Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Activity Awareness in Sakai

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These are my notes from Jim Laffey's presentation "Activity awareness in Sakai: Improving the social nature of learning." The social nature of online learning; context-aware activity notification system (CANS); lessons learned.

Dr. James Laffey is a Professor in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri and a former researcher and systems developer at Apple Computer, Inc. Dr. Laffey has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has won awards for the design of innovative, media-based computer systems. He currently teaches graduate level courses on development of systems to optimize HCI and learning. He is the principal investigator for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study activity awareness in learning systems.

Abstract: The Context-aware Activity Notification System (CANS) integrates with Sakai to monitor and provide notification of member activity. CANS observes when members log in, post to discussion boards, upload resources, etc. and can then provide customized email, widgets or web-based notifications to members of what is going on in a class or work group. CANS allows instructors and students, to create custom notifiers to enable activity awareness and impact the social nature of online learning. For example an instructor might ask for daily reports of student activity related to a specific unit in a course, or setup notifiers to keep students aware of activity within a project team. The presentation will demonstrate the innovative ways that activity data can be used to impact teaching and learning in Sakai as well as what we have learned about the value and potential of activity awareness for supporting instruction. The presentation will also be an opportunity to discuss how to support and improve the social experience of online learning. CANS has been used at the University of Missouri over the last 2 years as part of our Sakai implementation with a small set of courses. In the Spring of 2010 we hope to have some levels of testing and usage of CANS at the University of Michigan and Rice University. We are also soliciting other Universities and partners who may wish to try CANS for the summer and fall of 2010.

How do we use this in our installation of Sakai?
CANS is a tool they are developing.

They have not solved the problem but as they learn more about the problem, they find more questions.

He is not looking for better discussion tools but for more information for the students and the instructors. Administrators can use this information to help instructors do better jobs and to understand how resources are being used.

What concerns and complications would we have with a tool like this?

Three big ideas have fed this project: 1) Rapid advances in technology, 2) Dramatic changes in our understanding in how people learn, 3) Social nature of education.

We always underestimate the power of the technology coming and its impact. We are moving from occasional and supplemental to frequent and integral.

University of Missouri faculty are using immersive worlds to help socialize autistic children.

Laffey's understanding of learning has gone from behavioral, to cognitive, to situated. He as turned to social learning. Human beings are wired to be social. Our brains have evolved to be social processors - a social engine. It must be part of our design framework as instructors.

Key ideas:
Four places of collaborative learning (Dillenbourg)
Classes are complex, engineered ecosystems
Structure for productive social interaction
Effort towards shared understanding
Act becomes artifact - interaction is a substance

Developers and designers have the engineering task of maximizing the social interaction in Sakai.

Activity Awareness to impact the social experience of the class. Technology is a mediation for our social behavior. A sense of place encourages accountability.

Context-Aware Activity Notificaion System (CANS)
Captures events and the context of the events (when someone posts, for instance). CANS server sits outside of Sakai. It records what happens in a class and the instructor subscribes to the information - gets emails. There is then an "activity analysis" that includes graphs and charts.

Tries to measure salience and meaningfulness - it records the social activity - collaboration, coordination, and cooperation. They are attempting to fit the world of the multitasker. They are seeking to move from thin communication to argumentation/discussion.

Customization and Contextualization
Users can set up how they want to get the data and decide what will be useful and relevant. Instructors can interact with the data.

The tool is called the "Activity Monitor." It will post information to an email digest, a course widget, or to a web page. You can select students - Activity Monitor II will allow you to select by group and more flexibility in date ranges. This is similar to a "Activity Meter" tool currently under development by a group in California. This Activity Monitor is a more robust version of Angel's "Activity at a glance" widget. These tools act like reminder tools for the students. This is interesting because in the past, students were only held accountable for the content of a course (a student could take a class at UC Berkeley by reading the notes and coming to the midterm and final).

Social network analysis will drive further research.

There was a Fall 09 study on four courses using this tool.

Invitation to participate http://www.cansaware.com (possible stipends)

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