Introduction It surprised many when Nicholas Negroponte, who in the past has spoken of the web as creating “a totally new, global social fabric”(1995), announced in Wired (1998) the end of the digital revolution. The implication was not that we would now cease to use computers, but that computers, and the changes they bring with them, have become commonplaces of our existence. One could argue with Negroponte’s statement, yet in its very publication this remark signals the end of an era: for one hallmark of this revolution has been that a thinker in tune with the times could create new realities with a word (Davis, 1998; Rheingold, 1993a). Logos has had incredible power in these last years: writers, thinkers, educators could formulate a goal and then, thanks to electronic communication, quickly find a group of like minds with which to plan and implement means of reaching that goal. With this in mind, it is an appropriate time to detail the history of Instruction Support at Arizona State University, sharing methods that might be useful to others, and sharing lessons learned in the first two and one-half years of the Instruction Support Lab.
The Instruction Support Lab was founded in the summer of 1996, as an open door for faculty to the Instruction Support group in central Information Technology at ASU. Instruction Support itself came into being as part of a deliberate restructuring of central computing that brought an academic influence into Information Technology, in particular from the College of Education. This restructuring began with the creation of an academic position, the Vice Provost for Information Technology, filled by a professor from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and continued with the creation of the Instruction and Research department. A professor from the College of Education was brought in to head Instruction Support, and he was joined by two more researchers from the College of Education.
Much of the Lab’s development has centered around the evolution of web courses and web supported courses. Very quickly, users proliferated. In the summer of 1997, before the Lab was even one year old, the Lab staff began searching for ways to streamline development work. Caught between the need to develop interactive websites and the need to serve faculty members new to the web, the Lab staff began designing templates and interfaces so that faculty members could set up web pages, quizzes and bulletin boards without knowing HTML. As other solutions arrived on the market they were tested and offered to professors who were willing to try them out. As there was no one solution that provided all the features we identified as important in a web course, IS continued to develop our own applications. We also kept in constant touch with what our colleagues in the commercial world were thinking and doing by following discussions on professional mailing lists. We had seen from the beginning that real-world development is always the product of a multimedia team (Nielsen, 1995), and we began refining this concept for academic purposes.