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resaerch 16

The Journal of Technology Studies
49
Abstract

to supplement traditional classroom orElectronic performance support systems
(EPSS) can provide alternative learning opportunities
training strategies. Today’s students may benefit
from educational settings and strategies that
they will use in the future. In using EPSS to
nurture the development of technological literacy,
workers and students can achieve higher
level cognition skills while they perform tasks.
Although there are unique challenges to the
development and use of EPSS, efforts to overcome
these challenges are becoming more widespread.
Introduction
Whether it is planning new highway construction,
calibrating a stamping machine, or
assembling a tricycle, humans cannot escape
using information, tools, energy, and materials
when performing a task. Technology has
become a powerful force in the world, forming a
totality that is difficult to understand as a whole
(Ellul, 1954; Winner, 1977; Postman, 1993;
Sismondo, 2004). The nature of modern work
and rapidly changing conditions in the workplace
demand that workers to be very agile in
their use of information, tools, energy and materials,
and continuously engage in learning.
It is because of this evolving and complex
nature of technology that work in advanced
technological societies frequently requires skill
and knowledge development beyond the scope
of standard education and training programs. As
tasks become more systemic and highly integrated
within a complex workflow, traditional
training fails to adequately prepare workers.
While traditional training and job aids predominate,
increasingly Electronic Performance
Support Systems (EPSS) are employed to support
skill and knowledge development in realtime
and at the work station (Gery, 1995). An
EPSS is a configuration of hardware, software,
and content accessible by employees or students
and structured to provide users with information
to permit them to do their jobs or perform tasks
with minimal intervention by others. EPSS are
an important link between task support, the
acquisition of new knowledge and skills, and
the development of broader technological literacy
(Wittmann & Süß, 1999).
Traditional pre-work and on-the-job training
have evolved in such a way that in some
cases training is embedded in the work process
itself. In the past decade the promise of cost
savings and more efficient labor initially provided
the impetus for EPSS (Gery, 1995). By eliminating
much of the traditional training of workers
and providing a smart electronic coach, individuals
can use performance support systems to
learn while working, and at the same time have
instant access to vital support information such
as conversion tables, schematics, and flow diagrams.
By harnessing computer systems to
accumulate information, coach, and respond to
user requests, contemporary EPSS are beginning
to fulfill their promise of efficiently supporting
the performance of tasks. EPSS may
deliver even greater benefits than first imagined
as these systems actually learn through individual
user interaction.
In EPSS, information regarding the performance
of technical work is cumulative,
expansive, and, as the task is performed, contributes
to knowledge constructed by the user.
These features are frequently observed in journeymen
and master technicians. Performance
support systems provide prescriptive information
to enable a user to accomplish a task such
as locking-up a piece of stock in a vertical
milling machine. Expanded information in the
form of troubleshooting rubrics, case studies,
workflow summaries, and calculation wizards
are also provided in the context of the specific
task. A user’s interaction with this information
can lead to higher level thinking and the construction
of knowledge enabling the user to realize
concrete and abstract concepts and principles
(Hambrick, Kane & Engle, 2005 ). When
blended with social learning, scaffolding can
contribute to new technical as well as technological
literacy both in the workplace and the
classroom.
This article explores the relationship
between EPSS used to assist workers in the
performance of complex tasks and the
Electronic Performance Support Systems and
Technological Literacy
George R. Maughan
The Journal of Technology Studies
contributions these systems can make to the
development of overall technological literacy.
Several themes are discussed. First, the nature
of technological literacy is described. Second,
electronic performance support systems and
how they are used to support work is explored.
Third, the role of theoretical constructs within
cognition and constructivism and their relationship
to the development of technological literacy
is discussed. Finally, the challenges faced by
trainers and technical educators as they integrate
these themes into their work is considered.
Technological Literacy
The National Academy of Engineering and
the National Research Council’s jointly published
book Technically Speaking, opens the
executive summary by describing “an unacknowledged
paradox” (Pearson & Young, 2002,
p.1). This paradox is the current low level of
technological literacy in the midst of the widespread
use of technology. The authors challenge
K-12, higher education and adult education to
do their part to address this situation. One of the
most intriguing aspects of the work is the manner
in which technological literacy is described.
Three axis: knowledge, ways of thinking and
acting, and capabilities are conceptualized. (See
Figure 1.) Knowledge represents “knowing
about” and being able to recognize the numerous
ways technology is represented in our society,
including both devices and techniques and
large systems, as well as their impacts. Ways of
thinking and acting refers to one’s participation
in asking questions, seeking information and
making decisions about the use of technology.
Finally, capabilities refer to skills and abilities to
recognize and use tools, including such diverse
examples as cell phones and programmable control
units. This also includes the ability to apply
theories and principles.
It is within these dimensions that technological
literacy develops. Constructivist learning
theory suggests that when a user is engaging
technology and actively questioning and learning,
it is quite likely that knowledge and ways of
thinking and acting will develop (Fox, 2001).
Through the use of EPSS, employees may construct
knowledge necessary to perform complex
tasks in the workplace (Wittmann & Süß, 1999).
When coupled with social learning, EPSS may
assist learners in gaining new ways of thinking
and provide greater insight into the larger technological
world.
Electronic Performance Support
Systems
EPSS exists as stand-alone systems or as
systems embedded in the work process. Standalone
electronic performance support is made
available to the user while the work is on-going
but requires the user to seek or pull information
by querying. Many times this information is displayed
alongside work information. A device
such as the scan-tool marketed by Snap-on is a
good example. This device functions like most
scan tools used in automobile service settings
by providing troubleshooting codes for malfunctioning
engine, transmission, and ABS systems.
Yet, this tool goes a step further by providing
“troubleshooting” advice to technicians and
work-context answers to questions about problems
and possible solutions. These functions
operate in real-time and can also provide live
instrumentation on the actual system in question.
In another example of a stand-alone EPSS
application, many Sears service technicians use
laptop computers when servicing home appliances.
Although the laptop is networked to an
external database, the laptop does not directly
interface with the malfunctioning appliance. It
is quite common to see a technician referring to
his/her laptop while diagnosing or repairing an
appliance. The laptop communicates wirelessly
with the service vehicle parked in the driveway.
There the signal is transmitted to a comprehensive
database via a satellite link. This communication
illustrates the networking of the user’s
access device with external information.
Technicians can check model numbers against
parts lists, inventory and price information as
well as view diagrams and illustrations.
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Figure 1. Dimensions of technological
literacy (p.15)
The Journal of Technology Studies
Finally, another example of a stand-alone
EPSS is that of a European automobile manufacturer
that employs a “guided fault-finding”
system used by service technicians. A laptop
computer provides decision-branches for the
technician to follow in order to ensure consistency
in diagnostic efforts across dealerships.
This support system also provides documentation
of the technician’s work. The system is
based on a prompt-and-response procedure that
requires the technician to respond at each stage
of the guided process thereby tracking workflow.
The documentation is then transferred to
the technician’s memory stick and presented to
the service manager for analysis or payment calculations.
Embedded electronic performance support
is provided by devices that are interfaced into
the work process. They provide suggestions and
relevant information to the user during the performance
of work by pushing some information
to the user as well as responding to user queries.
A simple example of an embedded EPSS system
is the ubiquitous word processing software
that corrects or underlines misspelled words as
one types on the computer. Another type of support
is the feature that recognizes the task one is
performing and offers to provide support via an
intelligent agent. For example, when beginning
a new word processing document with “Dear
Sir,” the intelligent agent may query you to offer
assistance by displaying a text box that reads,
“It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you
like help?”
Intuit’s Turbo Tax is another example of a
user-friendly embedded support system that
prompts users for information and is capable of
running complex calculations. An on-line example
of a relatively powerful embedded system is
found at www.expedia.com. Here, the system
responds to information the user provides and
seeks clarification when necessary before
launching a search for airlines or hotels. A complete
“vacation wizard” is also available to provide
assistance to those who are “vacation challenged.”
A unique aspect of stand-alone or embedded
EPSS is the wearable feature. Demonstrated
in science fiction and action movies, wearable
EPSS devices have been portrayed as miniature
display panels in glasses or headbands that provide
text and imagery along with tiny ear pieces
and microphones that provide voice activated
commands or instructions. For these systems to
qualify as EPSS as described in this article, they
would provide only pre-created information,
learned information, or real-time information
without the intervention of people.
Wearable EPSS systems are no longer relegated
to the movies. A few years ago,
researchers at Georgia Tech studied the use of
stand-alone wearable computers for task guidance
in aircraft inspection. The equipment configuration
consisted of very small computer
with data storage and voice recognition software
worn on a belt, a head strap with monochrome
display and a microphone. The task performed
by subjects using the EPSS was the external
preflight inspection of a Cessna 172. Three
experimental groups performed the task from
memory, using text, or using photographs taken
from the operating manual of the aircraft.
Although no significant difference was found
among the groups, the observable lack of physical
contact with the aircraft by the pilots, who
seemed to rely heavily on the EPSS to guide
their preflight inspection, prompted researchers
to suggest additional study of the task context
and environmental context when using EPSS so
that users will be able to discriminate between
interacting with the EPSS and performing the
work task (triton.cc.gatech.edu/ubicomp/614).
Regardless of the degree of embeddedness,
EPSS consists of twelve possible support structures
for workers. Each is tailored to a related
set of work tasks, the level of task complexity
varying for each. Imagine each of the following
being used to support the multi-step task of
replacing a residential hot water heater or performing
a pre-flight inspection of a single
engine aircraft. These structures, adapted from
Gery (1995, p. 52), include:
Cue Cards. Single ideas or small sets
of facts.
Explanations or Demonstrations. Mini
lessons that explain concepts or processes,
or graphical presentations of the effect
of variables (heat, pressure, time, etc)
on materials.
Wizards, Assistants, or Helpers. Sets of
queries and prompts that enable the system
to perform relatively complex plans or
solutions.
Coaches or Guides. Step by step
instructors to perform a task.
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The Journal of Technology Studies
Searchable Reference. Presentations of
glossary, safety precautions, specification
charts, tables, and graphs.
Checklist. Mini check lists of flow charts
or processes.
Process Map. Graphical representation
of flow charts or decision trees.
Examples. Mini cases representing
solutions to similar problems.
Templates. Pre-existing solutions to design
or process problems.
Tips. Hints to optimize efficiency, avoid
problems or to alert users to unique
situations.
Practice Activities. Sample problems
or exercises to develop skills.
Assessments. Clusters of questions to be
used as self-assessment and/or to engage
in some type of pin-point diagnostic.
It is apparent that a great deal of effort goes
into the creation of EPSS. Of course, more than
a single task-set is supported; related tasks may
also be supported. The hot water tank replacement
task support would probably be accompanied
with support structures for related home
maintenance tasks such as replacing a kitchen
sink and replacing windows. The variety of support
structures provides flexibility for individuals
who require specific information, yet can
accommodate the individual needs of a number
of workers.
The degree to which EPSS can support
workers or students is influenced by the means
of access a user has to the system, and the level
of intelligence built into it. Access is influenced
by the type of work the system is supporting
and the manner through which the user interfaces
and navigates within the system. Devices
such as optical scanners, keypads, touchscreens,
visual displays or voice controlled
devices have unique impacts on navigation within
the EPSS. Graphical user interfaces that provide
alternative views, multiple reference and
access points and contextual feedback - all with
text and imagery, is desirable. A “text only”
default is rarely adequate. Access points and
strategies can vary between novice and experienced
users frequently requiring multiple pathways
to the same information. For example, if
an EPSS were available for diagnosing drivability
problems on a motorcycle, it could be embedded
into a dynamometer (Maughan, 2005) and
provide real-time graphical displays of engine
performance while identifying faults when the
engine is under different loads and supplying
the technician with possible repair strategies.
Levels of intelligence built into EPSS determine
how adaptable the interface can be and
how the system can acquire new knowledge.
According to Janet Cichelli, Chief Technologist,
SI International, Inc., five levels of intelligence
have been described: static, maintained, standardized,
dynamic and intelligent (Cichelli,
2004). A static level of information may be
information about specifications, procedures, or
frequently asked questions/answers associated
with the task. As systems are given the capacity
to learn, they progress in sophistication by
updating changes in the basic information available
and creating more standardized task scenarios
of “if this, then this.” These features are very
useful to typical users. However, it is the top
two levels, dynamic and intelligent, that represent
the power of EPSS to adjust to various
users’ entry levels and link learned information
about the user’s experience in relation to the
specific task as well as universal task issues.
Truly intelligent EPSS may acquire sufficient
knowledge to provide suggestions to overall
workflow, previous unconsidered efficiencies, as
well as simple task completion information.
Constructed Knowledge and
Cognition
Training and education activities are
informed by various theories of learning.
Although a number of theories may apply, the
theory that relates most to the fundamental
practice of using EPSS to support the performance
of workers and develop a broader technological
literacy is constructivism. Constructivists
view the learner as actively constructing new
knowledge drawing upon pre-existing information
and past experiences. As experience is
gained and knowledge is built, learning opportunities
produce new concepts or ideas
(Maughan & Anderson, 2005). Most workers
are actively engaged in the learning experience.
In addition to engagement through doing, reading,
calculating and viewing, collaboration with
other learners provides alternate perspectives to
consider and adds meaning to new knowledge.
In addition, learners bring experiences as consumers
or hobbyists to the learning process,
helping fill in gaps with new knowledge and
facilitating higher order thinking.
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The Journal of Technology Studies
Fox (2001) explains that learning constructed
by the individual can be achieved in many
ways and that the paths to learning are not
always compatible. The learner may realize the
path they decide to take is incorrect and learn
from this mistake; thus, the experience of the
mistake has assisted in the learning process.
Multiple pathways to information need to be
provided for different learners. Facilitating the
learner’s demand for information, when and in
what form the learner prefers, is an important
function of EPSS.
Learning requires activity and is best facilitated
through action. For example, one can better
understand the concept of torque if he/she
has turned a torque wrench on a bolt and felt the
tension while watching the pointer move across
the scale. Technology education and vocational
and career tech programs have long recognized
the importance of this type of active learning.
Most industry training programs are also based
on a praxis or doing model. EPSS engages the
learner by providing highly relevant information
while tasks are performed.
The process of turning information as a
commodity into knowledge as it is conceptualized
by cognitive scientists involves stringent
analysis. On a conceptual level, Brown and
Duguid (2000) offer three distinctions: 1.
knowledge is associated with an individual, 2.
knowledge transfer is not easy, and 3. knowledge
acquisition requires assimilation based on
the knower’s “understanding and some degree of
commitment” (p. 120). Obviously, to benefit an
organization, knowledge must inform practice.
In the workplace, that means that knowledge
must contribute to the act of work by an individual
or through collaboration with workgroups.
The third distinction relates to a direct benefit
of the use of EPSS since the learner’s assimilation
occurs within, and because of, the work situation
in which the learner is committed to
learning en-route to successful completion.
The potential of achieving higher-level cognition
from the use of EPSS is probably dependent
on the relationship among working memory,
short-term memory (STM), and long-term
memory (LTM) (Wittmann & Süß, 1999;
Hambrick, Kane, & Engle, 2005). STM is influenced
by sensory input of information in the
common domains of language, text, sights,
sounds and smells. This information remains
available to the individual for only a matter of
seconds or minutes. The variance among individuals
may be influenced by their ability to
attend and the nature of what is to be learned
(Hambrick, Kane, & Engle, 2005).
Repetition or scaffolding techniques applied
to information in STM may cause it to become
stored as LTM. Once there, LTM is generally
not influenced by time – in fact, it can be theorized
that once information is accumulated into
LTM it may reside there indefinitely. Problems
with LTM usually relate to accessing information
and integrating smaller bits of information
into larger concepts and principles from which
higher-order thinking might occur. Furthermore,
the cognitive capacity to plan how to apply
information from memory to perform a task,
known as executive functioning, can influence
the overall effectiveness of using EPSS. These
cognitive processes become very important to
consider in their relationship to the development
of technological literacy through the use of
EPSS.
One way LTM may be accessed and integrated
is through interaction with others. By
communicating across the workgroup, the
assimilation of information can result in the
evolution of various levels of knowledge (Lave
& Wenger, 1993). In their recent book, Salas &
Fiore (2004) postulate that a key to understanding
work process and performance is team cognition,
the collective level of thinking within a
group. Recent evidence supports that there
exists “direct and indirect relationships between
team effectiveness and various operationalizations
of common cognitions among team members
(Rentsch & Woehr, 2004, p.11).
The construction of technological literacy
through the use of EPSS requires an understanding
of work tasks, cognitive functioning, and
design principles for electronic performance
support devices, software, and interfaces. The
social learning that occurs in a work or learning
environment contributes to individual high-level
thinking and team knowledge. Although these
variables and subsequent systems are often considered
in the workplace, it is important to recognize
the potential of EPSS in schools. Most
certainly the development of performance systems
in business would look different than those
in schools (Sleight, 1992). Educators are
encouraged to think about the comprehensive
nature of EPSS development and select those
features and systems that can be created and
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The Journal of Technology Studies
used in settings that do not have the resources or
infrastructure for fully developed systems.
Challenges
Although the challenges to trainers and
teachers developing and using EPSS are many,
the following describes four categories.
Communication and computer infrastructure
The creation of a seamless EPSS information
infrastructure comprised of user access
devices, networks, developer skills, application
policy, and financial support is a challenge to
many organizations (Maughan, 2001). The provision
of access terminals or nodes may vary
from cabled bench-top computers to wearable
wireless devices. Network capacity could range
from delivering text-based information to fullmotion
video warehoused in multi-layered databases
and connected to real-time process data.
In most cases, the speed of data transfer is very
high in order to accommodate multiple simultaneous
users. This capability is best served in
large organizations by their enterprise system.
In such cases EPSS users must undergo training
to be able to access the system at a level of proficiency
necessary to acquire support for the
tasks they perform. In addition, if voice interface
is a feature of the EPSS, the user must
teach the system to recognize his/her voice.
EPSS development generally requires a
multidisciplinary team approach. The situation
and degree of use of EPSS must be clarified
through policy in order to optimize the potential
symbiosis between the EPSS and the user, so
that inappropriate application will not result in
decreased efficiency in the work process.
Structural changes in an organization may occur
as trainers and teachers move from a linear paradigm
of instruction (training followed by application
to work), to a paradigm that includes the
traditional linear model as well as models where
employees or students also construct knowledge
through experience or with the support of performance
systems while doing work. Financial
resources must be in place for the purchase,
development, and maintenance of the system.
Alternatives to fully integrated communication
and information systems are available to most
trainers and teachers. The most fundamental of
these are hand held and desktop computers.
Knowledge management
Knowledge management is also a challenge
to organizations moving towards the integration
of EPSS. EPSS requires that relatively large
amounts of knowledge be sorted and organized
into smaller chunks and placed in the appropriate
contexts of particular work processes. This
can be difficult for trainers and teachers.
Traditional industry and school curricula tend to
treat content in an abstract or formal epistemological
fashion independent of applications or
work settings. Knowledge management in the
support of task performance must be derived
from the activity and involves identifying and
capturing knowledge, indexing knowledge, and
making knowledge available to users in flexible
and useful ways (Siemens, 2004). Furthermore,
it must be acknowledged that the practice of
communicating knowledge across an organization
depends on the varying communication patterns
of workgroups, that in practice, also vary
greatly from organization to organization.
Usability
Trainers and teachers tend to develop an
unscientific assessment of the knowledge learners
bring to the task of learning advanced or relatively
new content. For any task, learners can
be categorized in terms of possessing prerequisite
knowledge as basic, intermediate, or
advanced. This assessment can be verified with
pre-test or screening instruments, although this
is rarely done in education or industry environments.
The task for developers of EPSS is to
envision multiple access points within the
process during which task support is offered –
some at very basic levels, continuing in hierarchical
fashion to very advanced levels of entry
skills, knowledge and ability. In many cases
this is not merely an investigation into a linear
continuum of difficulty, but often requires the
integration of related attributes and concepts
fundamental to achieve success. Ideally, as
workers or students perform iterative tasks,
information corrections as well as new information
needs should be provided to developers so
that the support structures can be improved for
the next execution cycle (Darling, Parry &
Moore, 2005).
Presentation
Performance specialists frequently refer to
“The Performance Zone” when developing
EPSS (Dickelman, 1995; Degler & Battle,
2001). This zone is the center of a venn diagram
that consists of three slightly overlapping circles.
These three critical elements enable performance:
information appropriate to the task,
information appropriate to the person and
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The Journal of Technology Studies
information containing critical features of the
world. By ensuring that each of these features
are integrated through the means of a graphical
user interface, an EPSS can optimize the efficiency
of the support provided to workers or
learners. EPSS developers must create a virtual
world of work without omitting major human
attributes (Dickelman, 1995). As sophisticated
as a cleverly designed screen may look, the integrating
of information needed to enable a worker
to make a decision boils down to presenting
the totality of the task, not just bits of information.
In essence, the EPSS must process information
based on the immediate task and the
demands of the user.
Conclusions
Certainly the improvement of organization
and individual performance requires a focus on
the structure of work and workforce training.
Because work task performance generally
requires the application of specific skills and
knowledge, training often focuses on this level
of employee learning at the expense of developing
a broader technological literacy. Some argue
that this approach might limit decision-making
and innovation. Improving human performance
through the development of specific skills and
knowledge, in addition to broader technological
literacy has been a major goal of practioners
and researchers. Furthermore, efforts to understand
the relationship between support structures
for the development of specific skills and
knowledge to perform tasks and the development
of high cognition levels are on-going. The
many disparate attempts to characterize learning
organizations and high performance workplaces
illustrate this point.
Traditional approaches to developing technological
literacy through formal education and
training programs must continue and expand.
However, EPSS can provide alternative learning
opportunities to supplement traditional classroom
or training strategies. Today’s students
may benefit from educational settings and
strategies that they will use in the future. In
using EPSS to nurture the development of technological
literacy, workers and students can
achieve higher level cognition skills while they
perform tasks. Although there are unique challenges
to the development and use of EPSS,
efforts to overcome these challenges are becoming
more widespread. Additional research in this
area could provide trainers and educators with
new strategies and tools for performance
enhancement.
Dr. George R. Maughan is Professor of
Industrial Technology Education at Indiana
State University, Terre Haute.
55
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