University of Toronto (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN19 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 3847-3854
ISBN: 978-84-09-12031-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2019.0993
Conference name: 11th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 1-3 July, 2019
Location: Palma, Spain
This exploratory case study (Yin, 2014, ixx) involves University students reflecting on the design of an educational technology called PeppeR, and identifies evidence-based practices in ways educational technology design can be improved. PeppeR was developed ten years ago in the Faculty of Education at a large Canadian urban university for use as a research tool and an institutional teaching tool. PeppeR uses a "web-based collaborative workspace offering specialized knowledge-building features and social networking tools to support learners in building learning communities” (Author & Hewitt, 2016, p. 6).

Digital settings today are inundated with too much information and too much rapidly changing information (Author, 2018). Americans are estimated to consume approximately 15.5 hours of traditional and digital information per day (Short, 2013) or the equivalent of “8.75 zettabytes annually...or 9 DVDs worth...of data sent to the average consumer on an average day” (Short, 2013, p. 7). When students come across so much information in a short span of time, it presents the challenge of both how to help students manage this information overload, while also positioning them to critically question all the information they come across (Author, 2018).
In this pilot study, we investigated how the layout of PeppeR either enabled or prevented students from clearly accessing information, without feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information in a digital context.

PeppeR was implemented in a large undergraduate online course with an estimated enrollment of almost 2000 students. Using PeppeR was not mandatory in the course, but students could sign up to use it for the course’s required experimental participation credit (all students are required to participate in three hours worth of faculty or graduate student experiments as part of their course). Students could use PeppeR to participate in facilitated discussion forums in preparation for course tests and the final exam. After using the tool for a semester, students were surveyed about their experience with PeppeR.

Results showed 67% of the students found PeppeR’s social interaction helpful in preparing for course assessments; yet, 66% of the students wished to see a better visual design in the PeppeR platform. Two-thirds of the students reported it was easy to post information on this platform, yet the platform was hard to use and navigating was initially difficult and frustrating for new users. The list-like layout of the discussion also made it challenging for students to engage with every student’s ideas in the discussion forum, especially as the number of discussion threads increased over time.
Design think, education technology, critical thinking, global competencies, information overload.