Future Learning Environment
- Innovative Methods and Applications for Collaborative Learning

Teemu Leinonen
FLE project coordinator, UIAH Media Lab,

Hanni Muukkonen
Researcher, Helsinki University, Dept. of Psychology

The Future Learning Environment (FLE) project is a research and development project exploring the use of new media in the field of learning. The project is generating new and innovative learning methods and practices using new media. The development work is based on the latest results in cognitive research and studies of learning. The FLE-project is designing and producing Internet-accessible applications supporting learning and thinking, producing web-based multimedia learning material concerned with New Media, and developing the publishing process of network-based multimedia learning materials.

The project team is currently designing and developing Internet accessible applications for learning and thinking. The working title of the application is FLE-Tools. The first version of the service will be tested this autumn and published in the beginning of 1999.

Learning From or Learning With Technology?

In traditional teaching, knowledge is viewed as adapting information and a teacher or supervisor is seen as the transmitter of knowledge to students. Most of the technical applications designed to support learning have been based on traditional thinking of teaching and the assumption has been that students learn best 'from' rather than 'with' technology.

Learning from

Picture I: Typical examples of the "from" -approach using technology are the use of books, radio, tv, CD-ROMs, video-on-demand, static WWW , etc. - a broadcasting type of delivery.

Learning with

Picture II: Examples of the learning "with" technology are groupware applications, teleconferencing, interactive WWW, etc. - tools for collaborative investigation and knowledge building.

In the "with" -approach the technical applications are students' tools for selecting, collecting and sharing information with other learners. The technology acts as a tool for collaborative creative thinking and learning, not only as a source for data gathering and processing. The process involves the organizing of existing knowledge, interpretation and analysis as well as a collaborative construction of new knowledge.

A good collaborative learning process is very similar to a good research or design process. Both research and design produce new knowledge, new understanding and new products through criticizing, extending, elaborating and transforming knowledge objects, sketches and prototypes. The knowledge thus externalized is extended with the help of the cognitive resources of the whole community.

FLE-Tools - Modules for Learning with New Technology

The FLE-tools are designed to help the students engage in productive work with knowledge objects and artefacts and generate new objects and designs. FLE-Tools is a groupware system designed for supporting collaborative knowledge building over the Internet. FLE-tools consist of several modules that are designed to facilitate collaborative knowledge building through a constructive process.

THE WEBTOP. The environment provides each user with a personal open 'Desktop' in the web ('webtop'). The webtop is used to store digital materials and to share them with other students. The webtop also contains tools for sending messages and for collaborative evaluation and self-evaluation.

THE DISCUSSION MODULE is a shared space for discussing topics and concepts generated by the users. The discussion is guided by the 'Deep Principles' decided together with the tutor and the students of the course, which define the context of concern. The discussion messages are added to the shared space and labeled by the users with different 'Categories of Inquiry', such as Problem, My Working Theory, Deepening Knowledge, Comment, Meta Comment, Summary and Help. Users may also include files in various multimedia formats as part of a discussion message and the database can be viewed by date, writer or category of inquiry which helps the students to keep track of the knowledege constuction process.

THE JAM SESSION module is a space for the collaborative construction of digital artifacts. It helps the students in the dynamic development of a project by providing graphical representations of its phases. Students may add their own digital artifacts (pictures, videos, audio, text, software) to the session and let other students continue and comment on the work in progress.

THE LIBRARY is an adaptive medium to publish and browse multimedia learning materials. All additional learning materials are saved to the Fle-database from which the tutor or teacher may first search and choose relevant clips and then publish them in the Library. Also the work of the study groups will be saved to the Fle-database.

The role of the tutor or supervisor is crucial in mediating the practices and concepts, representing a culture of expertise to the users. The FLE Tools contain a collection of applications for the tutors to administer the users, groups, courses and course materials. The administration tools are also available through the WWW-browser.

The FLE-project is coordinated by UIAH Media Lab, and the research partners include the Research Group of Applied Cognitive Science, Department of Psychology and the Media Education Centre of the Department of Teacher Education, both at the University of Helsinki. The project is funded by the Finnish Technology Development Centre (TEKES), the Ministry of Education and the industrial partners: Sonera (Telecom Finland), Grey Interactive Ltd. and Apple Computer, Finland.