Dicheva, D. & Aroyo, L. (2000). An approach to intelligent information handling in web-based learning environments. Paper presented at ICAI 2000, San Antonio, Texas. An Approach to Intelligent Information Handling in Web-based Learning Environments Darina Dicheva Lora Aroyo Department of Computer Science Faculty of Educational Science and Winston-Salem State University Technology, University of Twente 601 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Winston- P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, Salem, N.C. 27110, U.S.A. The Netherlands Abstract This paper discusses an integrated The traditional way of looking at intelligent approach to information handling and knowledge tutoring systems (ITS) research is undergoing an management in web-based open-ended learning evolution due to the rapid development of new environments. It supports both learners and information and communication technologies and instructors in information structuring and task - their penetration into educational settings. Recent oriented processing and usage. AIMS, a web-based intelligent tool for task-based information and research indicates that the classical ITS-paradigm performance support is implemented to exemplify the no longer dominates the field of AI and theoretical assumptions of this approach. AIMS Education. ITS are viewed not so much as stand- focuses on three important aspects of the information alone but as embedded in larger educational handling process - information structuring, environments, which support the student in the information visualization, and user centered learning process. Among the most significant approach. We employ concept maps (CM) to build a current trends in ITS area is the shift of emphasis subject domain ontology and use it as a basis for towards open domains and conceptual defining course structures. The domain CM is also used for attractive non-linear visualization and understanding . The environments are conceptual graphical navigation of the subject expected to support the learner in performing domain and the search results, thus allowing for more open learning tasks with well-defined results. efficient information searches. In order to provide This paper discusses an integrated approach appropriate adaptation to the individual information to information handling and knowledge needs and preferences of the learners AIMS models management in web-based learning environments, their behavior. in which learners perform open learning tasks. It supports both learners and instructors in Keywords: intelligent information handling, information structuring and task-oriented concept maps, subject domain ontology, web- processing and usage. AIMS, a web-based based training systems, intelligent agents intelligent tool for task-based information and performance support is implemented to exemplify 1 Introduction the theoretical assumptions of this approach. AIMS focuses on three important aspects of the information handling process - information structuring, information visualiza-tion, and user centered approach. In the paper we present 3 The AIMS System AIMS objectives and information handling approach, emphasizing the agent-based We have developed a knowledge-based architecture of the system and the way it realizes informational support system called AIMS a knowledge-based approach for informational (Agent-based InforMational Support) for use support within web-based learning environments. within the context of distance education. It is aimed not only at enhancing learner's conceptual 2 Information Support in On-line knowledge in a specific subject area but also at Course Environments providing knowledge verification tools for the teacher. The system can be used to aid learning The availability of intelligent information handling and teaching in different subject areas and to support in web-based course environments is provide user-oriented support in searching course- essential for both students and instructors. related information, concept teaching and learning, Students need to be helped in searching, and conceptual and task-oriented domain accessing, and finding information rela ted to their structuring. AIMS has an agent-based system course work, as well as in comprehending and architecture, which accommodates a team of memorizing the retrieved information. In this agents mediating the process of providing relation it is important that students get a clear information to the individual user. and structured overview on the course content AIMS is a knowledge-based system, which and course materials. Instructors need to be helps the users to come to solutions of their supported in their efforts to build a course problems by supporting information structuring structure and find, organize, and structure on-line and task-oriented search, but it doesn’t contain course materials. the solutions. It contains explicit knowledge We call an informational support system representation of the domain (subject domain (ISS) such a tool, which provides the users (in this concepts and relations among them) and a user case learners and instructors) with immediate on- model. The user model represents system's belief line access to a broad range of structured about the current user's knowledge. The system information and with domain-related help in the uses it whe n supporting the user to find, collect, working context. Such a system enables the user and organize information necessary to perform a to identify the information necessary for course assignment. performing a particular course task. ISS can be AIMS comes as an example of how used in educational context standalone (as an educational systems try to meet the challenges of extension of a traditional or on-line distance multimedia, hypertext and internet technologies in course) or integrated in a larger electronic general and proposes a new model at the cross- learning environment that allows the users to road of the electronic performance support and perform open learning tasks in a specific subject course support systems. Conceptually, AIMS domain. The goal is to provide an appropriate combines advantages of some existing information framework and architecture for informational and management and educational approaches. It conceptual support, which will improve student's attempts to set up an adequate balance between performance in a course thus making the learning system and user locus of control, content learning process more efficient. Such a system is a and conceptual learning, graphical and textual cognitive tool  helping the learners not only to visualization, ‘dry’ course material presentation complete their course work more efficiently and and creativity stimulating approaches, quick and accurately, but also to build new knowledge and efficient learning, etc. The information handling comprehend better the subject domain in hand. support method behind AIMS reflects all those organization. It allows instructors to efficiently challenges. reuse their course materials, as well as be aware of the way the students will process them. 3.1 AIMS Objectives 4 AIMS Informational Support The main goal behind AIMS is to improve the Approach usability and maintenance of information in web- based educational environments by presenting an integrated working environment for both On the basis of extensive review and analysis of instructors and students, which facilitates the web-based education and its needs for process of preparing and taking on-line courses in information support of both learners and an intelligent and efficient way. We envisage the instructors we developed an approach for management of information as concerning two information handling implying some ideas of mutually complementing processes: these of artificial intelligence, learning theories, and retrieving the right information and visualizing it in human-computer factors. The approach tackles the right way. Thus the focus of the work is on the issues of information analysis, organization, information search, retrieval, and effective retrieval, and presentation (visual and presentation to the user. An important educational instructional). It is domain independent and constraint is that we consider supporting learners involves building domain ontology and specifying a to deal efficiently with information only within a course structure. It enables the instructors to specific subject domain and course in respect to analyze, classify, organize, and present certain educational goals (tasks). information items optimally to the learners while AIMS targets to support the knowledge focusing on a specific course targets. The result is crystallization task, which is characterized by the a set of precisely defined and structured use of large amounts of heterogeneous information units that are easy updateable, information, ill-structured problem solving, and a reusable, combinable, and extendible for different well-defined task. This point of view is related to course objectives, environments, and situations. externalization rather than visualization, stressing The approach provides the learners with an easy on the cognitive role of interactive visual access to and an attractive visual presentation of representations . The process of knowledge information related directly to the course tasks as crystallization involves getting insights about data well as with a conceptual view of the whole relevant to the task in hand, so that the user will subject domain. be able to fulfil it and achieve better results. The significant aspects of the proposed AIMS is a web-based information handling approach include: support tool for both learners and instructors. It is • Building domain ontology and using it as a aimed at representing and supporting the relations basis for defining course structures and for between a course, its subject domain, and relevant implementing more efficient information documents. It supports the synergy between searches. problem solving and knowledge building. The • Powerful visualization and graphical learners can discover information and build navigation of the domain and information knowledge thus preparing the problem solving search results. process for performing their course tasks. AIMS • User modeling. is aimed also at supporting the instructors by • Agent-based architecture. providing them with an integrated authoring environment for subject domain representation, 4.1 Information Structuring Based on course structure building, and learning materials Domain Ontology library documents are related to domain terms and One of the milestones of the proposed approach is through them - to the course tasks and topics. building domain ontology and using it for information structuring and classification. On a 4.2 Information Visualization ain conceptual level we define three m models for representing the information content: domain Information visualization refers to methods and model, course model, and library model. The techniques for user-oriented graphical domain model defines the subject domain visualization and organization of information ontology and is represented as a concept map  objects. In AIMS information visualization targets of domain concepts and links between them. The the presentation of the subject domain structure link types are based on the generic selection of and the overlaying structures of the course and link types defined in . There could be a number user models [6, 7]. As part of the supporting of instances of the domain model, each describing information search functionality AIMS also a different subject domain within AIMS. The proposes combined visualization of the search course model defines the structure of a course results. We use concept maps as a basic and includes course topics, course tasks and mechanism for information structuring and visual course evaluation items. Since the main goal of presentation of the subject domain, since CMs AIMS is to provide a task-based information furnish simple and intuitive visual form of support, a series of tasks are associated with each knowledge representation. The same technique is course. Course tasks are pre-defined and used for presenting the course components, such correspond to course assignments the student is as tasks and subtasks and the user model. supposed to perform. The main idea is that the Information search results are also partly system uses a task to constrain the information presented with this graphical approach. The result provided to the learner in support of his or her documents are still organized in the traditional efforts to complete this task. The system keeps way of textual list-based presentation, but are track of the status of all course tasks - which related to a result concept map of domain terms have been successfully completed by the user, used in those documents. Some meta-data is which are not attempted or have been started but provided in order to support a better and quicker not completed yet. The tasks are represented in overall search result comprehension. Meta-data in terms of domain concepts and contain some the form of short descriptive information and additional information, such as task description, structured tags is also used in order to describe task status, etc. Course evaluation items the context of the domain terms and links. correspond to different forms of student The combination of CM information evaluation over the timeline of the course, such as structuring and visualization contributes to the instructor's tests, student's self-evaluation of his or problem solving support for more efficient learner her knowledge of domain terms, etc. They are performance within the context of a course. used on a later stage for a run-time evaluation of AIMS gives the learners freedom to create their the current learner's knowledge on a specific own learning and problem solving paths, while course topic and for consecutive adaptation of the browsing within the subject domain. This is system's behavior and information presentation. realized by providing two parallel views on the The library model provides means for knowledge - conceptual perspective (subject maintaining a whole collection of information domain knowledge) and teaching perspective related to different courses and domains. Its main (task/course knowledge). The visualization and variables are course materials and domain related domain navigation facilities help students to get documents together with their characteristics. The orientated within the subject domain and to build up their own understanding and conceptual associations. It supports their visual thinking and term, etc. It is an overlay of the domain, course, imagination. and library models thus it is represented in terms of domain concepts, course tasks, and library 4.3 Task-based Search Strategy documents. AIMS uses UM to provide user- oriented support for information searching in the The proposed informational support approach context of an educational task, as well as for involves a task-based search strategy, which links refining and adapting the search results to user’s the course tasks to the search algorithm and uses interests and course tasks. It is an open model, the domain ontology definition as a classification that is, built jointly by the user and the system. scheme. The CM-based classification facilitates The user can enter information about his or her dynamic adaptation of the system to changes in knowledge of or interest to a specific term on the domain. It is directly linked to the hierarchical system's request or on his own initiative, while course structure, and in addition, correlates browsing the conceptual presentation of the efficiently with the user model. The use of subject domain or in the process of searching for conceptual representation of the domain documents. knowledge and information structure provides The main system’s source of information methods for automatic manipulation, which about the user model is the user behavior. The contribute to the overall search efficiency. In system monitors user performance and collects AIMS we propose the DoCS (Document information from sources like search expression Classification and Search) model, which is entries, course task dialogues, search result scan keyword-based and makes use of the relations and usage and browsing the domain concept map. between documents and domain terms, On the basis of this information the system makes documents and course tasks, domain terms and its conclusions about the user's knowledge of and document keywords, while considering synonyms interest to terms and documents. Maintaining the and other word forms of the domain terms [7,8]. user model involves incorporating new facts, The task-based search strategy provides for checking that they are consistent with previously course-oriented results and prevents overloading learned or inferred facts and resolving any the learner with information non-related to the discrepancies and contradictions. present instructional tasks. It applies automatic reformulation of the search query to fit the 4.5 Agent-based Architecture limitations set by the current course task. Documents are retrieved and ranked in the We propose agent-based system architecture, context of their task relevancyAIMS provides which provides a team of agents mediating the visual and textual ways for search query refining process of information provision to the individual by the user, based on the already produced search user. The collective agent’s behavior results in results and subject domain representation. adaptive system's behavior. Agents have their tasks and strategies. Tasks define agents’ 4.4 User Modeling responsibilities and communication means and entities within the system, and strategies define User modeling provides grounds for system methods and rules for performing actions related adaptiveness. In AIMS, the user model (UM) to the overall informational support task. Among refers to the learner and is related to his or her agents' tasks are maintaining domain, course, activities in the on-line course environment, such library, and user models, performing search as performing a course task, browsing the domain, activities and presenting the final results to the searching for a term, visiting documents related to user. Agents' co-operation abilities to a term, requesting for terms related to a specified communicate with each other and change their behavior depending on the user’s action, to AIMS is developed as a Java client-server exchange messages and to act even when there is application, where the applet part acts as a client no clear user request for an action, contribute to and the servlet is resident on the server. Java the overall system efficiency. The agents perform appears to be a promising technology for such their tasks by working in parallel as separate but implementations since it provides platform coordinated processes. independence and efficient integration with on-line An agent can initialize and execute course environments. The server part administers commands given by other agents or invoked by a information maintenance, i.e., updates of change in the environment. Currently, the documents, courses, and domains and controls the incoming information and outgoing information user profiling functions. The servlet ensures the (through the commands CommandRequest and access to the server via the Internet. The servlet CommandResponse) are Java objects but they accepts a query sent by the applet, decodes it and can be easily transformed in an agent-based sends it to server, then waits for an answer and message language like KQML or text queries. sends it back to the applet on the client side. All Each agent is responsible for its own the persistency information is kept on the server. information consistency and is accountable for a There are two active applets on the client number of commands. side: one serving the learners' needs (Viewer) and The Agent environment consists of two another facilitating the instructors and experts objects AdminServer and AgentServer. (Editor). They are responsible for the search The AgentServer object is composed of a query processing, local information visualization team of agents that collaborate and communic ate and library, course, and domain content storage. among each other while performing user’s or Both include: other objects' requests. AgentServer is • a common module responsible for responsible for the general administration of transferring the queries to the server agents, including creation, deletion, security, etc. It (through the servlet), receives a configuration file, defining the types of • PseudoAgent shells allowing the agents and how to initialize them. The visualization of the local client copy, AgentServer also knows how to instantiate • interface. them when a command/query for a task arrives. The Viewer sends a user log-on command Along with each query/command goes and if it succeeds sends commands to get all the identification information about the object that information needed from the server, then stores sends it (the name and password of the user). and analyzes it locally, and visualizes it. The end user does not see the agents; he or she The Editor behaves similarly in relation to the only sends information queries through the storage, analysis, and visualization of the server AgentServer. AdminServer checks information. When a change is required, it sends whether the announced user exists and whether an update command to the responsible agent on he or she is authorized to give such a command. the server and then visualizes the newly updated information. This allows several users to work in 5 AIMS Implementation the same domain performing a synchronized information update. As we already said, AIMS is implemented as an agent-based architecture. This architecture 6 Conclusions supports system's intelligent behavior, which comes as a result of agents' collaboration, learning The AIMS system is created to support the and information sharing. students from the Faculty of Educational Science and Technology, University of Twente,  Jonassen, D. & Marra, R. (1994) Concept participating in the course of ‘Courseware Mapping and Other Formalisms as Mindtools engineering’. The intention is to integrate AIMS in for Representing Knowledge. In Educational the web-based course environment already Psychology Interactive, Readings in created for this course. As AIMS is designed to Educational Psychology, William G. Huitt be a general course support tool, there are (Ed.). possibilities foreseen to facilitate importing of  Lambiotte, J. G., Dansereau, D. F., Cross, D. different subject domains and to create different R., & Reynolds, S. B. (1989) Multirelational courses in the same subject domain. semantic maps. Educational Psychology Several pilot experiments have been Review, 1(4), 331-367. performed for evaluating AIMS browser and editor GUI functionality, user-friendliness, and  Aroyo, L. & Dicheva, D. (2000) Conceptual learning effectiveness. Students from the Visualisation in a Task-Based Information ‘Graphical User Interface Development’ course Support System. ED-MEDIA 2000, in Eindhoven Technical University, the Antwerp Montreal, Canada (accepted). University, and the 'Courseware Enginnering'  Aroyo, L. & Dicheva, D. (1999) Information course at the Faculty of Educational Science and Retrieval and Visualisation within the Context Technology, University of Twente, the of an Agent-based Information Management Netherlands, took part in the experiments. The System. In Proceeding of ED-MEDIA’99, purpose of these formative evaluations was to Seattle, Washington, 195-200. validate the proposed AIMS approach and to identify any problematic aspects in order to  Aroyo, L., Diana, I. & Dicheva, D. (1998) improve it. Agents to Make Your Information Meaningful and Visible: An Agent-based Acknowledgements Visual Information Management System. In Proceedings of WebNet’98 Conference, We would like to thank our student Ivan Velev for Orlando, USA. his implementation efforts in realizing the AIMS prototype . References  Andriessen J., Sandberg J. (1999) Where is Education Heading and How About AI?, International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 10, 130-150.  Van Joolingen, W. (1999) Cognitive tools for discovery learning, International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 10, 385- 397.  Tweede, L. (1997) Characterising Interactive Externalisation. Proceedings of CHI’97, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , Atlanta, pp. 375-382.
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