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A new interactive learning environment for students of science
20 June 2012
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
Eight European universities, including the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid through its Facultad de Informática, have developed a new software tool that uses semantic resources to help students to individually or collaboratively conceptually model the scientific subjects that they are studying.
The tool can also store and compare these new models with other standard models to help students to define concepts relating to a field of knowledge.
All this information will help students to improve their models and acquire a better understanding of the domain to be represented. These techniques enable students to learn independently without loss of rigour and make significant progress in their studies.
This interactive learning environment is part of a European project called DynaLearn. DynaLearn's goal is to contribute, through the integration of well-established technological developments, to raising European youth's interest in studying scientific disciplines.
The project is almost complete, and an advanced prototype tool is already available. This tool has been satisfactorily tested on real learning scenarios at seven different higher education institutions.
One of the key advances is the use of semantic resources that help students to define and better understand the represented concepts.
Use of semantic resources
DynaLearn uses external semantic resources as a source of information. One of these sources is DBpedia. DBpedia extracts data from Wikipedia with the aim of creating a semantic version of the Web-based encyclopaedia. DBpedia is a community effort at extracting structured information from Wikipedia and making it accessible from the Web. This way, the gathered knowledge can be utilized computationally. There are now many applications that link to DBpedia, making it possible to set up common vocabularies and improve interoperability.
DynaLearn can find equivalences between the terms entered by students and stored in DBpedia. During modelling, students can check whether or not the definitions extracted from DBpedia for the terms they entered are as expected. This helps to improve the terminology used and correct possible misunderstandings.
The application is also able to save the models built by students, instructors and other experts to form a model repository. Future students can make use of the knowledge of these models to improve their own modelling. To do this, the system automatically selects models that are likely to be relevant to what the student is modelling. Model relevance is calculated according to criteria based both on similarity to the student model and model ratings by other users in previous executions.
It is then possible to analyse differences and similarities between the selected and student models in order to suggest possible improvements to the student. All this information will help students to improve their models and acquire a better understanding of the domain to be represented.
Thanks to these techniques, students tailor the learning process to their needs. Additionally, DynaLearn's high interactivity and simplicity makes the experience more amenable, raising user motivation and speeding up the assimilation of new knowledge.
The tool is available on line at the project website. Users have to be registered to access the semantic repository. To register for use, both private persons and institutes should contact the creators. Demo videos and teaching material are also posted at this website.
Dynalearn's priority aim is to develop an interactive learning environment that has three key features: it tailors the use of conceptual knowledge to the learning experience, it appeals to students and it reacts to students' individual learning requirements.
The developed software improves students' ability to understand and explain the behaviour of scientific systems. On the other hand, the use of avatars encourages students to use the software, getting them to collaborate and compete with each other, and stimulate the social side of learning.
Finally, semantic technology enables students to automatically compare their results with the models created by other students or their instructors, gaining information about how to improve their models and giving advice on a individualized learning track.
DynaLearn is a European Union Seventh Framework Programme for Information and Communications Technologies (FP7-ICT), coordinated by the University of Amsterdam and partnered by the Ontological Engineering Group based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Facultad de Informática led by Asunción Gómez, the University of Augsburg, the University of Brasilia, Tel Aviv University, the University of Hull, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Natural Resources and Applied Science of Vienna.