Development of Concept-Based XHTML/CSS Pedagogy for Non-Technical Learners

Brennan, Spring, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bull, Glen, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Larsen, Valerie, Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Moon, Tonya, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cohoon, James, Department of Computer Science, University of Virginia

As the Internet continues to permeate daily life, the capability to create or manipulate Web pages is increasingly seen as a general computer skill needed by students from a variety of academic fields, not just those related to technology (Ariga & Watanabe, 2008). The disparate fields have incorporated Web design instruction, but the curricula have been vastly inconsistent, often depending too much on textbooks or software for their pedagogical framework. This Web design instruction has also been slow to integrate the instructional strategies endorsed by modern learning theories like constructivism, information processing and behaviorism, and as such, it has not met the needs of novices.

A curriculum unit was developed to teach Web design, XHTML and CSS to novices and non-technical learners. It strove to incorporate modern learning theory strategies, in particular the conclusions of the “new science of learning” (Bransford et al, 2000) which promote teaching for conceptual understanding and student-controlled learning. The project underwent an iterative piloting process, with revisions based on student outcomes and review by both subject matter experts and instructional design experts. This study then formally evaluated the curriculum unit and analyzed how best to apply the instructional strategies to Web design education. It also further documented the persistent misunderstandings that novices encounter while learning HTML, CSS and Web design. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instruction in particular is an understudied topic, even though CSS is and will continue to be vital to the Web design process (Gillenwater, 2011).

A mixed-method research design employing classroom and video observations and document analysis of student Web pages was used to evaluate the curriculum unit. Six key findings on the unit’s insufficiencies were identified from the data, all of which have implications for teaching Web design conceptually. There was considerable ‘push back’ from novices against the abstract nature of Web design topics, arguing a need for more procedural introductions to HTML and CSS before transitioning into conceptual learning strategies. The study also affirmed the importance of experience-building strategies for novices. For CSS instruction in particular, the use of demonstration/ modeling strategies, how non-visual HTML/CSS code translates to visual display, for example, was identified as especially important for building novices’ conceptual understanding. The difficulties of teaching a techno-centric topic like Web design to learners with no prior experiences with computer languages or visual design are also discussed, as are the complexities of transitioning novices from procedural learning to conceptual learning.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Web design, HTML, CSS, cascading style sheet, computer language, computer literacy, Internet literacy, visual literacy, instructional strategy, technology instruction, instructional design, self-instruction, self-directed learning, procedural learning, conceptual learning, constructivism, information processing, behaviorism
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: