Historically, each student had developed a card system of storing and referencing information on arts and crafts activities, the contents of which were unique and contributed towards course assessment. This had led to an immense wealth of information on arts and crafts being researched within the school, but unfortunately the information amassed was not made available to the student body as a whole, nor for that matter to the occupational therapy profession.
It seemed logical that a more effective method of utilising this information could be found using computer technology. The search to find suitable hardware and software needs was instigated early in 1989, coinciding with a substantial increase in student numbers and planned significant changes to the curriculum. These latter factors served to increase the need to find a more effective method of handling information on these creative activities. Recent past experience had shown that as the number of students increased, less individual instruction and supervision was possible during laboratory and workshops sessions. The proposed curriculum changes will mean a substantial drop in the number of practical sessions. For instance, new students in 1991 can expect a fifty percent reduction in their hands on exposure with traditional arts and crafts. However, they will still be expected to be knowledgeable in this area and be able to prescribe relevant activities to clients in their role as practising therapists.
The selection of suitable hardware and software was influenced by the school's decision to buy Apple Macintosh computers and the introduction of Apple's information handling software HyperCard. This combination appeared the best available to meet the needs of storing and accessing information in both written and pictorial formats with the minimum assistance of professionals such as programmers. HyperCard, it is claimed by some including Apple Computers, can allow the nonprogramming specialist to produce a reasonably professional product without large sections of programming script, thus allowing " more time on applying your ideas than on technical issues " (Goodman, 1987, p.12).
As the number and sophistication of computers available to the school in early 1989 was somewhat limited, it was decided to write to Apple asking for assistance. On receipt of a formal proposal, Apple informed the school that it would supply a Macintosh SE with hard disk for the project development, provided the school make the resulting databank available to the public at a minimum cost to cover disk and user guide printing costs. The intended initial thrust of the databank into a resource of information on arts and crafts may have influenced Apple to support the project, as the potential market could extend beyond occupational therapists and students of the profession. It is hoped to interest other possible users, such as secondary schools, where arts and crafts form a substantial part of the curriculum.
One of the craft teachers, the initiator of the project, had had some previous training and experience in courseware design and development and produced design documentation. This included identification of program functions, proposed screen designs, and a flow chart showing the proposed format (Figure 1). These aspects were discussed at a series of meetings until the current design was agreed upon. Although HyperCard allows users with little or no programming skills to produce worthy efforts, the expertise provided by a programmer helps to make the product more professional in its operations. Input to Activities Bank by the computer programmer has included advice on the program functions, screen layouts and scripting. This has improved the operation of the bank in terms of speed and handling efficiency.
Figure 1: Activities bank structure
At the beginning of the second semester in 1989, students were asked to research information on arts and crafts projects from specified areas for input into Activities Bank. Very few of these were found to be of a standard suitable for entry into the bank. After re-assessing the situation for the first semester of 1990 it was decided to reduce the number of areas to be researched per student and to give all students a more thorough briefing. This included a demonstration of Activities Bank, which was then in operation and installed in the network in a newly opened student computer laboratory. This has led to a substantial improvement in the efforts assessed to date this year. The craft teachers' work currently involves selecting, scanning and collating the information before entering into Activities Bank.
Figure 2: Example of Activity Menu
If a project title is selected, then a screen showing a three dimensional illustration of the article is presented (Figure 3). On this screen a number of other buttons allow access to additional information. This includes dimensioned drawings, task sequence with key points, equipment and material listings, variations in design and construction, and any additional information under the button titled "notes". A hard copy of the project can be executed by pressing a print button which permits the choice of one of four printout formats. Also available on this screen is a menu of editing tools to permit changes to be made. This facility is normally hidden on the screen to avoid accidental removal of information, but can be readily restored using a keyed command.
This project is providing a new dimension to teaching activities in the school in two broad areas. It is allowing a large amount of material on arts and crafts appropriate to the therapist, to be centralised, enabling students and staff the opportunity to rapidly search through information to select projects to meet a specific need. Secondly, it is providing students with a foundation of research techniques early in their course.
Figure 3: Example of an Illustration Screen
In the former capacity, students are freed from the traditional restraints of teacher directed activities with the opportunity to select a particular project to trial in the school workshops and laboratories. They are therefore able to take an active rather than a passive role in their own learning. Students can browse through Activities Bank on the network, select and run off a printout knowing that appropriate equipment is available within the school. Teaching staff are therefore able to give more attention to individuals and focus on demonstrating key skills in particular arts and crafts areas.
Development of research skills is high on the list of priorities in the education of tertiary students. Involvement in the compilation and use of databases such as Activities Bank provides the means "for the cultivation of creativity and thinking skills" (Hunter in Salant, 1990, p.55 ). These skills include new ways of focusing on teaching enquiry and information handling.
One of the biggest time consumers is keying in data and, therefore, the use of optical character recognition techniques is under consideration. A new version of HyperCard is due to be released which will allow some additional formatting and printing features. Information on particular projects can then be set out to the user's specifications, thus eliminating unnecessary details from the printed sheet. This includes access buttons which are necessary on the screen, but superfluous on the printed pages.
Information on particular activities could be more explicit with the inclusion of video sequences and therefore the possibilities of eventually extending Activities Bank to include video disc elements are presently being explored. The program format could be maintained with buttons allowing access to appropriate video sequences. In the short term, it is planned to link some trial sequences on video tape format to assess the potential.
By providing students with the opportunity of both contributing to and using the Bank, the project offers potential for developing new strategies in studying and creating. At this early stage in the development of Activities Bank, feedback from students on their collective involvement has been encouraging. Proponents of systems such as HyperCard claim that the random access linkage of information allows learners the opportunity to divert from the strictly sequential medium of print, and apply nonlinear strategies to learning. This models human memory by association and therefore can serve as powerful cognitive amplifiers (Marchionini, 1988).
However, the freedom allowed to learners with systems such as HyperCard may disadvantage some students. Disorientation may be a problem unless the program is designed to allow the user to explore without getting lost in the system. Also, the increased freedom of decision making may not suit some students who could draw the wrong interpretation from materials presented. The design and implementation of Activities Bank has attempted to address these issues, but only careful monitoring, as this project progresses, will determine its effectiveness and indicate if changes are necessary.
Holloway, J. (1981). Activities and activity analysis. Occupational Therapy Department, University of Queensland.
Marchionini, G. (1988). Hypermedia and learning: Freedom and chaos. Educational Technology, 28(1) 8-12.
Salant, A. (1990). Promoting student research skills. Educational Technology, 30(4), 55-57.
Walker, D.F. & Hess, R.D. (1984). Instructional software: Principles and perspectives for design and use. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
|Author: Don Cameron started his career working in statistical quality control in the engineering industry before entering teaching in TAFE. During this time he developed an interest in educational technology and was seconded for two years to produce self paced learning materials which involved video and tape/slide presentations. Currently at Curtin University of Technology, his main teaching areas are arts, crafts and computing.
Please cite as: Cameron, D. (1990). Activities Bank: An interactive resource of recreational and work oriented techniques. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 58-64. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/olnt90/cameron.html