This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Design, Media and Virtual Learning Environment
Simone Alves Nogueira September 2006 London
Supported by the Programme Alβan, the European Union programme of High Level Scholarships for Latin America, scholarship no. E05M060354BR.
We never accomplish anything alone. That’s why I would like to thank Beatriz, Stela, Luiz and Silvia. Without their support I would not have been able to complete this work. I would also like to thank the Programme Alβan for funding my studies. I’ll remember always the support and friendship of Rodrigo, Jack, Christina, Erica and Max. Thank you dear friends! Our good moments together will be unforgettable. My heartfelt thanks also to Karen and Marcelo, who shared my UK adventure, and David, my best “world friend”. To my family and Daigo’s family all my love and appreciation for having them follow our steps far from home. Special thanks to Roman, a special teacher. This project is dedicated to Daigo, who always help me to make my dreams come true.
Contents Part I
Introduction........................................................................................... 5 People, activities, context and technologies (PACT)… and CONTENT ...... 7 Interaction........................................................................................ 7 The concept of PACT .......................................................................... 8 Content............................................................................................ 9 People are looking for the content .......................................................10 Virtual Learning Environment .............................................................11 System content and subject content ....................................................14 People and content: the learning process ............................................. 20 Production system: the goals and sub-goals .........................................22 Parallel distributed process.................................................................22 Zone of Proximal Development ...........................................................23 Experiential learning .........................................................................24 Activities: the “what” and “how” of an interactive system.................... 26 Visibility ..........................................................................................27 Affordance .......................................................................................29 Conceptual model .............................................................................29 Mapping ..........................................................................................30 Feedback.........................................................................................31 Context: inside and outside .................................................................. 32 Technologies: interaction with the system and subject content ............ 33
Design, Media and Virtual Learning Environment: a practical proposal . 36 Tabletop..........................................................................................37 Metaphor.........................................................................................38 Perspective and movement ................................................................39 Eye tracking.....................................................................................40 Interactive Medias in an interactive environment...................................41 Conclusion ........................................................................................... 42 References ........................................................................................... 43
Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows. Seymour Papert’s principle
Introduction The development of the new technologies has improved the interaction between people and machines, and between people. For education, these new technologies motivated universities, companies and other institutions to approach the teaching-learning process in a more effective way for those who would like (or need) to study in distance learning courses. This project is a reflection and evaluation of how a well designed interactive virtual learning environment - focused on a learner-centred context and which takes into consideration user perception, participation and learning activities – can help students attain their personal and educational potential and improve constructively the teaching-learning process. A virtual learning environment (VLE) – an on-line system developed to support education via computational devices – is a designed information space1 which demands a better understanding from designers of the functional
Pierre, Dillenbourg. Virtual Learning Environment. 2000. http://tecfa.unige.ch/tecfa/publicat/dilpapers-2/Dil.7.5.18.pdf
relationship between how information is structured and represented and how it can be interacted with learning activities. Divided into theoretical and practical approaches, this text has two parts: Part I is composed of premises about design for interaction concerning their significance for the development of systems that are focused in online courses. This part presents reflections about the concept of PACT published by Benyon, Turner and Turner in the book Designing Interactive Systems: people, activities, contexts and technologies - and the additional concept of CONTENT in the interaction process. Those concepts have an important role in the assumptions presented in each topic, as they are the guidelines for the arguments and descriptions about a better interaction with the VLE. To reflect about the design of a VLE that is deeply relevant to a high level education, it is necessary first to examine how people learn, remember and create new ideas, as all interactive projects should meet the student’s demands. Second, it is important to understand how activities can help students interact with content in a more engaged way. The reflection on, practise and evaluation of information by the user is essential in educational system and activities help the user pass by each of these steps in her/his studies. Third, it is necessary to explore the context of the student in an e-learning situation, which involves inner and outer environments. Finally, it is significant to know the role of new technologies for distance learning and how those technologies can be helpful to the students in the development of VLEs. But all these concepts are not strong enough if it is not considerate by the designer the main goal of the student: the content. Although the idea of PACT presented by the authors cited was conceptualized to teach how to design an interactive system, the project takes this theory to analyse the aspects that involves specifically the design of VLEs. Others authors such as Johnson-Laird (1998) and Norman (1999) were important reference to develop a deeper reflection about this concept and Bush (1945), Paper (1980) and Alan Kay (1995) were an inspiration to the realization of the practical project proposed in Part II: a virtual environ-
ment conceptualized for education. This part explores a new way of designing an educational system with the needs of students, particularly those learning from a distance, in mind. Parts I and II include principles for better interaction between student and system in a distance learning context. The project does not claim to solve all the challenges implicated in the development of VLEs but, rather, suggests some practical applications of the design of a more effective and engaging interactive environment. It is important to stress that the research is in the field of environmental interaction (inner + outer) and not directly in the field of social interaction.
People, activities, content and technologies (PACT) … and CONTENT Interaction The concept of interaction is broadly applied and studied: social interaction, system interaction, environmental interaction – interaction within environments, interaction with physical objects/devices. Social interaction is not only the communication between people but can also be the communication between people supported by a device. The presence of the device implies interaction with a physical object/product/tool. Surrounded by a range of different devices, the user (student) is in a concrete interactive environment. An interactive environment can be a virtual system, as presented in this text, or can be a workplace. Interaction is characterised and determined by action and reaction - input and output - between the user and the environment. All interaction will have a response, even though this reaction is movement or sound. Some interactive devices are related to the interaction process of itself, others are related to interaction with the content. For example: when one squeezes a rubber ball there is a kinaesthetic interaction with the object. When one presses a rubber ball and knows that when s/he does so the
ball emits sound the interaction is to access the sound (content) rather than the object. This is a simple example but shows a very important difference between the interaction with the device and with the content. This distinction is better explained in addition to the concept of PACT. Norman (1999) argues interaction is ruled by goals, the motivation to achieve something. The figure below represents Norman’s concept of “Seven Stages of Action” (figure 1), showing how the user’s goals are transformed in intentions that are transformed in actions in order to get the goal. As soon as the world responds to the user’s action; the user perceives the result of her/his action in the world; interprets what was perceived and evaluates the interpretations, checking if the goal was achieved. This is a basic concept that is definitive to understand how people interact with their environment and how goals and intentions make important part in this process.
Figure 1. Seven Stages of Action. Source: Norman (1999)
The concept of PACT According to Benyon, Turner & Turner People, Activities, Contexts and Technologies (PACT) is an acronym which attempts to cover all the concepts associated with interaction. People are an integral part of the design outcome and the process of interaction. Activities are the tasks the user has to carry out in order to achieve her/his intentions and goals. The context is related to the environment where the activities take place and how the physical, organizational and social relations between people and this environment are connected. Since the last century technologies have taken a major role in people’s lives as they have become important to most activities. People, activities, contexts and technologies are interdependent in an interactive system. There is no way of considering one without considering the others, as they are naturally linked. This taxonomy can be expressed as: people undertake activities in contexts using technologies.2 Although the PACT concept covers most matters concerning interaction with systems within a unified idea, there is an important concept missing in Benyon, Turner & Turner argument: the content. The assumption here is that the content is people’s main goals when interacting with a system. This concept is better explained in the next two topics below. Content According to McClintic (1985), content has taken over form as an important element in the Arts. Although form and content are interdependent in Arts, since the last century the artist has had a deeper concern for content3. McClintic argues “questions of meaning, referentiality, signification, and intention have become crucial considerations for artist, critic, and viewer.” Historically art has always been at the vanguard of the times, and it brings new concepts in its form, techniques and technologies. It has been a reference point and has helped many people come to new points of
2 Benyon, David & Turner, Phil & Turner, Susan. Designing interactive systems: people, activities, contexts, technologies. Pearson Education: England, 2005. 3 McClintic, Miranda. Content: a contemporary focus 1974-1984. In Content: making meaning and referentiality. Smithsonian: USA, 1985.
view. The movement towards content is already a reality in the arts and now it needs to become a concern for the design of VLEs. In Distance Learning, content can be a range of subjects and is profoundly important to how people perceive, interpret and construct their own meaning from what they experience. Content can be presented in different forms: oral language, written language and graphical language. Text, signs, symbols, diagrams, photos, illustrations, music, narratives and so forth are representations and transmit the subject to people, who can then interact with the subject and learn from it The advancing technologies have developed in most of designer a deeper concern with tools and systems rather than content. The gap between people who know the course information and people who understand the knowledge in technology has increased the separation between content and system, resulting in VLEs that lack a holistic experienced learning. The construction of the knowledge through the interaction with the VLE such that the student not only reaches the content but can infer from it was treated as secondary in importance and was sometimes completely forgotten. Certainty one has to interact with the system to interact with the content but the main user focus is always the content not the system. Content is what people are looking for when interacting with a VLE. People are looking for the content Doubtless people’s main goal when interacting with an electronic environment is to access the content. The system can be a game, a calculator, an electronic schedule, a remote control or a music player. All are systems which help people to reach their goal: the narrative of the game, the amount of multiple sums, the tomorrow’s appointments, the TV program and the recorded music. The point is not the device but what people want from it: the content. In order to reach the content the user has to pass through an experience to accomplish his/her goal. When one interacts with an environment the
action is always involved unconsciously (or consciously) with the questions What am I looking for?, Where is it?, When does it happen?, How long?, What can happen?, What can I do?, What do I want? Those questions call for actions, those actions call for interaction, interactions call for content, content calls for meaning, meaning calls for learning and learning calls for memory. A good learning environment should invite the student to answer those questions, increase knowledge of the subject and help the student to develop new assumptions. In addiction, the system should provide different approaches to the content as students have different ways of learning, different media to present the same content (redundancy) as people use different senses to learn, and mobility as people may wish to access the content in different contexts. Hence, the student has the intention and the desire of learning; the system has a structure that allows the students to immerse in the VLE and engage with content. Virtual Learning Environment According to Talbot (2005) VLEs are “electronic equivalents of the resources available in real university or college buildings. [A space] to access information and/or study materials and to contribute to discussions within one”4. This is the vision of many teachers and system developers: a place to deliver information and to communicate with the others. Wikipedia – one of the most accessed on-line encyclopedias5 - presents another definition but with the same idea of a system as an administration space: “a software system designed to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration.”6 According to these definitions a VLE is seen as a teacher-centered place as the focus is what the teachers want to deliver to the students and how they want to manage the course. The VLE is not seen as a place to study and learn - learner-centered - which it
Talbot, Christine. Studying at a Distance: a guide for students. UK: Open University Press, 2005. According to Alexa Internet, that provides information on the web traffic to other websites, Wikipedia ranks among the top 20 most visited sites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia 6 Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_learning_environment
would be more appropriate with the meaning of its term. Maybe this point of view comes from the history of Virtual Learning Environments and its relation with the development of technologies. Distance learning arose from the necessity of deliver information for people who were distant from the university or college and who wished to conclude a specialized course but didn’t want to return to school. The lack of technologies restricted the courses to printed materials and the communication between teachers and students were mainly by mail and by phone. The process of learning was probably slower and lonely with few social interactions. It seems that this concept of deliver information remained for most of the teachers and institutions that develop courses for distance learning. Questions as how the media can be associated increasing the learning process and how the student can develop their knowledge in the system have been forgotten. On this model the student has another place to study rather than the VLE. It is supposed that students have their own learning space and the on-line system is the place for accessing information, to communicate and send activities. There is no interaction with the content in the virtual environment, so it is imposed on students that the learning process happens outside the system. It is known that learning can happen anywhere and anytime and in different situations but in distant learning a VLE should be the most important space for the student to reflect, compare and construct her/his knowledge. The technologies available today can provide a much more interactive system and, integrating it to the concepts of learning process, this system can be much more effective. The design of a VLE should provide an interactive space where the student can feel comfortable, more confident, more engaged and with her/his senses more stimulated. Although there are many interactive technologies already developed most of the systems researched which involves virtual interactive learning are not attractive; not easy understandable; with low interaction as they have only “clicking” as the main access to the information, not engaging and very similar to the Microsoft Windows design – menu bar, title bar, control menu, maximizing and minimizing buttons on the top and links to the con-
tent on the left (figures 2 and 3). What the system offers normally is not explicit and people can get lost in the middle of a poor interaction, without knowing where they are in the content.
Figure 2. The PUC Minas Virtual’s VLE. Based in Domino. Source: PUC Minas Virtual.
Figure 3. The Blackboard VLE. Source: University of Westminster.
The VLEs are conceptualized to deliver information and not to allow the student to manipulate them in a converged space (learning environment). The student does each activity (essay, conference, chat, reading, and so forth) in different places which are disconnected from each other and not easily visible. The task for the student to make connections between the activities and information in the VLE does not seem to be natural or instinctive. On the other hand a well designed system that allows the student to interact with the content - and, consequently, with its meanings - in an engaging process can motivate students to improve their studies. According to Foley et al. “the quality of the user interface often determines whether users enjoy or despise a system.” They argues that “the keys goals in user interface design are increase in speed of learning, in speed of use, reduction of error rate, encouragement of rapid recall of how to use the interface, and increase in attractiveness to potential users and buyers.” How can interactive VLE be designed to achieve those keys goals? First, it is important to understand how people learn and how people memorize facts, a topic which is presented in the “People and content” section of this text. The speed of use, according to Johnson-Laird (1998), is directly related to the number of times one performed the system as the rate of learning slows down. As much as one practice s/he saves time to perform the task7. But to learn a complex task can take a long time, so it is necessary to considerate the previous knowledge of the user to make faster interaction possible. The reduction of error rate can be solved by the feedbacks provided by the system and the possibilities that the system gives to the user to redo her/his actions. In order to encourage a rapid recall of how to use the interface the system should be designed in a way that provides an intuitive interaction. The attractiveness is resolved not only by the aesthetics of the system but how much engagement it provides which means, how it involves all the user’s senses.
7 Johnson-Laird, P. N. The computer and the mind: an introduction to cognitive science. Fontana Paperbacks: London, 1998.
There is no system which alone can teach the student as the studying process depends mainly on the student’s desire, intentions, motivations and interaction with teachers and classmates. A well designed interactive system should provide an adequate environment for studying, reading, associating, thinking, reasoning, experimenting and recalling the content. Instead of teach – teacher-centred - the system should assist the student to improve her/his knowledge – learner-centred - in a two-way teachinglearning process8. System content and subject content A VLE is composed by two different contents: system content and subject content. Most authors present the visual configuration of a virtual environment as Interface – the parts where users contact physically, perceptually and conceptually in the system9. This project defines the interface as system content and subject content in order to delimitate the different approaches between those two contents. In education this differentiation is very important as it is necessary to understand how those two contents can interact with each other in order to provide a better learning space. System content consists of all the information related to the manipulation of the system (images, words, symbols, instructions and so forth). It allows the user to understand how the system works; what the user can/can’t do and where the subject content is located. Subject content consists of all information related to the content of a specific course (texts, pictures, diagrams, sounds, movies, etc.). In a virtual environment the system content can be separated from the subject content; or can be mixed with it; or do not exist.
Talbot, Christine. Studying at a Distance: a guide for students. UK: Open University Press, 2005 Benyon, David & Turner, Phil & Turner, Susan. Designing interactive systems: people, activities, contexts, technologies. Pearson Education: England, 2005.
Figure 4. The access to the system content and subject content.
The system content can be separated from the subject content when they are independent and are not presented at the same time. For example, a home page where the system content is available but the user cannot see the subject content. The user has to interact with the information available that indicates the access to the subject content (figure 5). The two contents are mixed when both are presented at the same time. For example, the BBC site has a system content (links, tabs and icons) in its top and left structure and subject content in the right of the screen (figure 6). System content cannot exist when the user interaction is directly with the subject content, in other words without the intermediation of the system content (figure 7).
Figure 5. System content separated from the subject content. Source: http://www.300k.com/www/welcome.html?
Figure 6. System content mixed with the subject content. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk
Figure 7. System content do not exist (only the subject content). Multi touch interaction research. Source: http://mrl.nyu.edu/~jhan/ftirtouch/
Most VLEs present both contents as it is necessary a structure that shows the student how the subject content is organized and what media are available. If students understand the system content easily they can memorise how to interact with it in a confident way; reach the subject content faster and with less obstacles. The system content is not what the student is looking for but it is what will help her/him to attain their intentions and goals: the subject content. The interpretation of the system content is definitive for the learning process. But not all the structure which involves system content and subject content is easily understandable, efficient and engaging. What does make an interactive VLE efficient and engaging? There are two problems here: first is to design an interactive system content in a way that it becomes “transparent” - helping the user to access the subject content without concern about the system content -; second is to design an interactive subject content according to a good teachinglearning process.
The system content should be transparent in order not to be a concern for the user but, instead, it should be a bridge to reach the subject content easily. Taking the visual system as a metaphor, people do not stop to think how they see, they just see. The goal when one is looking at something is to see and not how to see. The ‘system’ process is transparent. People do “not stop to inspect the process of vision to check whether it is working properly” (Laird, 1988). One only pays attention to the process of seeing when one has a problem such as seeing blurred images/scenes or having something in the eyes that interrupts vision. One is aware of the system but does not directly experience its functioning. In a similar way, if there is a problem or obstacles in the VLE the user starts to pay more attention and spend more time on the system content than on the subject content. The process of interaction with the system content should be natural, intuitive and … transparent. Observing some people playing with electronic games is something that can be intriguing. Why are they so involved with the game and sometimes don’t even pay attention to what is happing around them? Some electronic games are very interesting example of interactivity between the user, the system content and the subject content. The user takes some time to understand, learn and memorize how the game works but as soon as s/he learns it becomes what psychologists term psychomotor learning10 (Pont, 2003) - the access to the subject content of the game become automatic. The user doesn’t have to think too much about the system content, as in driving a car or keying in text. Some electronic games are engaging as they give the feeling of achievement and have creative environments (sometimes simple and sometimes complex). The user learns how to pass from one level to another, becomes engaged with the system content and is motivated to discover the subject content in the different representational environments and levels. But it is important to stress that if the game is too difficult the user can feel not motivated and give it up. If it is too easy the user can get bored
10 Psychomotor learning is the psychological skills that are required to execute an action. Those skills are learned by practice. (Pont, 2003)
quickly. The most engaging games are balanced between ‘easy and difficult’11. An example of a graphical interactive game is “Day of the Tentacle” (1993) – published by LucasArts and designed by Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer (figure 8). The system engages the user by presenting a narrative in different environments, several characters, a very interesting navigation in space and time, and the possibility of collecting some objects that can be used later in other situations to help to solve the challenge proposed by the game. But most important: LucasArts introduced a philosophy that the game should not punish the player, in other words the player character cannot die12.
Figure 8. The game “Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle”. Source: http://mojoart.mixnmojo.com
An educational system doesn’t necessarily need to be a game but can use the concepts of this virtual environment - levels, creativity, feedback, immersion, clues, and so forth - in order to improve the learning process.
11 Concept presented by Gary Pope in the event “Kids: the converged consumers?” – 01-zero-one, London, 28/02/06. 12 Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Tentacle
The feeling of achievement in the subject content is important to keep the student motivated. The feedback from the system content is a significant resource as it makes the student feel that they are not alone and can evaluate their own study progress. Clues are helpful for the recall from information. It is important to stress that the designers should avoid developing a system which presents an interesting interaction with the system content but that it is not well developed to help users to reach the subject content. In order to design interactive subject contents, the learning process has to be taken into consideration. The next topic discusses this further.
People and content: the learning process
In everyday situations, behaviour is determined by the combination of internal knowledge and external information and constraints. Donald A. Norman
There is no construction of knowledge if people are not interacting within the world so learning is not only in the student’s mind but in their relationship with the environment. The process happens in the mind but the information comes from the educational realm in a mutually dependent relation. The information activates the mental processes for perceptionaction-cognition (interpreting, evaluating, creating, memorising) and, consequently, learning. Norman (1999) argues that “much of our everyday knowledge resides in the world, not in the head … there certainly is a lot of information out there in the world, not in the head.” According to Johnson-Laird (1998) there are two ways of creating assumptions about the world: “they can be built into the nervous system as a result of millions of years of evolution, or they can be learned during a person’s lifetime.” Understanding how the mind works and how people perceive the world is an important background for those who develop VLEs. Mainly because this knowledge can
help professionals to understand how people interpret the world, represent it in their minds and use this to act in the environment. A transformation in one’s interpretation of the environment can correspond to a transformation in his/her acts. “There is a close relationship between creating and learning (…). The difference between the two is that when you learn, you acquire information from a teacher or the environment, but when you create, the essential constraints are those that you provide yourself.” (Johnson-Laird, 1998) So the interaction with the system content and the subject content has to provide not only information but also it has to offer a space to learn and create as well. This is viable design for a system where there are tools that allow user to transform and add information resulting in a different and personal result, maybe a creative one. It is possible to illustrate this by an example presented by Johnson-Laird: “if you multiply two numbers together, their product may be a number that you have never thought of before.” The user chooses the numbers, the system allows the user many possibilities to interact with the numbers and figure out different results. The result can be novel for the student. Many researchers have established theoretical principles for the retrieval of info in memory and for learning. These theories are important related to the design of VLEs although to choose one or other to be the basis for a system will depend on the institution’s and teacher’s proposals. Newell and Simon (1972) discussed two concepts of learning called production system and parallel distributed processing; Vygotsky (1978) defined the Zone Proximal of Development (ZPD); and David Kolb (1984) developed the Experiential Learning Cycle. Presented below is a short outline of those theories. They are related to the proposal of the practical project presented in the second part of this text. The theories are followed by some practical examples contextualized in design for VLEs.
Production system: the goals and sub-goals According to Newell and Simon all actions are ruled by an intention and a goal. However they went further and introduced to the idea of sub-goals, and a program known as general problem solver (GPS). This theory is related to the search for a solution during the process of trying to reach a goal and the necessity to create one or more sub-goals to solve the subparts of the problem. Newell and Simon looked for a mental/software operation that reduces the distance between goal and intention13. The game cited earlier in this text “Day of the Tentacle” is a good example of goal and sub-goals. The user has a main goal to be accomplished but to reach it s/he has to pass trough sub-goals such as collect some tools, decipher some riddles and discover some places where the information is available. The idea of sub-goals can be helpful for the students in a VLE as the subject content can be proposed in subparts with smaller challenges, units or chunks such as learning objects14. Parallel distributed process Johnson-Laird (1998) argues that “one thing reminds us of another” - the ability that all people have but hardly notice it. In other words, access to a fragment of the information can lead to completion of the information or association with other information. Johnson-Laird explains that small units of information are connected to each other and compute in parallel. Some pairs of units “are wired up so as to excite each other: when one is activated then it increases the level of activation of the other” but at the same time other pairs of units “are wired up so as to inhibit each other: when one is activated then it reduces the level of activation of the other”. It means that one unit of information matches the best possibility of connection to other unit discarding the non-compatible possibility. Understand the parallel-distributed process can be positive in the development of VLE as the use of this concept can motivate and engage the students to par13 Johnson-Laird, P. N. The computer and the mind: an introduction to cognitive science. Fontana Paperbacks: London, 1998. 14 Learning objects - digital or non-digital resource that can be used to support learning – are an example of content in subparts. www.reusability.org.
ticipate in the construction of their knowledge. In other words, part of the information can be given in the environment but the student should make assumptions about the continuity of this information in a cognitive mental process. Zone of Proximal Development “The distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978) According to Vygotsky the space between what is known and what can be known by a student is where learning process occurs and a cognitive development can take place. For the design of VLEs it means what has been mentioned before: a system can be interactively easy and the individual does not take interest on it or can be interactively difficult and the individual starts to feel unable to accomplish her/his tasks. The concept of Zone of Proximal Development proposed by Vygotsky can be a guide to how a system can be engaging: the space between what is easy and what is difficult for the individual can be a clue for the design of engaging VLEs (figure 9).
Figure 9. A representation of the Zone of Proximal Development.
Experiential learning According to Kolb (1984) there are four stages in the learning process: concrete experience; observations and reflections; formation of abstract concepts; and generalisations and testing implications of concepts in new situations. The process is called the Experiential Learning Cycle 15 . This theory explains as well the difference in styles of learning. Peter Honey and Alan Mumford 16 associated Kolb’s four learning stages as activist, theorist, reflector and pragmatist. The schema below shows both Kolb’s stage and Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s styles of learning.
Figure 10. Experiential Learning Cycle. Redesigned with the addition of Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s styles of learning.
Experiential learning is a concept used by many teachers and it is presented in many learning practice structures. Focused in design of VLEs, this theory can be a reminder for teachers and designers that there are different learning styles and that a system should provide as many different approaches as possible to the subject content. An interactive VLE should present variety in the use of tools and technologies; media like audio, video and printed material; and input devices such as webcam, light
Pont, Tony. Developing effective training skills: from personal insight to organisational performance. CIPD: London, 2003. 16 Cited in Pont, Tony. Developing effective training skills: from personal insight to organisational performance. CIPD: London, 2003.
pen and new format screens. The use of those media and new technologies should not be an increase of meaningless resources and devices but tools to engage strategically the student in the subject content. Given these models for learning described above, it is important to stress that learning also involves emotion, as one can’t separate mental process from feelings and sensations. Johnson-Laird (1998) explains that mental representations can be conscious or unconscious processes and the contents of consciousness are divided in two categories: symbolic and nonsymbolic. Symbolic contents are perception, ideas, beliefs, hypothesis, and so forth and non-symbolic contents are feelings and sensations17. He argues that “if emotions are a non-symbolic way of guiding behaviour, it follows that they have a causal effect on behaviour (…). Emotions can indeed affect perception”. According to him emotions can affect memory, as people “recall events that happened to them in an emotional state more readily if they are currently experiencing the same feeling.” Cognition and emotions are interlinked and feelings affect actions. It is important to develop a system that is, besides aesthetically beautiful, more engaging through the use of the different senses – vision, audition, haptic and kinesthetic. Using all these senses within a potentially creative system the user may experience feelings of pleasure, improvement, curiosity, concentration, realization, confidence, involvement, surprise, happiness and so forth. Feelings that are supportive for learning. An additional point to emphasize for the learning process to be effective is that the system should make sense to the student. Norman argues that a “well-designed object are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operation. Poorly designed objects can be difficult and frustrating to use.”18 To design a system that is ‘meaningful’ is essential to support student learning.
17 Johnson-Laird, P. N. The computer and the mind: an introduction to cognitive science. Fontana Paperbacks: London, 1998. 18 Norman, Donald A. The Design of everyday things. MIT Press: USA, 1999
Activities: the “what” and “how” of an interactive system
An event in the world may trigger an interpretation and a resulting response. Donald A. Norman
Activities are the user tasks when interacting with a system. As shown in the figure 1 (Seven Stages of Action) actions are ruled by goals and intentions. Intentions are a sequence of actions towards the world in order to achieve the goals. When one acts on an environment there is a change of state of that environment and a feedback occurs. One perceives the feedback and retrieves it as a short or long term memory using this to act towards the environment to achieve the next intention. Norman explains that “there is a continuing feedback loop, in which the results of one activity are used to direct further ones, in which goals lead to subgoals, intentions lead to subintentions”. One understands that, to reach a final goal, s/he can divide her/his activities into sequential chunks. Norman presents two important concepts that should be taken into consideration in the design of interactive activities in the VLE: the gulf of execution and the gulf of evaluation. The gulf of execution is the gap between the user’s intentions and her/his corporal actions and states. Norman asks: “Do the actions provided by the system match those intended by the person?” The gulf of evaluation is the user’s effort to understand the system and establish the effectiveness of the system to respond to user expectations and intentions. Norman asks: “Does the system provide a physical representation that can be directly perceived and that is directly interpretable in terms of the intentions and expectations of the person?” He answers: “The relationships between the user’s intentions, the required actions, and the results should be sensible, non-arbitrary and meaningful” (Norman 1999). One of the most important considerations in the design of a system is how the system maps the intentions of the user to their actions and vice versa.
Conceptual scenarios – narratives describing possible people interactions with the system undertaking different activities in a specific context 19 can be a useful method to understand how people carry out activities. Vannevar Bush, in 1945, imagined the activities that users could accomplish with his Memex system - "a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility."20 - thought the construction of a conceptual scenario. His narrative describes the actions that would be taken in the system:
It consists of a desk … He runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards. A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf. As he has several projection positions, he can leave one item in position while he calls up another. He can add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme...21
Bush’s description of the conceptual scenario of the Memex was useful to those who were inspired by him. A creation of a scenario can be a helpful instrument for the conceptualization of a system and a way to help the designer and the stakeholders visualize the designer ideas. Besides the creation of a conceptual scenario, there are other important theories that are concerned with the process of people activities in the environment. Visibility, affordance, conceptual model, mappings and feedback are some of them. These concepts are presented shortly below.
19 Benyon, David & Turner, Phil & Turner, Susan. Designing interactive systems: people, activities, contexts, technologies. Pearson Education: England, 2005. 20 Bush, Vannevar. As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945. 21 Bush, Vannevar. As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945
Visibility indicates the mapping between intended actions and actual operations. Visibility indicates crucial distinctions. Donald A. Norman
Norman defines visibility as the presence of natural signals in the environment, “naturally interpreted, without any need to be conscious of them”. In a VLE it means that student should understand the system content easily, without to being concerned about it and reach the subject content “naturally”22. Visibility can be associated to feedback as the system can give to the user visual information about what is happening. In this way the user can visualise the answers on her/his actions and feel confident about her/his options. There will be no surprises where it is not necessary to have them. Affordance
Affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. Donald A. Norman
The affordance – the perceiving of object properties that allow the assumption of how the object works and can be used – is unquestionably a significant theory to understand how people interact with systems and how the system should be accessible in a mode that the user easily interacts with it. Afforded environments probably do not need to present explanations of how it works but is designed in such structure that the user identifies its process of interaction intuitively. Although some complex system should provide explanations about its functioning, systems designed for education should be more self explicative.
Norman, Donald A. The Design of everyday things. MIT Press: USA, 1999.
A good conceptual model allows us to predict the effects of our actions. Donald A. Norman
Norman argues that “people form mental models through experience, training, and instruction” and this help them to anticipate an event and understand how things work A conceptual model - mental representations of real world23 - can be developed through the interaction with the system. The user learns how to use a system developing her/his intern reference of the extern world – the environment. To develop a VLE that counts on people mental models can be an answer for those who wish a system that provides a fast interaction. People won’t take too much time to interact with the system if they already have an intern reference of how the system works. Mapping
A device is easy to use when there is visibility to the set of possible actions, where the controls and displays exploit natural mappings. Donald A. Norman
Mapping is the sequence of actions that the user record in her/his mind when interacting with the environment: the user movements towards the world and the results of the user actions from the world. A well constructed mapping can help the user interact with the system easily as s/he understands the sequence of actions that have to be undertaken. According to Norman, other quality of good mappings is that they are easy remembered, what assist the user to access the system in a more natural performance and expend more time with what is more significant to her/him: the subject content.
23 The main concern of cognitive science is to explain how the mind works treating it in a computational point of view. This concept is called theory of computability (Johnson-Laird, 1998).
[Imagine] trying to draw a picture with a pencil that leaves no mark: there would be no feedback. Donald A. Norman
Norman asks: “Why are the modern systems so difficult to learn and to use?” His answer is: “The problem is that the systems have more features and less feedback.” After starting pay attention to systems answers people can understand why their mouse make a noise when it is clicked or the microwaves does a loud sound when it accomplished the time set for warming some food. They are giving feedback for the user that they are working, or have finished or there is something wrong. Most of people’s actions have feedbacks from the environment but most of the time people don’t pay attention to the fact that they are being conducted by them. People start to pay attention when the feedback is missing and they loose the reference of what is happening. In a VLE the all sort of feedbacks, such as the system is processing information, alert of possible user’s mistakes, changing of colour indicating that something is altering, and so forth – are essential to the student realise how the system is responding her/his interaction. Feedback is intrinsic connected to the senses as the system’s answer can be presented through visual information, sound, movement and so forth. Concluding, a system that provides to the user visual clues, that is easier to understand, familiar to the user and considering her/his experiences and with instructive feedback can be more effective, interactive and human-centred.
Context: inside and outside
Many people organize their lives in the world, creating a pile here, a pile there, each indicating some activity to be done, some event in progress. Thomas Malone
Malone (1983) interviewed professionals and clerical office workers about the way they organize their desks in order to understand how people deal with information and how this could be helpful in the development of computer-based systems. There are two main claims in his research: the first one is that people organize their desks in a way that the information is available to remind them things to be accomplished, and equally to help them to find the information24. He explains that people separate the information in files – papers and folders are titled and arranged in systematic order - and piles – papers and folders are not titled and not necessary organized. In the later the spatial location is important to help the user to find the information. People spread the papers around them, sometimes in an organized way and sometimes not, and is oriented by categorization and/or location. The important is to make visible the information in order to remind the user that s/he has something to do, not only to be available when s/he is looking for it. Things that are in drawers are more difficult to remind then those that are visible. Malone’s research and discussion is an inspiration for those who want to design systems for virtual learning. His assumptions are user-centred and provide insights for how systems can help people to organize their information using new technologies. People are narrowed connected to the context they are inserted and the way they organize their environment. Malone explains that people create in their mind a map of where some information is available, developing a mental environment with the position of the things placed in her/his real
Malone, Thomas W. How do people organize their desks? Implications for the design of office information systems. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, 1983. http://delivery.acm.org/10.1145/360000/357430/p99malone.pdf?key1=357430&key2=3285155511&coll=GUIDE&dl=GUIDE&CFID=3441998&CFTOKEN=12 776240
environment. If one wants to find something s/he accesses the mental environment imagining where it was placed in her/his surroundings. It isn’t necessary to memorize everything, only to know where the information is available and, whenever people need, to access it. Some examples of this statement are phonebooks, schedules, book guides, and so forth. Norman affirms that “it is a general property of memory that we story only partial descriptions of the things to be remembered”, as a consequence people just need to see a part of the content to understand, remember or recognize all the information. Location is a strategy to help the user to remember some contents that has to be accessed. This demonstrates how the external world (context) is connected to the people interior world (mental environment). The external world and the user mental environment are connected to the virtual environment in an interconnection of worlds. The relation between the student context (mental and physical) and the virtual environment cannot be put aside without considering their intricate relation. It is important to visualise where the interaction takes place and how it interferes in the user interaction with the system. The connection between the outside and inside of the user’s world and the outside and inside of the virtual system takes an special role in the development of a VLE as, together, the student context and the system make part of the learning process. It is like two environments that communicate with each other providing an engaging relationship to the learner. In a learning environment, context is more than the place where the student learn; it is the whole relation between the interior student world, the student external world and the world inside the VLE.
Technologies: interaction with the system and subject content
The emphasis until the early 1980s was on optimizing two scarce hardware resources, computer time and memory. (…) with today’s plummeting hardware costs and increasingly powerful graphics-oriented personal computing environments, however, we can afford to optimize user efficiency rather than computer efficiency Foley et. al
There are many researches about learning and computers and most of them were inspired by Vannevar Bush with his revolutionary “memory extender” - Memex - cited before. Bush had a visionary view of the technological future and his concepts are still an important reference for several computers system developers. In Bush famous article As we may think he explains the Memex as a device inserted in the everyday life context of the user:
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
This idea was already the prediction of the personal computer and tabletops. Although the article was published in 1945, Bush statements are still currents and it is a reference for the development of VLEs as his visions are a process of accessing information and creating relation between them. In his words “the process of tying two items together is the important thing.” The point here is not only the development of a technology to record information but a device to support the user’s research and learn. The device provides the flexibility but the user makes the connections. Seymour Papert and Alan Kay demonstrated through practical projects how computational devices and tools can be helpful for learning, mainly children. They showed that it is possible to use new technologies to provide an engaging system which triggers in the user mind the reasoning in order to accomplish some tasks. Papert (1980), who developed the con-
cept of Constructionism influenced by Jean Piaget’s Construtivism, defended that the most important thing is to demonstrate how children can learn using computers and how the computer can change the way they learn. Papert invented an ‘object-to-think-with’, the ‘Logo Turtle’. Defined by him as “a computer-controlled cybernetic animal”, the Turtle is a system which is programmed by children typing commands on a keyboard and developing mathematical logical25. Papert’s system is focused on the mind, using the computer as an instrument to help children to build their own intellectual structures to explor and learn in an engaged process. Alan Kay was deeply influenced by the Papert’s Logo programming language. Besides the creation of the concepts of the Dynabook – a system based in learning theories - and Graphic User Interface (GUI)26, Kay has recently participated in the creation of the open source Squeak – dynamic media software based in Smalltalk (object-oriented programming)27. The system is a good reference for those who want to develop virtual environments for education as it has a dynamic structure - objects can be created, modified, positioned in the way the user desires – and is based in constructive process of learning - the student is allowed to construct her/his own knowledge (figure 11).
Seymour Papert. Mindstorms : children, computers and powerful ideas. 1980. http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/GASCH.KAY.HTML Squeak is an open, highly-portable Smalltalk implementation whose virtual machine is written entirely in Smalltalk, making it easy to debug, analyze, and change. To achieve practical performance, a translator produces an equivalent C program whose performance is comparable to commercial Smalltalks. Free for download at http://www.squeak.org/Download/. Source: http://www.squeak.org/About/
Figure 11. Squeak 3.8. Source: http://www.squeak.org/
The systems developed by Bush, Papert and Kay are an inspiration for those who desire to use technology as a tool for learning processes. They designed electronic environments that are user-centred and not technological-centred. In on-line distance learning, those technologies are the tool to help the student to access the system content and the subject content in an engaged context. They are responsible for supporting the student’s interaction with the system and the accomplishment of student’s intentions. The new technologies for education, and those which will be soon invented, should be used to meet the student’s demands, intentions and goals.
Design, Media and Virtual Learning Environment: a practical proposal This part presents a proposal for an interactive learning environment, based in all theories discussed in the Part I. Each specific aspect of the system is offered in topics in order to elucidate the different approaches of the new VLE from those that already exist. Many problems arose during the development of this project but at the same time they were important to clarify how the design of VLE is a complex challenge and involves many fields of knowledge. Students, teachers, tutors and system developers that are in contact with VLEs provided by universities and institutions can easily perceive how those virtual environments are limited in interaction and engagement. As commented in the first part of this project, most of the systems are designed to deliver information instead of being a place for studying. The development of the ideas presented in this project was motivated by the lack of interactive VLEs in the market and the desire to explore new possibilities for the design of learning systems. The proposal for the design of the interactive learning environment was based in five main ideas: tabletop - technology inserted in the studying context - already designed and in development by many research centres; metaphor, the design of the studying desktop to represent system content and subject content; perspective, the student’s visibility of the system; eye tracking, the response of the system to the student movements and point of view; and on-line interactive media, an attempt to explore how the different media presented in the electronic system should be connected to each other supporting the student’s activities and process of learning.
It is important to stress that the project is not focussed in the design of the system but, instead, it is an attempt to demonstrate the shift of concepts when an interactive environment is designed based in the theories explained in the first part of this text. Tabletop Since the first ideas arose for the development of this project, there was a deep concern in design a system that could be inserted naturally in the student context. It means that the system should participate in the student learning environment in a way that the student could feel comfortable, confident and motivated. Although the vertical screens presented today in personal computers are already a common sense, it was realized that it wasn’t following the natural way of people to study (figure 12). The idea of the use of a digital tabletop seemed to be more adequate to the user as its form provides a natural presence in the student context and allows a good relation with other objects that belongs to the study desk. The system, which is interacted by touch screen, could provide connection with other devices, such as light pen, scanner, printer, and so forth, creating an integrated environment.
Figure 12. The user context.
Perspective and movement When the first prototype for the VLE of this project was designed - an attempt to visualize the metaphor of a real desktop - a problem was faced: the perspective. How do we see objects and what happen when they move? Objects increase the size when they are close to the user and decrease the size when they are far. Objects presented different sides when they are in the viewer left side or right side. It was realized that the perspective of the system content should correspond to the point of the view of the student and it should correct the perspective when a change of state occurred. Although the desktop in a tabletop is only a representation of a real environment and simulates the objects as they were in three-dimensional form, it was decided that the perspective of the system content should be
as realistic as possible, as the intention in this project was to develop a learning environment connected to the student’s learning space. Perspective was an important insight and concern in the development in the project. Associate perspective and movement in the design of a learning system is a technological challenge but increase many possibilities for the student perception and cognition. Metaphor Malone’s discussions about how people organize their desks were important to confirm that a desk is an important space for people access and interact with information and organize them. The interface of the project is based in a representation of the student’s environment, a metaphor of a real studying space connecting the context of the student with the VLE in a more intuitive and engaging process. This solution can approximate the outside world and the inside world of the student in an integrate context. Other important point in the use of the desktop metaphor is the possibility of the system to change its system content according to the change of the subject content. The objects, media and tools utilized to study a specific subject could be different when the subject changes, creating different environments in the same system.
Figure 13. The student desk interface.
Eye tracking As soon as the perspective problem was realized and solved, another possibility arose: the system could adapt to the user movements using the technology of eye tracking – another tool that has been intensely researched. The interface could be dynamic and self-oriented according to the student position. This idea could create the feeling of a more realistic and engaging environment. Eye tracking is a technological possibility that can provide to the user, in this case to the student, an environment that is user-centred. The system proposed is dynamic and interactive, contributing to the involvement of the user in the environment.
Interactive Medias in an interactive environment As explained in the first part of this project, there is a fragmentation in the VLEs when the media and the subject content available are presented separately (different “windows”) and disconnected from each other. The system does not provide to the student the possibility of work with different media at the same time, and more than that, the system does not allow the user to connect and transform the information present in the different media, helping them to create their own assumptions about those connections. This problem was definitive for the decision to design an environment which is similar to a study desk, as this form would give a space for the presentation of all media at the same time and for the interaction and connection with them. The proposal is not only to provide interactive electronic media, which already exist in most of VLEs, but allow the student to connect them and construct their knowledge in the system. It means that the interactive media is inserted in an interactive environment and not only delivered in it.
Conclusion The design of an interactive learning environment should take into consideration the student and her/his educational process. To research about how students interact with their learning environment, which context they are inserted and how technologies can help them to study are important issues to design a system that helps students to be engaged and compromised with their intentions. PACT and Content concept is an attempt to cover all issues related to a user-centred interaction an it was a support to clarify how VLEs should be developed. An educational interactive system should be based in the quality of the student activities with the system content and subject content. The development of VLEs is not only the design of the system but the understanding of the entire context that the student is inserted. The new technologies are a support for a better interaction between the student and the content and must be well explored to sustain an interactive education. The student learning process involves several issues and this project was an attempt to cover some of them. The learning environment proposed is a representation of how a VLE can be different from those existent today and much more adequate to the student demands. The construction of a VLE that entail the student’s mental process can become real in an interactive system that takes into consideration the student demands and her/his process of learning.
References Benyon, David & Turner, Phil & Turner, Susan. Designing interactive systems: people, activities, contexts, technologies. Pearson Education: England, 2005. Bush, Vannevar. As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945. Site: Dillenbourg, Pierre. Virtual Learning Environment. 2000. http://tecfa.unige.ch/tecfa/publicat/dil-papers-2/Dil.7.5.18.pdf Dupuis, Elizabeth A. Developing web-based instruction: planning, designing, managing, and evaluating for results. Facet Publishing: USA, 2003. Ficher, Gustave-Nicholas. Individuals and environment: a psychosocial approach to workspace. Gerike GmbH: Berlin, 1997. Foley, James [et al.]. Computer Graphics: principles and practice. Addison-Wesley: USA, 1990. Johnson-Laird, P. N. The computer and the mind: an introduction to cognitive science. Fontana Paperbacks: London, 1998. Kay, Alan. User Interface: a personal view. In The art of human-computer interface design. Laurel, Brenda. Addison-Wesley: USA, 1995. Lidwell, William & Holden, Kritina & Butler, Jill. Universal Principles of Design. Rockport: USA, 2003. Malone, Thomas W. How do people organize their desks? Implications for the design of office information systems. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, 1983. http://delivery.acm.org McClintic, Miranda. Content: a contemporary focus 1974-1984. In Content: making meaning and referentiality. Smithsonian: USA, 1985. Newell, A., and Simon, H. A. Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1972. Norman, Donald A. The Design of everyday things. MIT Press: USA, 1999. Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: children, computers and powerful ideas. The Harvester Press: Brighton, 1980. Pont, Tony. Developing effective training skills: from personal insight to organisational performance. CIPD: London, 2003. Talbot, Christine. Studying at a Distance: a guide for students. UK: Open University Press, 2005
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.