This article presents an approach and tools that can help learners appropriate a Web-based learning curriculum and become active participants in their learning. The approach is based on a detailed modeling of the curriculum and intends to equip the learners with different computer-based tools facilitating a multiple point of view perception of the curriculum, while promoting self evaluation and self regulation of the learners’ curriculum performance. The proposed architecture is generic and can be used in the context of an already existing Web-based learning system. We define what we call “appropriation,” describe our approach, present different tools that have been implemented, and present the findings from the first experiments.
Learners utilizing Web-based learning curricula, distance learners in particular, often face problems related to the curriculum (i.e., the components of the curriculum and how these components are related one to the other) and how the curriculum corresponds with their personal wills and objectives. This problem, that we will call the “appropriation problem,” is closely connected to autonomy and motivation issues.
It is well known, even from educational research that focuses on the early school years, that the student’s participation in his learning process in terms of motivation and independent learning (Wang & Han, 2001) is very important. Independent learning involves student’s meta-learning (meta-control) in a framework of goal driven learning (Ram & Leak, 1994). Meta-learning from an educational pragmatic point of view occurs with a student’s self-reflection and self-evaluation of his own performance in relation to his goals, to the other students’ performance, and to the tutor’s evaluation of his performance. Meta-learning also continues after reflection/evaluation and encompasses the regulation phase. In the regulation phase, self-regulatory mechanisms are set up to change behavior taking into consideration cognitive and affective factors as well as environmental factors, such as group dynamics, class structure and interaction with the tutor (Pajares, 2002).
The transition of the meta-control of the learning process from the tutor to the learner has been discussed for a long time. Some researchers have found that the transfer from traditional guided learning to an autonomous learning is not easy for teachers or students (Grow, 1991). A major difficulty for the learners to become autonomous is setting goals and making plans for their learning (Kelly, 2002). According to Sinista (2000), technologies are able to make it smoother by arranging intelligent support for learning-related activities. Examining the issue of technology integration into traditional education from the tutor’s and students’ perspectives, researchers Anand & Zaimi (2000) mention that being accustomed to extensive tutor guidance can make learners feel abused when they are thrown into a self-directed activity all of a sudden, and the tutors then become unable to fulfill their goal to create independent learners. The researchers tried to involve their learners into an evaluation of Web-based learning materials by asking them their opinions and suggestions. This involvement affected the attitude of the students, made them collaborative and opened the door of independent learning for many of them. In addition, Forcheri et al. (2000) identified three steps in the transition using technology: a need, identification of an objective, and a strategy for attaining the goal. Sinista (2000) mentions that during the learning process, apart from the typical learning activities that are necessary for the learner to acquire knowledge, he (the learner) also performs control, evaluation and monitoring functions. She calls these activities meta-learning activities and proceeds to elaborate on them in detail. For Fischer (Fischer et al., 1993; Sumner et al., 1997) such types of reflection are difficult and a human coach/teacher or a design critic can help the learner to identify the breakdown situation (these breakdowns can happen due to missing knowledge, misunderstandings about the consequences of actions, wrong self-efficacies or any reason that hinders the learner from attaining his goal) and prompt the learner to reflect. Fischer in his work chooses the computational critic to provide some of this support when humans are not present.