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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The Web as an educational medium

User-centred text

Electronic texts provide new possibilities for learning and teaching. In the field of creative writing. By the fact that they can be copied and edited, they can invite the reader to engage in a textual play. To use the terms developed by Barthes (1974), some texts are readerly in that they do not encourage the reader to play with meaning, whereas some texts can be writerly where the reader is not the passive consumer of meaning, but reworks the text to his or her own end. In designing web sites for teaching and learning we must take both forms of text into consideration.

An example site ( 'Hai-Rise', Design Case Studies p78) shifts the focus between perceiving the user as reader and as contributor /writer. It is a web site that aims to provide a space to allow the reader to comment on the poems and contribute his or her own. This student project brings out some interesting questions.

How much freedom for users' interaction?

Designing for interaction begs the question of how much freedom we allow users to author information themselves, individually or within a collaborative group.
Learners ... need to be able to collaborate with other students and with the teacher over specific units of information. Most importantly, they must be able to build their own knowledge systems, either from scratch or by abstracting, rearranging and adding to an existing database.
Duffy, Knuth 1990

Editorial control

For the Hai-Rise project, the decision was made that all contributions made by readers should be selected and filtered by the authors of the site, in the role of editor, to ensure that it complied with the aims of the site and ensured a particular quality. Once again, we have an instance where academics must be in command of the technology, rather than at its mercy, in order to make these kinds of editorial choices. This is one case from the much broader issue of who is in control of the new publishing mechanisms (p92)

The Web as research tool

The Web's common standard for information exchange means that one can retrieve, edit and store information from many sources. There are vast databases available which when combined with search facilities such as Lycos can act as a powerful tool. In the same way it is also possible to link up to library cataloguing systems both nationally and internationally and research databases like BIDS.

The Web is also used to support the publication of electronic academic journals. The journal is an important text for students who, by familiarising themselves with the language and structure, learn to follow references and citation and eventually write their own papers. However, the electronic journal poses an interesting problem for the designer. Should one preserve the conceptual model of the book, on screen? Perhaps by mapping one model on to another the user will be able to transfer their existing knowledge based on a print culture to a new medium. Yet the electronic book is an oxymoron in that the typographic conventions of publishing are displaced by the virtual space of pixels on screen. Neither the physical properties of the paper document (its size, texture, weight or colour) or the informational structure are present within a hypertext version.

If a new technology is to be accepted, it needs to provide even more than the system it replaces in terms of functionality.
McKnight, Richardson, Dillon 1990

By presenting information previously developed for a linear structure within a non-linear hypertextual structure it is not sufficient to think that one medium will automatically transfer to another, without rethinking the aims of the journal.

The designer needs to think of providing additional functionality to a journal in electronic form. Benefits include:

If students, by reading paper-based journals, are learning a formalised methodology then there is need to develop new cognitive processes to be able to read hypertext journals. McKnight et al refute the notion that the reader approaches the text in a serial way: [Readers] prefer to "jump about" from section to section, typically from introduction to references or discussion'. McKnight et al have researched the way in which students read journals and make a number of recommendations for the design of electronic journals.

There has been a movement away from using technology to deliver and test specified facts, to using technology as a tool to allow students to develop their own thinking. Many researchers (Jonassen, Cunningham, Spiro, 1992) have argued that for learning to take place it is necessary to create a social framework. Using the potential of the internet as a communication medium it is possible to set up discussion group and collaborative environments. These researchers have emphasised the need to create authentic learning activities and the need to break down the boundaries between academic and non academic activities.

Hypertextual information structures require students to acknowledge multiple view points and to develop their own perspective or understanding of the topic. By making this process explicit, students can also reflect upon the process of learning.

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