Published:  National Social Science Association  (NSSA) Annual Conference

Increasing Student Involvement
with Web Design Projects

Jerry P. Galloway


Stacey Akyea

Indiana University Northwest
3400 Broadway  -  Gary, IN 46408


This paper presents a summer 2001 study with African American middle school students involved in a workshop in which their study of African American Fine Arts is enhanced with Web page design.  Students were to physically construct ceremonial masks, develop jazz and dance routines, and develop short stories all consistent with African American heritage.  These students concurrently worked in teams to develop developed Web pages on each of these topics both increasing and expanding their exposure to the material.

This paper outlines students’ expanded exposure to and use of the material being taught.  Important concerns for the tools and methods of web page construction as well as pedagogical and learning-style issues are discussed.  Students’ backgrounds in computing and prior exposure to the Internet augment an understanding of the data presented.

In spite of the generation-old technology revolution in education, the majority of educational experiences are of course still traditional.  Certain experiences naturally call for a hands-on, in-person and tactile presence in the learning experiences.  Experiences in the case reported below include projects requiring self-expression, comprehension, creativity, artistry, and other learning experiences.  While arguably appropriate for a traditional classroom environment, learning can also be enhanced with technology experiences.

For example, reading, writing, speaking and listening.  Eagleton (1999) suggests that traditional language arts processes could be expanded to include interpreting and composing in a multimedia technology environment.  “No medium is perfect for all student needs” (p. 26) and that also applies to traditional classroom settings.  Citing a major point of constructivist theory of students’ direct and manipulative involvement in their own learning, constructing web pages provides a means for students to interpret and compose messages in a way that constitutes more than simply writing.  Students interact with material in unique and multi-varied ways.  “As technology development expands with blinding rapidity, one thing about language arts education is clear: As our children grow up, they will use not one technology but many.” (p. 24).  Designing web pages includes the need to attend to an overall organization and appearance and how those factors affect the message content and delivery.

Very often the path to improved learning is traversed simply by additional exposure to the material.  Technology can provide additional experience with the material without regard to the quality of students’ products, which are often not as important as new and creative exposure.  Balas (1999) outlines an extensive list of resources for learning from bad or faulty web page design.  Balas suggests that poor web page examples can serve us well in learning to improve web page design.  In the process, of course, students continue to rehearse and repeat learning experiences with the information and concepts to be learned increasing time-on-task.  A couple principles suggested include listening to the users of web pages and what they need and want.  Another is the issue of accessibility, to design pages to accommodate a variety of adaptive technologies.  “Users will return to only those sites that are inviting and easy to use.” (p. 48).

However, there is no universally accepted model for teaching web page design.  Even today’s newly developing web-based electronic portfolios for teachers have no prescribed formats.  However, Netscape, is one of the most common tools, sufficiently complex to handle most anything in a basic design, yet very user-friendly and free.  Chou and Wang (1999) utilized Netscape Composer as a design tool in their studies on Web design performance and attitudes.

They explain that no one learning style is universally accepted.  Their research, showing improvement in anxiety, confidence and attitude in computing, also supported the notion that a variety of information presentation styles in web page design was useful for multi-varied styles of learning.  They suggested multiple formats for presenting information.

On the other hand, Hartley (1999) suggests that, considering a user’s natural limitations of working memory (short-term memory) it might be counter-productive to split the reader’s attention between separate presentation techniques (e.g., text & graphic).  Likewise, presenting material in more than one-way constitutes a redundancy that could further stress cognitive resources.  Integrated text & graphics, the integration of instructional material, proved better for the web page readers’ visualization and performance.


Following the themes of constructivism, multi-varied learning styles as well as integrated presentations, we taught students with both the traditional classroom hands-on or tactile approach and through the process of web page design.  Our intent was to use web page design as an enhancement to or expansion of students’ traditional classroom exposure to material.

The subjects, young persons entering grades 7, 8 and 9, were selected for participation in the workshops as members of a gifted and talented program from the local school district.  There was no control over who enter the program except that they qualified as members of the school district’s gifted and talented program.

Subjects participated in two simultaneous workshop experiences on the topic of African American fine arts.  The two workshops were conducted each morning, Monday through Friday for one month.  One workshop allowed students to study and explore various art forms in a so-called traditional or hands-on approach while the second provided an opportunity to both learn web page design and to create presentations on the material in that medium.  Separate instructors provided the specialized training in each workshop.  Subjects’ were surveyed as to their background in computing and previous exposure to the Internet, email and web page design.

The Traditional Approach

Language Arts consist of at least four areas: writing /composition, reading / literature, speaking, and listening.  The foundational nature of the major areas not only lends itself to smooth integration of other more complex subject areas such as Mathematics, History, and Fine Arts, but also to a variety of methodologies. As Eagleton  (1999)  suggests, and we tried,  traditional language arts processes could be expanded to include interpreting and composing in a multimedia technology environment.  “As technology development expands with blinding rapidity, one thing about language arts education is clear: As our children grow up, they will use not one technology but many” (p. 24).

The unique contribution of African American culture to four art forms (dance, music, theater, and visual art) was highlighted using constructed learning activities.    Dance technique was grounded in the African Diaspora.  Students participated in a different Afro-inspired technique weekly; West African, Afro-Caribbean, and South African stomp rhythms similar to contemporary stepping done by historically Black fraternities and sororities.  Music focused on an overview of jazz as a unique American creation grounded in the African American experience.  Theater as spoken word was presented to the students through the art of story telling.  Students read and wrote folktales, discussed the significance of them, the diversity and the relationship to African American culture.  Visual art was encompassed in mask making.  A trained actor lead the students in a series of learning activities designed to help them create a mask based on their unique identity, but with cultural relevance.   The culmination was the group presentation that linked all pieced together followed by an exhibit of their masks.

The four major areas of Language Arts were covered through carefully constructed activities aimed at facilitating specific learning outcomes.  Students expanded writing skills through a variety of activities including, responding to journal prompts concerning African American society, and poetry written by African American artist, as well as free writing to jazz music, reading folk tales, and working collaboratively to design diamante poems concerning a particular aspect of their personality.   Students expanded listening skills through analyzing intonations and various sounds, as well as imitating   jazz concepts with spoken voice, and , telling folktales. Students expanded speaking skills by studying aspects of spoken words, reading aloud, reciting poetry, and orally imitating jazz music.  Students expanded reading skills by reading both silently and out loud a variety of sources including poetry, folk tales, and short essays.  All sources were authored or created by African American Artists.

The Technology Approach

Students began with some exposure to HTML coding with a simple text editor.  Coding was viewed as important for making minor adjustments to the design, the easy inclusion of predesigned code for counters and other commercially supported features.

While we found a preliminary study of coding to be useful and feasible even for these children.  However, programming is not universally accepted as a means to web page design.  Ms. Sistek-Chandler (1999) maintains that learning HTML code is entirely unnecessary for creating quality web pages.  Her article offers a review of web page authoring tools suitable for designers from second graders to adult webmaster although the majority are more suitable for capable adults.  The only one presented most suitable for children was unavailable.  Tips offered for building a web site are relatively obvious such as know your purpose for the web page and test the pages with a variety of browsers.

Ms. Sistek-Chandler opens with the politically correct and eternally popular notion that programming skills are unnecessary because of authoring tools.  However, a major point was nevertheless that authoring tools fail to cover all design needs properly and she cited examples of the need to tinker with the HTML code directly.  Programming with code directly is inevitably an important and often necessary aspect of web page design skills and Ms. Sistek-Chandler’s approach seems inherently contradictory to the no-programming concept.

Johnson (1999) suggests a four-part rubric structure for evaluating skill levels of Internet usage:  1. Pre-awareness, 2. Awareness, 3. Mastery, and 4. Advanced.  All address one’s discrete skills and competencies as compared to more abstract elements of learning: conceptual understanding, adaptability, problem-solving and critical thinking.  Johnson describes the modern browser, like Netscape or Explorer, as “the only tool needed for [the] Internet.” (p. 37).  We did not specifically test for the development of subjects’ conceptual understanding.  Nevertheless, it was felt that starting with elementary coding experiences contributed positively to students’ conceptual understanding and enhanced these more abstract aspects of knowledge sufficient to positively impact later page design experiences.

Survey Results


Our subjects (n=16) were almost all users of IBM-type machines (Ms-Windows platform) compared to Mac/Apple environments, 13 to 1 with 2 not owning a computer at all.  All respondents had prior exposure to the internet and 6 had current or prior web pages completed.  Asked to rate both their knowledge and ability with computing as well as their level of exposure and use of the internet on a 1 to 10 scale (10 = highest) both measures were 8 or higher indicating a lot of confidence among this group.  Consistent with this exposure, 14 had home-internet access and their own email account, which included every computer-owner in the group (2 had no computers at home).


The majority said they spend 2-3 hours per week using the Internet.  In fact, playing games and using the Internet was the primary computing activity 2 to 1 over applications software.  The group’s overall assessment of the importance of search engines in using the internet (again on a 1 to 10 rating) was 6.7 with Yahoo and AOL by far the most used.

Subjects were asked what types of sites or web pages they seek in their activities.  Subjects accounted for sites for reference, shopping, educational, events, chat rooms, downloading, specifically targeted miscellaneous pages, and most all subjects accounted for completely random hits.

Surprisingly, the majority of subjects claimed to receive emails at the rate of more than 10 per week with some claiming 50-100 emails.  This seems extreme for this age group.  Most subjects claimed to send emails at more than 4 per week with some claiming between 10 to 40 per week.  Again, the larger numbers seem excessive for this age group.


Subjects were asked who in their opinion needs to have their own web site.  They accounted fairly evenly for companies, organizations, professionals, schools, and teachers.  Interestingly only half (8) of the subjects believed that virtually everyone needs their own web site.

Clearly, these students had a lot of confidence compared with mere beginners of computing.  Their prior exposure and use seems to account for these subjects identifying themselves as “computer-users” and not simple beginners.  They had a healthy notion that they still had a lot to learn in spite of some pride that they were “on board” and on their way as users of computer and internet technology.

 Subjects were initially taught to use HTML coding in the construction of web pages.  This was relatively brief (1 week) somewhat superficial (basic code structures only) but was intended to (a) provide some specific knowledge and practical skills for editing their web pages directly and (b) broaden their perspective and understanding of what web pages are and are not.  For example, exclusively using a composer tool might lead one to believe that graphics are actually embedded in the web page document much like a word processor would do.  Working first with the code directly, one sees that a web page is actually nothing more than commands (tags) arranged and sequenced in a particular order to produce a visual result.  It is more clearly understood that a graphic image is merely referenced from within the page and not physically present.

Later, our subjects became more productive using Netscape Composer, a free authoring tool that was more than sufficient for our needs.  Web page designs included the use of color, graphics, photographs, text, and more.  Students were able to provide hot-links to Internet sites related to the topics presented.

Web pages were designed to expand the content on African American (a) literature and story telling, (b) dance, (c) jazz music, and (d) ceremonial masks.  The so-called traditional experiences included actual mask making, listening to music, learning some dances and sharing stories.  The expansion to web design included graphics, some sound and hot links to other internet sites on these topics.  Students were to develop their pages both functionally and aesthetically to include both text and graphics.


Maddux and Smaby (2000) clearly emphasize that web page development can be very useful and beneficial to both teachers and students when used to supplement traditional course work.  While no control group was used and no formal assessment was made to provide statistical comparisons, it seems very clear that these subjects benefited considerably from the additional exposure to content through web page design.

The process of finding photos to enhance their pages, locating URL references to support their hot links and writing explanations and descriptions into their pages considerably broadened their exposure to the content.  Indeed, they went beyond the initial material by researching materials on existing web sites, seeing graphic and photographic images of dance postures and groups, jazz performers, actual ceremonial masks and more.

Of course, increased computing skills and knowledge was an assumed consequence to this workshop as students studied the use of HTML code and web page construction from several perspectives.  Finally, students’ web pages were linked together by topic and for the overall group creating one large array of web pages across the 4 topic areas.  Clearly, the students were very proud of this final composite of their work and how it represented their learning in all four (5 including educational computing) target areas.


Balas, J. L. (1999).  The 'Don'ts' of Web Page Design.  Computers in Libraries, 19 (8). 46-48.

Chou, H.; Wang, Y. (1999).  Effects of learning style and training method on computer attitude and performance in world wide web page design training.  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 21(3). 325-44.

Eagleton, M. B. (1999).  The Benefits and Challenges of a Student-Designed School Website.  ERIC Identifier: ED443127


Hartley, K. W. (1999). Media Overload in Instructional Web Pages and the Impact on Learning.  Educational Media International, 36(2). p145-50.

Johnson, D. (1999).  Internet Skill Rubrics for Teachers.  Book Report, 17(5). p37-40.

Maddux, C. D., & Smaby M. H., (2000).  Developing Web Pages to Supplement Courses in Higher Education.  In Willis, D. A.; Price, J. D.; & Willis, J. (Eds.),  Technology and Teacher Education Annual Journal.  Published by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Charlottesville, VA.

Sistek-Chandler, C. (1999).  To HTML or Not to HTML?  Converge, 2(2). p14-18.

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