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Creating an Interactive Environment for Software Application Learning in Graduate Programs

There is no doubt that research on using computer technology to enhance teaching and learning is rapidly growing. To meet the computer skill demands in almost every field, schools have been including software application learning in their curriculum. However, compared with the numerous studies on how to enhance teaching and learning with technology, the investigation on the methods and strategies of teaching software applications itself has rarely been conducted. It seems that, in the general view, teaching software application is all about repeated operations and does not have much room for innovative teaching approaches. While several studies introduced some tutorials or process capturing software (such as screen recorder software) for the convenience of self-directed learning on software, the development of classroom teaching methods and the investigation of its effectiveness are lacking.

Some of the few studies indicated that most of the software application instructors used a systematic approach for teaching and considered it most effective (Lambrecht, 1999; McEwen, 1996). Their systematic learning approach was based on a behavioral learning theory assumption, in which learning is regarded as a behavioral response to stimuli (Chen & Ray, 2005). In this approach, instruction usually involves step-by-step directions and teacher-centered methods to complete learning tasks (McEwen, 1996). Lambrecht (1999) concluded that this systematic approach for software teaching is better for novices, but not for advanced learners who seek problem solving abilities and concept transferability in the real world.

In graduate programs, students are in an advanced education environment in which they should be capable of self-discipline and self-direction. Research techniques, decision-making skills, and problem solving in teams are essential skills to be acquired in graduate programs (Campbell, 1996). They should have confidence to work constructively in teams as part of establishing professional skills (Hudson, 2000). They should be able to reach the ultimate goal of a graduate program, being independent and lifelong learners (Lapane, 2007). Therefore, instruction in graduate programs should not be simply filled with lectures and “objective” tests. Particularly, the small size feature of classes in graduate education, which usually distinguishes it from undergraduate, allows the instruction to be better tailored to fit students’ background and individual needs (Campbell, 1996).

In the field of design and technology, many production courses (e.g. webpage design, computer graphics, multimedia, animation, film or video) demand knowledge in the use of specialized commercial software. Compared to the deficiency of self-paced learning materials several years ago, learners can now find an abundance of well-developed teaching websites, textbooks, video clips, professional teaching CDs for most commercial software. Richly developed learning content can be easily accessed. Ideally, this would allow more time to be set aside for the development of concepts and ideas rather than using valuable class time for teaching and learning “how to use” software; that is, time would be better spent on the process of creation and “how to apply” advanced software techniques for a better quality production or solution. However, in practice, asking students to learn on their own is still something “easier said than done.”

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(Author: Sy-Chyi Wang, Jin-Yuan Chern

Published by Sciedu Press)