Communication, visualization and social aspects involved on a virtual collaborative learning environment

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In: publicado em Journal of 3D-Forum Society, HC-2000 Third International Conference on Human and Computer, September 6-9, 2000, Japan. Em ingls , 5 pginas.Autores: Heloisa Vieira da Rocha, Janne Yukiko Yoshikawa Oeiras, Luciana Alvim Santos Romani

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  • 1. Communication, visualization and social aspects involved on a virtual collaborative learning environmentState University of Campinas Institute of ComputingCaixa Postal 6176 13083-970 Campinas - SP (BRAZIL)Phone: +55 (19) 788-5842 Janne Yukiko Yoshikawa Oeiras, Luciana Alvim Santos Romani, Helosa Vieira da Rocha{janne@ic.unicamp.br, luciana@cnptia.embrapa.br, heloisa@ic.unicamp.br} Abstract Students can actually participate in classes, This paper discusses the influence ofproposing activities, exposing ideas and work communication modalities and social aspects on results, forming groups with other students, and the development of virtual collaborative distancenot simply interact with only the teacher. On that education environments. We based this discussion environment, the participants use face-to-face on the use and development of TelEduc, a virtual communication that supplies many visual clues as distance education environment that has been eye glance, gestures and body posture. With these developed since 1996 and through which manyclues it is possible to perceive, for instance, if a courses have been supported. We have usedperson is willing to talk, collaborate, discuss or participatory design on its development and this work in group. Those visual clues help to generate method has evidenced social aspects that shouldthe trust feeling among people, which is be considered. Its last version has incorporated fundamental for collaboration. tools to support social aspects and to facilitateThe Sociology literature (Jensen et al., 1999) interaction, improving the educational process.presents an important result on the effect of the Keywords: Web-based distance education communication in the cooperation and trust. environments,informationvisualization, When individuals are able to communicate, communication modalities, Internet, social aspects cooperation can increase significantly. We and collaboration. supposed that providing tools for communicationin web-based distance education environments,the cooperation tends to be natural. However, we1. Introduction have noted that those tools are not enough topromote cooperation, because people need to first In the course of time, several resources such as establish mutual trust, then to collaborate. Thus, mail, radio and television have been used in we have not seen great interaction between distance education. Depending on the coursestudents, and they talk to the teachers only, in any context, the attendance is more individualized,situation. There is no exchange of experience and a notion of community does not exist, like inbetween students. courses by mail. Besides, since there is a variety of communication tools (email, chat, bulletinWe have a feeling that those environments do not boards), Internet seems to be a very appropriate involve social and affective aspects that are way for the development of collaborative learningimportant to build communities. environments. In "real world" learning environments, proposed 2. Virtual environments: communication, tasksinvolveinformation acquisition,visualization and social aspects communication and the interaction/collaboration between the individuals. Teachers can give classes The way people teach and learn has been through content exhibition, propose activities thatchanging. Teachers are trying to stop "giving can be accomplished individually or in group,classes", simply transmitting knowledge, and are organize discussions, evaluate students etc. beginning to share, change and build for and withthe students. In that approach, teacher changes

2. his/her function of being the center element to between them can increase meaningfully. become a facilitator, a driver to proposed tasks, Considering this statement, we can question how (co) participant, advisor, observer etc. Besides, the choice of a communication modality affects there are changes in their authority and controlthat finding and how significant are the roles. The power given to the teacher isdifferences between different forms of decentralized so that the students have the communication. Jensen et al. (1999), point that opportunity to control the direction of their own this question is very important to develop learning. Students change from simple "teaching"cooperative environments. recipients, for active agents in the learning In distance courses, cooperation is expected and process, assuming more critical attitudes while trust is necessary to build communities. Being so, contributing for the construction of their learning.we ask: which representation strategies should be This way, teacher looks at the student as a subject adopted? Which communications aspects should and agent in the formation process, implicating inbe considered for the participants to communicate a smaller emphasis in teaching and concentratingin a satisfactory way? more efforts in a student centered learning approach, which could recognize meaningfulThinking about that questions, we have noticed practices that make sense to students. Thethat a lot of communication tools have been built- teaching-learning process, in that context, starts to in in those environments without considering the combine social (interaction, strategies etc.),context, the target audience and the intended use. affective (motivation, attitudes and personalities) Most of those tools present information in a and cognitive matters (intelligence, memory,sequential and textual way, which in many cases attention, perception among other) (Sternfeld,are not enough for speakers to understand each 1996).other. Face-to-face conversation has several modalities that facilitate transmitting information Observing the earlier versions of virtual distanceto our partners. Some of those modalities include education environments, we can notice that therespoken words, intonation of the speech, hands was not worry about social and affective aspects. gestures, body posture, orientation, eye gaze and The main worries were to offer tools to makefacial expression (Vilhjlmsson et al., 1998). content available, support additional materials and tools for communication (Cerceau, 1998; Oeiras, The use of text on most communications tools is 1998). There was not, for instance, a space for because, when they were developed, the interfaces people to write about themselves. This way, of the systems were textual. As Internet is a course participants had little informationvirtual space with countless resources besides regarding others and the teachers. Those social text, we can think about different and more and affective aspects are important to establishsignificant representations for that mass of data. proximity relations among people so that they can The literature (Tufte, 1983, 1990; Card et al., identify common interests, discover new partners1999) presents several information visualization and form communities. techniques that allow us to see information hidden or unavailable in the textual representation. Those As the design of those environments does nottechniques can help to minimize people's consider such aspects, participants frequentlycognitive effort and give them subsidies to comment about an isolation feeling (Romani et perceive the social world of the course. With the al., 2000), because they do not have resources that facts, comes the question: how can we choose the allow them to know who is in the environment in appropriate communication modality that can a certain moment; who could help them besides support the interaction between all participants? teachers and with whom they could do a work in group. When we enter those environments, we We need to rethink the design of those always have the same questions: where are the environments, considering the questions we have people? Who are they? What do they do?pointed. The next section, presents tools that were Consequently, we noticed that people hardly incorporated in the TelEduc environment exchange, share and construct experiences.attempting to minimize these problems. One of the most important results of Sociology is the noted effect of communication in cooperation and trust. When the people are able to communicate in an appropriate way, cooperation 3. 3. TelEduc's tools: Profile and PortfolioThat tool allow teachers to include annotations forthe student, which can help them in their learning TelEduc is an environment that has beenprocess. Students' progress in the course is developed since 1996 and has been supporting registered and can be retrieved as an important several courses with contents from different areas.resource of reflection for the student and teacher. Basically its structure includes tools for makingThis way, teachers can help students showing contentsavailable,proposingactivities, them the best direction to improve their learning. suggesting additional readings and supporting communication between course participants, such as bulletin boards, email and chat. After some experiences and the familiarity with TelEduc, teachers and students have felt the need to know more about each other, like their academic formation, physical appearance, hobbies and spare time activities. As a result, we incorporated the Profile tool in TelEduc. Using this tool, participants (students and teachers) fill out a form with questions that build their profile. Teachers can orient the profile elaboration, in accordance to the essential of the course context. Like this, profile types vary from one course to another. Despite the textual description, participants canFigure 3.2 Portfolio items include their pictures, so they can have physical clues of their colleagues (Figure 3.1).In a recent course, people were expecting to knowand exchange experiences related to their work.Teachers requested that each one detailedinformation such as academic formation andprofessional experiences in their Profile. As someof them did not filled out the Profile, the Portfoliohelped the students to know the work of theirpartners and to begin to exchange experiences.This evidence of collaboration was seen in thefinal reports of the course. The students liked thattool for several reasons, such as the possibility tocomment other Portfolios, to see other solutions toproblems and to receive teachers and partnerscomments. They affirmed that this exchangeFig. 3.1 Profile tool contributed a lot to their learning. In that coursethere were some students that began to participate Recent experiences have shown that people used only after it had already started. For them, the this tool a lot and that they were interested in Portfolio was a tool that helped to know what had seeing their partners' pictures to have an idea of been done so far, what teachers were expecting of the physical appearance of each one. Studentsa task and what were their comments. became confident to put their pictures in the Profile tool because in the beginning of the Other attempts to exchange experiences wereproposed by students through the communication course, all teachers have placed their pictures too.tools (email, discussion group, chat). However, The Portfolio is another tool that has been helpingthey had no success. to unchain collaboration (Figure 3.2). This tool is like an individual directory where students canThese experiences have shown us that the current insert the result of their works and tasks. Each environments still need appropriate tools that item of Portfolio can be seen by all, only by theallow and stimulate the building of a community. teachers or only by its owner, depending on how it In the next section, we point some strategies thatwe are developing with the purpose of promoting has been configured.the collaboration. 4. 4. Some directions: visualization and the vertices symbolize the participants and theedges represent their interactions. Teachers are co-constructionrepresented with blue and students with orange. After we experienced several courses in the position of teachers and developers of TelEduc, we noticed the need to look after several social and affective aspects as motivation, interaction, attitudes and personalities. Those factors are fundamental to make possible and to facilitate the building of a sense of community in distance courses in the Web. Several strategies can be adopted to minimize this problem. One of the most important strategies is the study of the interaction that takes place in the courses through the analysis of the data generated Fig. 4.2 Representation of email interaction by the communication tools and that are stored in TelEduc databases. Through that analysis we canWith this map, it is possible to identify the extract significant information that allows us toindividuals who interact more in the course and think about alternatives for the redesign and/or also those that rarely show themselves. This visual proposition of new tools. However, it is difficult representation allows us to see details of the to identify which information is the mostinteraction that pass unperceived in the current representative and pertinent, since the interfaces tools. With the sequential and textual of the current communication tools present the representation, it is easier to remember the content in a sequential and textual form (Figure students that sent more messages even if those 4.1).messages are not pertinent. But we rarelyremember those ones that send few messages. Thegraphic representation of the abstract data givesmore subsidies to identify problems still unveiled.Therefore, they present a general vision of thecomplete mass of data and they can detail theinformation when demanded.In addition, the visualization tool can be usedalong with techniques to propose situations thatmotivate the collaboration and the development ofnew relationships in order to inspire trust (Jensenet al., 1999). The use of these techniques canallow us to choose the appropriate communicationmodality for each context.Fig. 4.1 Email Screen Another way to stimulate cooperative work is to We can, indeed, represent a conversation in an provide tools that allow co-construction. In the infinite number of ways. The essential problem isComputer Supported Cooperative Work literature to identify the salient data and to represent it (Souza et al., 1998; Ellis, 1991; Phase(X), 2000) accurately and intuitively (Donath et al., 1999).we can find several tools that were developed for Using techniques of information visualization, the group use. Even mono-user tools can be used for InterMap tool has been developed to represent theco-construction. It is possible using remote data of email, discussion group and chat tools.administration systems as pcAnywhere, a product InterMap shows a graphic map that represents the of Symantec Corporation (Symantec, 2000) . courses interactions. With this tool, we can see the information that is hidden or that is unavailable in a textual representation.5. Conclusions InterMap uses graphs to represent the interac...

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