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Designing Awareness Tools for Teachers in Exploratory Learning Settings

Over the past decade, Intelligent Tutoring Systems have expanded to include systems supporting a constructivist pedagogical paradigm and open-ended learning activities. Examples of such Exploratory Learning Environments (ELEs) are virtual labs, simulators, educational games and microworlds. The tasks that students are asked to undertake using ELEs may have several alternative solutions and students are encouraged to explore a variety of solution approaches. The role of the teacher in such environments becomes one of a ‘facilitator’ or ‘orchestrator’ of learning: providing the appropriate range of activities and environment to promote learning, helping students to plan and reflect on their work, while at the same time encouraging students’ autonomy and freedom to explore. However, students may need considerable pedagogical support while they are undertaking exploratory learning tasks in order to ensure that the intended learning goals are being achieved. There is therefore a need for tools that provide support to the teacher so as enhance the teacher’s awareness of students’ engagement and progress on the tasks being undertaken, and to inform the teacher’s interventions to support individual students and the class as a whole. Without such tools, a teacher can only be aware of what a small number of students are doing at any one time and it is therefore hard to keep track of who is making good progress on the task set, who is off-task, who is in difficulty and in need of help, and how to formulate appropriate help for students.

This talk discusses providing teachers with real-time awareness tools to support their use of ELEs. We present the challenges involved in designing meaningful awareness tools for teachers. We discuss a design approach that involves teachers in iterative participatory activities so as to formulate key usage scenarios for the tools. Teachers also collaborate in the design and evaluation of the tools, and in identifying meaningful interaction indicators that should be detected by the system as students are working on exploratory learning tasks and notified to the teacher.