Preface N. 9&10

Autumn-Winter 2010

Table of contents  –   Authors index

This special issue extends the discussion that took place in Sousse during the DULP@ICALT 2010 workshop and offers as an interdisciplinary arena where authors can present and discuss ideas on what could be the future of TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) in the next few years, under the consideration of the DULP vision that aims at combining Design inspired learning, Ubiquitous learning, Liquid learning places (& liquid society), and Person in place centered design, to challenge technologies and rethink pedagogies.
We all know that the technologies are reshaping the physical environment, favor the emergence of new lifestyles and more nomadic practices, support more natural ways to interact with environments and artifacts, based on gestures, voice and emotions. All elements that bring individuals to give less importance to functional aspects and more to the so called ‘experience’s qualities’.
Among all possible themes connected to the DULP vision the contributions that have been carefully selected for this special issue of IxD&A tend to concentrate on two main topics: a) the new environments of the future learning that, probably, will integrate in an unique landscape virtuality and physicality; b) an approach to personalization that from the machine moves closer to the person and the quality of the personal experience.
This is why we have grouped the papers of this special issue in two sections: ‘Mixed learning landscapes’ and ‘Person and personalization’.

A position paper by Maria Chiara Pettenati opens the first section with the proposal of a roadmap to implement institutional Personal learning environments (PLEs) based on what she call the PLE hexagon model.
The contribution is very timely and is part of a very hot debate regarding the transition from the old VLE, which seems structurally and functionally obsolete although still very popular, to a new generation of environments.
It is unclear whether the solution for the near future will be offered by PLEs and/or Web 3.0; a different solution could be offered, in fact, by Virtual Learning Places (VLPs) or even by much more complex landscapes, built around the person (and not the learner), that will integrate in a continuum virtuality and physicality. It will be very interesting to follow the evolution of the debate and of the environments!

The second contribution of this section, by Alke Martens et al., addresses present and future Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITSs) that, actually seem to have a solid foundations that have their roots in the ’80s.
The subject is dealt with mainly from the point of view of optimization and reuse of: models, frameworks, components and modules. An issue of extreme relevance that try to answer to the following question: how to maximize the investments in research to be sure that do not merely produce only laboratory experiments and, conversely, impact on reality?
The authors propose their own solution called JaBInT whose viability is shown by proofs of concept, implemented within the domain of the game based learning.
System modules can be replaced and reused, and also the role playing games (RPGs) can be mapped onto the proposed solution to give rise to a fully integrated game-based ITS architecture.
At present, among the main challenges: the mastering of the human-in-the-loop simulation that is a characteristic of the simulation-based games and, over all, the possibility to include and take into account all of the dimensions of a personal experiences.

The third contribution of Francesco Di Cerbo et al. is devoted to investigate the implications that the DULP vision may have on the perspective of the system DIEL, a LMS that has been realized to encourage the creation of distance learning communities by providing an effective support for designing learning paths directly transposed into the virtual environment.
These implications are illustrated by: a) a case study in which the focus is on the tracking of the ‘spatial’ behavior of students within the 2D graphical representation of the environment; b) a reflection on the concept of ubiquitous learning that led to design an extension of DIEL, in progress, for mobile phones.

The first section closes with the contribution by Massimiliano Condotta et al. that shifts the focus on the integration of virtuality and physicality, a sort of anticipation of some aspects of the future learning places. It is shown how an experimental tabletop application may serve to create new ways of viewing, understanding and learning about urban and territorial environments and leads to a more efficient examination of their underlying characteristics.
The authors aim two achieve two goals: a) support and foster the social creativity and co-design processes; b) produce smart representation and manipulation of complex knowledge to favor the generation of new knowledge built on top of the previous one, and as well the meta-cognition.
The latter is closely linked to the importance of stratification of memory in place, whether virtual or physical, which is one of the main differences between the PLEs and VLPs.
The case study deals with architectural, urban and territorial data on Venice and demonstrate playful and inspiring ‘tangible’ manipulation of multilevel data, although left open and not yet solved the comparison between the manipulation based on tangible objects (able to extension of our abilities) and that based pon our natural instruments: the hands.
In any case, the paper makes clearly understand how smart artifacts and, more at large, smart physical environments, are losing the connotation of lab demo and are becoming solid realities, also driven by the recent impressive technological progress of sensors and controls for game consoles and internet of things.

One aspect of the previous article that introduces us to the second part of the volume is the attention to the centrality of the individual who Essam Fathi et al. face from the perspective of the machine, namely they focus on how the machine can filter, organize and present the best content with respect to the cognitive characteristics of the learner. In particular the paper suggests automated strategies of recommendation that can be put into practice with the minimum effort, based on LOM standard and learners’ characteristics. A detailed ‘how to do’ example is given and possible metrics illustrated.

The second contribution of this section by Farman Ali Khan et al. aims to integrate the ‘affective’ dimensions – confidence, effort, independence, confusion – with the Felder and Silverman learning styles in order to let the machine provide not only adaptable courses but also additional individualized pedagogical guidance tailored also on students’ ‘affective’ states.
The proposal is to detect such ‘affective’ states by means of a non-intrusive monitoring of student learning interactions in learning management systems. A detailed proposal for behavioral patterns that may be associated to the chosen ‘affective’ dimensions is given. The final goal is to suggest adequate Learning Object through an adaptive course generator and an adaptive affective tactic generator. The architecture of a possible Adaptive Learning Management System is given.

The last paper of the second section by Carlo Giovannella et al. takes a different point of view with respect of the Technology Enhanced Learning and defines at high level of abstraction a model that correlate universalities of the learning process with the characteristics of individuals, including the preferences about the mode of interaction, with the final results to define a set of Experience’s styles. These latter represent a step forward with respect to the learning styles whose background led to uncertain results and do not clarify the interplay between personal characteristics and learning process. The challenge to monitor in an ‘ecological’ manner all the dimensions of an experience, on both quantitative and quantitative bases, is then discussed and possible directions suggested.
At the end, among others the authors propose the following reflection: how to use the data collected during their monitoring ? Should be used only to increase the level of awareness of the actors participating to the process to facilitate the acquisition of a critical attitude or, rather, to enforce or satisfy specific styles and behaviors? Should it be done by a man or a machine?

Overall, this special issue demonstrates how lively is the research within the framework represented by the DULP vision.
A very open debate concerns the characteristics of physical and virtual landscapes that will host future learning processes. Also these latter and the role of the machine are submitted to revision and are object of discussion and exploration.
A wealth of viewpoints that can only witness how interesting and attractive is to explore and architect the future of TEL.

Carlo Giovannella and Sabine Graf