Feb 25, 2018 - 11:44 AM  
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More in Detail

 
 
Objectives
The DUNES project goal is to design, implement and test an environment for collaborative learning through electronic discussion. Many such environments exist already, but (1) they do not adequately support (as opposed to enable) collaborative learning, (2) they are task-specific, focusing on particular tools and semantic structures and (3) they are too general, as they treat collaboration as a single type of activity, thus ignoring development of users, differentiation of user roles, and different phases in task-based discussions.

The DUNES project starts from the assumption that collaboration skills have to be explicitly learned in an environment that is specifically designed for that purpose. Development of collaboration skills requires an integrated approach in which users, educational designers, educational tasks and technology are tuned to each other's needs. This asks for in-depth understanding of the situation of collaborative learning of which technology is a part.

Rationale
In tomorrow's learning and working environments, people will be more and more involved in tasks within multidisciplinary, multicultural and physically distributed teams. The participation to such tasks puts heavy demands on the individual, both in the cognitive and social realms. On the one hand, one must capitalize on informal reasoning (cognitive) skills, such as constructing and evaluating arguments. On the other hand, one must make use of social skills of collaboration. However, people are not prepared to exploit such cognitive and social soft skills, as practices, from primary school to university, very poorly address their acquisition.

Learning to collaborate under several constraints using technology to communicate is not explicitly taught at school, nor at teacher training institutes. Conceptions of learning are based on individual learner goals and focus on knowledge of subject matter. Moreover, there are no frameworks of collaborative learning that extend over the classroom border. As a consequence, individual users do not effectively collaborate because they have no intrinsic interest, they do not develop the skills necessary to become flexible collaborators in different situations, and there are huge transfer problems: users do not use their experience from one situation in another appropriate situation. This is the default situation in current education and new technology does not solve this problem by simply being available. Technological infrastructures are currently being implemented at many schools, but many of these do not even tolerate the use of collaboration software.

The DUNES program proposes various learning activities that scaffold collaborative learning within social interactions. The solutions that DUNES presents are:
  1. Development of an innovative "discussion space", featuring dynamic "argumentative maps", which are intelligent graphical tools for modeling and supporting discussion among the participants. With the aid of these maps, DUNES will enable and support activities undertaken by small groups of learners, like: (a) presenting opinions, facts, reasons, concepts and their relationships; (b) to defend, challenge and compare points of view; (c) mapping (mirroring) ongoing discussion with respect to different perspectives and grain size; (d) collaborative discussion according to different scenarios; (e) to access various sources of information and knowledge to be integrated in the overall process; (f) to use different types of guidance by humans and artificial agents.
  2. Elaboration of several scenarios for collaborative learning by using this technology, including
    • collaborative learning of specific topics,
    • competitive negotiation and debates,
    • collaborative decision-making in various contexts, and
    • constructive argumentative discussion.
    Details of tasks, scripts and support in these scenarios will be tailored to the goals and needs of the user groups. The scenarios-based approach is used to design a series of innovative collaborative learning arrangements, involving advanced software, to provide appropriate experience and reflection, and scaffold, coach and enculturate users for new learning. These arrangements lead users to a series of increasingly complex learning tasks which focus (a) on user understanding of external information, then (b) on their understanding of effective collaboration and their own roles in collaborative learning, and finally (c) on knowledge building: establishing (international) learning groups that create new knowledge.
  3. Elaboration of methods of intervention by the instructor/moderator or by intelligent agents. Different scenarios require different forms of support, but in general, support is aimed at collaboration and collaborative learning, not mainly at the knowledge of the domain. We also intend to use artificial intelligence techniques to be able to model and support ongoing debates at the appropriate level. In general, support is aimed at raising users' metacognitive awareness of collaboration, by mapping, coaching and scaffolding.
  4. Development and implementation of methodologies for evaluating activities with DUNES and their contribution. As the activities concern both cognitive and social aspects, as well as products and processes, those methodologies should encompass:
    • Quantitative measures of informal reasoning before and after activities;
    • Quantitative methods for evaluating products of collective work;
    • Methods for describing interactions between participants and the mediating role of the technological tools in the activities;
    • Ethnographic approaches for describing global aspects of argumentative activities with DUNES (motivation, role of institution, etc.) and
    • Assessing the required characteristics and new role of the teacher in DUNES environments. If the traditional role of the teacher is transformed, what are the qualifications and emerging roles that will impact the learning outcome in a collaborative learning environment?
The DUNES system, now under development, will be tried on a large-scale experiment, and its results will be evaluated in many schools, high schools, universities and other learning and working environments, in various European countries. The project will join or establish strong links with existing national initiatives and, for this purpose, ministries of education and other relevant national organizations of some of the partners' countries have already been contacted and expressed their interest in DUNES.

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Dialogic and argUmentative Negotiation Educational Software