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The primary objective of the project is create a prototype of a virtual education environment using agent technology as the management system. Related to this is the objective of testing out the practicality of a delivery system that uses educational objects or resources as it core data and then provides the teacher with the tools to structure these resources in pedagogy independent ways.
The central premise of the IVEE philosophy is that both teachers and learners should be free to create a variety of models of the learning world that they inhabit. We reject the implicit wisdom that the "teacher knows best", and that the pedagogical framework constructed by the teacher is the only way students in their class might approach the learning task.
While there is valuable input that the teacher can provide, it should be seen as a starting point for the learner, not a conclusion. Indeed, we argue that the teacher's responsibility does not rest with one model of the learning environment, but should explore the multidimensional space that represents all teachers' and all students' models of the learning environment.
Crucially, if students are to develop life-long learning skills, and that they learn these skills in a structured class-room environment, that environment must encourage student-centred learning in the sense of offering the student a multiplicity of flexible learning frameworks. One pedagogy does not fit all!
Let us define just what is meant by this concept of a learning environment. At a tangible level, it contains all the physical manifestations of learning materials: books, papers, portfolios, (lab) equipment, and even web pages and software associated with the learning process. These manifestations may take on a variety of representations and incarnations, web pages may be printed, books may be photocopied, experiments may be repeated, software may be invoked, and so on.
In the context of a virtual learning environment, however, all of these learning materials assume a soft representation: printed materials become pdf files, lab experiments become simulations, and web pages and software become themselves. It is these components that populate our Intelligent Virtual Educational Environment.
So the challenge for the virtual learning environment then is to create a framework in which all these soft learning materials can be organized to reflect the model that the learner is building about the learning topic. Such a model must be epistemologically driven, but it may vary significantly from learner to learner. This variation is manifest in learning management systems that allow organization of materials in a variety of ways - unfortunately, not always simultaneously.
This latter limitation means that while the teacher can set up a learning framework that they think might be appropriate, it may not be the most appropriate for the broad body of students. For example, a high-achieving student may wish to have an environment that supports a great deal of depth, while a weaker student would want to see a heavy population of "how-to" and "step-by-step" learning materials. Such learner-centred, adaptable learning environments are not possible in current learning management systems. We seek a pedagogically agnostic environment that not only does not force a single pedagogic approach, but allows the dynamic addition of new models for each student as he or she develops their understanding of the learning content.
How then to build this variety of frameworks? In computational terms, we do not wish to overload the learner with yet another learning framework that they must master before coming to terms with the discipline content. Whatever our virtual learning environment provides, it must be easy to assimilate, and offer a rapid pathway to building the learning framework for the content. It is not appropriate to require the novice learner to have to learn to drive the learning environment itself first. Experience has shown us that this leads to resentment, frustation, and ultimately, poor learning outcomes.
We therefore turn to existing, well-understood models at the computing level, so that students see these as transparent support mechanisms for the tasks that they must undertake. One of the best understood metaphors here is the notion of a computer workspace as a desktop, on which may be placed various items under discussion and study. Closely allied to this is the notion of content items as files, and organizational collections as folders. Files and folders that form the working set of study are then placed on the desktop. Both of these notions appear in the IVEE model, with the added flexibility that they may be renamed to reflect the context in which they are applied.
We are thus lead to the metaphor of a learning environment as a desktop, containing some structuring of the learning materials according to some pedagogical view of how those materials might be organized. This concept of a view, or learning framework, is central to the IVEE philosophy.
We have identified both files and folders as components of these views, and their structuring as the quintessential learning framework. Files (containing arbitrary learning objects) are thus the raw learning materials gathered together to create the framework, which is manifest in the way that they are organized into folders. While, as pointed out above, the names are flexible, the IVEE philosophy identifies files as learning materials and the folders as learning modules, and these names are used (often with the learning adjective elided) in discussing the IVEE model itself.
One design goal of IVEE has been the development of a learning environment that has a shallow learning curve. This attribute is exploited in one sub-project, called the Community Learning Project. This link is to a current grant application.
The iVEE model has also been linked to the Digital Doorway, a project of the Faculty of Information Technology jointly being undertaken with a number of other partners.
The iCALT project is a spin-off from the iVEE project, and will be described in a separate page. This is a link to the iCALT page.
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