Help (Online)


by Valerie Cardenas


Do you ever wish there was a button to press when you need help?


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This wiki will help you to understand the importance of including an online help feature to your instructional software.


In other words, how to go from this...

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to this when implementing educational software.
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When using computers in education, new software can be exciting, but can also be confusing. It is important to consider potential problems of the software prior to implementing its use. If these problems are considered, the software designer could provide a help resource for users. Providing online help gives the user a sense of support if he or she may need it while using the software. Types of support could be frequently asked questions, a list of troubleshooting ideas, a video tutorial, or a contact person through email or voice. One way to provide help is through using visuals, such as pictures or videos. These visuals will show the user what to expect to see when he or she is using the software. Another way to provide support, is to have a direct link on each page, to the help resource. This allows them to find help when they need it without having to start from the beginning or navigating while they try to find help.

Why is providing help important? Research:


Learners should always be able to get help. They frequently need help of two different types, procedural and informational. Procedural help should always be available. It refers to help for operating the program, such as changing the speaker volume. This information may be provided in the initial directions or may be obtained throughout the program by clicking a help button... Informational help means help with the content. This includes accessing more detailed descriptions, additional examples or sample problems, or explanations worded more simply....If help of either sort is available, it must be easy for learners to access, and learners must know that it is available (Alessi and Tropp, 2001).

Unlike first generation tutorials of the late 1990s, today's online tutorials are more colorful media presentations developed to appeal to the diverse learning styles of a "wired" generation of students. Unfortunately though, multimedia "productions" like these are overwhelming to some users. Those who develop tutorials are running into problems too as they discover much that used to be freely accessible on the internet is now often hidden behind campus firewalls or password protected within proprietary learning software like WebCT or Blackboard. But freely available, subject-specific online tutorials DO exist on the Internet (Blake, 2009).

What happens when help is not provided?

If help is not provided, students will get distracted in trying to use the software and not focus on the actual content intended to be studied or practiced. This can use valuable instruction or independent work time.

Research:

Teaching software is a matter of teaching procedure. As with all procedures, students must first learn the vocabulary involved. They must be then shown the steps in the procedure and guided through practice before attempting the procedure on their own. Teaching software can be particularly tricky because oftentimes students do not need to learn the entire program. Perhaps one student needs to learn how to animate slides in PowerPoint, whereas another needs to know how to change the color scheme.

When the lesson objectives include students identifying themes in literature or explaining scientific processes, teaching students to use software commandeers class time that might otherwise be applied to teaching the stated objectives.

Where can I go for help?


Suggested Websites for Online Help:

Tutorial Guide

Internet 4 Classrooms

Atomic Learning

Resources:


Alessi, S. & Trollip, S. (2001). Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Blake, L. (2009). On campus or out of town: How publishing online tutorials can help your patrons. Computers in Libraries, 29 (4), 11-13.

Marshall, D. (1999). Developing interactive courseware on the world wide web. Innovations in Education & Training International, 36 (1), 34-43.

Yelinek, Y., Tarnowski, L., Hannon, P., & Oliver, S. (2008). Captivate menubuilder: Creating an online tutorial for teaching software. The Clearing House, 82 (2), 101-106.