'KUOMA' -LEARNING ENVIRONMENT - AN IMPLEMENTATION OF COLLABORATIVE PROJECT LEARNING IN THE WORLD WIDE WEB

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Teemu Leinonen & Pekka Rissanen
Tampere University of Technology (TUT)
Digital Media Institute (DMI), Hypermedia laboratory (Department of Mathematics)
E-mail: teemu.leinonen@cc.tut.fi, pekka.rissanen@cc.tut.fi
Tel: + 358 3 365 2174
Fax: + 358 3 365 3549

ABSTRACT

The World Wide Web offers an easy to operate environment to deliver real multimedia; texts, pictures, audio and videos, for users all around the western world. Today the WWW-environment may also contain elements which allow all users to communicate with each other and to produce multimedia presentations of their own for other users. The WWW-environment may include applications, such as Java-applets and/or applications based on CGI-programming. These new extensions of WWW-environment also provide a number of new possibilities to carry out project learning in the World Wide Web.

The 'KUOMA' -learning environment is an internet accessible, extranet-WWW-environment for project learning. All the user of the environment needs is a Java enabled WWW-browser. The metaphor for the learning environment is a school building, which contains four spaces: the (1) Media Center in internet, the (2) Studio in intranet, the(3) Meeting Room for teachers and specialists in intranet and the (4) Gallery in internet. The learning environment's Media Center contain basic learning materials for students to set their own project questions. The students' Studio contains communication tools (news group in www and real time Java chat with whiteboard) and applications for creating mind maps (Java-applet) and WWW- based multimedia presentations (WWW-editor). The teachers' and specialists' Meeting Room contains same communication tools as the Studio plus applications for cooperative work and for making new learning material to the Media Center. The Gallery is a space of exhibition of presentations made by the students.

The 'KUOMA' -learning environment has been tasted with the materials consisting of environmental questions. The trial period has just been finished. The report will be published in the end of Februrary 1998.

1. INTRODUCTION

The 'Distance Learning in Multimedia-Networks' project, that belongs to the Finnish Multimedia Programme, joins the field's technical and pedagogical research centers and institutions that provide distance learning, hardware, software and content producers and telecommunication enterprises in an extensive joint project. (Pohjolainen & Ruokamo-Saari 1997)

The 'KUOMA' - pilot (Hypermedia learning materials for comprehensive schools) is a part of the 'Distance Learning in Multimedia-Networks project'. The aims of the 'KUOMA' -pilot are to develop a hypermedia based learning environment and learning materials which can be used in secondary schools in Finland. In the future the learning environment and the materials can be offered for use in other school districts in Finland and abroad. The learning environment that is made in the 'KUOMA' -pilot will be tested with learning materials consisting of environmental questions and Russian language. Also the extension to other levels and substance of learning could be conceivable. (http://matwww.ee.tut.fi/kamu/kuoma)

The purpose of this paper is to introduce the implementation made in the 'KUOMA' -pilot to enable collaborative project learning in the World Wide Web. The paper starts by defining the concept of project learning in the networked world. The paper proceeds by introducing the 'KUOMA' -learning environment and ends with a description of the technical structure of the environment. Concluding section introduces future plans to study and develop the 'KUOMA' -learning environment.

2. PROJECT LEARNING IN THE NETWORKED WORLD

In the networked information society the citizens possibility to obtain information is made extremely easy. In Finland the library and school network ensure all citizens free access to information resources, both analog and digital. Obtaining information does not, however automatically lead to learning even though some motivated and gifted individuals may reach real learning by going independently through different kind of information resources and data bases.

In traditional theories of learning and teaching knowledge is viewed as adapting information and a teacher or supervisor is seen as the transmitter of knowledge to students. Most of the technical applications designed to support learning have been based on these traditional theories and the assumption has been that students learn best 'from' rather than 'with' technology. In the implementations based on the 'from' approach the teacher plays relative minor role. (Reeves 1997)

In the educational WWW-sites the 'from' approach has been dominating. Most of the sites offer course material only while more advanced ones may offer some interactive exercises. In educational WWW-sites the students mostly read, listen and see the content, answer questions about it, and at best obtain additional content based on the results they get in the questions. The applications do not give the students much opportunity to generate new knowledge. Evidence of the effectiveness of the 'from' approach is modest at all levels of teaching and learning (Reeves 1997).

In the 'with' approach the technical applications are students' tools for selecting and collecting information, for analysing the world, interpreting and organising personal knowledge, and for representing to others what they know. When the applications strengthen the students intrinsic ambition to understand the study content we may call them cognitive tools. By using the cognitive tools we may reach more effective learning process. (Reeves 1997)

The World Wide Web offers an easy to operate environment to deliver real multimedia; texts, pictures, audio and videos, for users all around the northern world. Today the WWW-environment may also contain elements which allow all users to communicate with each other and to produce multimedia presentations of their own for other users. The Java-technology has made it particularly possible to include different software applications in the WWW-environment. The most recent extensions also provide a number of new possibilities to carry out project learning in the World Wide Web.

The design of project learning is based on five principles: (1) setting 'the driving question', (2) investigations, (3) products or artifacts, (4) learning communities, and (5) use of cognitive tools. In such projects students acquire an understanding of key concepts and principles, develop their own cognitive models, and learn to communicate their knowledge to others. (Bluemenfeld et all. 1991, ref. in http://www.umich.edu/~aaps/fw/print.html)

All the above principles can be put into effect also in the WWW-environment. The WWW-environment may also give a number of extra benefits, such as: (1) setting the drivingt questions can be done on the basis of the multimedia material available in the WWW-learning environment, (2) Investigations and collecting additional information can be carried out by using the resources available in the World Wide Web. Additionally some tools for investigations can be added to the WWW-learning environment. (3) Products or artifacts can be composed by the students with the tools available in the WWW-learning environment. The WWW-environment may also contain applications which allow the learners to communicate and act collaboratively and thus compose (4) learning communities. In the WWW-environment the learning community may consist of individuals located anywhere around the world. For students and teachers in schools this means that they can work and learn together with individuals outside the classroom. The WWW-learning environment may also contain (5) cognitive tools - applications, such as a mind map creator, a notebook and a WWW-editor.

3. 'KUOMA' -LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The 'KUOMA' -learning environment is an internet accessible, extranet-WWW-environment for project learning. All the the user of the environment needs is a Java enabled WWW-browser. The metaphor for the learning environment is a school building, which contains four rooms:

(1) The Media Center in internet, includes basic learning materials for students to formulate their own project questions. The material in the Media Center may be multimedia material and can be composed of texts, pictures, audio and videos. To deliver audio and video material the 'KUOMA' -learning environment uses the TeleCom Finland's MediaNet (http://www.medianet.tele.fi/). In the Media Center the students may also browse selected resources and databases available elsewhere in the World Wide Web.

(2) The Studio in intranet, is the students' room for team-work and for communicating with each other, with the teachers and with individuals outside the school community. The students may discuss with and ask questions from specialists outside the school community in the WWW-based news-groups or in a text-based chat in real-time. The applications are used to prepare artifacts of the study subject. In the Studio the students are able to create mind maps and WWW-pages of their study projects. All the applications of the Studio are used as cognitive tools.

(3) The Meeting Room in intranet, is a teachers' and specialists' own space to communicate and to produce new learning materials to the Media Center. The Meeting Room includes the same communication tools as the Studio: WWW-based news groups and text-based real-time chat. In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialist outside the school community may also use shared workspace, which allows storage and retrieval of documents and sharing information within a group. The Meeting Room also carries application to create and transform WWW-learning material to be located into the Media Center.

(4) The Gallery in internet, is a space where the final presentations of the students are located - the artifacts created in the Studio. The Gallery may also contain top ten list of the best study works of all times or allow visitors to vote for the best work.

All the users of the internet are allowed to browse the materials of the Media Center and the Gallery. Registered students may also use the intranet applications of the Studio. The teachers and the specialists hold access to all four intranet and internet spaces.

4. LEARNING PROJECT IN THE 'KUOMA' -LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The project descriptions included in the learning material of the Media Center guide students to carry out their projects. The teachers and the specialists are free to decide on their own programme. In general the learning project carried out in the 'KUOMA' -learning environment move on by preparing, project and evaluation activities.

4.1. PREPARING ACTIVITIES

The preparing activities move on by following steps:
a) The web-master (one teacher) creates the learning environment under a certain major topic by using the 'skeleton' and application of the 'KUOMA' -learning environment.
b) The web-master asks other teachers with their students to join the learning environment.
c) The teachers invite individuals outside the school community, considered as specialists of the major topic, to join the environment.
d) The teachers together with the specialists outside the school community generate the basic learning materials in the Meeting Room.
e) The basic learning materials made by the teachers and the specialists is locate in the Media Center. The material may also be bought from some commercial publishing houses producing digital learning materials.
f) In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialists agree on the timetable.

4.2. PROJECT ACTIVITIES

The actual learning project activities move on by following steps:
a) The students get to know the learning material of the Media Center in groups and decide on their own project subjects.
b) The students collect information related in their study subject. The students may use the WWW-hints found in the Media Center or work independently with WWW, CD-ROMs, books, etc.
c) In the Studio the students can discuss their study subjects and ask questions from other students, teachers and specialists outside the school community. In some cases the specialists may also answer the questions by using interactive video conference.
d) In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialists discuss the study content and students advancement and may produce some additional learning material for the students.
e) In the Studio the students create mind maps of their study subjects and the teachers and specialists comment upon them.
f) Based on the information collected, discussions and the mind maps the students start to create their own multimedia presentation of the subject in the Studio. The presentation may also be just a single article, radio-programme or video programme.
g) In the Studio the teachers and the specialist comment upon them, give hints for the students and finally allow the works to be published in the Gallery.

4.3. EVALUATION ACTIVITIES

The evaluation activities move on by following steps:
a) In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialist discuss on the projects of the students and evaluate them..
b) The teachers and the specialists present their evaluation to the students in the Studio. The students may respond on the evaluation.
c) Finally some of the works are located into the top ten list of the Gallery by the teachers and the specialists. If decided the audience may also vote for the best work in the Gallery.

5. TECHNICAL STRUCTURE AND THE PROTOTYPE

The KUOMA -learning environment operates on UNIX web-server. The 'skeleton' of the KUOMA -learning environment contains navigation tools, text-based communication tools (news and real-time Java-chat), Mindmapper Java-applet, WWW-editor and connection to BSCW-software to share documents and files through internet. All applications of the KUOMA -learning environment are Java-applets included to the environment or applications based on CGI-programming. All the end-user needs to use the applications is a Java enabled WWW-browser.

CGI-programming in the KUOMA -learning environment is implemented by Perl language. Perl (Practical Extraction and Report Language) is an interpreted higher level language optimized for scanning arbitrary text files, extracting information from those text files, and printing reports based on that information. It's also a good language for many system management tasks. The language is intended to be practical (easy to use, efficient, complete) rather than beautiful. Expression syntax corresponds quite closely to C expression syntax. Unlike most Unix utilities, Perl does not arbitrarily limit the size of data if enough memory is available. Recursion is of unlimited depth and the hash tables used by associative arrays grow as necessary to prevent degraded performance. Perl uses sophisticated pattern matching techniques to scan large amounts of data very quickly. Although optimized for scanning text, Perl can also deal with binary data. Perl scripts are safer than C programs through a dataflow tracing mechanism which prevents many security holes. In short, compared to other languages, Perl makes it possible to solve web-programming problems with a few lines of code.

Most of the Perl applications used in the KUOMA -learning environment that work through CGI-interface are based on various web-form applications. Users fill the forms and the content of the forms is converted to HTML-format. Rest of the skripts are used in management tasks to remove files, to feed the Mindmapper-applet with file names and to monitor the users. Perl language offers useful features to implement user and password management that is needed in applications of the KUOMA -learning environment. With these features information security is simple to implement on the server.

To deliver video and audio material the 'KUOMA' -learning environment uses the TeleCom Finland's MediaNet -product. The MediaNet's technology is totally hidden from the end-user. The video-screens and hyperlinks to audio-material are on the Media Center's content pages and when the user clicks the play-button or link, it seems that the content comes from the 'KUOMA' -learning environment's Media Center, not from Telecom Finland's servers. Uploading video and audio files to the MediaNet server can be done via the Web. (Jukka Helin 1997)

Picture 1: The Structure of the 'KUOMA' -Learning Environment - An Implementation of Collaborative Project Learning in the World Wide Web

The prototype of the 'KUOMA' -learning environment can be found from the following URL: http://matriisi.ee.tut.fi/ymparistoverkko/. The 'Ympäristöverkko' (EnvironmentNet) -site is a learning environment to study environmental questions.

6. CONCLUSION

In fall 1997 'KUOMA' -learnig environment and the 'Ympäristöverkko' -site has been used in two secondary schools in Tampere area, Finland to carry out course of environmental questions. In the trial period the teachers of the schools and the specialists from the Regional Environmental Agency have produced learning material to the Media Center. Also the Finnish Broadcasting Company and the IVO Group have offered a number of educational videos to the Media Center.

In the course the students have been going through the learning material of the Media Center, choose their own project subject, asking questions from the specialists, drawing mind maps and finally producing their own WWW -multimedia presentations of the study subject. At the moment the data collection to analyse the trial is in progress. The report will be published in the end of January 1998.

To develop the 'KUOMA' -learning environment we are producing new learning material of Russian language and culture. The material will be published in the Media Center of the 'KUOMA' -learning environment's Russian version in January 1998. English versions of the user interface and applications of the 'KUOMA' -learning environment will be published in the end of February 1998. Hopefully in the beginning of 1998 we are also opening free international WWW-site where teachers are allowed to use the structure and applications of the 'KUOMA' -learning environment and carry on their own courses with other teachers, specialists and students all around the 'internet world'.

REFERENCES:

Bluemenfeld et all. 1991: 'Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning', Educational Psychologist, 26 (3&4), 369-398 ref. in http://www.umich.edu/~aaps/fw/print.html (University of Michigan).

Helin, Jukka 1997: 'How to Build a Successful Multimedia Delivery System for the Internet', http://www.tf-medianet.com/eng/info/multimedia.html.

Pohjolainen, S. & Ruokamo-Saari Heli 1997: 'Distance Learning in Multimedia-Networks, Part of Finnish National Multimedia Programme'. In T. Väliharju & MLE-group (Eds.) 'Digital Media as a Learning Environment'. University of Tampere Computer Centre Publication Series No. 4, 85-100.

http://matriisi.ee.tut.fi/kamu/'KUOMA'/ : ''KUOMA' -pilot description'; Teemu Leinonen, Jarno Suvanto, Teija Lehto.

Reeves, Thomas C. 1997: 'The Internet and Multimedia in Teaching and Learning: Cognitive Tools for the 21st Century', So What Now Information Society? - Interactive Technology in Education 4.-5.4. 1997. Conference Publication.