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Athabasca University


MDDE 615: Human Factors in Educational Technology

Delivery mode: Online course using Moodle

Credits: 3 - Elective

Prerequisites: Any other MEd course, and instructor's consent

Instructor Fall 2014: TBA

In revision, temporarily unavailable.

[NOTE: This course requires extensive use of the Internet and Web page development tools. Students should have considerable experience with computer applications software and the Internet. Familiarity with basic HTML code is essential, and awareness of web page design principles is desirable.]


The use of educational media relies on a detailed understanding of the principles underlying effective human communication — the ‘human factors' principles that have emerged since the development of, e.g., TV and radio-based education. These principles deeply affect the practices of modern distance education (DE), which increasingly involves the efficient design of internet-based and mobile learning techniques. Since the late 1990s, educational web site development has become the prime activity of media developers in DE, and has developed rapidly, to the point that a single ‘webmaster' is often no longer adequate to the wide range of tasks involved. Web design teams are now a central feature of DE development, combining programming, visual design, management, instructional design, and evaluation skills.

The current course uses a team-based approach to build an understanding of the modern DE media development process and relates the ‘human factors' literature of educational technology to the development of materials for the World Wide Web. Students are expected to work collaboratively on the development of a high-quality web-based educational product. Students should be aware that collaborative team-work is an essential requirement of the course, and that course projects cannot be conducted on an individual basis. The web-based products developed during the course must be relevant to the shared interests of each project team's members, and may not relate, for example, to the proprietary and/or professional interests of one team member exclusively.


Course Philosophy

The course uses a ‘facilitative' model, whereby the instructor is seen as a facilitator of learning, rather than as a content expert dispensing a fixed set of knowledge to all the students simultaneously. In the early weeks of the course, the participants are divided into project teams, each containing 3-4 members. Each team proposes to develop an educational web site of mutual interest and value to all of its members. The instructor subsequently:

a) advises each team in the human factors principles relating specifically to the team's project; and

b) guides the team members in their work with one another as they construct their views of the problem, and extend/apply their knowledge in an innovative product implementation.

The class as a whole shares the experiences of each of the sub-teams during the evaluation phase of the course, during which all course participants provide evaluative feedback about the prototypes produced by the other project teams. The course ends with a final sharing of the project teams' observations about the human factors principles affecting their designs.

The major premises of the course are as follows:

    1) Designers of information systems, including DE systems, need rapid access to the latest information and knowledge about systems design.

    2) Learners should not be ‘taught' in this situation, but should receive guidance in the development of a team-based approach to using new DE technologies.

    3) Learners need a team-based structure and purpose to guide them through the complex process of DE media research and development.

    4) Learning should occur in the context of real projects and real tools.

    5) Learning should be a collaborative process facilitated by computer-mediated communications, as appropriate.

    6) Learning should be structured so that, within the constraints of collaboration team-work, it can occur at the time and place of the learner's choice.

    7) The team-based approach to educational media development assists students in learning from each other as well as from the course instructor.

    8) The course's emphasis on combining practice and theory helps the learners to develop their expertise further after they have completed the course.

    Course Outcomes

    The overall goal of the course is for the student to carry out guided research and development. The first two weeks of the course are particularly intensive, for each student is required to complete a web-paged home page, which the instructor uses to allocate the student to a project team by the end of Week 2 of the course. It would be easy for a student to fall behind in the course at this stage, and, for this reason, late-comers cannot usually be admitted to the course. Students may anticipate the initial web page activity by preparing it before the course begins, or by submitting a ready-made personal web page.

    The ultimate products of the course are as follows:

    a) a personal web-based home page
    (Week 1: the work of each student individually);

    b) completion of a skills/interests questionnaire (Week 1: the work of each student individually);

    c) a project needs assessment and proposal (team-based);

    d) a product prototype (team-based);

    e) a final product and report (the work of each student individually).


    Course Delivery Platform

    The course stresses the use of current, freely downloadable Internet tools, and students are expected to design their project systems to be effective on a range of Web browsers. The delivery system for the course comprises a number of existing components:

    1) a web-based computer conferencing system;

    2) a synchronous communication tool (to be used at the discretion of the individual project teams);

    3) downloadable web design freeware, including the major web browsers (both Internet Explorer and Firefox), in their up-to-date formats; and

    4) online evaluation facilities, to gauge the efficiency of the products developed during the course on a range of computer platforms.

    Emphasis is placed on ensuring that the tools used in the course are sufficiently flexible and can easily be updated, so that obsolescence will be avoided. Once students are comfortable in their use of Internet resources, they become able to update and expand their personal 'tool kit' independently. In order to support students and to enhance sharing between them, the development of the course project is restricted to web-based tools and environments.

    Note: The students are required to make wide-ranging use of freeware web development tools in the course, in order to avoid bringing pressure to bear on individual students to purchase the development tools required in their team-based project work.


    Student Assessment

    Students are evaluated by the instructor on the basis of their contributions to the course's five Units. They are also expected to provide critiques of each other's work, in the form of anonymous evaluations of project prototypes. To receive credit for the course, a student must satisfy the grading standards listed in the Athabasca University Calendar under Graduate Programs in Distance Education.

    Each unit of the course carries a specific proportion of the course grade, and is associated with an estimated workload (in hours):

    Unit 1: Software Installation, creation of students' personal web pages, and conference postings (25% - 30 hrs.)

    Unit 2: Needs Assessment and Project Proposal (25% - 20 hrs.)

    Unit 3: Prototype Product (25% - 50 hrs.)

    Unit 4: Final Product and Report (25% - 30 hrs.)

    Total : 100% (estimated at 130 hrs.)


    Course Materials

    The majority of up-to-date materials in the field of educational web design are themselves web-based. It follows that by the time web development manuals or textbooks reach print status, they tend to be out-of-date. For these reasons, the decision has been taken to place the primary emphasis in this course upon online support materials. These include applications files to be installed on the student's computer. The student obtains them through continually updated links from the MDDE 615 web site, which provide information about the course, web programming methods, project evaluation facilities, and the other applications that are required to support the student in the course. The University supplies a course folder in which materials relevant to each student's project may be stored.

    The online materials provided on the course web site fall into such categories as:

      1. Web Tutorials;
      2. HTML Editors;
      3. Graphics and Fonts;
      4. Javascript;
      5. M-learning formats;
      6. Project Planning;
      7. Site Management;
      8. Usability;
      9. Evaluation; and
      10. General background readings.


    Note: The students are only expected to focus primarily on those materials that are pertinent to their specific project activities.


Last updated by MK May 21, 2014

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