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Technology In Support of Learning
by Denny Lancaster
-- April 7, 2004
One of the earliest attempts to use computer technologies began with R. C. Atkinson and Richard M. Shiffrin as they sought to enhance learning in schools in 1968.  The dramatic increase in the presence of this technology are predicted to continue, fueled in part by the romantic notion that its mere presence in schools will enhance student learning and achievement. 

There is great potential, but only if it is used appropriately and is an end to a means, rather than an end unto itself.

 

Denny Lancaster

Technologies do not guarantee effective learning and in fact inappropriate uses may actually hinder learning.  For example if more time and money is spend learning the technology, rather than actually using and applying the technology; an inappropriate amount of time is spent surfing the Internet or environments are not created by doing and receiving feedback which continually refine understanding and build new knowledge.

Bringing real-world problems onto the Internet by connecting viewers with working scientists and other professionals, problem solving environments and interactive technology environments are very important features for learning.  Interactivity makes it easy for viewers to revisit specific areas to explore them more fully, to test ideas, and to collaborate with other viewers. These experiences help viewers to understand complex systems and concepts and prepare them to become competent adults and lifelong learners.

Scaling Up or Scaling Down

Motivation is defined by psychologists as an internal process that activates, guides and maintains behavior over time or gets us going, keeps us going and determines where we are trying to go.  Coupled with a shift from behavioral to cognitive perspective and application through learning on the Internet and interaction of the learning process, the WAI and W3C technical standards actually scaled up the learning process by setting out remedies to barriers in learning.  The hypertext presentation of teaching and learning material on the internet permits writing in what may be considered “everyday language” for general consumption, linked to more detail which may contain words or thoughts not used in a “normal” process, thereby exposing even a “casual” reader to an enhanced learning experience.  The process may actually foster a desire to acquire additional knowledge or master new skills, and tends to engage the learner in activities that help them to learn:  They pay attention in classes and to conversation, process information in ways that promote effective long-term memory storage, and learn from their mistakes. 

People attempt to understand the causes for their successes and failures, and their attributes about these causes determine their future actions.  By removing the external causes for such task difficulty (compliance with WAI and W3C standards) and the attitude of the web developer may affect attributions.  Motivation to succeed the next time is likely to be enhanced when learners’ expectations are satisfied and when they attribute their success to their own efforts and effective learning strategies.  A small amount of anxiety can improve performance, but too much anxiety often interferes with effective performance, so removing barriers to accessibility reduce and or eliminate the anxiety, within the ability of the web developer and the end user.  Peer groups provide much needed reinforcement and a knowledge base for developing teaching and learning web experiences and aid in the rapid adoption and implementation of WAI and W3C standards.

Understanding Fosters Acceptance and Implementation 

Most of the technical standards for accessibility pertain to usability for people with vision impairments, but recognize that our comprehension levels, short term and long-term retention of material and satisfaction of a learning experience have to do with our ability to “see” and that “seeing” is a function of accomplishing tasks “our way.”  Therefore if we are left to using our own fonts and font size, colors, browser and so forth, our learning experience is enhanced. 

The standards do not prohibit the use of web site graphics or animation, rather encourage their use to ensure access for people who rely on various assistive products and in the process insure and or assure us all of their usability. 

The standards also address access to all information, documentation and support provided to end users covered under a host of technologies and those in the planning or planed stages.  The standards also ensure device independence and that web pages are designed so that, when rendered by browsers, the user’s preferred input and output devices are supported. 

Use of alternative input devices allow the visitor to a Web page to control their access to the information with the device best suited for their needs, while not being hampered by design restrictions.  Standards adoption therefore gives access to the internet as new technologies are developed, web users become more accustomed to the newer technologies, but allow continued access with older technologies (older actually can mean six months or less).  A comparison is drawn here to using spreadsheet software over a period of time, gaining experience and usability, then having to change to newer technology, only to begin the learning process all over again, while the overall learning has not been significantly increased. 

Conclusion

The rapid rise of computer technology, the internet and a rush to “cash in” on spoils of the communication revolution have left far too many willing participants in the wake of failure and frustration.  Steering toward tomorrow need not be straight and narrow, but filled with expectation and accomplishment as more good folk see the logic and wisdom of the WAI and W3C standards and how all of us can and will benefit from the promise of the world wide web.

Denny Lancaster
Copyright 2004
All Rights Reserved

About the Author
Denny is the Compliance Manager of Award Sites!  He is also the owner of the Lancasters Laughing Place site and the elite Award Sites! 5.0 rated Talking Hands Award Program . . . and has excellent knowledge of W3C and WAI issues.  Professionally, he is a retired senior partner, tax attorney specializing in international finance.  Moreover, Denny administers a private foundation which builds free enabled computers for deaf and blind persons throughout the state of Alabama . . . and is a talented poet.

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