Towards Integrated Learning and Teaching Environments
(position paper for the WWW 6 Workshop "Teaching and Learning with the WWW: Learning from the past")
Name: Daniel Schneider and Patrick Jermann
Affiliation: Tecfa, Faculté de psychologie et des sciences de l'éducation, Université de Genève
Address: 9 route de Drize, CH-1227 Carouge
Issues for discussion
We would like to discuss several groups of issues in this workshop:
We are aware that some of these issues do overlap and that we
ask too many and sometimes too general questions. Let's
see what we can do within a one-day workshop.
- As first issue we'd like to roundup opinions of the participants
about the state of "Virtual Campuses" and more generally "Education
on the Internet". This is partly related to
our well founded hope that after 2 years of near absence we will manage
to save our
WWW Virtual Library on Educational Technology from "near death".
A first trial is here (might be moved again). It's based on a MSQL data-base that
needs to be filled in.
In addition our unit
has built a Swiss server for education
(German/French only so far) that could profit from some insights.
- As second issue we would like to address dynamic, persistent, multi-user
worlds and their role in education (also in relation to more
groupware-oriented "Virtual Campuses").
Such environments will without doubt
become quite popular although it's a bit difficult to see in which
direction we are heading and how future "educational worlds" might
look like. We do have our own text-based multi-user world
and currently are investigating VRML-based technology.
- As third issue we wonder how we could better integrate
research in advanced learning environments with the Internet.
We'd like to refer to work done in the "Artificial Intelligence
and Education" (AI&Ed) Community which over the last years tried
to combine principles
derived from artificial intelligence,
cognitive science, human-computer interaction, and related fields.
for the design of systems to support learning.
1. Virtual Campuses: What can we do ?
In discussing the role of technological support in education, Sandberg, (1994: 225)
identifies the components of a (technologically rich) learning
environment. These components must all be there in order to optimize
learning. However, they can be ``implemented'' in many different ways. Each
component has functionalities that we should insure in a "virtual
At a different level, we can identify the following three key components:
(1) Information, (2) Communication,
and (3) Computer-based learning
``Teacher'' component: Its role is to provide something between
loose guidance and direct instruction. It can be a human agent
(present or distant), an intelligent agent, instructions like some
text books provide, etc. This component provides information from
the syllabus to the task level.
``Monitor component: Ensures that something is learned. A role
taken by either the human teacher, the learner (self-control) or by
``Fellow learners'' component: Improves the learning process (some
research tries to implement artificial ones).
``Learning material'': Contains what has to be learned in a very
broad sense (knowing what, knowing how). It can be
computational in various ways (exploratory hypertext, lesson and task
oriented hypertext, simulation software, task solving environments,
``External information sources'': All kinds of information which is
not directly stored in the learning material (e.g. additional
material, handbooks, manuals, etc.).
``Tools'': Everything which may help the learning process other
then the learning material (e.g. calculators, communication
``School'' [a category we added]: Something that provides a
curriculum and does student administration.
They typically come in separate form, Information and Communication being
pre-dominant in the Internet World.
Issue 1 Questions:
Here are some resource pages referring to learning and teaching theories:
Question: Any other major sites on that topic ?
- Do you agree with Sandberg's figure and can we fill in every "function" with a good example (articles, deployed systems) ?
- Now how can we combine Information, Communication and Computer based
Learning systems to gain additional synergy ? After all, one
major advantage of
Internet is the possibility of integrating
different kinds of content and communication.
- What is the state of CBL over the Internet ? Typically, most CBL
programs are built with specialized tools such as
or Macromedia's Authorware).
What is the state of tools and concepts available for
Internet Content providers (including plug-ins provided for
traditional authoring tools) ?
- The major part of educational material on the WWW are course notes.
Next, we find some structured and well designed teaching materials including
texts, exercises and tests. More sophisticated applications are rather
scarce, although educational philosophy advocated is changing
at the CyberEd site
. Will we see more interactive "learning-by-doing" on the WWW in the nearer future ? And is it necessary ?
2. Dynamic Worlds for learning and Teaching
Right now there seem to be 2 major strings of research and development:
A lot of design issues could be addressed.
We single out just a few
(for others see our position paper for the WWW 5 workshop on Virtual Environments
and the WWW):
- Educational groupware:
On-line materials + tests+ email + forums + student management + voice/video,
e.g. systems like WebCT
the Clyde Virtual University
and WEST (http://west.ucd.ie).
- Multi-user Worlds:
Multi-user Worlds favor social immersion within a real-time multi-user environment.
Most allow user-built extensions and are built on persistent objects.
For a MUD-biased index, see our Educational VR page
Within these we find 2 major types:
- MUD-based worlds (some providing a 2D GUI).
- 3D Worlds, (some of which based on VRML technology.
Do different kinds of "educational worlds" favor different pedagogies ?
In the appendix we present a short comparison
between groupware, VR and MUD - oriented worlds that answers this question
Do different types of immersion favor different types of learning ?
According to Zeltzer/ we can classify a virtual environment with
the following dimensions:
According to Whitelock, Brna and Holland,
different degrees of immersion
are probably better suited for different types of learning:
- Autonomy: how things react.
- Interaction: how things are manipulated.
- Presence: immersion of the user.
When is immersion useful and when isn't it ?
Issue 2c: How can we optimally use different media ?
CMC technology implements an amazing amount of different media
that can be categorized in various way (for an attempt
Gay's and Lentini's
"Use of Communication Resources in a Networked Collaborative Design Environment" paper, see the appendix)
One of our
research projects has shown
that building shared problem representations (grounding)
are facilitated when different media are available,
but also that different users have different preferences.
Different media bring different resources and constraints on grounding as well as having different associated costs.
Any comments on that ?
Issue 2d: Structured vs. unstructured interfaces
One of our research projects has shown that
content type of utterances is related to the interface type usage.
When do constrained (structured) interfaces help learners,
when do they rather hinder it ?
At at more conceptual level we can ask how we can
"encrypt" optional conditions of collaborative learning within
a virtual environment.
Issue 2e. Is it true that most things seen on the Web favor quite a traditional approach ?
And is the situation really different in multi-user "worlds" ?
Does the "virtual community effect" have any impact on learning,
i.e. does "being there" help, at least by providing motivation ?
3. Advanced Learning Environments over the Internet ?
A lot (if not most) Advanced Learning Environments research has been
addressed by AI&Ed researchers.
E.g. see the goals of the AI-Ed society
(http://cbl.leeds.ac.uk/ijaied/home.html) or the topics addressed in the next AI-Ed conference
Obviously, Internet will change the Distance Teaching Market (and
further enable "On the Spot" and "Just in Time Learning"), but
this is not the (btw important) issue we want to address here.
We'd like to discuss what's really exciting about new Internet
technologies for people working on advanced learning environments.
Here are (a few) of our questions:
- Nothing will change in the immediate future ? After all we did have networked computers
for years in education (and nicely written text books too)
and the issues at hand have
not become easier. Proof for that statement is that most Internet
educators ignore advanced research in learning technology (and the
other way round). Have a look at the
of the last
European Conference on AI in Education last fall.
(or become a reader of the
International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education).
Also interesting are books like
Tiffin's and Rajasingham's "In Search of The Virtual Class" who assign
a major role to AI but blatantly ignore 15 years of well organized
research in that area.
Exceptions are rare, e.g.
- Can we make learning environments more fail-safe
by adding humans, e.g. tutors and co-learners ?
(Artificial Tutors tend to get stuck in some situations.)
In addition, since many researchers in advanced
learning environments point out to "cooperation" as the
hot topic, Internet may have it's chance there by providing at least
better Collaborative Interactive Hypermedia on a wider basis.
- Designing and prototyping software is very expensive.
Over the Internet, cooperative projects could be done more easily,
although ideal instruments are still lacking in our opinion.
The "all-in-one-potential" of "Cyberdesktops" also does have appeal
for development as it is shown for example in some MOO servers
that are used for all sorts of purposes (virtual communities,
on-line classes, simulations, collaboration research and more).
In such worlds, people can built on top of what others are doing.
Could we design a "virtual place" where researchers could develop their
projects based on some shared infrastructure ?
- Virtual Agents:
In the AI-Ed community agents refer to tutors, coaches, co-learners and
such whereas in the Internet community they mostly name some kind
of smart search engines.
Where is the potential of more versatile agents on the Internet ?
Also, can we build simpler agents in virtual worlds ?
- Persistence of user-created objects: In stand-alone
applications, most things built by the user are lost at some point
(or at least isolated from co-learners). Virtual worlds could boost
co-learning by sharing objects with others. In addition,
what could be gained
from "walls with memory" in Virtual Worlds ?.
- How could AI help designing immersive "conceptual spaces" or
"living" representations of educational content ?
After all, representation is one of the key research areas in
artificial intelligence and so far only smart search engines have
profited from this body of knowledge.
How can we represent abstract concepts or writings within
a virtual space and what does it buy us ?
- Learning is experience: Does Internet favor that
? Can we build spaces where people experience
a wide area of topics (e.g besides
circular themes such as learning how to program within a multi-user
programmable environment?) Furthermore: How can we avoid the "video
game effect", i.e. people learning how to manipulate the "virtual"
without learning from it for the real ?
- How could we use smart WWW servers ?.
Can we get more educational value out of specialized Web servers
e.g. "webbed MOO servers" and the
Common Lisp Hypermedia Server ?
Smart (e.g. adaptive) hypertext certainly falls into this category.
Daniel K. Schneider is a research associate at the Educational
Technology Unit (TECFA), Faculty of Psychology and Education,
University of Geneva, Switzerland. His current research interest
include computer mediated communication and information tools on the
He currently teaches a CMC class and a "cyberspace" programming lab
the computational infrastructure of TECFA.
In the past he has worked on intelligent learning
environments (AI & education) and cognitive modeling. He is a trained
political scientist and wrote a Ph.D on modeling political decision
is a research assistant at the Educational
Technology Unit (TECFA), Faculty of Psychology and Education,
University of Geneva, Switzerland. His current work focuses on
the use of semi-structured interfaces in collaborative
problem-solving. He is administrating a server dedicated to
swiss educational research (http://agora.unige.ch) and
collaborates to a programming course for educators and
TECFA ("Technologies de Formation et Apprentissage") is a small academic
unit active in the field of educational technology. It belongs to the
School of Psychology and Education ("Faculté de Psychologie et des
Sciences de l'Education) of the University of Geneva.
TECFA's research covers a large area of interests,
including: cognitive issues in learning technology, applications of
artificial intelligence to education, cognitive effects of educational
software, computer mediated communication and information systems in
education, multimedia courseware, and distance education. Since Fall
1994 TECFA offers a postgraduate diploma (DES) in educational
technology ("Sciences et Technologies de l'Apprentissage et de la
Formation") within which we both use and teach Internet-based technology.
More on Issue 1
Let's look at some of the more popular www/internet technologies.
Are some technologies better suited for some functions ?
E.g. does the following table make sense ?
Internet in a global learning environment
|What Technology||"school"||teacher||monitor||fellow learners||learning material||Ext. info sources||tools|
|Simple WWW||*||*||- ||*||**||***||*|
|WWW with server-side scripts||**||**||**||**||**||***||**|
|WWW & local clients|| ||*||(*)||-||***|| ||***|
|WWW mobile code|| || ||*||*||**||*||**|
|WWW "exotic" Plugins|| || ||(*)||(*)||***||**||**|
|Email|| ||**||**||**|| ||**|| |
| ||**||*||***||*||**|| |
|Electronic Classrooms|| ||***||*||***|| || || |
(groupware and materials)
|CSCL and CSCW|
| || || ||***||**(*)|| ||***|
More on issue 2
More on Issue 2a: Differences between VR, MUDS and Virtual Classrooms
Does the following table make sense ?
VR vs. MUDS vs. "Virtual Classrooms"
| || immersive VR||"Virtual classroom"||"MUDs"||WWW pages|
|produced by||Computer people and artists||Instructional specialists||everybody||everybody|
|typical educational users||kids||students||larger audience|
|favorite subject ||visualization||all||human sciences ||all|
|favored activity||object manipulation||questions/answers||discussion /construction||lecture|
|Instruction (information-do-test loops||Vygotsky (proximal learning)||?|
|deployed in education?||no||yes||yes||yes|
|media||interfaces RV||groupware tools |
and voice video
|text, but also HTML, VRML, GUIs|| |
| virtual presence|
(via an avatar)
|N users||2 (10)||20 (100)||200 (1000)|| |
|ease of use||medium||yes||medium||yes|
|interactive 3D graphics|
|pedagogical effectiveness||collaboration and social learning|
More on issue 2c
Here is a short attempt list various criteria for classifying CMC media.
|Co-presence||Are participants "present" in the same location ?|
|Visibility||Are participants visible ?|
|Audibility||Can people talk and listen ?|
|co-temporality||Do people communicate at the same time ?|
|sequenciality||How fast do we get a reaction usually ?|
|reviewability||Can people review what has been uttered ?|
|revisability||Can people revise before they send something ?|
|archivability||Can the result be stored easily ?|
|user numbers||How many users can participate at the same time ? ?|
|proxemics||At what distance can people be within a medium|
|simultaneity||Can people "utter" at the very same time ? turn-taking ?|
|multi-channels||How many channels can participants use ?|
|multi-media||What kind of media does it support ?|
|instrusiveness||How intrusive is the tool ?|
|structuredness||How does the tool pre-structure conversation ?|
Each of these features appear with different weight in various
Media Aspects of a few types
(This table is filled in a bit randomly for now)
| ||face to|
| || || || || || || || || |
What makes a difference
and which difference? Does it make sense to constrain an educational
virtual world to a small subset of these ?
Gay, G. and Lentini, M. (1995)
Use of Communication Resources in a Networked Collaborative Design Environment,
Sandberg, J. A. (1994).
Educational paradigms: issues and trends.
In Lewis, R. Mendelsohn, P., (ed.), Lessons from Learning, (IFIP
TC3/WG3.3 Working Conference 1993), pages 13--22, Amsterdam. North-Holland.
Tiffin,J. and Rajasingham, L. (1995). In Search of the Virtual Class. London. Routledge.
Whitelock, D. Bran, P., Holland S. (1996)
What is the Value of Virtual Reality for Conceptual Learning? Towards a Theoretical Framework, Lisbon, EuroAIED 96 conference.
Zeltzer D. (1992). Autonomy, Interaction,and Presence. Presence. 1(1):127-132.