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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.

Goal

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.

Immediate Mission

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.