Collaborative Teaching and Learning Between Continents: a Case Study
Marjo Mäenpää, UIAH — University of Art and Design — Helsinki, MediaLab, Finland; Slavko Milekic, UARTS — University of the Arts, Philadelphia, USA; Riikka Haapalainen, FNG — Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finland
In this paper we present a critical overview of an experiment in collaborative teaching/learning using Web-based tools. Collaborating institutions were the University of Art & Design in Helsinki, Finland, and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, USA. Graduate level students attending different (but with substantial overlap) courses in Finland and the US were connected using Future Learning Environment (FLE) developed at the Media Lab of University of Art & Design.
Key words: collaborative teaching, collaborative learning, Web-based tools
Within the past several years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of institutions offering 'distance education' courses. Although many of these courses include Web-based tools like 'chat rooms' and discussion lists, the prevalent conceptual model is that of a traditional correspondence school. This model works well in a number of cases but is not as efficient in knowledge building for 'ill-defined domains' like most of the Arts and Humanities subjects. The model that seems more promising in this area is the one of technology supported collaborative learning/teaching. In this model the focus shifts from building more efficient tools for information distribution to the development of tools that support collaboration in knowledge building. Although the model has been considerably conceptually developed (see Koschmann 1996, for an overview, or Leinonen at al. 2002 for recent practical implementation) the number of practical applications is relatively small. The reason for this probably is that the population who would benefit most from implementation of such tools is traditionally technology shy. This presents specific design challenges that require cross-disciplinary input. In this paper we describe an attempt to create a collaborative learning environment for the students from US (University of the Arts, Philadelphia) and Finland (University of Art & Design, Helsinki) as well as their connection with experts and content providers (Finnish National Gallery).
2. Division Of Work And Goals
What follows is the short description of the courses offered at the two Universities.
The course at the University of the Arts was designed to prepare art and museum educators for the development, supervision and assessment of the use of new technologies in the art classroom, museums and outreach education programming. During the course the students learned, in a hands-on fashion, how to design and create an interactive multimedia project. In addition, this course covered a variety of issues and approaches in regard to educational programming using interactive media. The potential for use of new technologies for effective communication with various audiences was examined via related literature, field observations and critiques/assessments. The main focus of the course was on the development of technology supported collaborative teaching/learning environments.
The goal of the course at the University of Art & Design (Helsinki) was to allow the students to create models of interaction with the works of art. They focused on creating a prototype of an interactive interface that would enhance the user experience and facilitate knowledge transfer. The interface could be either between the user and the knowledge base (using chat bots, avatars, interactive applications), or between an expert and the user/learner (in this case the interface should facilitate communication between the two — Web-based video, interactive whiteboard, etc.)
2.1. E-team Building
The members of the student teams working on projects chose teams based on their individual expertise and background. Ideally, each team had students coming from different educational backgrounds and interests; for example, an educator, industrial designer and new media designer. Each team member was able to contribute to a different aspect of the project — an educator brought the knowledge of appropriate content and learning theories, industrial designers contributed to the design of actual physical environment where collaboration takes place and multimedia developers were able to prototype the proposed solutions. Media designers studied the models of human communication and users behavior in order to design user-friendly interfaces when executing the concept. Expected number of students for this course was 12-16 at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia and 6-8 students from the University of Art & Design in Helsinki. This would allow building of 4-5 E-teams. Finally there were 9 students from Philadelphia and 5 students from Helsinki.
2.3. Course Content
2.4. Instructional Methods
The primary emphasis of the course were on a) planning, design and production of an interactive multimedia application, but the course also included b) lectures, discussion, outside readings, and c) field observations in city environment. Class activities required attendance at guest speaker presentations.
2.5. The Division of Tasks
3. Collaborative and Course-Specific Projects
A sample assignment for the mixed Finnish/American team of students follows:
Assignment for week 6:
1. Create a working group comprised of 2 students from UARTS Philadelphia and one from Media Lab UIAH.
2. Choose the target of your evaluation, a museum-Web page, or other similar kind of a place in the internet,
3. Evaluate the media, paying particular attention to use of interaction design, other mediadesign (animation, film and video). Pay attention to design. Is it accessible, usable? Write up critique (2-4 pages) in a group with students from Philadelphia. (write 1-2 pages each for a total of 3-6 pages with urls). Use e-mail or FLE to communicate and evaluate. Put critiques to FLE-discussion knowledge building area. (http://virtu.uiah.fi:7070/ant).
Although assignments of this kind were interesting to students and were carried out successfully, the collaboration between two groups did not extend much beyond working on a common topic and reviewing each other's project proposals. For the factors that affected the quality of collaboration see the Analysis section.
3.1. UARTS / Interactive Media
The goal of the Interactive Media course at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia was to prepare art and museum educators for the development, supervision and assessment of the use of new technologies in the art classroom, museums and outreach education programming. A large part of the course was devoted to teaching the students how to design and create an interactive multimedia project using a (relatively) simple authoring environment (MetaCard). In addition, this course covered a variety of issues and approaches in regard to educational programming using interactive media.
3.2. Media Lab UIAH / Mummi-group
The aim was (and still is) to create a model of interaction between the piece of art and visitor of an exhibition. We decided to create a chat-bot which communicates with the visitor, gives information (some kind of, according to its character and nature) and leads the visitor to see different aspects from the piece of art. For this conceptual and demo-version we chose one painting from the coming exhibition of Urban Images and created one interactive chat-bot.
4. Analysis of the collaborative study project
Analysis of the collaborative activities between cross-national teams of students revealed numerous problems but also great educational potential of this approach.
4.1. Strengths & potential
4.4. Lessons learned
5. Study projects
5.1 UARTS — Interactive media
The initial purpose of the common study project was to promote the methods and good practice of user centered design, visitor studies and accessibility matters (Design for All principle) and to unite the expertise of both institutions for common objectives. The project aims to incorporate the content rich and versatile cultural heritage information with the latest innovations on digital interactive applications and installations. It also aims to enhance the understanding of museum visitors, their expectations of museum visit (both on-line and in-site) and their various needs during the visit.
During the course the students created a model of interaction with the works of art. They were focused on creating a prototype of an interactive interface that would enhance the user experience and facilitate knowledge transfer. The interface could be either between the user and the knowledge base (using chat bots, avatars, interactive applications), or between an expert and the user/learner (in this case the interface should facilitate communication between the two — Web-based video, interactive whiteboard, etc.)
5.2. Media Lab, UIAH and MUMMI
The Media Lab of University of Art and Design Helsinki was formed in 1993. Today the Media Lab coordinates two 2-year masters' programs: the MA in New Media and MA for New Media Professionals, both programs with interdisciplinary students. The mission of the Media Lab is to explore, discover and comprehend the new digital technology and its impact in society; to find and exploit the possibilities it opens to communication, interaction and expression and to evaluate, understand and deal with the challenges it poses to design and creative production.
The MUMMI as a “Design for All & accessibility to art history” - study project aims to benefit from the concepts like accessibility and usability, and methods like Design for All, Universal Design. Another goal is to gather together all the cumulative knowledge and research done in Media Lab about these issues. What do these principles mean when designing and planning media for wide audiences, media presentations for museums and virtual museums? Naturally, these methods should also be self-evident principles when designing new media solutions for every kind of public usage. To study Multimodal interfaces is to understand the conversational interface design of the future. (Jokinen, Raike 2002)
In order to serve museum visitors better, the MUMMI project wishes to create cultural heritage content that is meaningful, intelligible, and communicable for its users - regardless of their backgrounds, skills and learning styles or strategies. (Haapalainen, Mäenpää, 2003)
5.3. Designing A Chat-Bot In Collaborative Study Project
5.4. Problems of Communication
Because the intercontinental communication didn't work fluently, students from both universities thought that there might have been differences in working and studying cultures. Both groups were eager to give and have feedback and they were ready to spend more extra time to build common understanding. Whereas Medialab students expected that the study projects' working methods were on both sides on collaborative, problem based learning, self-directed by students, students from USA were more used to studying under exact guidelines and well-designed given exercises.
It was obvious that more precise tasks and objectives for both student groups would have helped their communication. The benefits of common knowledge building were not clearly announced.
It is clear that the role of the tutors is emphasized in flexible and distance education. It means twice as much work as physical lecturing. Also the building of a virtual team is a difficult task. Finally, in this case too few resources were devoted to collaboration and building a real working virtual e-team. Professor Tapio Varis writes about how a competent e-Learning team should function:
A team for producing quality e-learning material would consist of something like 16 members. First, one person is needed for managing the whole project. Secondly, three members are needed for designing the course, including a lead designer, module designers, and subject matter experts. Thirdly, six members are needed for building the content. They would include course integrator, writers, graphics specialists, multimedia developers, html/xml coders, and programmers.
Fourthly, three members are needed to provide the technical infrastructure. These people are network/service administrators, server/database programmers, and technical support specialists. And fifthly, three members are needed for conducting e-learning. They are an administrator (curriculum), course facilitator, and online instructor. (Varis, 2003)
5.5. Attract, Engage, Motivate, Activate, Satisfy: The Mission of the Museum
Chat-bot is a virtual character helping users to communicate with a written language. Chat-bot technology is based on the metadata of words and lines; a certain word or line written by the user gets a certain answer from chat-bot. The user could have a feeling of natural communication when chatting with a chat-bot. (Saarinen 2001) The metadata of words and lines is collected after research of the potential user groups — middle aged women, school pupils and others most common museum visitors.
The assignment to design a concept for an interactive situation was at the beginning from Finnish National Gallery. Basically, the chat-bot provided background information concerning a certain piece of art in a certain exhibition, in this case the exhibition Images of Urban Finland. All the history of art and sources for the chat-bot project were from the Finish National Gallery. When the media were designed in open virtual platform, all the experts could comment on the discoveries of students.
The aim is to represent the background of the art of Sulho Sipilä, the urban culture of Helsinki from 30's. Sulho Sipilä used to look out from his apartment window to the Viiskulma and Punavuori districts and paint the scenes from his window. The second aim is to represent the changes in the atmosphere in mental life in Finland; nationalism turned to internationalism, National Romanticism turned to city optimism.
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Varis, Tapani (2003). New Literacies and e-Learning Competences. elearningeuropa.info. URL: http://www.elearningeuropa.info/doc.php?lng=1&id=595&doclng=1 (read 31.1.2004)