Ebook: Towards the Learning Grid
There is a paradigm shift in Informatics in general and in technologies enhancing human learning in particular. The debate between ‘the evolutionaries’ – those that wish to optimize and refine current approaches – and the ‘revolutionaries’ – those that support a fundamental change of approach – is quite actual. Within the Internet communities, the debate is hidden behind the words ‘semantic WEB’ versus ‘semantic Grid’; within educational technologists between ‘content / resource centered’ and ‘conversation centered’ e-learning, or either between ‘teaching’ and ‘pedagogy’ on the one side, and ‘learning’ and ‘communities of practice’ on the other. In general, in Informatics, the shift from a product-page oriented to a service-conversation oriented view may possibly impact most if not all the foreseen applications, in e-learning, but also in e-science, e-democracy, e-commerce, e-health, etc. Part A of the book is dedicated to position papers: visions about what to do and why to do it in the next years. The remaining parts (B to D) offer partial answers to ‘how’ to do it. Part B concerns what we called content-centered services, i.e.: a vision of learning systems that privileges knowledge and its structures, standards and their interoperability, storage and retrieval services. The subsequent part C is about holistic services to refer to more mature and integrated solutions that address not only content but more generally the creation and management of human Virtual Communities connected on the Grid in order to offer and consume different services facilitating and enhancing human learning. Finally part D is concerned with new directions in learning services.
This is a book about a paradigm shift in Informatics in general and in technologies enhancing human learning in particular. It is not unexpected that its content is controversial: the debate between the “evolutionaries” – those that wish to optimize and refine current approaches – and the “revolutionaries” – those that support a fundamental change of approach – is quite actual, and probably no solution of the conflict will be reached in the short term. Within the Internet communities, the debate is hidden behind the words “semantic Web” versus “semantic Grid”; within educational technologists between “content/resource centered” and “conversation centered” e-learning, or either between “teaching” and “pedagogy” on the one side, and “learning” and “communities of practice” on the other. In general, in Informatics, the shift from a product-page oriented to a service-conversation oriented view may possibly impact most if not all the foreseen applications, in e-learning, but also in e-science, e-democracy, e-commerce, e-health…
The book emerges from two projects supported by the European Commission: LeGE-WG (http://www.lege-wg.org/) a thematic network within the 5th Framework Programme (2002–2004), and ELeGI (http://www.ELeGI.org/) an Integrated Project within the 6th FP (2004–2007). Both projects involved more than 20 European Institutions, therefore some 100 scientists and technologists. These projects represent the first structured collaborative effort aiming at solving crucial issues in Technology Enhanced human Learning by developing and using Grid services. Further to papers already appeared in preliminary versions in the four LeGE-WG workshops, published by the British Computer Society eWiC electronic site (http://ewic.bcs.org/categories/Gridcomputing.htm) we have invited a few eminent scientists to give a contribution to the subject in the form of a position paper, as described below.
The papers in the book may be classified according to several potential criteria. We have decided to choose a simple one: the approach to Science and Technology in the domain.
Part A of the book is dedicated to Position papers: visions about what to do and why to do it in the next years. The remaining parts (B to D) offer partial answers to “how” to do it. Part B concerns what we called: Content-centered services, i.e.: a vision of learning systems that privileges knowledge and its structures, standards and their interoperability, storage and retrieval services. The subsequent part C has been called: Holistic services to refer to more mature and integrated solutions that address not only content but more generally the creation and management of human Virtual Communities connected on the Grid in order to offer and consume different services facilitating and enhancing human learning. Finally part D is concerned with new directions in learning services: papers here propose solutions to non classical, yet stimulating new scenarios: methods, models and tools that are eventually to be realized in the medium term, in synergy with the evolution of concurrent developments on the Semantic Grid.
Hereafter, we will not review all the papers, rather come back to the initial statement – the paradigm shift – by referring to what we may learn from the six position papers (three from external colleagues, three from our project teams) and their challenging but also controversial messages that make our current ELeGI project very exciting and, perhaps, the reading of the book a stimulating intellectual adventure as well.
Bill Clancey's “Towards On-Line Services Based on a Holistic Analysis of Human Activities” introduces straight ahead his concept of Service by referring to his vision on Human-Centered Design that privileges the elicitation of services from an in-depth analysis of human real behavior, in context, rather than generating requirements from an idealized consumer's behavior conceived by the producer of the services. The most striking conclusion we may draw from his paper, is that in order to produce an useful automatic Travel Agent service, the last thing to do would be to get inspiration (or acquire specifications) from a human travel agent since the latter is usually not interested in getting the customer satisfied after a pleasant trip, rather just to sell to him/her some airplane tickets or hotel vouchers. Taking this seriously, as it deserves, one may infer that the last persons to ask for guidelines and specifications for automatic learning services are … the teachers!
Francesco Di Castri, in his “Access to information and e-learning for local empowerment” puts clearly the terms and conditions for the development of isolated, fragmented and marginal communities: bidirectional access to digital Information. He is able to demonstrate by means of several real examples, at the planetary scale, through the last 40 years, that empowerment emerges as soon as people have access to Information provided this access is bi-directional (in reading AND in writing). Learning, social and economic development, democracy, the preservation of identity, and many other ones are the side effects of access to Information and empowerment. Once more, transposing the message to human learning scenarios, Di Castri shows that “curricula” and “content” in his depicted potential e-learning contexts (isolated communities) may eventually become the final goal of a long process, certainly are not the starting point. Human communities have first to establish trust and self-consciousness, before even thinking that being connected through technologies may help to better learn, operate and develop. Di Castri reports about a change of paradigm in modern Ecology: from top-down to bottom up. It is needless to say that the main message has been taken on board within ELeGI by injecting a small effort into a quite risky, yet most promising scenario: rural development in an underdeveloped area in Europe by bidirectional access to Information enhanced by Grid services.
Rosa Michaelson's position paper: “The Challenge of Change” wisely suggests looking carefully into the reasons why so many failures occurred in past implementations of e-learning initiatives, even if well supported at a large scale. Since the final goal is to enhance human learning by means of new technologies, the message clearly indicates that any significant change for human communities with respect to traditional ways of operating is not just a consequence of performing technologies, rather of human acceptance of the change.
Foster, Jennings and Kesselman in their “Brain meets Brawn” paper present their vision for the research agenda in the years to come, concerned with the synergies between Agents and Grid services. A similar vision was adopted at the beginning of the LeGE-WG project by Stefano Cerri, who in his position paper: “An integrated view of Grid services, Agents and Human Learning” offers an historical overview of the integration between Software Engineering (Objects, Actors and Agents), Artificial Intelligence and its impact in Human Computer Interaction (Intelligent Tutoring) and the semantic Grid. Both papers seem to concretely set the scene for the subsequent parts of the book, that deal more with the “how” to realize advances within a reasonable time scale and a limited amount of available resources as it is possible in the ELeGI project.
Finally Gaeta, Ritrovato and Salerno in their paper “Making e-Learning a Service Oriented Utility: The European Learning Grid Infrastructure Project” present the challenging European ELeGI Integrated Project. Other than the description of the research challenges that will be faced and the integrated approach that will be pursued in order to define and validate a pedagogy-driven, service-oriented software architecture based on Grid technologies for supporting ubiquitous, collaborative, experiential-based, contextualised and personalised learning, they highlight the benefit coming from use of Grid for setting up the future learning scenarios.
The editors of the book wish to thank all the colleagues, within and outside LeGE-WG and ELeGI European projects, for their contribution to the Learning Grid endeavor, as well as the readers of the book for their patience in case some minor slips have escaped from the editorial correction. Yes, the book is work in progress, but if it is possible to hope for a good day from the sun rays in the early morning, we are confident that our pioneering community will reach progressively a level of maturity that will allow us in due time not just to claim the need for a paradigm shift, but to show that it is feasible and useful.
This book includes one of the last papers of Francesco Di Castri, yet unpublished. Francesco left us recently (http://www.unesco.org/mab/news/FDC/tribute.htm). His impact, among others, in Information Sciences and Technologies for human development, has been unanimously recognised as unique in the XXth Century. It is a honour to dedicate the book to his memory.
Inspired by his work, that recently linked the succeeded development of Easter Island with the potential one of isolated areas in the Mediterranean, many professionals have adopted as their primary commitment to make the vision of Francesco Di Castri happen in the years to come, for human development and peace, by means of empowerment through bidirectional access to Information.
October 2005, Pierluigi Ritrovato (Salerno – IT), Stefano A. Cerri (Montpellier – FR), Saverio Salerno (Salerno – IT), Matteo Gaeta (Salerno – IT), Colin Allison (St. Andrews – UK) and Theo Dimitrakos (Ipswich – UK)
This paper calls for the design of the European Grid for Learning to take note of important issues which have arisen in previous e-learning cycles in the UK. In particular, low take-up of products and services by lecturers has been explained in terms of techno-fear, or ignorance of e-learning potential. These claims are unsubstantiated. Other explanations are possible for the observed resistance of the educational specialist to the use of educational technology. Rather than ignore possible areas of conflict, or to assume (after Foucault) that any change results in shifts of power which produce inevitable counter-balances from a threatened group, it is possible to use resistance to change as an important part of the design process. To this end, I discuss the findings of an analysis of recent UK-wide initiatives in C&IT and e-learning. The issues raised by participants of the many different groups involved have implications for the take-up of future Grid-based learning. In particular, the needs of educators are identified as crucial to the effective deployment of e-learning.
The Grid and agent communities both develop concepts and mechanisms for open distributed systems, albeit from different perspectives. The Grid community has historically focused on “brawn”: infrastructure, tools, and applications for reliable and secure resource sharing within dynamic and geographically distributed virtual organizations. In contrast, the agent's community has focused on “brain”: autonomous problem solvers that can act flexibly in uncertain and dynamic environments. Yet as the scale and ambition of both Grid and agent deployments increase, we see a convergence of interests, with agent systems requiring robust infrastructure and Grid systems requiring autonomous, flexible behaviors. Motivated by this convergence of interests, we review the current state of the art in both areas, review the challenges that concern the two communities, and propose research and technology development activities that can allow for mutually supportive efforts.
The contribution reports on three aspects of our research activities on Grid services, Agents and Human learning: an integrated vision, a statement of intentions concerning a relatively new life cycle for Service Engineering and a review of achieved results, presented by embedding remarks and quotations in the relevant points. The essence of the contribution lies in the concept of service that is considered to be intrinsically conversational both during its dynamic definition and during its delivery. It is shown that Agents are the most promising abstractions (and technologies) offering a concrete approximation for future conversational Grid services and that Human learning is a quite suitable context for including the Human in the loop of the higher level services to be developed for mixed Virtual Organizations on future Grid networks.
This paper describes the ELeGI (www.elegi.org) Project. ELeGI has the ambitious goal of developing software technologies for service oriented effective human learning. ELeGI will create new potential for moving from the current information transfer paradigm focused on content and on the key authoritative figure of the teacher who provides information towards learning paradigm focused on knowledge construction using experiential based and collaborative learning approaches in a contextualised, personalised and ubiquitous way. We have chosen a synergic approach, sometimes called “human centred design”, to replace the classical, applicative approach to learning. With consideration of humans at the centre, learning is clearly a social, constructive phenomenon. It occurs as a side effect of interactions, conversations and enhanced presence in dynamic Virtual Communities created and deployed using Grid technologies.
The proposed web-based knowledge assessment is based on flexible educational model and allows to implement adaptive control of learning process as well as to implement knowledge testing environment according to the requirements of student's knowledge level, his personal abilities and subject learning history. The learner knowledge model can be constructed as a subgraph of the global knowledge domain graph. The paper presents the architecture of student self-evaluation and on-line assessment system TestTool. The system is explored as an assessment engine capable to support and improve the individualized intelligent self-instructional mode of learning, grounded on the Grid distributed service architecture.
The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a profile of several eLearning specifications to ensure the reusability and interoperability of eLearning content in web based Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Learning Grids - learning environments built on the technology of Grid services - are a promising new approach to enhance quality of eLearning by overcoming the page oriented structure of the web. This paper investigates how SCORM can be used in conjunction with Learning Grids. After an introduction to the relevant aspects of SCORM two major scenarios are discussed: the use of Grid enhanced content in a SCORM compliant LMS and the use of SCORM content in the context of a Learning Grid.
This paper discusses technical issues related to establishing e-learning services on a Grid. The XML based technology for implementing e-learning applications in web service form is analyzed from the standpoint of making an application Grid-aware. A special e-learning repository service is proposed as a technique for coordinated use of distributed e-learning resources through the access and invocation of web services.
Knowledge space theory [1–3] offers a rigorous and efficient formal framework for the construction, validation, and application of e-assessment and e-learning adaptive systems. This theory is the basis for some existing e-learning and e-assessment adaptive systems in the U.S. and in Europe. Such systems are based on a fixed and local domain of knowledge, where fixed means that the domain does not change in time, and local refers to the fact that the items are stored and available locally. In this paper we present some theoretical notes on the efficient construction and application of knowledge spaces for knowledge domains that are both dynamic and distributed in space. This goes in the direction of an exploitation of new technologies like the GRID for building the next generation of learning environments.
A flexible approach for structuring and merging distributed learning object is presented. At the basis of this approach there is a formal representation of a learning object, called attribute structure. Attribute structures are labeled directed graphs representing structured information on the learning objects. When two or more learning objects are merged, the corresponding attribute structures are unified, and the unified structure is attached to the resulting learning object.
This paper examines the requirements for eLearning Object Metadata, in order to appropriately support pedagogic and economic goals as well as service oriented architectures like the Grid. The standard IEEE LOM is being tested against these requirements. In conclusion, it can be said that while current eLearning practices are well supported by the standard, the main insufficiencies concern a) the adequate description of ELOs that are services and not downloadable, self-contained programs and b) the commercial trading of ELOs.
ELeGI, the European Learning Grid Infrastructure, has the ambitious goal of fostering effective learning and knowledge construction through the dynamic provision of service-based contextualised and personalised learning environments. The success of this venture will depend to a considerable extent on the usability of such environments, and their usability in turn will depend on a successful strategy for the dynamic integration and maintenance of sets of services. The concept of the portal is therefore of considerable interest, as it is often portrayed as a means whereby a user can access an integrated set of related information and services. This paper reviews the portal concept with a view to its suitability as a design basis for enabling technology that will address usability concerns. The paper proceeds by summarising the usability requirements of learning environments, reviewing some of the ideas currently associated with different types of portals (enterprise portals, institutional portals, user-centric portals, Grid portals), and concludes by deriving a taxonomy of portal characteristics against which the usability requirements of ELeGI can be assessed.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the work related to the customisation, the trial and the evaluation of an innovative e-learning platform for manager upgrade in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), in the framework of the EC funded project named InTraServ and its re-engineering process, aimed at adopting distributed services in the framework of another EC funded project named Diogene. The presented e-learning environment includes several state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies such as: metadata and ontologies for knowledge manipulation, fuzzy learner modelling, intelligent course tailoring, case based reasoning, business games and simulation tools. The proposed evolution is based on the distribution of working tasks among content provider services, content discovery services, content brokering services, training services, curriculum vitae searching services and collaboration services.
In this paper we present the main results of the DIOGENE project where the characteristics of Virtual Organisations providing learning services have been identified and implemented using state of the art Web Services technologies. We also present a possible migration path towards the Grid emphasising the advantages stemming from the adoption of this technology.
The purpose of this study is to support the learning activity in the Internet learning space. In this paper, we examine the GRID technology as the knowledge management for supporting collaborative learning (CL). RAPSODYEX (RAPSODY-EX) is a distributed learning support environment organized as a learning infrastructure. RAPSODY-EX can effectively carry out to support CL activities in asynchronous/synchronous learning mode. The mixed distributed learning environment is utilized as a new learning ecology, where individual learning, CL and videoconference are performed on the multimedia communication network. In this mixed distributed learning environment, people can arrange, modify and integrate educational information for the purpose of investigating, decision making, planning, problem solving, building knowledge and so on. Various information in the educational context is referred and reused as knowledge which oneself and others can practically utilize. We aim at constructing the growing digital portfolio database for CL-knowledge management in Internet environment. In addition, we explore the GRID technology of activating human-interactivity for knowledge mining/discovering.
One of the distinguishing features of novel network based learning environments is their capability to support group work and collaboration. TAGS, the Tutor and Groups Support Scheme, is an inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional project, which brings together software systems builders, subject-specialists and educational content developers. Collaborative Learning is central to the pedagogical goals of TAGS, and this has lead to the concept of groups being used as a fundamental organising principle. Groups form the basis of (i) privileges and access control, (ii) information dissemination and event awareness, (iii) teamwork involving shared, multi-user educational resources, (iv) online management of group learning, (v) user-centric portal generation, and (vi) replicated servers. The technical implications of this heavy reliance on the group abstraction are described.
Grid technologies promise to improve the way we think about e-learning allowing wide-scale learning resources sharing in heterogeneous and geographically distributed environments, allowing, in this way, the implementation of distributed learning spaces where different organizations and individuals are able to cooperate in pursuing similar and complementary learning and training objectives. But is the e-learning ready for this evolution? In this paper we try, starting from an existing e-learning platform named IWT, to sketch a possible migration path toward a Grid based environment. IWT was selected because it presents a flexible, service-oriented, layered architecture suitable for migration in an OGSA compliant environment. The new approach will provide more flexibility, in fact, it could leverage on the resources distributed across the Grid in order to build the learning experience that best fit student requirements. A use case scenario is also provided in order to emphasize differences between the two approaches.
Testing theories through practice is an important approach to teaching, especially for scientific and technical curricula. Lack of resources and logistic problems often make practice impossible. During the last few years, several attempts to find an alternative to in-laboratory experiments have been made by many researchers. In this paper, we present our approach to the challenge of remote laboratories. We outline the model we have created and the prototype we have implemented and validated. Finally, we propose a grid-oriented view of the remote laboratory that could help to support experimental activity in e-learning efforts in a scattered community of users.
E-assessment is an important component of e-learning and e-qualification. Formative and summative assessment serves different purposes and both types of evaluation are critical to the pedagogical process. While students are studying, practicing, working, or revising, formative assessment provides direction, focus, and guidance. Summative assessment provides the means to evaluate a learner's achievement and communicate that achievement to interested parties. Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) is a statistical method for inferring meaning from a text. Applications based on LSA exist that provide both summative and formative assessment of a learner's work. However, the huge computational needs are a major problem with this promising technique. This paper explains how LSA works, describes the breadth of existing applications using LSA, explains how LSA is particularly suited to e-assessment, and proposes research to exploit the potential computational power of the Grid to overcome one of LSA's drawbacks.