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In this short paper, I will start my discussion by explanation of the notion of feedback and scaffolding by teachers in classroom, introduced to us by Dr. Allus presentation and papers. Then, focusing on the shortcomings of scaffolding in regular classrooms, I will tackle on the goals and benefits of shifting away from traditional scaffolding to agent-based scaffolding in hypermedia. Next, I will bring an example of human-computer interactive environment used for self-regulation enhancement, in which artificial agents take the place of a teacher in scaffolding the learners. Finally drawing on the notions of "Human-computer interaction designs", and "simulation integration for education" proposed by Adrian Olmos, I will consider her two human-computer interaction design projects with a critical view.
Scaffolding in Regular Classrooms
Teaching and learning have been ever-existent phenomena in human life. From the very beginning, there were educators whose concerns were to enhance learning by focusing on the nature of knowledge and learning. Berliner (2006) draws on Scwhab four commonplaces of education "someone (a teacher, parent, or technological device) teaches something (how to fix a bicycle, two-column addition, the periodic table) to someone else (a student, novice, worker) in some setting (classroom, garden, assembly line)" (p. 6). While there are agreements on these four as the common factors involved in instruction, one involved in educational practice will soon conceive that there are more issues be considered, especially if they aim at an effective teaching/learning practice.
In a classroom, student can be helped to go further than understanding a lesson to taking the responsibility of their own learning. Learners especially those with lower level of skill, need to be helped by an external force both for initiating the activity and during their learning process. Teachers can have great contributions in helping learners enhance their potential of learning. They can set short-term or long-term goals or assign authentic activities to be done by learners and provide them with appropriate scaffolding whenever students need one (Allus, 2010).
Scaffolds are assistances provided by a human or artificial tutor, teacher, or animated pedagogical agent to a learner, with an as-needed basis, to help them go to a higher level in their understanding (Brush and Saye, 2001). Because they are provided based on the learners need, they should be removed after a while when they are no longer needed or they will make the students dependant learners, which is not along with higher skill development of students as the final goal of scaffolding (Lajoie, 2005).
In a traditional classroom, the teacher needs to monitor and assess all the students' understanding, and provide them with effective feedback. This practice sometimes fail due to several reasons like differences in student's level of prior knowledge, cultural backgrounds, level of interests in the subject, goal orientations, personality traits, etc. Taken together, academic achievements do not seem to be easily improved by mere scaffolding, because there are no one on one tutoring, especially for low-performing students. Considering the shortcomings of scaffolding in the traditional classrooms, technology enhanced scaffolding mechanisms, in my opinion, are better alternatives to enhance learning.
Benefits of Shifting away from Traditional to Agent-Based Scaffolding
I believe the more industrialized and technologically advanced our societies become, the higher the need for enhancing the levels of learning through computerized tools gets. Nowadays, the interests that younger generations show in working with and learning from computers cannot be ignored. Furthermore, for several reasons, human agent scaffolding in regular classrooms is not the optimum form of scaffolding compared to the one to one scaffolding provided in hypermedia environments. In the classroom, students are usually aware of the how well others perform compared to them by getting feedback from the teacher or peers. This may be a motivation for the students with higher-level skills, but a source of failure to the students with lower skills. In a hypermedia environment, when a student using their computer is the only person interacting with pedagogical agents, there will be no threats to their self-efficacy. They will commit mistakes, and go through the process of learning repeatedly without the fear of being compared with other students (Azevedo & Green, 2007).
From another perspective, it is important to note that unless the external feedback is meaningful to the learners, which means the provided information be at a level of difficulty that can be processed and interpreted by the learner, it will not have any effects on learners' behavior and performance (Zimmerman, 2010). In a regular classroom, students normally have set different standards; however, since the lesson is the same for everyone, and the time of class does not let the teacher to check if the standards of all the individual students have been met, there is this threat that some of the students will not benefit from the presentation or the external feedback provided by the teacher.
Computer-Based Learning Projects and Suggestions
Several studies have provided evidence that student-centered methods have been successfully used to enhance students' understanding of science within computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) (e.g., Azevedo, Verona, & Cromley, 2001; Lajoie & Azevedo, 2000); however, they have also shown that in these methods, when students are trying to figure out about complex topics, they may have difficulty, which necessitates the presence of external human agents (i.e., teachers) or artificial agents scaffolding, which fosters students' understanding (Lajoie & Azevedo, 2000).
An example of scaffolding in hypermedia is Dr. Azevedo's MetaTutor project, which will be presented in our class on November, 16, 2010. MetaTutor, is a project of technology use for educational purposes in which artificial agents provide a learner with adaptive scaffolds on self-regulated learning (SRL) processes during learning about a human body system. In their study they used different devices of data collection like eyetracker, facereader, verbal protocols, log files, etc. to check the effectiveness of di¬€erent sca¬€olding methods and check their effects on leading students to deploy key SRL processes and mechanisms associated with their di¬€erences in conceptual understanding (Azevedo, Cromley, & Seibert, 2004).
Olmos (personal communication, October 12, 2010) presented their Health Services Virtual Organization project (HSVO) that enables mentoring and monitoring of dissections and surgical procedures for medical instructors and students. One of the great things about this project is that, the camera arrays used in this project both enables the instructor to provide the best viewing point to observe, and simultaneously o¬€er the remote viewer the freedom to change viewpoints (Olmos, Lachapelle, & Cooperstock, 2010). However, it will not go any further in terms of interactions. Focusing only on instruction, it has ignored the important feature of providing learners with feedback on the accuracy of their observations. I suggest that this interface have the potential to get better, if this feature be added. So there may be human instructors, or even artificial agents prompting learners to check the accuracy of their perception of the procedure while observation or the instructor can check their performance and provide them with distant real time feedback.
The homepage of their other project "Open Orchestra" presents information on this network-enabled platform. This platform provides a semi-realistic experience for musicians or vocalists to play or sing with an orchestra. Musicians can record their performance after practicing by themselves, and send it to a conductor to get feedback on their performance. The conductor also can benefit from this platform, as they can listen to the performances as many times as it is necessary and provide the musicians with feedback. In an actual orchestral rehearsal, time constraints will not allow for this. (http://openorchestra.cim.mcgill.ca).
I think this project is a great opportunity for the musicians and vocalists, as usually their training require expensive resources that are not always available. However, I believe this project could get even better, if the agent who provides the feedback be a artificial agent, not the conductor. I suggest providing an adaptive scaffolding component to this interface which scaffolds learners through learning and practicing the new pieces of music. There should be some artificial agents. Each agent should be responsible for a specific aspect of the learning environment. One may introduce the learning environment to the learner. Another one provides musicians with sample successful performance of the piece. Still another one may prompt and assist them with the deployment of a successful or a progressing performance, that is, the agent may monitor the learner's performance and compare it with an ideal performance of the same piece, and scaffold them in gaining the required skill to progress to a higher level of performance using different strategies. Artificial agents reduce or even remove the need for a human conductor, who may not be available or sometimes not that exact in recognizing the false performance of a note, as computers can be. This will help the learners to self-monitor, and self-regulate their performance, and also learn and practice as much as they want and with their own pace.
In summary, Dr. Allus' presentation and papers on helping and supporting students as well as the papers and the introduction of the two projects by Ms. Olmos, Which gave me a wider view of using computer-human interactive environments for learning purposes had the most impact on my view for future research, as I will most probably be aimed at working on teachers' vs. artificial agents' supporting, scaffolding and providing feedback to the Second Language Learners for my future research. I should also thank you for the great selections of the presenters, as I found our class really helpful, motivating, and informative.