Web Usability and Information Design Issues
~ Cost ~
Accessibility ~ Social-Political
Suitability ~ Cultural Friendliness
The following paper describes eight practical guidelines distance educators and online instructional designers can use to help select media to improve the quality of their programs. These guidelines take into consideration international problems and perspectives.
By Peter J. Patsula, Sookmyung Women's University, Seoul. 1999, Dec. 17.
For more than a decade, the “Clark Media Debate” (1983, 1994) has sent everyone looking for the perfect medium - a telephone pole in a forest. As a result, we have forgotten about the forest. The ongoing debate, centering around the truism that “media will never influence learning,” has helped us recognize the importance of instructional methodology, but has done little to provide us with strategies we can use to reach our instructional objectives.
To help remedy this, and give us more practical tools for solving distance and online education problems, CASCOIME (pronounced cas-coy-mi) outlines eight practical guidelines, compiled in descending order of importance, for evaluating and selecting new media or technology for distance and online education. In particular, these guidelines are targeted towards distance educators wishing to meets the needs of minority groups and developing regions. However, these guidelines are useful for media selection for most any educational situation. These eight guidelines are summarized as follows:
Practical Guidelines for Selecting Media
In an international setting, media can be selected and evaluated based on the following CASCOIME criteria:
Cost - Is the medium cost effective? Can it reach a wide enough audience? What technology infrastructure is currently available?
Accessibility – Is the medium accessible? Does it facilitate distribution? Is it convenient to use? Is it user-friendly?
Social-Political Suitability – Is the medium socially and politically suitable? Does its use coincide with social and political agendas of governing bodies?
Cultural Friendliness – Is the medium culturally appropriate? Does it coincide with the culture’s traditional way of learning?
Openness/Flexibility – Is the medium flexible? Does it foster collaboration? Does it foster different ways of teaching?
Interactivity - Is the medium interactive? Does it promote learner-learner and learner-instructor interaction? Does it facilitate timely and quality feedback from instructors and tutors?
Motivational Value - Is the medium motivating? Does it encourage learners to study harder and longer?
Effectiveness - Is the medium effective? Does it help students learn content faster (i.e., more efficiently)?
Thomas & McDonell (1995) define a
minority group as “a section of society whose identity is determined by cultural properties not shared by all members of the society and whose needs are not necessarily served when the needs of the society as a whole are being served” (p. 185). By definition, they add, “minority markets are too small to be self-sustaining for traditional learning and often too small to warrant the use of industrial process and economies of scale inherent to, for example, delivery by correspondence”(p. 186). Hence, “minority groups throughout the world must battle constantly in order to receive the same level of education services as is offered to the majority” (p. 187).
Minority groups in Canada, for example, include the French community in Ontario (see Paquette-Frenette & Larocque 1995), and aboriginal communities distributed in the territories and northern parts of Canada’s provinces (see Spronk 1995).
A developing region can be defined as a nation or group of nations requiring “major changes in social structure[s], populate attitudes and national institutions, as well as, the acceleration of economic growth, the reduction of inequality, and the eradication of absolute poverty” (Todaro 1989 p. 88).
Developing regions include parts of South and Southeast Asia, Africa, the South Pacific region, the Middle East region, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
A medium can be defined as “a channel of communication, information, or entertainment” (Mish 1989, 455). In this paper, media and technology are used interchangeably. Media includes technology such as print, radio, audio-cassettes, video-cassettes, broadcast TV, satellite TV, cable TV, multimedia CDs, computer-based learning, and online instruction over the Internet.
Juran (1989) defines quality as “fitness for use,” or as McIlroy and Walker (1993, 42) interpret, “fitness for purpose.” Fahy explains (1999, September 24):
This definition has the advantage of brevity, while recognizing the essential relativity of the term. In other words, what one source may regard as ‘fit’ may not suit the purposes of another; similarly, fitness standards may vary over time, and thus standards of what constitutes quality may change.
This definition can be extended by stating that quality is a set of
standards that can be used to evaluate a product or project. In support of this, Fahy (1999) advises that in defining quality, “there must be goals, or targets, and there must be measurement of the degree to which these are being met” (p. 104).
In selecting media for distance education in an international setting, quality media can be defined as media that is rated the highest using the CASCOIME guideline criteria (see CASCOIME “Media Evaluation Chart” in appendix).
1) Cost - CASCOIME
Is the medium cost effective?
As educators, we hope that
our decisions regarding the adoption of a medium are based
upon altruistic values, but reality often suggests
otherwise. From the use of video to the persistence of
print, the most important factor in the adoption of any
new medium is cost irrespective of how effective or
ineffective the medium truly is.
All of these costs are affected by the choice of media. For example, if a print medium is chosen for course delivery one has to determine how this choice will impact the capital costs of printing, storing and shipping printed materials; the variable costs per student of postage and handling; and the design and production costs of writing, editing, and purchasing ink and paper.
Can it reach a wide enough audience?
Guy (1991) reports that distance education in developing countries is “predominantly a government financed activity and its expansion owes much to the willingness of governments to support distance education” (p. 160). However, Rumble (1989) maintains that “the high costs of setting up a system and developing courses means that there can be little justification for the investment, in economic terms, unless there is a large enough market to bring average costs down below those found in traditional education systems” (p. 101). Peñalver (1990) supports this, arguing that whether distance education becomes cheaper depends on several factors, among others, on the degree in which variable direct costs per students are kept below the level of that cost in traditional education, “and naturally, on the number of students” (p. 28). A selected medium must help achieve economies of scale. This is especially important for developing nations looking for less expensive ways to educate its people.
What technology infrastructure is currently available?
Hall (1987, as cited in Guy 1991) outlines the paradox of technology for the developing world. Although, “the increasing demand for education in the developing world lends itself to telecommunications . . . the very infrastructure to support such technology cannot be afforded by those developing countries” (p. 162). Thus, it is possible, as Peñalver (1990) reports, that “many of the third world countries will not be able to make use of the technology related educational advances presently being made in industrialized countries” (p. 23). Peñalver supports this assertion with the fact that “the economic crisis and the burden of foreign debts . . . are depleting the resources of third world countries and thereby restricting their ability to increase and improve educational opportunities” (p. 23).
2) Accessibility - CASCOIME
Is the medium accessible?
Accessibility can be defined by factors such as:
According to Bates, “cost and accessibility” (as cited in Fahy 1999, 126) are the two most important criteria in the selection of new media or technology.
Does it facilitate distribution?
Forster (1992, as cited in Oliver 1998) comments that “the speed of arrival, the time it takes to get feedback, the feeling of isolation, and the ability to interact with other learners are all affected by the distribution system” (p. 168). Threlkeld & Brzoska (1994) contend that “a delivery system which permits wide distribution of a course . . . can be shown to significantly reduce costs” (p. 60) and hence increase accessibility (i.e., more people can afford it).
Is it convenient to use?
Pittman (1993), in supporting the remarkable staying power of print-based correspondence study, argues that “the more sophisticated the medium, the more constraints students must accept” (p. 34). He says that:
The importance of convenience is also illustrated by the increasing popularity of the Internet. The Internet is giving students quick and convenient access to information that before was unavailable to them. They no longer have to trek to the library to research material in an encyclopedia. Instead they can visit sites like Microsoft’s Encarta Online at http://encarta.msn.com/ and download info for free.
Is it user-friendly?
New technology is often met with stiff resistance. This resistance is greater in developing nations because they have less experience with advanced technology and are more likely to perceive even simple solutions as complex. Casas-Armengol & Stojanovich (1990) note that “generally speaking, one notices the lack of a solid technological culture in many underdeveloped societies, affecting their understanding of the true potentials and limitations of modern technology” (p. 131). This unfamiliarity extends not only to students, but teachers and administrators as well (Threlkeld & Brzoska 1994).
3) Social-Political Suitability - CASCOIME
Is the medium socially and politically suitable?
Studies carried out by specialists and international agencies including UNESCO (1979, as cited in Da Silva & Esposito 1990) make it clear that “illiteracy and other educational disabilities are structural problems, closely associated with social, political, cultural, and economic factors” (p. 144). The problem is that “there are significant levels of physical, linguistic, cultural, political and economic diversity within developing nations. The developing world lacks the relative homogeneity which characterizes students, systems and societies found in the developed world” (Guy 1991, 162). Thus, more and more, distance educators are being asked to design distance learning systems to suit local environments in an effort to solve the social, political, and economic problems unique to each nation.
Does its use coincide with social and political agendas of governing bodies?
Distance education initiatives must carefully work under the social, political and economic policies of existing governments. Trillo (1982, as cited in Guy 1991, 160) reports on interference in the preparation and use of distance materials by the Peruvian government. Materials had to be rewritten several times “before political regimes were happy.” On some occasions, “distance education programs were closed down because of the unacceptable ideology in the materials.”
4) Cultural Friendliness - CASCOIME
Is the medium culturally appropriate?
“It is widely recognized that perceptions of success and failure among people in non-Western cultures may be quite different from those reported by people in Western cultures” (Murphy 1991, 27). Guy (1991) advises that “it may be more appropriate to identify the cultures of the learners prior to the development of an institutional response so that it is sensitive to those cultural forms” (p. 163).
Does it coincide with the culture’s traditional way of learning?
Numerous researchers support the importance of understanding a culture and ways of learning, before implementing a solution:
Spronk adds that “what does appear to work for Aboriginal learners is to emphasize face-to-face contact with instructors, tutors, counselors, supervisors, mentors or other students, and to supplement these contacts with self-study print materials (p. 92). Spronk’s findings relate to those of Paquette-Frenette & Larocque (1995) who after examining the learning needs of the Franco-Ontarian community, similarly advise that “interactive group learning, not individualized self-study, is essential to people who identify strongly with a specific community” (p. 161).
5) Openness/Flexibility - CASCOIME
Is the medium flexible?
Media can be defined as being open and flexible if, among other things, it fosters collaboration and different ways of teaching.
Does it foster collaboration?
“The integrative nature of
technology and its use in distance education is pulling
people around the globe into new and unexpected forms of
collaboration” (Thach & Murphy 1994, 17).
Collaboration will “increasingly become a major tool of
institutional development” (Moran & Mugridge 1993,
Does it foster different ways of teaching?
According to Clark (1983, 456), “it is what the teacher does—the teaching—that influences learning.” Clark firmly believes that method is casual to learning while media is not. However, Kozma (1994) argues that “medium and method have a more integral relationship; both are part of the design” (p. 205). He believes that certain media allow methods which “would have been difficult or impossible to implement in other media.” Irrespective of who is right, it can easily be argued that any medium that allows course developers the freedom to incorporate a variety of instructional methods is preferable to a medium that is more limited.
6) Interactivity - CASCOIME
Is the medium interactive?
Interaction is an important part of all forms of learning. “All the major learning theories specify that some form of meaningful interaction must take place between learners, instructors, and the environment” (Szabo 1998, 44). The importance of interaction in distance education has led Threlkeld and Brzoska (1994) to suggest that “although live on-air interaction may not be important for student outcomes, it may be important as a consumer variable, a requisite condition sought by some learners–even if not used” (p. 48). They state:
Barker, Frisbie and Patrick (1996) go as far as to assert that interaction legitimizes distance education. They state:
Does it promote learner-learner and learner-instructor interaction?
Keegan (1996) stresses the importance of learner-learner and learner-teacher interaction in distance education as a way of recreating the teaching act. He reasons that:
According to Keegan (1996, 118), the reintegration of the teaching act is attempted by distance systems in two basic ways: by designing materials “to achieve as many of the characteristics of interpersonal communication as possible” and by using various media. The Bangladesh Open University has successfully followed through on the first part of this advice by developing a handbook for textbook writing, that describes among other things, how to make distance education materials easier to read and locally more relevant (Haque 1998).
Does it facilitate timely and quality feedback from instructors and tutors?
Feedback is a particular type of learner-instructor interaction that bears recognition in distance education. “The swift feedback available from the face-to-face learning model is almost entirely absent” (Sewart 1980, as cited in Keegan 1996, 102) in distance education, which can produce problems for particular types of learners. The importance of timely feedback is supported by data collected from the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (Barker et al., 1986). The DDIAE study discovered that “of the 82 students who failed to complete [course] requirements, 55 of these experienced high turn-around time, whereas of the 110 students who succeeded in completing requirements, only 29 experienced a high turn-around, while 81 students had low turn-around time” (p. 30). Although the DDIAE study concludes that in other institutional contexts, no such patterns emerged, findings in the DDIAE context suggest that some students may have been disadvantaged by the relatively tardy return of assignments.
7) Motivation - CASCOIME
Is the medium motivating?
Clark (1983, 454) reports that several studies have “fruitfully explored” the question of enjoyment and entertainment in the use of educational media. He states:
In an international setting however, it is important to distinguish between technology that is intimidating and technology that is motivating. What is motivating to a Westerner, such as an interactive multi-media CD, might be threatening to a Papua New Guinean, who has never seen a TV, let alone a remote control.
Does it encourage learners to study harder and longer?
Bates (1995, as cited in Fahy 1999, 105) notes that novelty “may help launch an innovation, but cannot sustain it.” Similarly, Clark reports that “comparisons of computer and conventional instruction often show 30 to 50 percent reductions in time to complete lessons for the computer groups” (C. Kulik, Kulik, & Choen, 1980; Kulik, Bangert, & Williams, 1983, as cited in Clark 1983, 449). Arguing against the influence of media in learning, he suggests a plausible rival hypothesis for the gains could be due to “[the] greater effort invested in newer media programs than in conventional presentations of the same material.” He reasons:
Regardless, of who offers the better hypotheses for the achievement gains, it is apparent that new exciting media has considerable motivational power. Any media, that has the potential to extract more effort out of a student, even if the results dissipate over a longer period of time, is media worth considering.
8) Effectiveness - CASCOIME
Is the medium effective?
It is rather discouraging as a distance educator to realize that “in distance teaching institutions, the deployment of different media for different topics and learning tasks is controlled more by logistic, economic and human factors than by pedagogical considerations” (Koumi 1994, 41). In other words, when it comes down to making a decision, the effectiveness of a medium as an educational tool is a minor consideration in the selection process.
Does it help students learn content faster and develop new ways of thinking?
Clark (1994, 26) expresses the importance of choosing media that are “capable of delivering the method at the least expensive rate and in the speediest fashion.” Kulik and Kulik (as cited in Carter 1996, 34) have also conducted studies which “highlight achievement efficiencies gained by using educational technologies.”
Daunt (1998), Paquette-Frenette & Larocque (1995), and Bates (1995, as cited in Fahy 1999) offer the following advice in selecting media and technology:
A) Daunt’s – Choosing the Right Technology Strategies
Daunt (1998, 168-169) outlines the following strategies for choosing the right technology:
B) Paquette-Frenette & Laroque’s – “Collective Approach” to Technology Selection
When needing to link “design, delivery, and organizational structures” in an effort to implement a “collective approach” in distance education, Paquette-Frenette & Laroque (1995, 164) advise selecting technologies that are:
C) Bates’ – ACTIONS Model
Bates (1995, as cited in Fahy 1999, 104-105) provides the following criteria for selecting technology:
The ability to see the big picture and extract the right details to summarize that big picture has always led to clarity and progress. Einstein summarized the universe in the modest formula: E=mc2. He saw the truth before any one could prove it.
CASCOIME (pronounced cas-coy-mi) advises international distance educators to select media based on Cost, Accessibility, Social-political suitability, Cultural friendliness, Openness/flexibility, Interactivity, Motivational value, and Effectiveness. These guidelines may not provide distance educators with easy answers to the problems of media selection in both domestic and international distance education settings, but at least it will point us in the right direction and get us asking the right questions. CASCOIME is a practical solution, a sequoia in a forest of saplings and underbrush. It teaches us what is important, and what upon examination, may bear more fruitful insights into media selection, rather than leave us to toss our hands up in the air and rashly resolve, “Okay, let’s pick the one with pretty pictures!”
Barker, B. O., Frisbie, G. A., & Patrick, K R. (1996). Broadening the definition of distance education in light of the new telecommunications technologies. In K. Harry, D. Keegan, & M. John (Eds.), Distance education: New perspectives, (pp. 39-47). New York: Routledge.
Barker, L.J., Taylor, J.C., White, V.J., Gillard, G., Khan, A.N., Kaufman, D. , & Mezger, R. (Sept. 1986). Student persistence in distance education: A cross-cultural multi-institutional perspective. ICDE Bulletin, 12, 17-36.
Bates, A. W. (1988). Technology for distance education: a 10-year prospective. In D. Open Learning, 3(3), 3-12.
Carter, V. (1996). Do media influence learning? Revisiting the debate in the context of distance education. Open Learning, February, 31-38.
Casas-Armengol, M. & Stojanovich, L. (1990). Some problems of knowledge in societies of low development: Different perspectives on conceptions and utilization of advanced technologies in distance education. In M. Croft, I. Mugridge, J.S. Daniel & A. Hershfield (Eds.), Distance education: development and access, (pp. 130-133). Caracas: ICDE.
Clark, R. E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.
Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-30).
Commonwealth Secretariat (January 1985). Final report. Commonwealth Meeting of Specialists: Distance Teaching in Higher Education. Cambridge, England, 6-11 January 1985. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.
Da Silva, T.R.N. & Esposito, Y.L. (1990). Keynote address. Literacy: The challenge of the 90s. In M. Croft, I. Mugridge, J.S. Daniel & A. Hershfield (Eds.), Distance education: development and access, (pp. 189-199). Caracas: ICDE.
Daunt, C. (1998). Introducing and implementing a new technology: Some practical suggestions. In F. Nouwens, (Ed.), Distance education: Crossing frontiers, (pp. 167-271). Rockhampton, Australia: Central Queensland University.
Eastmond, N. (1994). Assessing needs, developing instruction, and evaluating results in distance education. In B. Willis (Ed.), Distance education: Strategies and tools, (pp. 87-107). New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Evans, T. (1998). Thinking globalisation: Issues for open and distance educators in Australia and the South Pacific. In F. Nouwens, (Ed.), Distance education: Crossing frontiers, (pp. 357-361). Central Queensland University: Rockhampton, Australia.
Fahy, P. J. (1999). On-line teaching in distance education and training, MDDE 621, Study Guide. Athabasca, Canada: Athabasca University.
Fahy, P. J. [Pat]. (1999, September 24). “Quality” - from 620. In reply to: Mono Media Madness? [Online]. Available: http://www.athabascau.ca/html/server/ wwwboard/mdde621f99-unit1/index.htm [1999, September 24].
Granger, D. (1988). U.S. higher education and international distance learning. The American Journal of Distance Education, 2(3), 80-88.
Guy, R. (1991). Distance education in the developing world: Colonisation, collaboration, and control. In T. Evans & B. King, (Eds.), Beyond the text: Contemporary writing in distance education, (pp. 152-175). Deakin University Press.
Haque, A.K.E. (1998). Challenges of distance education in developing countries: A note. In F. Nouwens, (Ed.), Distance education: Crossing frontiers, (pp. 63-65). Rockhampton, Australia: Central Queensland University.
Heinich, R., Modenda, M., Russell, J. D., & Smaldino, S. E. (1996). Instructional media and technologies for learning (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Juran, J.M. (1989). Juran on leadership for quality: An executive handbook. NY: Free Press.
Keegan, D. (1996). Foundations of distance education (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Kenworthy, B. & Russell, N. (1998). Old technology – New solutions: Educational radio for development in Mongolia. In F. Nouwens, (Ed.), Distance education: Crossing frontiers, (pp. 243-251). Rockhampton, Australia: Central Queensland University.
Koumi, J. (1994). Media comparisons and deployment: A practitioner’s view. British Journal of Educational Technology, 25(1), 41-57.
Kozma, D.R. (1994). Learning with media. Review of Educational Research, 61(2), 179–211).
McIlroy, A. & Walker, R. (1993). Total quality management: Some implications for the management of distance education. Distance Education, 14(1), 40-54.
Mish, F. C. (Ed.) (1989). The new Merriam-Webster dictionary. Springfiled, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc.
Moran, L. & Mugridge, I. (1993). Policies and trends in inter-institutional collaboration. In L. Moran & I. Mugridge, (Eds.), Collaboration in Distance Education, International Case Studies, (pp. 151-164). Routledge.
Murphy, K. (1991). Patronage and an oral tradition: Influences on attributions of distance learners in a traditional society (a qualitative study). Distance Education, 12(1), 27-53.
Oliver, E.L. (1994). Video tools for distance education. In B. Willis (Ed.), Distance education: Strategies and tools, (pp. 165-197). New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Paquette-Frenette, D.V. & Larocque, D.L. (1995). A collective approach to distance education. In J.M. Roberts & E.M. Keough (Eds.), Why the information highway? Lessons from open & distance learning, (pp. 156-184). Toronto: Trifolum Books.
Peñalver, L.M. (1990). Distance education: A strategy for development. In M. Croft, I. Mugridge, J.S. Daniel & A. Hershfield, (Eds.), Distance education: development and access, (pp. 21-30). Caracas: ICDE.
Pittman, V.V. Jr., A. (1993). The persistence of print: correspondence study and the new media. American Journal of Distance Education, 1(1), 31-36.
Rumble, G. (1989). The role of distance education in national and international development: an overview. Distance Education, 10(1), 83-107.
Simpson, M. (1994). Neurophysiological considerations related to interactive multimedia, Educational Technology Research and Development, 42 (1), pp. 75-81.
Spronk, B. J.(1995). Appropriating learning technologies: Aboriginal learners, needs, and practices. In J.M. Roberts & E.M. Keough (Eds.), Why the information highway? Lessons from open & distance learning, (pp. 77-101). Toronto: Trifolum Books.
Szabo, M. (1998). Survey of educational technology research. Edmonton: Grant MacEwan Community College and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Teasdale, G. (1990). Interaction between ‘traditional’ and ‘western’ systems of learning: The Australian experience. In A. Little, Understanding culture: A precondition for effective learning. (appendix 1.1-6.3). Paris: UNESCO.
Thach, L. & Murphy, K. L. (1994). Collaboration in distance education: From local to international perspectives. The American journal of Distance Education, 8(3), 5-21.
Thomas, N.A. & McDonell, D.J. (1995). The role(s) of technology in minority group distance learning. In J.M. Roberts & E.M. Keough (Eds.), Why the information highway? Lessons from open & distance learning, (pp. 185-199). Toronto: Trifolum Books.
Threlkeld, R. & Brzoska, K. (1994). Research in distance education. In B. Willis (Ed.), Distance education: Strategies and tools, (pp. 41-66). New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Todaro, M.P. (1989). Alternative theories and the meaning of development. In Michael P. Todaro (Ed.), Economic development in the third world, (4th ed., pp. 66-99). Longman Group, Ltd.
|List of all Usableword columns|