Doctoral thesis

Using information visualisation to facilitate instructors in web-based distance learning


207 p

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2004 (jury note: Magna cum laude)

English The World Wide Web provides great opportunities for creating virtual classrooms of learners and instructors involved in distance education. Many software environments take advantage of the client-server communication on the Internet and support open and distance learning. Using environments called Course Management Systems (CMS), instructors can distribute information to students, produce content material, prepare assignments and tests, engage in discussions, and manage distance classes. Although CMS offer many features that benefit the learners (e.g. asynchronism, interactivity, time and space independence), some problems still remain due to the lack of effective support for instructors. Educational research shows that monitoring the students' learning is an essential component of high quality education, which is critical in distance learning. Good on-line tutoring requires to understand the needs of individual learners and to provide adapted help. This can be achieved by monitoring regularly the students' activities and be aware of what the students are doing in the course, e.g. which concepts are known, are students participating in discussions, have they read the course material, and how well do they perform on quizzes. CMS accumulate large log data of the students' activities in a distance course and usually provide some monitoring features to enable the instructors view aspects of the data. However, this complex, multidimensional data is commonly presented in a format that is poorly structured and difficult to understand. Hence, it is rarely used by distance learning instructors.We argue that the instructors can use the student tracking data collected by the CMS more effectively when it is represented graphically by employing appropriate visualisation techniques. Information Visualisation examines techniques for processing and pictorially representing a vast amount of abstract data, so that the data can be comprehended and interpreted by people. This thesis proposes the use of Information Visualisation to graphically represent student tracking data in a Web-based CMS. A systematic investigation is undertaken to find which visualisation techniques are appropriate to illustrate student tracking data, based on instructors' requirements and evaluation. An extension for a generic CMS was designed and a prototype, called CourseVis, was developed. It obtains tracking data from a commercial CMS (WebCT is used in the current implementation), transforms the data into a form convenient for processing, and generates graphical representations that can be explored by instructors to examine social, cognitive, and behavioural aspects of distance students.The evaluation of CourseVis has shown that graphical representations produced with it can help instructors to identify individuals that need particular attention, discover patterns and trends in accesses and discussions, and reflect on their teaching practice.
  • English
Education, teaching
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