A Virtual Tutor for Significant Learning within e-Learning 2.0 Environments

A Virtual Tutor for Significant Learning within e-Learning 2.0 Environments

Orlando De Pietro (Department of Humanistic Studies,University of Calabria, Rende, Italy) and Giovanni Frontera (Department of Humanistic Studies,University of Calabria, Rende, Italy)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijdldc.2013070104
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The paper reports of an automatic application solution that allows the realization of significant learning within e-learning 2.0 environments. In particular, it is presented an intelligent agent which supports tutoring activities within an e-Learning platform. The agent interacts with the users in natural language; it integrates an adaptive search engine to do automated researches based on external sources of the knowledge base of the platform, and a monitoring system to report of any technical failure.
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1. Introduction

The increasing need of ensuring ongoing training and educational activities for both teachers and students has expanded the goals related to learning, with the now established use of information technology to support teaching, by de-localizing the typical places where the “delivery” of education takes place (i.e., school and university). Educational activity has acquired a broader value in scope and makes use of different and decentralized contexts thanks to the current Educational Communication Technologies (Galliani, 2000; De Pietro, 2008); it is especially true for Web 2.0 which allows the preparation of web-based learning environments in which it is possible to produce, share and negotiate knowledge among all actors, according to the socio-constructivist paradigm (Galliani, 2004). In particular, digital technologies enable the creation of natural environments (Epasto, 2008), i.e. environments reacting to the personal needs of learning actors, according to the paradigm by which “it is no longer the person who has to adapt to the technology, but it is technology that, being built-in (embedded) in the environment [where the subject acts and learns], has to transform the environment itself in an Intelligent Environment» The above contexts, that we can consider as real online learning environments (Jonassen, 1995; 2001; Ausubel, 1968; Novak, 2001), are able to put the learner in a new position: he/she can “re-develop” knowledge according to his/her own peculiarities, and “re-try” learning solutions best suited to his/her cognitive style. Within these contexts, tutoring activities have assumed a significant role thanks to the spread of e-learning, now e-learning 2.0, which enables the increasing meeting of the needs of more generalized interaction, socialization and sharing (cooperative learning), even in formal contexts such as those where institutional teaching is practiced (Falcinelli, 2005). E-learning is released, so, from that concept of “instructional centered” learning environment, to expand its horizon towards a model of innovative learning environment that relates more tools that interact with each other, thereby creating an environment issued in the typical characteristics of social environments and increasingly oriented to a learner centered model. It has to be noted that within an e-learning 2.0 context one of the actors who plays a significant role is the “tutor”, who is strategic at the same time. The tutor is crucial for achieving an effective level of learning, since on the interaction between the learner and the tutor it is usually based the success or failure of an educational process based on e-learning. It is therefore necessary to equip the e-learning platform with user-friendly and intuitive interfaces, making it possible to “hide” the technical complexity, which is always at the basis of any IT system and, at the same time, make the platform “usable” and “accessible “. These considerations have led many scholars and researchers to consider and analyze the benefits of using intelligent agents and the so called web-adaptive systems, and reflect on the opportunities to be able to integrate, and in some cases even replace, the figure of human tutors with an artificial agent to provide support to the users of an e-Learning platform.

According to what has just been pointed out, also the authors’ scientific research [1], has been directed to the study of human-machine interaction in virtual learning environments, and it has focused on the analysis and implementation of tools and methodologies to support teaching; more specifically, it has been centered on the use of intelligent agents, web-adaptive systems and web 2.0 technology. These studies led the authors to the design and then to the implementation and experimentation of a Virtual Tutor, we can refer to as TutorBot (De Pietro & Frontera, 2005); it is able to interact with learners in a natural language, thus providing support for users / learners who are using the e-learning platform, just like a human tutor.

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