Riccardo Mazza - Abstract of the thesis
Title: Using Information Visualization to Facilitate
Instructors in Web-based Distance Learning
The World Wide Web provides great opportunities for creating virtual
classrooms of learners and instructors involved in distance education.
Many software environments take advantage of the client-server
communication on the Internet and support open and distance learning.
Using environments called Course Management Systems (CMS), instructors
can distribute information to students, produce content material,
prepare assignments and tests, engage in discussions, and manage
distance classes. Although they offer many features that benefit the
learner (e.g. asynchronicity, interactivity, time and space
independence), some problems still remains, such as students' feeling
of isolation or the lack of effective support from the instructor.
Educational research shows that monitoring the
students learning is an essential component of high quality education,
and this is particularly true in distance learning. Good online
tutoring requires to understand the needs of individual learner and to
provide adapted tutoring. This can be achieved by monitoring regularly
the student activities and be aware of what students doing with the
course: which concepts are known, are students participating in
discussions, have they read the course materials, who well do they
performance on quizzes, etc. CMS accumulate large log data of the
students activities in a distance course and usually have built-in
student monitoring features that enable the instructor to view some
statistical data, but usually these are commonly presented in a format
that is poorly structured and difficult to understand.
We argue that the instructors can use the student
tracking data collected by the CMS more effectively when this data is
represented graphically using appropriate visualisation techniques.
Information Visualisation is a field in Computer Science that examines
techniques for processing and pictorially representing a vast amount of
abstract data, so that the data can be comprehended and interpreted by
people. This thesis proposes the use of Information Visualisation to
graphically represent students' tracking data in a Web-based CMS. A
systematic investigation is undertaken to find which visualisation
techniques are appropriate to illustrate students tracking data, based
on instructors' requirements and evaluation. An extension for a generic
CMS was designed and a prototype, called "CourseVis", was developed. It
obtains tracking data from a commercial CMS ( WebCT is used in the
current implementation), transforms the data into a form convenient for
processing, and generates graphical representations that can be
explored by instructors to examine social, cognitive, and behavioural
aspects of distance students.
The evaluation of CourseVis has shown that graphical
representations produced with it can help instructors to identify
individuals that need particular attention, discover patterns and
trends in accesses and discussions, and reflect on their teaching