Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Web-Based Learning Environment: A Theory-Based Design Process for Development and Evaluation

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Web-Based Learning Environment: A Theory-Based Design Process for Development and Evaluation

Article excerpt

Introduction

As an increasingly powerful, interactive, and dynamic medium for delivering information, the World Wide Web (Web) in combination with information technology (e.g., LAN, WAN, Internet, etc.) has found many applications. One popular application has been for educational use, such as Web-based, distance, distributed or online learning. The use of the Web as an educational tool has provided learners and educators with a wider range of new and interesting learning experiences and teaching environments, not possible in traditional in-class education (Khan, 1997). Web-based learning environments have been developed mainly by instructional designers using traditional instructional design models such as the instructional systems design (Dick & Carey, 1996), cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991), and constructivist learning environment (Jonassen, 1999). However, many of these approaches still lack two important considerations needed for implementing learning applications based on the Web: (1) integration of the user interface design with instructional design, and (2) development of the evaluation framework to improve the overall quality of Web-based learning environments.

First, little attention has been paid to design issues of the human-computer interface, which are critical factors to the success of Web-based instruction (Henke, 1997; Plass, 1998). Learners must be able to easily focus on learning materials without having to make an effort to figure out how to access them (Lohr, 2000). However, current instructional design principles and models do not explicitly address usability issues of the human-computer interface. Second, the rapid growth of Web-based learning applications has generated a need for methods to systematically collect continuous feedback from users to improve learning environments. Unfortunately, few attempts have been made to develop such formative evaluation frameworks for Web-based learning environments whose foci are both the instructional system and user interface system. In addition, few approaches take user interface design issues into account in their evaluation processes. A number of evaluation frameworks that can be used to evaluate the user interfaces have been proposed (e.g., Nielsen, 1993; Rubin, 1994). But, these models are intended for software environments rather than for Web-based learning environments in which user interface systems should be developed to support users' learning activities.

This study addressed these weaknesses while developing a user-centered, Web-based learning support environment for Global Positioning System (GPS) education: a Web-based distance and distributed learning ([WD.sup.2]L) environment. More specifically, there are two main research goals addressed in this study, and these goals aimed to improve the design process and usability of the [WD.sup.2]L environment. First, this study offered a systematic approach to the design, development, and evaluation of a user-centered, [WD.sup.2]L environment for supporting engineering courses. Second, this study evaluated the design process model by assessing the overall quality of the [WD.sup.2]L environment prototype in terms of 1) students' learning performance and 2) the quality of resources implemented in the [WD.sup.2]L environment.

We first give an overview of relevant literature that guided the design, development, and evaluation of the [WD.sup.2]L environment supporting GPS education. The development process will then be briefly summarized. In addition, evaluation processes through the proposed formative evaluation framework will be outlined. Finally, relationships between the design process framework and the effectiveness of the [WD.sup.2]L environment will be discussed.

Background

Overview of GPS Education

To understand the application domain, a GPS course was analyzed or used as the testbed. As shown in Table 1, there is the educational demand for a new learning environment to effectively support the course while meeting the societal demands on engineers educated in GPS fundamentals. …

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