Information Scaffolding (IS) is a user-centered approach to information design; a method devised to aid “everyday” authors with information composition. Information Scaffolding begins by asking authors to re-frame the authoring process - viewing it not as a simple documenting step (author-centered) but instead as a process of informing (audience-centered). Information Scaffolding places a premium on audience-centered documents by emphasizing the information needs and motivations of a document's intended audience. The aim of this method is to structure information such that an intended audience can gain a fuller understanding of the message presented and is then able to integrate this knowledge for future use. Information Scaffolding looks to strengthen the quality of a document’s impact both on the individual and in the ongoing disciplinary discussion by better couching a document’s contents in a manner relevant to the user.
to Document , v 1648 1. trans. To teach, or instruct. [OED]
Today, we all have experience as both users and creators of information. From the user-perspective the new challenge isn’t finding information but sorting it, selecting from it, and maintaining focus. Defining the means and methods for processing and prioritizing information for a world where time is scarce and the amount of information is overwhelming - is an ongoing challenge. Information Scaffolding asks authors to acknowledge the potential challenges and constraints we all face when attempting to digest a document and to 'learn' from it, and then asks authors to participate more fully in this process by addressing some of the needs of the intended audience up front.
Information. 1387 I. The action of informing; formation or moulding of the mind or character, training, instruction, teaching; communication of instructive knowledge. now rare. [OED]
Not enough credit is given to the shape of information. Often it is the form, the embodiment, the 'nature' of the information, and what the information 'affords' us that supports and enables user-comprehension. Information Scaffolding leverages the design of information in an author-friendly, flexible and effective manner to address audience needs. Information Scaffolding isn’t looking to dress up or ‘sell’ information, but instead asking us to acknowledge how much easier it is to learn when the information 'speaks to us'. When information 'resonates' with us, when the author has paid time and attention so that our efforts aren't spent grasping terms and symbols, when we don’t find ourselves lost within a document, confused about what information has been taken in and where to go next - is when we can best learn. Information Scaffolding is born of the belief that the new and old meaning of information is to inform, rather than to document.
Again, the aim of Information Scaffolding is to aid the audience understanding to closely parallel the “everyday” author’s intended message goals and make the information takeaways salient for future use via improved user-comprehension and long-term knowledge integration.
Formally, Information Scaffolding structures information to facilitate comprehension by a range of interested users: with conscious consideration given to their information and instructional needs, abilities and values; as well as to the affordances of the medium and knowledge domains. The scaffolding of information should:
- Keep the big picture central and in focus.
- Organize and support the comprehension process.
- Place a premium on clarity, clear direction and minimizing confusion.
*[adapted from McKenzie '99]
Information Scaffolding suggests simple heuristic methods for consideration by the “everyday” author to support audience-centered information design. Three facets characterize the Information Scaffolding process. Each is a necessary attribute from the user-centered perspective, complementing and informing the other two throughout the process.
Three facets characterize Information Scaffolding:
1. A simple framework of how the mind works and how people learn, key terms and language. Key terms include information processing and cognitive overload.
2. An ability to assess the information needs and motivations of the document audience. Tools include concept inventories and audience assessment.
3. A set of simple design principles/suggestions from education, design & information science for the scaffolding and composition of information.
[McKenzie ’99] - McKenzie, J (1999). Scaffolding for Success.. Beyond Technology: Questioning,
Research and the Information Literate School Community. www.fno.org—scaffold.html.
if you can help someone turn information into knowledge,
if you can help them make sense
of the world, you win.
--- john battelle
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