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A new workbench to help young people studying for scientific degrees
15 December 2010
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
A new software tool uses semantic resources to help students to individually or collaboratively build conceptual models of the scientific subjects under study. Using the tool students can also store and compare these new models with other standard models. The aim here is to help students to define concepts relating to a field of knowledge.
All this information will help students to improve their models, acquiring 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 the study of a subject.
Eight European universities, including the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid through its Facultad de Informática, are developing this interactive learning environment as part of the 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 now at the half-way stage, and there are already significant technical outcomes. 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. At present, there are a great many applications that link to DBpedia, making it possible to set up common vocabularies and improve interoperability.
Through the use of DBpedia, 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 student model is automatically compared with another model belonging to the same domain which is used here as a standard.
After comparison, differences and similarities between the models can be identified with the aim of suggesting 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 is highly interactive and very simple to use, making the user experience more amenable, raising user motivation and speeding up the assimilation of new knowledge.
The latest version of the tool is available on line at the project web site. Users have to be registered to access the semantic repository. Potential users, be they private persons or institutes, should contact the creators to register. Five universities are already experimenting with DynaLearn.
The DynaLearn project sets out to integrate well-established but currently independent technological developments and utilize the added value of their integration to alleviate the problems of science education.
The 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 stimulating 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, providing information about how they can improve their models and giving advice on a individualized learning itinerary.
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.
Last November, the DynaLearn research team presented a paper at 9th International Semantic Web Conference held in Shangai, China. The paper was a nominee for the award of best article in its category (Semantic Web In Use).