Tuesday, 22 February 2011

New Research Projects for 2011

The VCILT is engaging in two in-house research projects for 2011. Readers can find a few details pertinent to those two projects in this post. Comments and suggestions are welcome. The two projects are headed by Mohammad Santally, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology.

Research Project on Instructional Materials Design for Mobile Learning 

This project aims to look into the pedagogical design, usability and impacts of multimedia materials on learning experience using mobile devices. It looks at three categories of mobile devices namely the 4.3-inches wide PDAs, 7 to 10-inch wide tablet PCs, and mainstream 14-15.4 inch laptops.

The research questions are:

What are the usability issues that need to be addressed with respect to design of materials to enable seamless access to educational content on the different devices?

Usability issues in terms of ease of use, navigational aspects in the environment, multimedia support, amount of material that can be effectively loaded and presented and catering for a multitude of resolutions as well as internet browsers will be looked into.  Here we would like to look into whether the environment can be designed as such that its automatically adapted to the user interface being used or whether there is a need to do different designs to suit the different devices. Can there be a generic design that will fit all the devices without compromise the pedagogical approach that is preferred and/or the amount and type of content that the course designer would have liked to present.

The three devices selected for this research question are the HTC HD2 or devices with similar capabilities like the iPhone/iPod Touch, the Apple IPad or equivalent devices running on Windows and/or Linux platforms and a seven-inch laptop screen with a minimum resolution of 800x600 pixels with a possible investigation at 800x480 pixels. The control device will be a normal 14 inch or 15.4 inch regular laptop PC.

How does screen resolution and size affect the intended learning outcomes, learner concentration and motivation in the learning experience?

Mini laptops (known as netbooks) are getting cheaper and popular within the student community given their highly portable characteristics. These devices are equipped with latest technologies such as Wifi, Bluetooth and Webcam. However they are limited in terms of screen size and resolution. For instance some netbooks have screen size as small as 7 inches while some go up to 9/10 inches.  This definitely limits the type of material that can be seen, causes inconveniencies due to the need to frequently scroll up and down a page and also affect the learner on the affective side due to repetitive eye stress causing fatigue and stress. This may result in a lack of motivation and a less fruitful learning experience. For this component of the research, feedback from learners through usability evaluation will be gathered and their perceptions on the learning experience will be analysed.

How do the different technical abilities and limitations of the devices affect and impose restrictions on the learning design of content?

In this part of the research, the findings of the previous research question will play an important role. Combining the feedback obtained from the students and observations from the usability evaluation with the technical abilities of the devices, we will be able to devise appropriate guidelines for the type of material to be presented to the learner on these devices. We will also look at the effects when textual and graphical materials are presented (e-book format) compared to when multimedia interactive materials are used.

Are the differences on imposed cognitive loads on the learners significant when using the different devices? 

This is a sub-element of research question 2 where intended learning outcomes will be measured using the different devices. Learners will also be interviewed and probed to see how they feel the learning experiences were different with the different mobile devices. We will also look at what types of activities related to the learning experience are less complex and more difficult to carry in a learning activity, from logging in a platform to playing the learning activity with respect to each device being used.

Research Project on effects of Multimedia-based Instructional Cartoons in Students of ZEP schools and Learners with difficulties
This projects aims at the development of a set of pedagogical materials for the primary school curriculum using the cartoon-based story telling approach for students in ZEP schools. Students in those schools mainly come from poor families and from families experiencing different types of social problems. Students have difficulties to learn and concentrate in schools and do not have appropriate follow-ups at home. Many of them have problems related to reading, writing and foreign language understanding (English and to some extent French).

On the other hand, there are a number of students in the Mauritian educational system that experience learning difficulties in schools, particularly students suffer from ADHD elements. These students find it difficult to remain concentrated throughout a class and this result in inattention and lack of interest which indeed can negatively impact on the academic performance. Given that animated cartoons have a kind of attention grabbing effect and are by their nature visually appealing to kids, it is believed that animated cartoons designed to fit in pedagogical aims of a syllabus can help learners with difficulties and learners in general to have an improved learning experience and a better understanding of the subject being taught. The term ‘fun learning’ is associated to this concept by a number of cartoon makers as well as educators and educational researchers.

ThThe following research questions will be addressed in this project:  
  •  How can the use of educational cartoons improve the learning experience (understanding, motivation, attention and performance) of students in ZEP schools and those with learning difficulties?
  • Does the addition of interactive features in the educational cartoons emphasizing the ‘fun learning’ concepts through educational games contribute to better student learning?
  • Can interactive educational cartoons be considered as a real alternative for traditional classroom pedagogies for a certain subject areas such as science, history and geography?
  • Can we still use same types of assessment or is there a need to review learner assessment strategies and instruments used?

Related works

K. Dalacosta, M. Kamariotaki-Paparrigopoulou, J. A. Palyvos, and N. Spyrellis. 2009. Multimedia application with animated cartoons for teaching science in elementary education. Comput. Educ. 52, 4 (May 2009), 741-748. DOI=10.1016/j.compedu.2008.11.018