Book By: Tisha Bender
Review By: Rhonda J. Sprague
Associate Professor and Undergraduate Advising Coordinator
Division of Communication
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 

Online instruction poses some special challenges to instructors who want to provide a supportive and encouraging climate in which to foster student learning. Bender’s book attempts to both highlight and prevent problems facing instructors using online technology in their courses, whether those courses be totally online or hybrid (a combination of in-class and online components). The book is filled with information, examples, and illustrations to aid instructors in planning, delivering, and evaluating the online components of their classes.

Bender’s book seems clearly organized at first glance. The first section reviews theories related to student learning and to online instruction, the second offers practical advice for setting up and conducting the course, and the third discusses methods for evaluating its effectiveness. The second section – Practice – is an easy read, moving through the planning and execution phases effectively. This section is clearly the highlight of the book. It is filled with both general and specific ideas for stimulating class discussions and helping to create a safe and effective learning environment. The organization of the first section, however, is somewhat confusing. Bender provides a very basic overview of literature related to student learning and hypothesizes about its relationship to online experiences. Very little evidence is offered to support those hypotheses. Instead, the reader is inundated with statements such as, “The steady flow of information through online discussion, I think, assists learners in terms of holding their attention and helping them to retain this information” (p. 29, italics added) and, “Most university instructors have not had teacher training” (p. 61). Without evidence to support these assertions, the reader is left assuming that they are “common knowledge,” which is an erroneous assumption, at best.

The final section of the book discusses the need to assess the effectiveness of online instruction. The first chapter, “Opinions about Online Teaching and Learning,” seems out of place, as the remainder of the chapters in this section outline a theoretical framework for exploring the effectiveness of an online course or course component. Bender introduces a series of issues that an effective assessment needs to consider. Unlike Section 2, however, Bender never gets to a point where practical advice for conducting the assessment is offered.

This book is most appropriate for instructors who are new to using online technology to teach or supplement courses. From an advising perspective, this is not a book that will offer much in the way of theoretical or practical help aside from helping advisors explain the types of goals and activities students may expect to encounter in online courses. The book might be most useful, therefore, to advisors who service non-traditional populations or who work for institutions offering a number of online learning opportunities as part of their degree programs.

Online resources clearly will remain a valuable and viable part of higher education for many years to come. Instructors who utilize these resources and students enrolled in online courses need to learn how to do so effectively. While Bender’s book serves as a general resource to orient new users to the demands inherent in online instruction, it should not be the only resource in an educator’s library.


Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning: Theory, Practice, and Assessment. (2003). Book by Bender, Tisha. Review by Rhonda J. Sprague. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press. 206 pp. Price $24.95. ISBN 1-57922-065-9.

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