to search massive databases for key words in a short period of time.  This speed also allows for rapid, arbitrary jumps to material stored at another location in the computer's memory. (Jonassen, 1986)  

High-resolution screens allow for the simultaneous display of text (in several sizes and fonts) and graphics (still and animated).  Icons, color, and reverse video can be used to signal users about a hypertext link.  Information displayed on a screen can be scrolled smoothly or flipped instantaneously.  Windowing, or simultaneous display of more than one document on a screen is also possible. (Jonassen, 1986)

There are a number of software programs that exemplify the current capabilities of hypertext.  KMS is a hypertext and hypermedia program created by Knowledge Systems, Inc.  It operates on high-end workstations.  A highly flexible tool for both writers and readers, KMS supports information creation, editing, and retrieval in networks.  The system is explicitly aimed at improving productivity among groups that use very large databases or complex information (such as policy and maintenance manuals, project managers and expert systems).  Versions of KMS have been used on the nuclear aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, and in Westinghouse nuclear power plants.  (Binder, 1989)

Another system designed for high-end workstation is Document Examiner, developed by Symbolics, Inc.  It is used for presenting technical and operation manuals to users of Symbolics' artificial intelligence computers.  It provides access to thousands of pages of technical information by combining both associative and search technologies with an easy-to-operate user interface.  Users can search by keyword to locate likely entry-points into the documentation, then traverse through the database by using the mouse to follow hypertext linkages from that point on.  Document Examiner was created specifically to provide efficient access to technical documentation.  A measure of this system's success is that as many as 40 percent of the system's users do not even remove the shrink wrap from Symbolics' paper manuals because they are able to find what the need so readily using Document Examiner.  (ibid.)

Window Book, from Box Company, was the first commercially available hypertext system for IBM-compatible microcomputers.  The developer of Window Book, Michael Spier, aimed to produce an efficient tool for early IBMs--which had limited storage and graphics capabilities.  Window Book was not developed specifically as a hypertext system, but as a cross-referencing system for large diskette-based documents.  Eventually, Box Company was commissioned to expand the system's capabilities for navigating through hypertext documents published on multi-volume CD-ROMs.  These document are often tens of thousands of pages in length.  Among the system's strengths is a set of built-in navigational aids.  This includes an automatically created table of contents, which is a "bread crumb trail" that records what articles the user has accessed in traveling through hyperspace.  Licensees can choose to integrate Window Book in a context-sensitive manner with other software or hardware systems, to create links from inside a Window Book to bit-mapped graphics or interactive videodisc, or to provide full-text search or keyword search capabilities.  There are versions of Window Book that run under MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, and the Unix operating system.  (ibid.)

Guide is a hypertext system released by Office Workstations, Ltd.  It was originally developed for the Macintosh, but was later adapted for IBM PCs operating under Microsoft Windows.  Guide was not originally developed as a hypertext system, but as an experiment in putting text into electronic form.  In fact, Guide is much like a standard word processor.  Because it operates in a bit-mapped graphics environment, Guide is capable of including complex diagrams and technical drawing along with textual materials.   It employs a mouse-driven user interface with icons and pulldown menus.  Ford Motor Company has used an industrial version of Guide for its database of technical manuals.  Unfortunately, Guide suffers form a lack of efficient built-in navigation aids, a weakness that allows users to become easily lost.  (ibid.)

Hypercard is perhaps the best known and most-used hypertext and hypermedia system.  Hypercard is shipped free with each Apple Macintosh computer.  Hypercard is both more and less than a true hypertext system.  Because it includes a linking feature for creating paths through textural, graphic, and multimedia information, Hypercard can function as a text-retrieval tool.  In fact, many of the commercial application of Hypercard have been textual publication, usually including substantial amounts of graphics as well.  One example is the Hypercard Whole Earth Catalog.  Hypercard includes basic, but slow, text search capabilities.  Several third-party developers have offered faster add-ons for text search.  Hypercard functions well as a front-end to complex networks of other computer programs, databases and system softwares.  Hypercard has its own programming language (HyperTalk) that can be used to customize Hypercard for a wide-variety of uses.  (ibid.)

Psychological Perspective

One of the theoretical bases for hypertext is schema theory.  A person's schema for an object, event, or idea consists of the amalgamation of distinctive features of and associations to the idea.  Each schema represents a mini-framework on which to interrelate elements of information about a topic into one conceptual unit.  Schemata are linked one to another by context-dependent descriptions.  That is, the relationships between any two schemata are relative to the context in which they are used.  One schema refers to another only through the use of a description which is dependent on the context of the original reference.  In different contexts, people will use different schemata.  The schemata that a learner accesses to interpret new information is necessarily idiosyncratic.   Hypertext is a form of communication which accommodates these idiosyncrasies.  (Jonassen, 1986)

A learner's s schematic network is often diagrammed and represented spatially as webs of information.  Web learning principles assume that new information is integrated into prior knowledge by means of a web of structures rather than in a linear fashion.  New material is intertwined in the web at nodes (schema) that are related to it.  The web grows as learners acquire more detailed information.  In order to connect new information to the learner's existing structure, we must first present a supporting web structure, then add details later.  Hypertext manifests web teaching principles by using hierarchical connections between nodes.  (ibid.)

Similar to web learning theory is the generative learning hypothesis.  Generative learning principles contend that when interacting with information or instructional stimuli (text, illustrations, language), learners activate prior knowledge structures for the purpose of interpreting the stimuli.  This is, new information has meaning only insofar as learners can find prior knowledge to explain it.  According to the generative model of learning, learning is an active process of constructing knowledge.   What an individual comprehends from material depends on what they already know.  How they interpret information, then, depends on what they know, how it is organized, and how they are able to access it and relate it to new knowledge.  For example, the meaning of a text is determined by the learner.  Given the same textual material, each of us will generate somewhat different interpretations for it.  Hypertext permits learners to individualize the knowledge-acquisition process.  Hypertext allows users to interact with new information in the way that is most useful to them--that is, to customize the accession of information.  (ibid.)

Pedagogical Perspective

Wilson and Jonassen (1989) recommend that learners be allowed to make as many control decisions as possible in a hypertext environment.  Learners should be provided with learning aids and expert advice only when necessary.  

However, effective self-management skills are a factor in how much control the learner should be given in hypertext versus how much guidance the system should provide via tutorials and suggest paths  (Kinzie & Berdel, 1990, and Wilson & Jonassen, 1989).  Less structure should be provided for high-ability students and more for low-ability students (Allred & Locatis, 1988).

An important issue is integration of the hypertext information with knowledge structure of the learner.  The less structured the hypertext is, the less likely users are to integrate what they have learned.  Without an explicit external organization, many learners have difficulty acquiring new knowledge.  (Jonassen, 1988)

Distraction may result from the high level of learner control that hypermedia systems provide.  Cognitive resources may be diverted from content and relationships as learners attend to navigational decision-making.  Distraction is also compounded by the vast quantities of information available at the click of a mouse.  (Marchionini, 1988)

Related to distraction is the possibility of information overload.  The richness of non-linear representations carries a risk for intellectual indigestion, loss of goal-directedness, and cognitive entropy. (Jonassen, 1988)

Disorientation is also a common problem for learners in a hypertext environment.  Traveling from link to link to link may result in "getting lost in hyperspace.  "  When learners use a system, they need to know where they are in relation to some kind of identifiable structure.  To move efficiently through hypertext and find needed information, learners must be able to return to a familiar origin or to see their location on some kind of map or table of contents.  (Binder, 1989)

Implications for Instructional Systems

Jonassen (1986) has proposed a systematic procedure for the design of hypertexts:  1) Identify all key concepts.  This is basically a content analysis.  2) Map the structure of the content.  This includes tree construction, networking, and noting patterns.  3) Verify the structure by consulting subject-matter experts.  4) Determine the type of hypertext structure--chucked, structured, or hierarchical.  5) Prepare concept blocks.  That is, write the text for each node.  6) Provide links and cues to other concepts.  Links may be indicated by highlighted keywords or icons in the text.  7) Debug the system.  Try out each and every option of the hypertext to be certain that the system performs faultlessly.  

Binder (1989) offers a number of tips for hypertext writing.  1) Modularity.  Information should be broken into small units.  This eliminates the need for redundancy.  Each module should be assigned a title or set of keywords.  2) Structured writing.  A consistent style and format should be used for each chunk.  3)  Linking.  Links should be kept to a minimum.  A link should only be made when there is a compelling reason to do so.  4) Layers of views.  Since hypertext is modular, it is possible to create the effect of having different documents for different types of users.  For instance, a personnel manual might be programmed to show different modules depending on whether the users was a low-level employee or a high-level supervisor.  

On a more technological note, Binder (1989) recommends a number of navigational aids to help users maneuver through hypertext.  1) Graphical maps (a.k.a. graphical browsers) are a must.  A good hypertext should begin by showing a map of the whole text.  This map should represent the whole web of interrelated concepts contained in the hypertext.  2) A "bread crumb trail" is an aid that automatically records where the user has been in his or her movement through the database.  For instance, Hypercard offers an iconic representation of the last 40 cards visited.  A benefit of this feature is that a user may go back to past references without having to trace backwards through layers one-by-one.  3) Commands that enable users to step back or ahead one node at a time in a default sequence also prevents users disorientation.  Hypercard uses arrow buttons as forward and back switches.  

Binder (ibid.) also recommends link-level controls that allow a user to limit the links shown.  By filtering the options down to a manageable size, the reader is better able to move through large hypertext documents. 

Pulldown menus, such as those found in Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms, make accessing commands easy for users.  Speed-keys are also recommended. (Wilson and Jonassen, 1989)
Some hypertext systems are designed to be freely interactive, allowing users to either read or write information at any time.  In other types of applications, central control or security of the core document is an important consideration.  Thus, a system providing multiple levels of access is often appropriate. (Binder, 1989)

In hypertext systems, a user should have quick access to on-line references.  One way of providing this is context-sensitive help.  That is, the system can provide information or appropriate assistance to the user depending one where the user is in the text or what commands the user is activating.  This help may be requested by the user, or it may be unsolicited advice unknowingly activated by the users actions.  (ibid.)

Kinzie & Berdel (1990) recommend other useful tools for hypertext users:  glossaries of unfamiliar terms, note pads for users to clip and write textual information for later easy access, and drawing tablets for creating graphic notes.  

Summary of Significant Issues and Conclusions

Technologically, hypertext is still in its infancy.  As the capabilities of microcomputers increase, so will the sophistication of hypertext systems.  Hypertext will eventually be part of a new generation of fully integrated electronic media.  David Brin (1991) envisions a 21st century global hypermedia system that full integrates text, graphics, computer software, electronic mail, telephone, video, and audio.  Instructional designers should keep abreast of technological progress but avoid becoming too much of an expert in any one medium.

Psychologically, we know that everyone learns in slightly different ways.  Hypertext allows learners the freedom to learn in their own way.  It enables the non-sequential exploration and assimilation of written information.  However, since learners often require help in forming new knowledge structures, explicit organization and direction should be available when needed.  The proper balance between discovery learning vs. directed learning in hypertext environments is one which deserves additional research by instructional designers.  

Pedagogically, hypertext offers a number of challenges.  How does one write objectives and create appropriate learning assignments for hypertext?  How does one evaluate student learning in a hypertext environment?  What is the proper role of the teacher?  What is the proper role of the student?  Here, too, instructional designers can help determine the effective application of hypertext in education.


  1. Allred, K.F. and Locatis, C. (1988). Research, instructional design, and new technology.  Journal of Instructional Development, 11(1), pp. 2-5.
  2. Binder, C. (1989).  Hypertext design issues.  Performance Improvement Quarterly, 2(3), pp. 16-33.
  3. Jonassen, D.H. (1986).  Hypertext principles for text and coursewear design.  Educational Psychologist, 21(4), pp. 269-292.
  4. Jonassen, D.H. (1988).  Designing structured hypertext and structuring access to hypertext.  Educational Technology, November 1988, pp. 13-15.
  5. Jonassen, D.H. (1991). Hypertext as instructional design.  Educational Technology, Research and Development, 39, pp. 83-92.
  6. Kinzie, M.B. and Berdel, R.L. (1990). Design and use of hypermedia systems.  Educational Technology, Research and Development, 38, pp. 61-68.
  7. Locatis, C. (1989). Information retrieval systems and learning.  Performance Improvement Quarterly, 2(3), pp. 4-15.
  8. Marchionini, G. (1988) Hypermedia and learning:  freedom and chaos.  Educational Technology, November 1988, pp. 8-12.
  9. Wilson, B.G., and Jonassen, D.H. (1989). Hypertext and instructional design:  some preliminary guidelines.  Performance Improvement Quarterly, 2(3), pp. 34-39.

Florida State University's Instructional Television Network

 Florida State University's Instructional Television Network

John C. Bradley

EME 6507


Florida State University's Interactive Television Network links the main campus in Tallahassee with a branch campus in Panama City, Florida. Each campus has a studio/classroom equipped with video cameras, monitors, and microphones. Using compressed video technology and a dedicated fiber optic telephone line, visual and audio information are transmitted between classrooms simultaneously--resulting in a live, extended classroom. Student and instructor responses to this technology are discussed, as are implications for instructional design and delivery.

Problem/Need Addressed by Project

The Panama City Campus (PCC) of Florida State University (FSU) has been offering courses to the residents of Bay County since 1982. Currently there are almost 1000 students. Although it is desirable to offer a wide variety of courses at the branch campus, but it is economically unfeasible to maintain full-time faculty in all academic areas at PCC. The only solution, until recently, has been to import instructors from the main campus in Tallahassee. Each week, about 50 instructors make a four-hour bus trip to and from PCC to teach approximately 80 classes. The growth projected during the next decade will make it increasingly difficult to satisfy the branch's instructional demands using the current shuttle system. Also, many instructors refuse to teach at the branch campus because of the long transit time (FSU, Note 1).

Project Goals/Description

After a thorough study was completed, it was decided that compressed interactive video was the most effective alternative to the current system (ibid.). Funded out of FSU's general budget, the Instructional Television Network started full operation during the fall semester of 1991 (Kennedy, Note 2). The main campus in Tallahassee and the branch campus in Panama City are each equipped with a complete studio classroom. Each studio is staffed by a full-time video director/studio supervisor (FSU, Note 1). Approximately three classes per week are currently being offered by this medium, but the system has the capability of handling 25-30 classes per week (Bolduc, Note 3).

Since the Department of Instructional Television is not under any college or school within the university, all faculty have equal access to this resource. In addition to being used for instructional purposes, this facility can be used for student advising, dissertation defenses, and departmental meetings (Kennedy, Note 2).

Media/Technology Employed

Each classroom has at least two floor cameras. These cameras are remotely controlled by the studio supervisor at each location. The cameras, which are mounted on movable pedestals, may be focused on the instructor, the students in the class, or a white board at the front of the class.

In addition to the floor cameras, each site is equipped with one overhead camera that is permanently located in the ceiling and pointed downward toward the top of the instructor's desk. This camera is also remotely controlled. If an instructor normally lectures using an overhead projector, the overhead camera can be used as a substitute. The overhead camera captures whatever is written or placed in front of it. The image is transmitted to the television monitors in each classroom so that the students can see the material (FSU, Note 1).

Each classroom is also equipped with several large-screen monitors. These monitors are positioned so that each student has an adequate view (Kennedy, Note 2).

Each classroom is equipped with a wireless instructor lavalliere microphone and several desk-mounted student microphones. The student microphones are voice-activated to prevent more than one student from speaking at a time. The studio director also has control over the volume of each microphone (ibid.).

During the class, the video director chooses the best camera angle and transmits it to the other classroom. Similarly, the video director at the other campus chooses the best angle in the in the other classroom. When a student in the distant classroom has a question, the camera zooms on that student so that the instructor can see the student (FSU, Note 1).

Both video and audio images are transmitted via a dedicated optical fiber line. Using a device called a "codec," the visual and audio images from each classroom can be sent to the other classroom simultaneously. This means that the instructor can hear and see the students in the distant classroom, and the students can hear and see the instructor at the same time. The net effect is a virtually "live" extended classroom (ibid.).


Since this system has only been operational since August 1991, little evaluation data has been collected.  A survey of student attitudes was recently conducted but has not yet been tabulated. However, the researcher's impression is that, in general, students are positive about the system. Some students complain about the monitors being too small and audio level being too low (Bolduc, Note 3).

A survey of instructors is planned for the near future. Anecdotally, some instructors are positive about this system because they perceive opportunities for publishing papers regarding the medium. Other instructors are negative about the system. This is largely a result of faculty's historic resistance to new instructional technology. In addition, some faculty are concerned that videotaped lectures might be used to evaluate their performance as an instructor (ibid.).

A review of the literature indicates that there is no significant difference in student performance with this medium when compared with traditional lectures, as long as the course is well designed and students have an opportunity to interact with the instructor (ibid.).

Cost-effectiveness of the system has not yet been evaluated. At present, the system is probably not cost-effective because it is not being used to full capacity. It may take several years for the system to reach full utilization and pay for itself (ibid.).

Implications for Design

Compressed video can easily accommodate the traditional lecture format. However, there are characteristics of this medium that designers and instructors should keep in mind.

While compressed video offers the advantage of instantaneous visual and auditory interaction between distant locations, the visual image appears to "smear" slightly with any fast or broad movements. The faster or broader a movement, the more the picture will blur. This is because current technology is limited in the amount of visual information that can be sent over a telephone line. The result is a television picture that is very clear with graphics, still pictures, or pictures with little movement. While the slight smearing is noticeable, students quickly become accustomed to it. However, courses which require a great deal of movement (e.g., aerobic dance) would be inappropriate for this medium (FSU, Note 1).

The instructor should periodically look at the camera and ask questions of the students at both sites. This will let the students at the distant site know that they have not been forgotten and help ensure that all students are actively involved. The instructor should repeat students' questions or comments in either classroom because the students in one classroom or the other may not have heard the question or comment (ibid.).

If writing on the white board, the instructor should not stand between the camera and the writing. The instructor should use large print and short line lengths. If long line lengths are used, the camera will have to zoom out and the writing may be too small for students at the distant site to see (ibid.).

When using the overheard camera, the instructor should write large enough for the camera to pick up the print. A dark felt-tip pen is recommended when writing on "overheads". Since the overhead camera has a ratio of 3 high by 4 wide, "overheads" should be in landscape orientation whenever possible. The instructor should avoid referring to an item or notes that are not in the camera's field of view (ibid.).

Any handouts, tests, or other documents should be developed and duplicated far enough in advance that they can be delivered to the distant site before class (ibid.).

A proctor should be arranged for administering tests at the distant site. In some cases, the video director may be recruited to serve as the proctor (Kennedy, Note 2).

Reference Notes

  1. Florida state university instructional television network--itn instructor's handbook. Internal document, Florida State University.
  2. Kennedy, R. Personal communication, October 28, 1991.
  3. Bolduc, W. Personal communication, November 5, 1991.

Emerging Technologies in ISD—Telnet


HRS Telnet: A Case Study

John C. Bradley
EME 6507


In an effort to decrease the costs associated with conventional training and to increase continuing education opportunities for its employees, the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) has initiated a $280,000 satellite teleconferencing system at 35 sites across the state. This paper describes the goals of the project, the technology involved, the anticipated impact, and the implications of this technology for instructional designers.

HRS Telnet: A Case Study

Problem/Need Addressed by Project

The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) is the largest state health and human services agency in the country. It has an annual budget of $9 billion, employs 46,000 people, and serves a state with a large geographic area. Providing conventional training and continuing education for employees results in heavy expenditures in travel, per diem, and staff down-time. The HRS Satellite Teleconference Network (Telnet) is currently being implemented by the department as a means of providing more cost-effective training and professional continuing education to employees (HRS, Note 1).

Project Goals/Description

HRS has identified five major goals for Telnet: 1) to increase employee access to education and training opportunities, 2) to reduce travel and per diem costs, 3) to reduce executive and staff down-time, 4) to maximize use of existing training resources, and 5) to improve communication efficiency and effectiveness (ibid.).

In addition to these goals, several principles were established for the project (ibid.):

* The hardware must be uniform across the state.

* The downlink equipment must be easy to use.

* The network must be cost-effective.

* Training of health professionals must be given highest priority.

* Downlinks must be established at sites where there is administrative support and geographic suitability.

With the assistance of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, the Department of General Services, and the Department of Education, the HRS Office of Staff Development and Training identified an acceptable vendor for the satellite systems and suitable downlink sites. A total of 35 downlink sites were identified. Each of HRS' eleven districts has from two to five sites. These sites are located in a variety of settings--district offices, county public health units, state hospitals, and economic services centers. All downlinks are expected to be operational by October 1, 1991 (Gould, Note 2).

The HRS Staff Development and Training Office continues to serve as the clearinghouse for teleconference opportunities. Using conventional and E-mail, this office notifies potential users of programs and schedules downlink time with each site coordinator (ibid.).

Most teleconference programs originate from out-of-state. A number of governmental and commercial agencies provide training programs via satellite. Some of these are free and others are pay-per-view. Through WFSU-TV, HRS will have access to studio equipment for originating it's own programming. However, development and uplink costs will make this an extremely rare occurrence (ibid.).

Media/Technology Employed

Each of the 35 downlink sites is equipped with a Microdyne satellite dish, a Chaparral Videocypher II Plus receiver, a video monitor, a VCR, and a Darome 1640 MD audio convener (ibid.).

The satellite dish can be aimed at a number of telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit. A trained site coordinator does this by using on-screen menus to program the receiver with the correct satellite, the correct transponder, and the correct audio frequency for the teleconference to be accessed (ibid.).

The satellite dish and receiver are considered to be "high-end consumer" products. That is, they are of better quality than typical home satellite systems, but they are not as expensive as the systems utilized by television companies (ibid.).

The VCR is used to record "live" programs and view them at a later time (ibid).

If the teleconference is interactive, participants may use the audio convener to call the program originator with questions or comments. The audio convener is similar to a telephone but is equipped with a public address speaker and four unidirectional microphones. A participant's questions or comments are transmitted by normal telephone routes to the originator and then are broadcast to other teleconference participants by satellite (ibid.).


In June 1989, HRS conducted an AIDS teleconference at 18 remote viewing sites around the state. More than 3,500 people attended portions of the training. Prior to any instruction, 68 percent of participants correctly answered 80 percent of the pre-test items. Following instruction, 88 percent of the participants correctly answered 80 percent of the post-test items. Thus, percent-correct levels increased 20 percentage points as a result of instruction. A satisfaction survey revealed that the vast majority of participants rated the teleconference as superior or excellent as a learning experience (HRS, Note 4). The positive results of this teleconference was a factor in the department's decision to develop Telnet.

HRS has also been utilizing an audio teleconferencing systems for the past two years. This system uses conventional telephone lines and Darome audio conveners similar to the ones described above. This system has been installed at 90 HRS sites across the state. Although no summative evaluation has taken place, the training and managerial communications opportunities provided by this system paved the way for acceptance of a video teleconferencing system (Gould, Note 2).

Since HRS Telnet is not yet fully operational, little evaluation has been conducted at this time. However, evaluation activities are planned on four levels: 1) user satisfaction, 2) knowledge gain, 3) improved job performance, and 4) overall agency impact. Potential data sources include satisfaction surveys, pre and post-tests, telephone interviews, questionnaires, travel reports, and equipment utilization logs (ibid.).

Start-up costs for the HRS Telnet system was $280,000. Funds for the project were donated by the Florida Nurses Association in hopes of improving the continuing education opportunities for its members. It is expected that the system will pay for itself within two years by decreasing travel, per diem, and down-time costs associate with conventional training (HRS, Note 5).

Implications for Design

Teleconferencing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the telecommunications industry (Heinich, et al., 1989). Teleconferencing is ideal when there are a large number of participants, participants are widely dispersed, training can be administered in short period of time, and significant travel costs are involved. Teleconferencing is less beneficial when the topic requires confidentiality or security, when lengthy training is required. when participants are few and geographically close, or when face-to-face interaction is needed (HRS, Note 2).

Teleconferencing is an effective means of instructional delivery. Rushton (1981) found that learners scored just as well after receiving instruction through teleconferencing as through conventional instruction.

Start-up costs for teleconferencing equipment can be quite expensive, as can accessing pay-for-view training programs. However, these costs can often be quickly recouped by decreasing travel, per diem, and down-time costs that would normally be spent on conventional training (Gould, Note 2).

The costs of in-house development and delivery of high-quality teleconferences is prohibitive for most agencies. In most cases, training programs can be obtained from commercial or governmental sources (ibid.).

Trained coordinators are needed at each downlink site to operate the teleconferencing equipment and to facilitate instructional activities related to the teleconference--such as registration of participants, distribution of training materials, administration of tests, etc. (ibid.).

Teleconference training requires a great deal of advance planning and marketing. Care must be taken to inform potential users of the program, schedule use of the equipment, and dissiminate support materials (ibid.).

Teleconferencing is a medium with its own unique characteristics. Instructional designers should take care to involve a teleconferencing media expert in all phases of the instructional systems process (ibid.).

Reference Notes

1. Facts on the hrs teleconference network. Internal document, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), 1991.

2. Gould, J. Personal communication, September 23, 1991.

3. Teleconferencing handbook. Internal document, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) , 1991.

4. Evaluation of the HRS AIDS teleconference training program. Report in preparation, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), 1991.

5. Training by satellite. HRS Employee Newsletter, 1(1), p. 5.


Rushton, F. A. Teleconferencing versus conventional delivery of instruction in complex skills (Doctoral dissertation, Florida State University, 1981).

Heinich, R., Molenda, M., & Russell, J.D. Instructional media and the new technologies of instruction. New York: Macmillan, 1989.

Related Readings

Polcyn, K. A. An educator's guide to communication satellite technology. Washington: Academy for Educationational Development, 1973.

Hilton, J., & Jacobi, P. Straight talk about videoconferencing. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1986.


When I was studying for my master of science degree in instructional systems design at Florida Status University, I planned to establish myself as a consultant. I developed this company name and logo. I used them in my school projects. Unfortunately,  before I had the chance to use them in business, another instructional design company, based in Texas, began using the same name and purchased the domain.