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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The Web as an educational medium

We have argued that the boundaries between those previously discrete genres institutional information and academic information need to be reconsidered. In this section we focus on the implications for the latter.

Within the scope of this handbook it is impossible to deal with deep and complex issues of educational effectiveness, some of which are covered in the Resources cited at p108-9, but we can at least begin to apply some of the principles of this handbook to academic material.

Authoring and design (in the broadest sense) must be addressed from within a context of learning and teaching. In order to develop successful web pages that embody the aims and objectives of a discipline the designer needs to bridge the gap between academic, technical and graphic design principles. In this sense the designer represents an agent of change, exploring the possibilities of the internet, but never losing sight of educational goals, and thereby framing the student's interaction within a pedagogic context.

Currently designers and educators are developing a number of tools that facilitate or support educational processes:

The majority of academic information tends to be of a supportive nature, and although there are examples of the web being used for course delivery and assessment, these tend to be restricted to distance learning initiatives. We have chosen to examine how the Web could be used to bring an additional value to existing courses, enhancing the student's educational experience.

Academic reasons for using the internet

We have argued that the Web is a transformational medium. When used within an academic environment it can redefine the delivery, assessment and roles of the teacher and student.
Each time a new technology is applied to teaching and learning, questions about fundamental principles and methods arise. Television and computers, for example have raised issues relating to learning theory, curricula (content, sequence) and methods (delivery, evaluations).
Marchioni 1990

The internet is beginning to reflect the diversity of teaching and learning styles. Electronic text (when combined with interactivity in the form of hypertext), discussion groups and collaborative working can provide a pedagogic richness that was previously lacking in instructional technology. We are not claiming that hypertext in isolation represents a new development in teaching or learning, but that the Web provides a convergent surface to integrate many kinds of instructional technology.


What kind of information should be provided? With electronic text it is possible to provide a corpus previously located in different areas and on different media, and to create links between these documents. Never before has it been possible locate these diverse forms of information within the same space. Sadly, a practical limitation of current Web technology which runs counter to this approach is the impossibility of Web users (those who are only readers and not in a position to make their own Web material) creating new or additional hypertext links in existing material.

Hypertext and closure

Hypertext gives users the ability to explore a dynamic text which is neither fixed nor closed in which they actively select a path through a web of related links. Conklin (1987) has referred to it as a medium for thinking and communicating.

The Web designer should remember that the process of structuring information can lead to false assumptions and bias. Whereas the presentation of a subject within a particular framework or schema can aid the initial learning process, at higher levels of learning this schema can interfere with developing complex cognitive structures. Rand et al (1992) state that ill defined domains', which commonly occur at higher levels of learning, such as literary criticism, history, medicine, cannot be simplified for the sake of a clarity which is false. They argue that hypertext can be used successfully to represent such 'ill structured' domains. It is well documented that instructional technology has often failed to bridge the conceptual gap between reinforcing existing knowledge and being able to apply knowledge outside the immediate task. This is sometimes referred to as 'cognitive flexibility', and emphasises the need for learners to be able to construct new schema to solve problems for themselves.

...the ability to represent knowledge from different conceptual and case perspectives and then, when the knowledge must later be used, the ability to construct from those different conceptual and case representations a knowledge ensemble tailored to the needs of the understanding or problem-solving situation at hand.
Spiro et al 1991

There is a tendency to force new media into existing documentary frameworks which McLuhan describes as rear view mirror thinking' (cited in Postman 1985). Attempts to constrain hypertext within the boundaries of paper based media have not always been successful. Spiro et al propose instead using the fluid, dynamic attributes of hypertext to represent ill defined domains. This medium can broaden the curriculum and support an inter- disciplinary focus; an 'intertwingling' of subjects. This aspect seems to be ideal for Higher Education where it is possible to specify a topic, but not the facts that must be learned nor the boundaries of a subject.

The Web can enhance a multi-disciplinary approach to education by providing links between disparate texts. Learners may experience a subject without traditional boundaries and are encouraged to take on an active role by exploring areas of interest and closing off other areas for themselves. These links, although increasing the complexity of a subject, have the ability to portray alternative conceptual or methodological perspectives allowing the student to revisit the content from multiple view points.

The text is a preliminary blueprint for constructing an understanding. The information contained in the text must be combined with information outside of the text, including most prominently the prior knowledge of the learner, to form a complete and adequate representation of the text's meaning.
Spiro et al 1991

In the same way that hypertext helps defy closure between disciplines, the representation of information also undergoes a transformation. The Web provides a convergent surface for many forms of media. The designer is no longer restricted to screenfuls of text, but can now combine graphics, animation and sound to present multiple representations of a concept to a learner.

Nodes could be based on the most appropriate media, alternative media could be used, time variant concepts could be better transformed into information using time-based media like audio or video.
Muhlauser 1990

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