The needs of teachers and the technological sophistication of web developers are often at cross purposes on the Internet, leaving many educators frustrated in their hunt for online materials and Web developers vexed that few teachers use their sites.
“There is little connection between those who develop digital resources and educators,” write EDC authors Katherine Hanson and Bethany Carlson in a recently published paper. “The design and organization of resources may reflect the designers’ paradigms, rather than respond to the needs of the teachers or students who are the ultimate end-users.” The paper, which draws on interviews and surveys of almost 200 teachers, calls for a greater focus on “human-centered design” and offers recommendations for developers of educational Web sites and digital libraries to make their sites more accessible and user-friendly.
Hanson and Carlson, who work in EDC’s Gender, Diversities, and Technology Institute (GDI), conducted the research for the National Science Foundation (NSF) study on “Effective Access.” GDI operates the Gender and Science Digital Library, which was one of the founding projects of NSF’s National STEM Digital Library, and the Career Resources Network, a career exploration digital library for middle school students.
The top three challenges teachers report in their attempts to find and use Web-based materials are 1) the time it takes to locate the best resources, 2) the high cost of products on the Web and 3) the difficulty in adapting resources to their needs.
None of the teachers surveyed or interviewed knew what a “digital library” is, yet many concluded that their Internet resource woes would be solved by “Web-related resources readily available from a single jumping off site.” The study concludes: “Given that the teachers in both the surveys and interviews said validity, teacher-vetting, and known organizations were important to their selection of resources, this lack of recognition is a challenge” that digital libraries for teachers will need to address “quickly and comprehensively.”
Downloading materials was a key frustration. “If it is slow at all, I’ll go elsewhere,” one teacher noted. The paper adds, “If [teachers] are surfing the Web at home, downloading a resource just for themselves, they can and will wait if they think it will be a valuable item. However, as soon as students are involved as audience or participants, teachers’ wiliness to wait is gone…When they are up in front of the class, things have to happen immediately.”
Carlson notes that their research methodology, which relied on e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, listservs, and direct mailings to recruit participants, makes the results technically not “generalizable” to teachers overall, but she believes the study produced important insights.
This report offers some valuable suggestions for technology designers on how to design for and with their potential audience, notes Sarita Nair, project director of the GSDL. The recommendations have informed the way EDC co-developed the STEM career digital library. “We used an eight-person youth design team, and their involvement has made all the difference to the quality and usability of the end product,” she says.
“STEM teachers from all backgrounds and experience levels are excited by the potential technology offers to improve student learning and achievement and improve their own teaching practice,” says Vivian Guilfoy, Director of Education, Employment, and Community Programs, which houses GDI. “The report offers recommendations that districts and providers of professional development can implement now to support this energy and promote effective use of technology-based resources in their schools, classrooms, and communities.”
Originally published on May 1, 2005