University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: Textile Analysis and WebCT

By Mary M. Botkin, Dr. Karen LaBat & Dr. Brad Hokanson

There is a new spin to accessing visual information and innovative study tools in the textile analysis course taken by Clothing and Interior Design and Retail Merchandising students in the Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel at the University of Minnesota. Course materials and interactive tools were developed and put onto a WebCT site to make it easier for students to develop the conceptual and visual skills that are required for success in the course. The course prepares students for careers in design and retail with detailed knowledge of the processes and materials used in producing textiles that are the major components of many clothing and interior products. The course includes traditional lectures and labs with hands-on experience including examination of natural and synthetic fibers and typical textile structures along with experiments such as fiber chemical solubility and burn tests. The course is organized around the concept of the textile equation, which includes the variables of fibers, yarns, structures, and finishes, each unit building upon the former.

Visual Dictionary
The project was initially developed to provide students with online resources that were normally only available during lab hours. Mary Botkin, the graduate student who taught lab sessions for two years, began the project with the idea that she would reproduce the materials needed to study for the final exam. According to Botkin, "During the exam, students are required to identify magnified images of textile structures using stereoscopic microscopes and real fabric swatches. For study outside of class students have a limited number of textile samples in their lab book and they don't have access to the scopes." To aid in student opportunities to learn course materials outside of class, a digital textile swatch set was developed. Using a magnifying lens, 120 textiles were photographed and then arranged by structural category to provide a visual dictionary for students. The textile images mimic the final exam set-up by using a magnification similar to that used by students taking the exam.

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words
The second phase of development was made possible when Botkin, Dr. Karen LaBat, professor for the course, and Dr. Brad Hokanson, assistant professor in Graphic Design, received a "Technology Enhanced Learning Grant" from the Digital Media Center at the University of Minnesota. The grant program initiated in 1998 encourages innovation in developing and implementing new teaching and learning methods by using technology. To expand the site, WebCT, which is currently used in 749 (15.7 percent) courses at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campuses, was chosen as the platform. WebCT provides the site with password protection and a format for automatically graded practice quizzes. Three new study tools were added to the practice swatch set to improve students' visual skills and conceptual understanding of course materials. The tools include practice quizzes, "textile product zooms," and weaving animations. The practice quizzes serve as a tool for students to test their comprehension of subject matter on a weekly basis using images and multiple-choice questions and are graded online so students can check their scores immediately after they take the quiz. The "textile product zooms" use images to illustrate the processes such as dyeing and weaving used in creating and producing textile products. Each zoom sequence begins with a photograph of a product such as an upholstered chair. The student can then zoom into successively smaller components from the product photo to a diagram of the textile structure, to a picture of the yarn and how it's processed to the smallest component, a photomicrograph of the fiber. Students then understand the macro and micro factors that result in the end product. A graphic design graduate student created weaving animations. The weaving process comes alive as virtual yarns intertwine on the screen forming basic weave structures most commonly used in textiles. This tool enables the students to experience a virtual weaving process that they can start, stop, and reverse.

The Web site was created because many students attracted to professions in design are more attuned to visual learning. Each tool was designed with the idea that "a picture tells a thousand words" providing color, high resolution images that are not available in textbooks. Aside from providing new ways of showing how textiles are structured and created, the site was designed to provide students with interactive tools that test their knowledge and is a valuable tool in and out of the lab.

Significant Advantage
LaBat, who in addition to teaching is an experienced academic author, points out, "This Web site provides magnified views of structures and processes that are difficult to present in a conventional lecture or lab setting." The new tools went live fall 2001. LaBat is in the midst of a statistical analysis of a comparison of final exam scores with and without the technology-enhanced element in the course. Preliminary results show that the Web site enhances student learning. Students' reactions have been positive, especially in regard to the practice quizzes. Student comments were that the site "was very useful and helped me out a lot" and that it "was an excellent and valuable resource." Botkin believes the tools online now represent just a small part of the potential the course has for using multimedia learning tools. She says "Here in Minnesota, where more than half our students commute, every extra trip to the lab or library turns a little more study time into drive time, so accessibility to course materials online can be a significant advantage." Plans for further development include streaming videos of textile durability testing and state-of-the-art machine weaving and knitting.

For further information contact Mary Botkin (mbotkin@che.umn.edu).

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