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									International Conference on Digital                                      17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

        Teacher Education through a virtual learning environment called
                             PLANETA ROODA

                                        Patricia Alejandra Behar
                           Digital Technology Nucleous in Education (NUTED)
                                            Education School
                                 Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
                                         Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
                              Av. Paulo Gama 110, Prédio 12105, 4 andar
                                    90046.900 – Tel.: 55-51-33163901

The present paper discusses the PLANETA ROODA, a Virtual Learning Environment for collective
work with children and professors, centered on the user in the sideral space, as well as the first
experience in Teachers' Education. For its implementation, we analyzed different Virtual Learning
Environments and young-children sites and performed interviews with professors and students of
children and Children Education. We based our work on Jean Piaget´s theory, which provides
the basic foundations for the environment, where knowledge is developed from the interaction of the
subject with the physical and social environment. Within this framework, the approach of the project´s
functionalities in the PLANETA ROODA point out to the interaction between the users, the sharing
of files and productions and finally to management of different groups of students. In this paper, the
formative course for Teachers aiming to use the environment of PLANETA ROODA is emphasized.

Key words: virtual learning environment, teacher education, digital literacy, children, free

    1. Introduction

The present article is about the development of a virtual learning environment (AVA - in portugues)
called PLANETA ROODA, which aims to contemplate the school context, addressing teachers and
children. Nowadays, there are countless tools that attempt to support WEB-based teaching-learning
processes, coming from academic as well as from business environments. However, only few of them
address children and are available in Portuguese. It is clear that the building of virtual learning
environments that address the required of Children and those of the Early Years of Primary School
makes the understanding of their needs necessary, as well as of the teachers´ pedagogical practices and
of how to introduce digital literacy in their environment.

For this reason, the NUTED/UFRGS1 (Núcleo de Tecnologia Digital aplicada à Educação da
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul), based on research made over virtual learning
environments and children focused websites and interviews with teachers and children in two schools
of the municipal district of Porto Alegre, developed the PLANETA ROODA, available in
http://www.nuted.edu.ufrgs.br/planetarooda. The staff involved in this project is multi disciplinar and
involves experts in education, programming and design areas.
In this article, we point to the first training course for teachers of Children and of Early Years
of Primary School, from a private school of Porto Alegre, carried out in 2008/1 through

  The Digital Technology Nucleous in Education (NUTED) of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS),
available in http://www.nuted.edu.ufrgs.br is linked to the Faculty of Education (FACED) and integrates the Interdisciplinar
Center for Education New Technologies (CINTED). This group works with the development and utilization of Virtual
Learning Environments (AVAs) and digital literacy of teachers, students and community in general.

International Conference on Digital                       17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

PLANETA ROODA. Evaluation of functionalities available in the environment was made
and it was improved after this edition. This experience made possible an analysis through
Genetic Epistemology of how teachers themselves become digitally literate, especially
through virtual learning environments aiming to think about the application of these ways
within pedagogical practices.

As PLANETA ROODA is a free software, it is available to learning institutions in general
and, especially, to public and private schools interested in the digital literacy of their teachers
and students through virtual learning environments.

2. PLANETA ROODA: construction process
PLANETA ROODA is a virtual learning environments whose theme is the sideral space. Its
central goal is to give support to collective work of students and teachers of Children
Education and Early Years of Primary School. The environment has 17 functionalities that
enable synchronous and asynchronous interaction as well as the sharing of files/productions
with colleagues and teachers. This virtual learning environments composition aims to enable
the teacher to adequate it to different pedagogical practices and also to manage their groups,
potentiating learning through active participation of all and by the sharing made among users.
The development of PLANETA ROODA involved a bibliographical revision and an analysis
of virtual learning environments sites addressed to children in the school environment aiming
to check which tools were available, as well as the level of access by children, educators and
parents. From this study it was established that PLANETA ROODA should have the
following characteristics: be a free software and centered on the user; make available
resources addressed at learning, at communicational processes and at management of groups;
foster the construction of interaction networks and of continued evaluation; make it possible
for teachers to enable tools that are more adequate to their work methodology and to allow for
graphic interface personalization. The sideral space theme is also proposed as a guiding model
for the environment because it is a recurrent theme in school contexts and, generally, involves
children and teachers. These parameters subsidized a second phase of the research where
interviews in schools were made meaning to understand how users approach pedagogical and
playful aspects related to the Internet.

2.1 Contributions from interviews to PLANETA ROODA
This part of the research aimed at hearing about the interests and expectations of children and
teachers so as to get close to the school context. Hence, 66 students were interviewed (aged
between 4 and 10) and 16 teachers (among them those in charge of groups and those
discipline teachers) from Children Education and Early Years of Primary School from a
public and a private school of Porto Alegre.
The intention was to understand how children and teachers imagine computer resources
addressed to communication, to study and to fun within the sideral space. Such proposal was
based on the conceptions and interests of users in regard of a computer resource to be used in
school as well as the expectations and pedagogical practices of the teachers´ body.

The semi-structured interview was adopted as a tool for data collection and interventions were
based on clinical method, highlighting the process flexibility and the possibility of adjusting
questions according to the answers of interviewees. In order to understand the logic employed
throughout the contributions, questions were established from ideas such as “How?” and
“What?”. Children were encouraged to draw so that they could refer elements in their
drawings that had not been mentioned verbally. According to Delval (2000) drawings and talk
complement each other. With the interviews and drawings (Images 1 & 2), it was possible to

International Conference on Digital                         17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

elicit evidences referring the questions that were part of the present study. Thus, three
indicated elements have subsidized the development of PLANETA ROODA. They are:
1) “Graphic Interface” – This indicator understands the concept of interface as a contact
surface consisting of a material, functional and logic agent that enables the translation
between programming and user. As such, it refers to the visual communication language
employed so as to facilitate the use of the environment and make it more attractive. Evidences
are: colorful environments, spaceships (with buttons, windows and lights); celestial stars
(planets, stars, comets, meteors, satellites and asteroids); aliens (who speak other languages,
green, with antennas, several eyes and mouths, many legs, arms and fingers); astronauts (with
helmets for oxygen, white and silver clothes) and space (with stars, things yet to be
discovered, pure air and transparent microbe).
2) “Interactive/Communicational Tools” – The premise is the interaction concept by Piaget
(1973), understood as a complex process of exchange and meaning between the subject with
physical objects and/or with the subject himself and/or with other subjects, to subsidize
resources addressed to communication and to the sharing of production. This indicator was
elaborated from the answers about playing, studying and talking aspects, having as evidences:
games (questions and answers, with rules, guessing games, mathematics, challenges with
different levels of difficulty, crosswords and word mazes); written conversations and/or
sound/video (MSN, e-mail, chat, microphones, letter, webcam and telephone); virtual books
and resources to write and draw, assemble images (of characters and of planets).
3) “Pedagogical Practices” – It is based on a proposal by Behar (2004), according to which
the teacher is a researcher of his/her own learning and of his/her students´, influencing the
dynamics of his/her pedagogical practices in virtual learning environments. For that, we
observed the speech of teachers about the importance of a pedagogical use of computer tools,
having as evidences: promotion of challenges and interactive games such as those of building,
of logical reasoning, of letters or words; learning playfully; the creation of individual and
collective stories; relating results of press research with those of the internet; elaboration of
folders with groups´ production for further exhibits.

Image 1: Drawing of a 4th grade student                  Image 2: Drawing of a 2nd grade student

3. PLANETA ROODA: a virtual learning environment
From the study of virtual learning environments, its proposals and resources, and from the
interviews in schools, the design of PLANETA ROODA was planned so that it could give
support to different theoretical-methodological practices. The constructivist theoretical
premises adopted oriented the choices and decisions throughout the process of construction of
the environment. Thus, through interactions of users with materials, tools and other subjects,
learning is configurated as an individual/collective construction, in other words, children

International Conference on Digital                               17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

actively experience exchanges, act and coordinate their actions upon objects, transforming
them into mental representations. Within this framework, there occur unbalances and re-
organization of structures in a new level, in processes in which the subject is active.
Therefore, interactions through collective work in the school environment constitute the focus
of PLANETA ROODA, so that the role of the teacher is not that of the centralizer of activities
anymore but that of group coordinator, guiding students in their research and production.

3.1 Functionalities of PLANETA ROODA
As PLANETA ROODA is centered on the user, when they access the environment, they
visualize all the groups in which they participate and general functionalities (available to all)
(Image 3). The image that represents the group and their data is posted by the teacher. When
the group is clicked, the user has access to specific functionalities (enabled by the teacher and
only available to his/her students), represented by celestial stars. (Image 4).

       Image 3: First screen shown after log in is made, with links to groups and general functionalities.

             Image 4: Group initial screen, with link to specific functionalities and general ones.

The 17 functionalities are: 1) Management – registration and exclusion of groups and users
by a manager; 2) Notes – notes made by user for personal use; 3) Stellar Base – sharing of
functionalities among different groups, enabling inter group work; 4) Chat – synchronous
interaction among users; 5) Library – publishing and organization of material and links; 6)
Membership – registration and visualization of personal data; 7) Communicator –
synchronous communication among connected users; 8) Configurations (Image 5) –
personalization of graphic interface; 9) Contacts – name list and e-mails of users for sending
messages; 10) Group Data (management of teacher) (Image 6) – visualization of group data,
enabling teacher to register data and enable functionalities; 11) Diary – allow users to make
their own notes and teachers to insert their comments; 12) Pedagogical Documentation –

International Conference on Digital                            17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

addressed to teachers and aimed at the construction of group historical data through
registration and publication of files allowing follow up of students and pedagogical practices;
13) Forum – assyncronous interaction among users, with messages organized in hierarchical
form; 14) Board – messages sent by the system; 15) Planet Art – assemble and exhibition of
images, allowing comments to be inserted; 16) Planet Question – elaboration of question and
answer games; 17) Projects - group or individual elaboration of projects making use of text
and file publication.

                             Image 5. Screen of Functionality Configurations.

                               Image 6. Screen of functionality Group Data

                                 Image 7 Screen of functionality Projects

      In order to evaluate and validate the environment a teacher education course was created
for the use PLANETA ROODA in the school context. This phase consisted of (1)
elaboration/realization of extension course (selection of content and HTML pages,
observation/field work, collection of notes on functionalities); (2) interviews with teachers;
(3) analysis and discussion of data. The course had a total of 40 hours. The pedagogical
material was made available through HTML pages on the Web and saved inside PLANETA
ROODA, as well as support texts for the development of activities in the functionality
Library. The first group to use PLANETA ROODA was a group of 20 teachers, among them

International Conference on Digital                      17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

two pedagogical coordinators from Children Education and Early Years of Primary School
from a private school of Porto Alegre.

The course central objective was to give teachers background about digital literacy through
virtual learning environments and to discuss and reflect upon pedagogical planning proposals
through PLANETA ROODA especifically. Thus, it was necessary to tackle themes such as
Long Distance Education, project work, concept maps, class planning and contents to be
developed through the environment and its functionalities. The work was done addressing
collective and active work of/among users, through the resources of PLANETA ROODA.
This experience made the observation of the way teachers became familiar with the
environment possible and, subsequently, to go on to build pedagogical planning proposals for
Children Education and Early Years of Primary School. The idea was also to evaluate
pedagogical and technological needs, especially of usability and, with the feedback of their
contributions/suggestions, improve the environment developed.
The data collection were made through the notes of PLANETA ROODA, through field diaries
about the most important issues of the meetings, either observed or reported by monitors and
participants, as well as through the interviews. The semi structured interviews were made
with teachers of two groups of each level: Maternal 1, kindergarten B and from 1 st to 4th grade
who were willing to contribute. The questions addressed digital literacy, understanding about
pedagogical planning, virtual learning environments and also how to tie these aspects together
in school. Such interviews were carried out following the clinical method like the ones carried
out previously with the children. This enabled these teachers to become digitally literate,
especifically, with PLANETA ROODA.

      In this phase, NUTED´s team observed and monitored two groups of 2 nd graders of
primary school, aged 8 on average, during two months, and two groups of level B of
Kindergarten, aged 6 on average, during two months, too. Regular meetings of the team and
coordinators were carried out and classes in the computer lab of the school were closely
followed by the group´s teacher. There was, furthermore, the assistance of a lab technician
who helped teachers and students.
      Therefore, the way data were collected consisted of the notes on PLANETA ROODA
and of a field diary. Thus, the method of work consisted of: (1) previous meetings with
coordinators and teachers of each phase, separately (Children Education and Primary School),
according to each school´s way of working, in order to establish priorities, check available
time, objectives, possible activities to be developed in the environment and functionalities; (2)
meetings to plan, edit data of groups and create topics for the Projects and (3) the classes
themselves with the children. Follow up was continuous during all the meetings where
PLANETA ROODA was used in school.
This course allowed everyone involved to experiment the use of a Virtual Learning
Environment with children and to reflect collectively upon the introduction of this resource in
the school environment throughout its development. The use of PLANETA ROODA
surprised teachers as much as children went beyond their expectations concerning their
appropriation/familiarity with the environment and the exchanges they were able to make
forcing teachers to advance in the planning of contents previously organized. Besides, some
children took the initiative of accessing the resource from their homes, involving families as
well. This experience encouraged teachers to re-think their attitudes and those of the children,
comparing learning ways with and without this type of resource.


International Conference on Digital                      17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

       After PLANETA ROODA was used with teachers and then after teachers with their
students, it was possible to analyze and to discuss collected data which allowed us to reflect
upon digital literacy referring pedagogical and technological issues and the implications of the
use of the environment in the school context. So, functionalities and interface were re-thought
from these data, as it will be described below.
       The use of virtual learning environment by teachers and children helped to improve it as
it allowed for: correction of programming (bugs); evaluation of functionalities such as the
creation, for example, of new buttons and the option of approval for the comments in Diary,
the insertion of the color palette in the composition of messages in Projects, among others;
and the addition of new tools such as Pedagogical Documentation, Planet Art and Planet

      The contributions of teachers concerning technological aspects of the virtual learning
environment were the following:
    1) Fonts and screen

* Increase in the size of fonts in writing spaces (fields), to make reading easier for children.
* Color palette insertion to font in Projects. This suggestion originated in the project with the
“Fantastic Duo”, where children should highlight the duo they had liked the most.
* Increase in the size of the screen. Screens were designed with 800 x 600 configuration,
having in mind schools that still have computers with 15´screens. This, however, made
reading difficult in computers with a different video configuration. 3

2) Pedagogical Documentation
Pedagogical Documentation was re-signified by some teachers. Many understood it as a
functionality to the exhibition of descriptive analyses although it had been studied in the
course as a space for notes and daily reflections. So, contributions for this tool were the
* Public space where teachers exhibit group materials.
* Private space for each student (restrict), where the student and parents can access material
made available by teachers in exclusive form;
* Insertion of comments in the public flap of Pedagogical Documentation, something that had
already been suggested to the functionality Diary.

3) Diary
During the construction of PLANETA ROODA, the team in charge worried about keeping a
space private (Diary) to the children in the virtual learning environment as, according to the
experiences with adults, these did not accept publication of their messages. In spite of this,
teachers thought it was interesting to make them public. Such fact seemed quite important to
students. Hence, some changes were made to PLANETA ROODA to comply with their
request, as follows:
* access diaries of colleagues
* possibility of writing comments to them
* possibility of excluding a comment made and wanting to delete it because some children
may make offensive comments according to what happened in the school during the pilot-

4) New Functionality

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Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

      Teachers were assigned periodical publication of photos, materials, project results to
parents through CD, e-mail, HTML page and also in print form. They realized, as a result,
that PLANETA ROODA could be a resource that would help the task and the suggestion to
create a functionality to bridge communication between school-family arose, as a school
newsletter. This functionality will be called “Planet News”.

       Pedagogical issues arose from the reflections of teachers during the course, during the
interviews and during the use with children. It is important to highlight that they had never
used a virtual learning environment, thus, there was a process of digital literacy with this kind
of resource that was not familiar to them at all, especially concerning the fact that they had to
use it collectivily. The first issue to tackle is that of the teacher as a learner, in other words,
the teacher can be either the “teacher” or the “learner”. This perspective is highlighted in the
use of PLANETA ROODA in school once this new technological resource demanded
activities and interactions of all involved. The colaboration/cooperation perspectives were
thus addressed as were also learning companionship and mutual respect. This new outlook
conflicts, shakes, fights with values built by teachers in more traditional settings. There may
be, therefore, some difficulty to get people involved in the process, mainly because of fear of
facing a “new technology” still unknown and quite unfamiliar with this kind of public.
       Teachers realized that PLANETA ROODA could become an important tool to them as
well as to their students once active participation of all involved is demanded, the so-called
social exchanges. Besides, situations that demand coordination of viewpoints are recurrent so
norms/group rules are called for and a scale of common values is built. These experiences
lead into cooperation, which Piaget considers the source of intellectual autonomy and of
regulation as it establishes the autonomous rule or reciprocity, a factor in the logical thought.
This way, pedagogical practice, integrated with virtual learning environments, may be
implemented in the learning phases mentioned because, for the author, “thought is, in fact,
always late in relation to action and cooperation must be practiced long before its
consequences may be fully manifested by reflection” (Piaget, 1994, p 60)
       In this study, we understand that the exchanges among individuals may contribute to the
development of logic itself and to de-centralization, helping to overcome the egocentric
thought. This can happen both presencially, through oral exchanges as through the Internet,
through an environment. According to Piaget (1998), collective work helps active attitudes,
inasmuch as through the perspective of the work content as through inter-personal relations,
all of which foster knowledge construction.

As far as the institution “school” is concerned, there is a school management problem that
needs to be addressed by the introduction of technology and the digital literacy of teachers.
The use of computers demands more time devoted to research, digital contents exploration,
softwares, sites and the interaction through the environment is completely different from that
of writing, among other differences. Thus, the use of technology in school, especially the use
of virtual learning environments, as the interviewed teachers concluded, calls for a re-
organization both administrative as well as curricular in schools.
Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize issues concerning the experiences of teachers and
their education and the use of such resources. It is known, however, that technology is already
part of daily life and as such, an irreversible phenomenon that can even be an interesting and
innovating support to the work of teachers and students. This made clear, the school, above all
and then its educators, should be open to make technology inclusion possible in the school

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Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

routine as long as they are digitally literate – a fact pointed out in the interviews during the

This understanding is fundamental because inclusion alone is not enough to ensure quality
work through technology. In other words, the simple offer of technology does not change a
traditional, vertical pedagogical practice. Good planning, supported by virtual learning
environments must be developed enabling children to search, select, discover solutions to
problems, discussing with colleagues so that results can be of good quality. There is no denial
that there is hard work to be done and time for it is necessary. Attention to the aspect of a new
organization and selection of contents as well as of appropriate technology is implicated in
such effort, as also mentioned by teachers.

Another evidence, related to the one mentioned previously, is that teachers see difficulties in
the use of the environment as a tool for interaction among children to discuss and build
learning projects. This has to do with two things: (1) little experience in this kind of activity
and the need for interaction, first of all, among teachers so that interdisciplinary projects can
be organized; (2) lack of time due to the enormous workload demanded by schools.

Throughout the course teachers were mobilized, especially, to exchange ideas, learnings about
virtual learning environment, to discuss school/classroom problems as well as to discuss
amenities. Many of these exchanges occurred through PLANETA ROODA. It was possible,
therefore, to observe how important it is to create a space for teachers to discuss and reflect
upon their construction of knowledge, as an anterior step to using this type of resource with
their students. These discussions went on while they were becoming digitally literate.
According to Piaget, first the subject needs to act and then become aware (abstraction), this
being one of the reasons the teachers indicated such difficulty. The novelty of virtual learning
environment, although the group was mobilized, is part of a process of
assimilation/accommodation that will take its time.

The issue of (lack of) communication among teaching levels came up in several
reports/speeches noted in the environment and interviews once the demand for
interdisciplinary work and inter-level work is frequent but little space and time are made
available for them. This concern was a good surprise due to the importance of this practice
and due to how it can enrich knowledge construction.
Other aspect is the quantity of tasks related to teaching work and how fast these tasks must be
accomplished in and out of school. As a result, little time and willingness exist to study
matters in depth, to know and to aggregate new technological resources into pedagogical

The virtual environment, through its functionalities, helped the discussions among teachers,
especially about the building of material for Pedagogical Documentation in PLANETA
ROODA. In this space, a process of writing and reflecting took place, allowing teachers to
share and make contents public being able to discuss, exchange and be, permanently, re-
inventing and re-building their documentation with help and collaboration of others. Contents,
projects, problems could be better explored and shared among all. This new option of
pedagogical practice, through the environment, was very welcomed by teachers.
      The study contributed to deepen knowledge about a virtual learning environment and
about how this resource can help innovative pedagogical practices. Data from the study
pointed to some contradictory aspects though. On one hand, some teachers are very willing to
know, to work with virtual learning environments and understand their pedagogical value and

International Conference on Digital                      17 - 18 November 2008 Brunel University
Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

identify their potential for interactions that can result in learning. On the other hand, lack of
digital literacy, fear of the new, little experience, the capacitation or the need for deeper
theoretical discussions especially concerning computer education, the issues of school
organization, of workload, among others, generate resistance toward practice with the

In sum, teachers considered that virtual learning environments can be dynamic and facilitating
tools that can subsidize their work. They know, however, that it is necessary to invest in their
capacitation, that they need to be digitally educated so as to develop quality work in schools
and enable access to this technology in a constructive way. PLANETA ROODA aims to open
new possibilities upon the meeting of challenges and research, fostering new pedagogical
practices through virtual learning environments. It is here that new spaces and proposals that
favor cooperation and inter-disciplinarity are engendered hoping to challenge participants.

      Nowadays, the first version of PLANETA ROODA is available via web to public and
private institutions of Children Education and Early Years of Primary School interested in its
use. There is an installation package available for download in the environment´s page,
allowing installation in different servers and adjustments according to the needs of each
school. The package includes training courses through which we aim to continue investigating
how teachers and students become digitally literate, how they explore and use the
functionalities of the environment as well as the importance of this process for the
development of pedagogical proposals.
Information is also being elicited for the formative evaluation of the environment in the next
formative course in order to improve important aspects in the constitution of the second
version of PLANETA ROODA, already under planning. We aim to favor collective work
with children and teachers in the school context, enabling the construction of knowledge
through the web. This way, an approximation between the studies carried out in the academe
regarding computer in education and the work developed in schools of Children Education
and Early Years of Primary School means to contribute for the growth in both spaces.
The second version of PLANETA ROODA is part of a research project under way. At
present, the team in charge is planning a new proposal for the environment based on Web 2.0,
especially regarding the idea of the social software. Thus, authorship processes through
functionalities and environment´s interface will be explored. The environment will support a
system of avatars, through which users will identify themselves and move about. The user
will be able to create his character, change the environment, include/delete objects, among
other things. We intend to contemplate this new virtual culture which children already
integrate and bring it to the school context to know more about it.

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Literacy Pursuing Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

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