KUOMA-Learning Environment - An Implementation of Collaborative Project Learning in the World Wide Web


Teemu Leinonen

Tampere University of Technology

Digital Media Institute, Hypermedia laboratory

Email: teemu.leinonen@cc.tut.fi

Tel: + 358 3 365 2174

Fax: + 358 3 365 3549



1. Introduction

The aims of the KUOMA -project (Hypermedia learning materials for comprehensive schools) is to develop hypermedia based learning environment and learning materials which can be used in the secondary schools of Tampere area in Finland. The learning environment made in the KUOMA-project will be tested with learning materials of environmental questions and Russian language. Later on the learning environment and the materials can be offered for use in other school districts in Finland and abroad, too. Also the extension to other levels of learning should be conceivable. (http://matwww.ee.tut.fi/kuoma)

The purpose of this paper is to introduce the implementation made in the KUOMA -project to enable collaborative project learning in the World Wide Web. The paper starts by defining the concept of project learning in networked world. The paper proceeds by introducing the KUOMA -learning environment and ends with a short description of the structure of the environment (see: picture I).


2. Project Learning in the Networked World

In the networked information society the citizens possibility to obtain information is made extremely easy. In Finland the library and school network ensures all citizens free access to information resources, both analogical and digital. Obtaining information do not, however, automatically lead to learning even thought some motivated gifted individuals may reach real learning by going independently through different kind of information reserves and data bases.

In traditional theories of learning and teaching knowledge is viewed as adapting information and the teacher or supervisor is seen as the transmitter of knowledge to students. Most of the technical applications designed to support learning have been based on these traditional theories and the assumption has been that students learn best ‘from’ rather than ‘with’ technology. In the implementations based on the ‘from’ approach the teacher plays relative minor roll. (Reeves 1997)

In the educational WWW-sites the ‘from’ approach has been dominating, too. Most of the sites just offer course material while more advanced ones may offer also some interactive exercises. In educational WWW-sites the students mostly read, listen and see the content, answer to questions about it, and in the best case get additional content based on the results they get in the questionary. The applications do not give the students much opportunity to generate new knowledge. Evidence of the effectiveness of the ‘from’ approach is modest at all levels of teaching and learning (Reeves 1997).

In the ‘with’ approach the technical applications are students’ tools for selecting and collecting information, for analysing the world, interpreting and organising personal knowledge, and for representing to others what they know. When the applications strengthen the students intrinsic ambition to understand the study content we may call them as cognitive tools. By using the cognitive tools we may reach much more effective learning. (Reeves 1997)

The World Wide Web offers an easy to operate environment to deliver real multimedia; texts, pictures, audio and videos, for users all around the western world. Today the WWW-environment may also contain elements which allow all users to communicate with each other and to produce multimedia presentations of their own for other users. Specially the Java-technology has made it possible to include different software applications to the WWW-environment. The most recent extensions give also a number of new possibilities to carry out project learning in the World Wide Web.

The design of learning project can be based on five principles: (1) the driving question, (2) investigations, (3) products or artifacts, (4) learning communities, and (5) use of cognitive tools. In such projects students acquire an understanding of key concepts and principles, develop their own cognitive models of the subject in concern, and learn to communicate their knowledge to others. (Bluemenfeld et all. 1991, ref. in http://www.umich.edu/~aaps/fw/print.html)

All above principles can be put into effect also in the WWW-environment. The WWW-environment may also give number of extra benefits for them. (1) Setting project questions can be done basis of the multimedia material available in the WWW-learning environment. (2) Investigations and collecting additional information can be carried out by using the resources available in the World Wide Web. Additionally some tools for investigations can be added to the WWW-learning environment. (3) Products or artifacts can be composed by the students with the tools available in the WWW-learning environment. The WWW-environment may also contain applications which allow the learners to communicate and act collaboratively and thus compose (4) learning communities. In the WWW-environment the learning community may consist of individuals located everywhere around the western world. For students and teachers in schools it means that they can work and learn together with individuals outside the classroom. The WWW-learning environment may also contain (5) a cognitive tools - application, such as a notebook and a mind map creator.


3. KUOMA -Learning Environment

The KUOMA -learning environment is an internet accessible WWW-environment for project learning. All the user of the environment needs is a Java enabled WWW-browser. The metaphor for the learning environment is a school building, which contains four spaces:

The Media Center includes basic learning materials for students to set their own project questions. The material of the Media Center may be multimedia material and can be composed of texts, pictures, audio and videos. To deliver audio and video material the KUOMA -learning environment uses the TeleCom Finland's MediaNet -product. From the Media Center the students may also browse selected resources and databases available elsewhere in the World Wide Web.

The Studio is students' room for team-work and for communicating with each other, with the teachers and with individuals outside the school community. The students may discuss with and ask questions from specialists outside the school community in the WWW-based news-groups or in a text-based chat in real-time. The applications are used to prepare artifacts of the study subject. In the Studio the students are able to create mind maps and WWW-pages of their study projects. All the applications of the Studio are used as cognitive tools.

The Meeting Room is a teachers’ and specialists’ own space to communicate and to produce new learning materials to the Media Center. The Meeting Room includes the same communication tools as the Studio: WWW-based news groups and text-based real-time chat. In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialist outside the school community may also use shared workspace, which allows storage and retrieval of documents and sharing information within a group. The Meeting Room also carries application to create and transform WWW-learning material to be located into the Media Center.

The Gallery is a space where the final presentations of the students are located - the artifacts created in the Studio. The Gallery may also contain top ten list of the best study works of all times or allow visitors to vote for the best work.

All users of the WWW are allowed to browse the materials of the Media Center and the Gallery. Registered students may also use the applications of the Studio. The teachers and the specialists hold access to all four spaces. The learning project carried out in the KUOMA -learning environment move on by the following preparing, project and evaluation activities:

Preparing activities:

The web-master (one teacher) creates the learning environment under a certain major topic

The web-master asks other teachers with their students to join the learning environment.

The teachers invite individuals outside the school community, considered as specialists of the major topic, to join the environment.

The teachers together with the specialists outside the school community generate the basic learning materials in the Meeting Room.

The basic learning materials made by the teachers and the specialists is locate in the Media Center. The material may also be bought from some commercial publishing houses producing digital learning materials.

In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialists agree on the timetable.

Project activities:

The students get to know the learning material of the Media Center in groups and decide on their own project subjects.

The students collect information related in their study subject. The students may use the WWW-hints found in the Media Center or work independently with WWW, CD-ROMs, books, etc.

In the Studio the students can discuss their study subjects and ask questions from other students, teachers and specialists outside the school community. In some cases the specialists may also answer to the questions by using interactive video conference.

In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialists discuss the study content and students advancement and probably produce some additional learning material for the students.

In the Studio the students create mind maps of their study subjects and the teachers and specialists comment upon them.

Based on the information collected, discussions and the mind maps the students start to create in their own multimedia presentation of the subject in the Studio. The presentation may also be just a single article, radio-programme or video programme.

In the Studio the teachers and the specialist comment upon them, give hints for the students and finally allow the works to be published in the Gallery.

Evaluation activities:

In the Meeting Room the teachers and the specialist discuss on the projects of the students and evaluate them.

The teachers and the specialists present their evaluation to the students in the Studio. The students may respond on the evaluation.

Finally some of the works are located into the top ten list of the Gallery by the teachers and the specialists. If desided the audience may also vote for the best work in the Gallery.


Picture I: Structure of KUOMA -Learning Environment - An Implementation of Collaborative Project Learning in the World Wide Web




Bluemenfeld et all. 1991: ‘Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning’, Educational Psychologist, 26 (3&4), 369-398 ref. in http://www.umich.edu/~aaps/fw/print.html (University of Michigan)

http://matriisi.ee.tut.fi/kamu/kuoma/ : ‘KUOMA-project description’; Teemu Leinonen, Jarno Suvanto, Teija Lehto

Reeves, Thomas C. 1997: ‘The Internet and Multimedia in Teaching and Learning: Cognitive Tools for the 21st Century’, So What Now Information Society? - Interactive Technology in Education 4.-5.4. 1997. Conference Publication (Entäs nyt tietoyhteiskunta? - Interaktiivinen teknologia koulutuksessa 4.-5.4. 1997 Konferenssijulkaisu.)