Analysis of Interactions through a Web Annotation Tool in a Pre-University Mathematics Online Course

Analysis of Interactions through a Web Annotation Tool in a Pre-University Mathematics Online Course

Núria Escudero-Viladoms (IES Pompeu Fabra, Spain) and Teresa Sancho-Vinuesa (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-826-0.ch006
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employed as a collaborative tool or as a medium of artistic or social criticism, has been introduced in a mathematics course for online pre-engineering students. The objective of this innovation is to integrate the communication and the subject’s contents and to check whether a better level of communication between students and professors improves the acquisition of basic mathematical competencies. As a result of this study, we put forward a model for the analysis of the online interaction, as well as a classification of students in relation to the use of the communication tool.
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Acquisition of competencies in Computer Science and in Telecommunication Engineering requires certain skills in handling mathematical concepts. Indeed, students have to master basic concepts and techniques of Algebra, Mathematical Analysis and Statistics. This situation is especially problematic when students are adults with professional experience, with not much time to study, with insufficient prior knowledge in maths and studying at a distance. In fact, academic results are rather poor in this kind of subjects as Sancho-Vinuesa and Gras-Martí (in press) have shown for Mathematics I (Telecommunication Engineering) with basic contents in linear algebra and calculus. This is the context of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC), where the present cases study has been carried out. We focus specifically on a course, Introduction to Maths for Engineering that has a twofold objective for the students: to acquire fundamental concepts, techniques and terminology in Algebra and Analysis, and to facilitate the practical use of these contents.

The pedagogical model at the UOC is based on a virtual classroom organized into four independent sections: planning, communication, resources and assessment (Sangrà, 2002). Thus, the teaching process is led through a work schedule, drawn up by teachers, that sets objectives, contents, didactical resources, methodology and the assessment system, and which is integrated with all the other subject matters in the syllabus. Indeed, deadlines for the delivery of exercises provide the rhythm for a process that has, as its main starring role, study materials and communication. Tutor-student interaction is currently performed through the virtual classroom forum.

Generally, students interact with study materials following the schedule and, when a doubt arises or when they want to make a comment or ask a question, they contact the teacher through their personal e-mail or the forum of the virtual classroom. The channels of communication with the rest of the students are the same. Therefore, the individual work of a student, based on a set of well-organized learning resources, is clearly separated from the dialogue space where they interact with fellow students and with the tutors. Our experience in virtual classrooms during 10 years shows that these interactions among members of the class when carrying out the proposed activities are needed. The tutor, on the one hand, provides guidance or hints, asks questions and clarifies concepts; on the other hand, students and tutors pose questions in the forum and suggest ways of solution. The interaction is carried out in an area separated from where the teaching material is displayed. The difficulty arises, then, of managing different messages related with the same content, and consequently the integration of the communicative dimension with the learning process is practically impossible under those circumstances.

The present case study is a contribution to try to remedy this situation. We contribute some relevant elements in analyzing the influence of technological advances in questions relating to the learning process of online students. Specifically, we analyze the influence of a tool for annotations to websites (DIIGO), which has been used to integrate communication and contents in our classes. In order to confirm that learning is supported using web technologies, the mode of communication is an important factor that must be considered, as pointed out by Han and Hill (2007). They note that this is one of the challenges in conducting research in theories related to collaborative learning.We look for possible improvements, due to the use of this communication tool, both in the perception of students about mathematics and in the students’ self-confidence in their mathematics abilities.

With a Web annotation system, a user can add, modify or remove information from a Web resource without modifying the resource itself. Thus it can be thought of as a kind of social software tool that can be used to improve or adapt the contents of a web page; for instance, as a collaborative tool or as a medium for artistic or social criticism. In particular, the tool chosen for this study has not been created with an education purpose in mind.

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