Evolving open learning environments using hypermedia technology

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<ul><li><p>Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2001) 17, 186-199 </p><p> 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd 186 </p><p>Evolving open learning environments using hypermedia technology A. Trikic Edge Hill College of Higher Education, Lancashire, UK </p><p>Abstract A number of features of web-based hypermedia are identified as providing a suitable medium for the design of open learning environments. The underlying object-oriented architecture of hypermedia systems accords with the need for representational diversity of pedagogic mechanisms and the ongoing re-construction that an evolutionary approach to the design of learning activity demands. A web-based prototype has been constructed to represent aspects of the National English Board curriculum in diabetes mellitus. The design and development process tries to take account of features of the environment likely to influence or be influenced by the intervention. Quantitative and qualitative methods have been employed to enable an evaluation of the hypermedia design and its environment of use. </p><p>Keywords: Activity theory; Diabetes; Hypermedia; Interview; Post-graduate; Pre/post test; World-wide web </p><p>Introduction </p><p>Exploiting technology continues to be a focus of interest in many fields of research including education, computer science, cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Ambitious claims have often been thwarted by both a limited understanding of the constituent complexities of the relationship between learning and teaching and how technological tools can best serve and enhance this symbiotic relationship. It is suggested that computational tools embedded in hypermedia combined with computer mediated communication systems act as a synergistic agent for learning under certain conditions. There are two main conditions are: first, a common communication system and access to information and knowledge resources exists; second, that all individuals have easy access to these computing and communication resources for engaging in learning activities. The latter condition means that the structure and content of the learning environment generally have a positive impact on the success or otherwise of technology supported learning tasks. The existence, reliability and support of a technological infrastructure therefore constitute a critical factor for the success of learning environments built through technical innovation. </p><p>This papers primary purpose is to identify particular attributes of hypermedia technology that may support learning. Some of the attributes have been designed and constructed as web-based learning resources for nurses undertaking specialist </p><p>Accepted 1 October 2000 </p><p>Correspondence: Angela. Trikic, Assistant Director - Open Learning, Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education, School of Pharmacy, University of Manchester, M13 9PL Email: atrikic@man.ac.uk </p></li><li><p>Open learning environments using hypermedia technology 187 </p><p> 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 186-199 </p><p>training for the care and management of diabetes mellitus. A precondition for design and development must be the wide set of socio-psychological influences that impact upon cognitive processes and the need to take account of these in the design of human-computer systems. The definition of open learning adopted here is that proposed by Goodyear &amp; Steeples (1992) in the context of the European JITOL project (Lewis, 1995). In this sense the hypermedia environment is conceived as an integral layer and vehicle through which learning activities may be conducted. Its appropriateness as a form of learning support relies on the degree to which the learner is not simply engaged in knowledge application, but also understands the underlying reasoning that forms the basis for practice and/or further thought and investigation. The link-node structure of hypermedia provides the underlying architecture by which the semantic relationship of static and dynamic knowledge may be represented. Nothing is assured without good design and a sound methodology and, for example, the extensive and critical review of hypermedia as an educational technology by Dillon &amp; Gabbard (1998) was only able to single out the rapid search and retrieval tasks as yielding positive support for learning. A contrary view is argued for in this paper suggesting that salient features of web-based hypermedia afford support and stimulus to the learning process. </p><p>Rationale and context </p><p>The capacity for hypermedia to provide a multilayered environment capable of incorporating visual representations of units of knowledge in static and dynamic form appeared to present an avenue for learning worth pursuing. Initial ideas were based upon the possible effectiveness of integrating the use of visual and other forms of multimedia into a curriculum domain with a significant visual presence. The interest and co-operation of the Health Studies Department at Edge Hill College of HE led to fruitful contact with the Diabetes team at Fazakerley Hospital. Discussion with the course leader established the initial parameters defining the type of web-based materials that were to be developed. </p><p>The nature of the curriculum for nurses specialising in diabetes care and management requires a high level of understanding of social and psychological factors affecting the behaviour of diabetic patients as well as the procedural and management aspects that control of the disease entails. An initial judgement was taken to prioritise the anatomical and physiological knowledge for computer-based design. This was motivated by two main factors: first, by a belief that this may provide an improved vehicle for knowledge accumulation; secondly, it would have the additional benefit of affording more contact time for discursive components of the curriculum. The consequence of developing a web-mediated delivery resource would, it was hoped, facilitate 3 2 hour timetabled slots currently designated to the anatomy and physiological course component. </p><p>Extending boundaries </p><p>The first stage of the development process took place during the Autumn of 1998. This was the implementation of a hypermedia design to represent two aspects of the National English Board curriculum in diabetes mellitus. Normal and abnormal physiological states along with the application of physiological knowledge to support diagnostic and analytic skill required for care and management was constructed as a </p></li><li><p>188 A. Trikic </p><p> 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 186-199 </p><p>research prototype. The physiological knowledge base lends itself to diverse representations utilising </p><p>text and image-processing techniques providing students with visual images and cues of static knowledge with dynamic access to supplementary textual information. To limit the web-site to cover only the anatomical and physiological knowledge base seemed to be a deficient strategy to support student learning and unlikely to promote anything other than a shallow engagement with the materials. Providing students with a variety of activities, which call for applied knowledge became an extended aim, which would nevertheless help to secure earlier objectives. Mechanisms for promoting diagnostic and inferential tasks involved in gaining expertise in diabetes mellitus and related complications were incorporated as an integral part of the web environment including the representation of case studies and scenarios, multiple choice assessment and predefined web searches. </p><p>Adopting an essentially iterative method of ongoing construction and re-construction gives the advantage of both facilitating feedback from stakeholders and enabling exploration of burgeoning techniques offered in a hypermedia environment. </p><p>Multiple representations: learning facilitation? </p><p>Recent advances in hypermedia technology have been based upon a document object model, which contains many static and dynamic objects. These objects, for example, text objects, image objects and interface widgets, may be designed to offer multiple layered representations of domain knowledge to assist learner understanding. The multimedia formats offer the potential of simulating the relationship between the conceptual knowledge structure and the processes that are described by it. For example, human physiology requires an understanding of internal organs, their location, function and relationship with other organs. The many interrelationships that exist between the hormonal and nervous systems form an integral part of knowledge understanding of human physiology. Contained within the knowledge description there exists a number of hormonal processes triggered by particular events or conditions that may be represented dynamically. The pedagogic potential for promoting an understanding of dynamic processing defined by conceptual </p><p>Fig. 1. Capability of hypermedia to trigger additional visual and textual information. </p></li><li><p>Open learning environments using hypermedia technology 189 </p><p> 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 186-199 </p><p>descriptors is an intuitive assertion but the cognitive complexity needed to capture causality of that which moves compared to that which is still for us to ponder has been accepted for some time. A simple computational representation of process knowledge illustrated in Fig. 1 may be more effective in promoting learning compared with paper based texts that must rely on linguistic expression and diagrammatic modelling. There is some evidence to suggest that location and representational format of difficult concepts impact on the degree of comprehension in paper-based medium (Sweller, 1994). The same may be true of hypermedia. </p><p>Pedagogic theories and tools </p><p>Activity theory has been used to illuminate understanding of the development of forms of humancomputer interaction (Kuuti, 1997). Viewing different forms of human practices as development processes at the individual and social level provides a context that can be finely grained to apply to psychological activities stimulated by interface objects that themselves become subject of complex forms of human mediated interaction. These objects constitute pedagogic mechanisms. Both application-domain objects and computer-domain objects use object-oriented concepts and notation (Booch, 1991; Rumbaugh et al., 1991). All objects have identity, properties and methods, which distinguish them from other objects. It is the capacity of hypermedia to support an expanding repertoire of object-based mechanisms that makes it a useful vehicle for constructing learning environments. </p><p>Whilst pedagogy may be an art that requires great versatility much can be learnt from the vast body of educational and psychological literature on this subject. Multiple strategies are required because students learn by adopting diverse strategies which may conform to a Pask (1976) type serialist in one context or domain and lead them to behave more like a holist in another context. A student is unlikely to possess a single-strategy a range of strategies are likely to be employed on a trial-by-trial basis. Accepting that human cognition may be stimulated in various ways means that a range of strategies must be embedded in the hypermedia. There are a number of properties, events and methods described by the document-object model resident in web browser software that enables dynamic interaction. Knowledge representation and forms of interaction may trigger further visualisation or didactic discourse designed to encourage diagnostic reasoning. A learner event may cause object-object communication or trigger a dialogue to invite a further learner response. Since the dialogue structure is embedded within the primary object, the behaviour can be modified and developed during the process of evolving the environment. This is a direct consequence of encapsulation. Analogy, cues, the presentation of selective case-study data constitute examples of familiar forms of pedagogy designed to promote a variety of learning activities, which were embedded in the research prototype to provide a safe practice environment for learning. </p><p>Extensibility and reuse The object-oriented architecture and design of hypermedia means that knowledge objects can be changed without affecting the structure and content of other knowledge objects external to it. Large systems can be constructed using modules which are structured so that interfaces are simple and well defined. The capacity for hypermedia systems to be extended and/or updated is a critical attribute for the design of learning environments. </p></li><li><p>190 A. Trikic </p><p> 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 186-199 </p><p>The implication of accepting the provisional status of much of our knowledge (Popper, 1975) is to acknowledge the possibility of its modification at some point in time. Consideration of the question of how provisional is provisional is an important one, but will not be discussed here. Suffice to assert that knowledge based upon physical and physiological properties or constructed from symbolic and logical abstractions to form mathematical and scientific principles and structures is largely stable knowledge. Stable knowledge can be characterised by the degree of agreement that exists on the fundamental structures and principles upon which this form of knowledge is based. Nevertheless an extension of knowledge resulting from a single research finding will affect the application of the knowledge. Changed practices and medicines may arise from a better understanding of the aetiology of a disease, but this does not challenge a view of disease as having aetiology, symptoms, a possible set of treatments and so on. It is the extensibility of hypermedia technology that may make it a suitable medium for representing changed practices and improved understanding of prior knowledge. </p><p>Monitoring and evaluation The monitoring and evaluation function of educational practice conducted in part through an innovative delivery mechanism can be an important vehicle for improvement. The capacity for changing a learning environment leads on to a consideration of the stakeholders in the teaching and learning process. Client-based surveys and evaluation forms may be designed to interface and interact with the servers CGI programs. These may then become refinable instruments with which to measure performance and provide process indicators. Monitoring form-based data directed at the learners and teachers can be collated and analysed periodically to help inform future enhancements. </p><p>The development process The computer-supported learning environment described here requires two distinct forms of technologies. Hypermedia technology offers an environment in which learning activities may be crafted such that the representational aspects of the learner experience are attended to as well as supporting mech...</p></li></ul>