Towards diagrammatic hypermedia authoring: cognition and usability issues in higher education
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Lack of skill, time and institutional support are widely cited as obstacles to the development of educational-hypermedia by higher education staff. The problem is how can computer-based tools be made accessible to teachers/academics but at the same time remain sufficiently expressive to produce educationally-effective hypermedia? In this study, human-computer interaction issues relating to the authoring of hypermedia by academics are examined and a range of authoring programs evaluated for their suitability. The main experimental hypothesis of the study was that a diagram-based hypermedia authoring program would help to mitigate against the skills deficit in that it would be very easy to use and hence enable academics with relatively low computer skills to develop hypermedia. The investigation involved a number of research activities including: trials of a diagram-based and a book-based authoring program using sixteen subjects; the development of a full application for use in a higher education teaching scenario; and an evaluation of a number of other representative authoring programs by a focus group of experts in IT training. Analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data indicated that diagram-based authoring programs have significant advantages over existing authoring programs for people with lower computer skills, although this was compounded by spatial relations ability. The main contribution of this study is a causal model of learnability of hypermedia authoring programs derived from the analysis of the empirical data. The model incorporates a number of factors, some already noted in other studies, some identified in this study. The causal model of learnability extends contemporary views of learnability and usability and is underpinned by contemporary learning theories. The main conclusion of the study is that new authoring programs designed for use in higher education should take into account the model of learnability, be based on an accessible diagramming technique such as concept maps for knowledge construction and be integrated with a visual development language that allows the passive hypermedia-knowledge to be supplemented with educationally-effective functionality.
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