Valuing collaboration in design for the World Wide Web: a creative team approach

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1 Valuing collaboration in design for the World Wide Web: a creative team approach Peter Kandlbinder Centre for Teaching and Learning University of Sydney The continuing convergence of technologies onto the World-Wide Web will make working in Web development teams increasingly likely for those who teach in higher education. To match the outcomes of these design teams with the goals of higher education requires a design process that serves student learning at the same time as it serves the interests of Web developers. Workgroups that are not themselves committed to learning throughout the design process will find it difficult to find creative solutions to educational problems. Each person on such a team needs to take student learning as their criteria for success if they are to consider themselves involved in educational design for the World-Wide Web. Collaborative design uses creative problem-solving as a method to build a team approach to instructional design for the world wide Web. A truly collaborative design team does more than just share information and give each other useful feedback. Not only do the members of a design team learn from their own experiences but they reinforce their own experiences by creating learning environments which reflect the team s views on teaching and learning. Experiential learning demonstrates how we can create an environment for creative problem solving to gain both a learning experience and a productive learning resource. Introduction There is a pervasive belief that technology helps students learn. Embodying characteristics like learner-centredness (eg. Khan, 1997) in technologies such as the World Wide Web (Web), can been seen as inconsistent with the same authors espousing constructivist positions which describe learning as a process centred on the learner creating their own understanding. An emphasis on technology ahead of the user has led a growing number of authors to begin to question the values that lie behind the design of computer technology (for examples see Friedman, 1998). This paper has a similar aim of outlining a creative Web design process that can match the values of higher education rather than those in other spheres. The thesis of this paper is that the effective design of educational Web-based materials mirrors that of good teaching in higher education. Successful Web design therefore needs to develop an environment for high quality student learning independent of the technology involved. Despite the great passion that has gone into Web-based instruction (WBI), a growing body of research indicates that the investment in mediated teaching has not improved the quality of student learning. Landauer (1995) for example offers compelling evidence that computer productivity is often marginal in many areas of industry. In discussing computer-aided learning he states that the best case of improvement he was able to locate was a reported annual 2% increase in student performance over fifteen years of a study (Landauer, 1995: 201). Alexander (1998) likewise found that just over a third of IT developments actually improved student learning and only 12% reported an improvement in their stated goals for teaching productivity or extending access to resources when her team reviewed 104 Australian projects (Alexander, 1998:54-55). Alexander's report concluded that the characteristics of unsuccessful IT projects resulted from problems with planning or expertise within project teams leading to overly ambitious projects which lacked resources or used technology for its own sake without integrating the innovation with the students' learning (Alexander, 1998: xi-xii). HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, July

2 Kandlbinder Successful learning outcomes by contrast resulted from learning strategies that were well thought through and development teams that functioned with shared goals which were able to resolve difficulties when raised. For those familiar with the literature on effective teaching and learning this will not come as surprise. Many of the characteristics of unsuccessful projects hold true for units of study with heavy workloads, poor assessment processes, unclear objectives which fail to treat students as active partners in the learning process. The solution in IT development is not to let the fondness for the tools cause us lose sight of the values of teaching and learning. We can just as easily apply what we know works for designing an environment for quality student learning to the development of Web environments Creativity in Web design Educational Web development is the process of design that determines the appearance of a Web site and how the students interact with the material they find there. It involves both the front-end user interface and the back-end technologies that make the interfaces function. In educational settings the design of a Web site usually involves a multidisciplinary team consisting of some combination of graphic designers, computer programmers, video makers, animators and content experts. Developing educational material for the World Wide Web is still an immature discipline with only a handful of people ever educated in the field. The majority are trained in disparate fields such as computer science, graphic design, communications and media studies, education or library science, transferring their skills to the new medium. Each of these fields has a different conception of what a computer is for, bringing little common ground to planning or decision making. With so few conventions in this quickly growing field, self-trained individuals are effectively left to design as they go, developing ideas and procedures that they intuit will apply to educational settings. It is salient to remember that the early days of Web design are a mere five years ago, and principles transferred from computer-based learning have failed to make the most of the unique opportunities of computer-based communications. Developers of educational Web sites on the whole still appear tied to a model of on-line publishing, designed to transfer knowledge to the student by re-creating the lecture and the handout. While there certainly are educational opportunities in using the Web, they will only come by exploiting the chance for students to become actively involved with their learning context. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) suggests a network model of creativity that offers a clue to why multi-disciplinary teams often fail to meet their stated objectives. His multicomponent model describes creativity as a cyclical process made up of three parts: the domain, the field and the individual (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996: 27). The domain is the repository of the rules and procedures that make up a particular culture. The field consists of all the individuals who are gatekeepers of this culture deciding which ideas or products are to be included in the domain (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996: 28). The individual expresses new ideas or sees a new pattern in a particular domain that is then put up for inclusion into the field. The defining level in Csikszentmihalyi's systems model is not individual creativity, but the community of peers that recognises the value of those ideas (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996: 31). Creativity can best be described as a social and political act of negotiating the system that draws the boundary around creativity. For a person to make a creative contribution involves a process of acculturation, internalising this system, learning the HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, July

3 Valuing collaboration in design for the World Wide Web rules and content of the domain, as well as the criteria for selection in the field (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996: 47). Csikszentmihalyi's model makes it clear that working in productive creative teams does not happen through individual inspiration, but is through an experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984). Each member of a creative team is involved in a cycle of learning the rules and procedures of the domain by reflection on their experience and formulating these insights to be accepted into the domain. Describing Web development in terms of Kolb s experiential model stresses the need for opportunities to reflect on experience and develop from it the rules and procedures which govern any educational Web project. It is the process of negotiating the values such as autonomy, privacy, efficiency and accountability that are crucial. Understanding Web teaching The experiential nature of Web development has two implications for Web development teams. Clearly what makes educational Web development different from other offerings on the Web is the intention to educate. Using Csikszentmihalyi's terminology, the creative domain is education and all those involved in educational Web design are educators. What any other domain considers sophisticated and innovative, has little value to an educator unless it advances student learning. Secondly, it implies that as the practice of educators, web design itself is a form of teaching that should therefore adopt good teaching principles, namely create the environment for high quality learning. An approach to Web design that is formulaic or focussed on output rather than process can only result in a poorer quality solution, within the values of this domain. Paul Ramsden s (1992: ) three ways of understanding the role of teacher in higher education provides a useful illustration of what it means to be a good Web teacher. One conceptualisation of teaching is as telling or transmission. The task of the teacher is to transmit content or demonstrate procedures (Ramsden, 1992: 111). The lecture is the dominant model for higher education and web design supports this model by providing students with access to study material. The goal in using WBI is to improve teaching efficiency by technology which can transmit information clearer or faster (Ramsden, 1992: 112). The second conceptualisation moves away from the teacher towards the student. Teaching is seen as organising student activities (Ramsden, 1992: 113). Teachers supervise the process, drawing on techniques that will guarantee that students will learn. Programs like WebCT exemplify this theory of teaching by providing tools to monitor students participation, providing discussion forums or setting problems that require students to link their theoretical knowledge to their experiences. The third view describes teaching as making learning possible. Ramsden describes this as a compound view which sees teaching, students and the subject content as being linked together in an overarching system (Ramsden, 1992: 114). Teaching is described as a cooperative enterprise involved in "finding out about students' misunderstandings, intervening to change them and creating a context of learning which encourages students actively to engage in the subject matter" (Ramsden, 1992: 114). Effective classroom teachers have already recognised that what the student does is more important than what the teacher does, and have made the conceptual shift from teaching to student learning. This shift has been described as a scholarly approach to teaching (Boyer, 1990). It is about putting educational ideas into practice through a framework HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, July

4 Kandlbinder of professional reflection. Teaching scholarship is the continuous improvement of skills through an exchange between teaching and educational thinking in which educators refine their own conceptual network of interrelated ideas, strategies and theories. Imitation teaching (Ramsden, 1992) views teaching as essentially no more than the acquisition and deployment of rules of instruction that will enable the lecturer s knowledge to be transferred to students. Essential to this idea of scholarship is the notion that to improve teaching the educator must learn. Collaboration in design Similar observations regarding the need for reflective practice are being recognised in computer software design. Design processes derived from observing what actually takes place in design teams discovered that design does not take place in some orderly manner as a linear progression from idea through development to implementation. It is more likely that the design proceeds as a series of small scale mental models in the form of plans, sketches or prototypes, which progressively grow in sophistication and complexity (Lawson, 1997). This makes design inherently creative and unpredictable. At the same time Schneiderman (1991) found that well designed systems are less expensive to develop, are easier to learn, produce better performance and increase user confidence. The critical feature in each of these design methods is that the users are central in the design process, enlisting their participation through early testing and repeated redesigning. Just as quality education involves a scholarship of teaching, effective educational Web design involves a scholarship of design. This is a system in which design and evaluation are interwoven into a single, on-going process. A scholarly approach to WBI uses concepts such as participation and collaboration to include students in an exploratory environment with rapid prototyping to build conceptual designs that can later be translated into physical designs. The key is to include the students while they still have a chance to influence the design process. As in most democratic processes, participation varies from providing students with a voice to sharing decision-making power (Lummis, 1996). Whatever the final level of student participation, collaborative design receives more accurate information about tasks, with a sense of student satisfaction linked to students feeling they have influenced the decisions about designs that effect them and with this, the potential for increased user acceptance of the system. (Schneiderman, 1991: 108). Conclusion Collaborative design requires a process in which all educators working on WBI are given an opportunity to learn about social and technical contexts so they can make informed decisions about the appropriateness of the conclusions they make on behalf of others. It creates a new relationship between the design team and students, and with this new relationship comes a new role and responsibilities for Web design project management. Each participant comes to every project as a novice and needs to learn anew about the specific circumstances in which they are working. Most importantly it is a process that requires expert guidance and support, with project managers acting as facilitators and mentors rather than emphasising technical expertise. The biggest barrier to collaborative design is the drive for production efficiency rather than learning efficiency. To argue that time devoted to collaborative work is an investment in higher group performance is unlikely to convince those devoted to the product over student productivity. While the demonstrated benefits are increased interest HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, July

5 Valuing collaboration in design for the World Wide Web and commitment, as well as a learning environment made for local conditions, the barriers are formidable. It is a messy process that is time consuming and requires extra work. Effective Web design teams need to factor in the time for reflection and to create a supportive group learning experience through which its members have the greatest opportunity to learn to be creative problem solvers. Collaborative design presents us with a democratic model for educational Web design. There are some for which collaboration with students seems implausible, but as other methods of teaching demonstrate, there is no other means of finding out if the students are actually learning without involving them. Participation requires project managers to give up some of their control, without handing over all responsibility to the users. Unless students are given real influence in the decisions, it will be difficult to motivate them to participate. The first hurdle is to ensure that educators value a conception of teaching that makes democracy likely. References Alexander, S., McKenzie, J. with Geissinger, H. (1998) Evaluation of Information Technology Projects for University Learning. Canberra, ACT: The Committee for University Teaching and Staff Development. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Friedman, B. (1998) Human Values and the Design of Computer Technology. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications. Khan, B. (1997) Web-based Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publishing Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Landauer, T. (1995) The Trouble with Computers. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Lawson, B. (1997) How Designers Think: The design process demystified. 3rd Edition. Oxford, UK: Architectural Press. Lummis, C. (1996). Radical Democracy. New York, NY: Cornell University Press. Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London, UK: Routledge. HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, July

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