Educational Paradigms and Components for classroom Teamwork

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Martin Rausch, rausch@igd.fhg.de
Dept. Communication & Cooperation (A9)
Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD)
Darmstadt

Eleonora Bilotta eleb@abramo.it
Interdepartmental Centre of Communication (CIC)
Department of Educational Sciences
University of Calabria, Rende- Cosenza, Italy

Introduction

The creative opportunities that computers are capable to provide are completely neglected in schools. In an effort to enrich teaching we planned to present a project, EPACOT (Educational Paradigms and Components for classroom Teamwork) with the aim to introduce new content as well as new content creation techniques. In particular, the objective of the project is to widespread the programming activity in European school (through simulation) in order:

  • to study and analyse learning process students exhibit in designing a simulation;
  • to gain a better knowledge about novice and guidance to teachers willing to take part in the experiment. Measures include seminars that instruct on the use and application of the simulation environment, on connecting simulations to other components, and on integrating such activities in a more explorative curriculum.

Develop alternative curricula

A combined action among researchers and teachers of involved schools is foreseen. A number of workshops are organised to establish which alternative activities are necessary to define the curricular activity models and to establish the learning/teaching modalities to be used.

In particular, the workshops' objective is to develop a model of constructivist curricula (a format) and a way to motivate students to explore knowledge in a personalised manner, through learning by designing, or learning by doing.

Employ creativity tools

The courseware and seminars will support different use case scenarios that target teachers and students with different degrees of exposure to the simulation tools. The most basic use case is to reuse an already completed simulation component as it is in a classroom activity. Many such simulation components exist and can be used to illustrate processes from subject areas from social science (California Grape Boycott) to biochemistry (effects of medication on synaptic gap) [1]. Once teachers and students feel comfortable using the simulations the next step is to motivate them to extend existing simulations and add new aspects to the simulation by designing and end-user programming new simulation elements [2]. Ultimately, users will be able to design a whole new simulation of a process they are interested in.

Encourage social computing and component reuse

The main result and objective of most efforts is the creation of a telematic network and its presentation via a worldwide web interface as the EPACOT repository. The new information technologies can transform a predominantly informative medium such as the web into a formative tool. This transformation is achieved by using appropriate educational environments that support knowledge transfer and teaching/learning processes. The users of the repository will not be mere consumers - as are 90% of the web surfers - but active co-designers in a collaborative environment [3].

Test the EPACOT approach and grow repository

When an initial seed of objects has been inserted into the repository and classroom activities have been designed and arranged in collaboration with teachers experimental classes are started where the different aspects can be assessed.

Experimental setting and expected results

In the EPACOT project teachers and students are the primary sources for user feedback. The learning activities carried out by the students and the teachers and their role in class are observed and described. The experimentation will also give assessments of the usability of AgentSheets and the internationalised versions provided by the EPACOT project partners. Interesting for further studies and projects are interaction activities among students while learning the visual end-user programming language Visual AgenTalk and at the same time simulation design and problem solving in this environment. As for the teachers it will be important to note which level of proficiency is necessary or inadequate in order to apply such end-user programming language. This will have a direct impact on the set-up of follow-up projects.

At the beginning of the experimental phase all experimental subjects (students) will be instructed the first basic step of programming with the Visual AgenTalk, the visual end-user programming interface to AgentSheets. At the end, the students will be able to master Agentsheets and to use it to build their own simulations. This step is inter-linked with the contents learning activities. The program and programming instructions should make up a minimal portion of the class time. The centre of attention will move immediately to the content and the problem domain that is covered in the class.

The experimental classes will take place in Italy and England where EPACOT is applied in two very different situations. The project partners will take the function of mentors to the teachers and guarantee a direct link between methodology, technology, and their implementation.

Data collecting

The classroom activities are monitored and analysed by teachers and EPACOT researchers under different perspectives. Videotapes as well as transcripts of class sessions will make dissemination of observations, conclusions, and results transparent and usable for the research community.

Elaboration of results

All the partners in the project will utilise elaboration methodologies (which will be identified collaboratively) that will be applied to analyse the data collected. Reports on results from each country will be composed and combined to a final report for all the samples taken by the partners. This final report will also analyse cultural or organisational differences and their implications for the viability of the approach under different circumstances. These deliverables will also be made public on the project web server.

To summarise, the results of EPACOT project, interesting for the PPIG sector could be:

  • Improving teachers' and students' use of programming languages enabling them to augment their creative potential.

Teachers will share scientific collaboration among researcher, students and programmers and will improve their qualitative and quantitative performances, oriented towards international models and new styles of teaching.

Students will be able to build new and creative objects, through the narrative simulation modality, to design and to synthesise new objects, moving through the phases of ideation, conceptual and structural organisation. This process is a re-organisation of knowledge gestalten in order to produce new representations and simulations of the phenomena they are studying.

  • Check out the ability students and teachers should have to become expert programmers.
  • Create a repository on line where it is possible to operate in the Participatory Design modalities.

References

1. A. Repenning, A. Ioannidou, and J. Ambach, "Learn to Communicate and Communicate to Learn," in Journal of Interactive Media, pp. 1998. (see: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~ralex/papers)

2. M. Rausch; "The Agent Repository - Supporting Collaborative Contextualized Learning with a Medium for Indirect Communication"; Master's Thesis; University of Colorado, 1996 (see: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~ralex/papers)

3. A. Repenning, M. Rausch, J. Phillips, A. Ioannidou; "Using Agents as a Currency of Exchange between End-Users". Proceedings of AACE WebNet '98 (see: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~ralex/papers)