Introduction to the Exploratories Project
After revolutionizing aspects of virtually every other field, computer
technology is finally being applied to education in a way that promises to
change the educational process as we know it. The potential for using computers
and the Web in education is finally being recognized and acted upon, but
current efforts are largely transitional: they use lowest-common-denominator
technologies to repurpose existing hardcopy or traditional lectures. This
strategy makes sense for enterprises that must deliver an easy-to-use product
in a short-term fashion, but such efforts only scratch the surface of what
computer technology and networks have to offer.
The Exploratory Project is a research project of the
Brown University Computer Graphics Research Group.
The goal of the Exploratories project is to begin the groundwork for a
next-generation approach to Web-based educational software. In our long-term
vision, the next-generation of learning technologies, manifested as full
courses and digital libraries of richly interactive educational software
components ("learning objects") and curriculum units, will transform
traditional teaching as well as powerful Web-based offerings. Just as film
began by mimicking theater, today's Web-based courses imitate our traditional
course models. In our vision, a vocabulary for this new medium, developed
through parallel, mutually stimulating development of medium and content, will
underlie the realization of this new genre's full impact.
The immediate mission of the Exploratories project is to create a set of
exemplary Web-based learning objects that teach concepts in introductory
computer graphics and to document our experiences of creating useful learning
objects in a Design Strategy handbook. Our learning objects are characterized
by their flexibility (fine-grained units), rich interaction, hypertextual
curriculum frameworks, and use of explorable 2D and 3D worlds. One size does
not fit all when it comes to pedagogical approaches and our learning
environments respect multiple learning styles; teaching techniques include
laboratories, visualizations, simulations, lectures and demonstrations,
creative project, and games.
Previous work has shown that our goal is not a mere matter of implementation,
but requires significant new research and new approaches to content creation.
The Exploratories project publishes the results of its research and is working
toward the creation of a complete Design Strategy Handbook. The handbook draws
on our own and others' experiences and includes guides, templates, patterns (as
in Gamma et al.'s object-oriented "Design Patterns") and examples. We use the
standard pattern format of Name, Context, Forces, Solution, and Examples to
make our work easy to apply in practice.
Topics include assessment of resources, descriptions of different pedagogical
categories, patterns for implementation, indexed examples, and, of course,
extensive information on interface and interaction design. We have written
prototype sections of the Design Strategy Handbook that document hypertext
structures for next-generation Web-based curricula, methods for integrating
learning objects into traditional curricula, and pedagogical approaches and
teaching techniques that can be used for interactive learning environments.