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  1. 1. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel ‘A ‘mentor-help’ web-bot agent to support a professional social network environment’ A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel Introduction The current state on the pedagogy concerning eLearning systems (e.g. – VLEs) focuses on these elements: 1. Learner Centred, 2. Personalisation, 3. Personal Social Networks for individuals, 4. Constructivist Learning Theory. Appendix A and B provide evidence of these trends. There is now a shift from these starting propositions and components of system models to a group/organisational approach. Garnett et al. (2001) see this as organisational capital. The elements for the emerging web 2.0 and beyond eLearning systems are predicted in this proposal to be: 1. Learner-generated content from ‘citizen journalists’, 2. Customisable systems through support from a ‘smart-system’ agent (mobile mentor- help), 3. Individuals as part of teams, members of a network of like-minded collaborators interested in solving common problems or addressing trans-organisational issues, 4. Underpinning theories: a. Social Constructivism, b. Social Media Theory, c. Metcalfe’s Law (2008)1 Summary of proposal context Current systems New systems trends Learner Centred Learner-generated content Personalisation Smart-system agent support Individual Social Networks Organisational networking Constructivist Learning Theory Social Constructivism, Social Media Theory Table 1 system pedagogy elements Research in the pedagogy of natural language web-bot (chatter-bot) agents in the past have had limited success. This has been, in part, due to the starting proposition often used – an ‘expert systems approach to using the technology’. It was very ‘top-down’ in the way the system dealt with the information and ‘system knowledge’. A programmer set a sequence of branching pathways that the ‘end-user’ would take in the pursuit of solving a problem. This study will take a different epistemological approach. It will be more of a ‘stakeholder- informed-ethos’ as opposed to a teacher-led pedagogy. Additionally, there will be a shift from the individual to the ‘online networked community of practice’, a change from the psychological approach to the sociological perspective. I have a passion for eLearning pedagogy and technology. With the shift to Web 2.0 social networks I see a fundamental change in the way people will communicate both online and face-to-face. The gap that I perceive in current models of ‘blended engagement’ is that we do not have a methodology or toolkit that can inform the system of the stakeholders’ needs. Could a natural language web-bot (chatter-bot) agent be used to collect data from an online community? Could this interaction be done via a multi-modal level of interaction? Could the platform be mobile? 1 Metcalfe's law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2). First formulated by Robert Metcalfe in regard to Ethernet, Metcalfe's law explains many of the network effects of communication technologies and networks such as the Internet and World Wide Web. 1
  2. 2. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel Once the data, in the form of a dynamic Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) system, was collated could it be analysed to update itself? If so, then could this web-bot support system take on the role of a virtual ‘mentor’ or ‘mentor help system’? How would the role of this agent or member of the online community take with the growth and changes the group undergoes over time? This study will explore the shift towards mobile, new media platforms. The default of current systems of eLearning has these elements: • Stationary (or limited wireless ) desk-top access to online resources and/or services, • Materials are predominantly text-based, • Communication is mostly asynchronous (e.g. – text-based discussion forums), • Pedagogy generally follows an Instructional Design Approach, • System input and interface is mostly text via keyboard. We will be investigating: • Mobile devices and interfaces (e.g. Google Android Project- Appendix A), • Interactive Flash / Video (e.g. – Work Based Learning Research Centre Projects in progress), • Blend of real-time (serendipitous) and asynchronous communication (e.g. – Adobe Connect web video conferencing), • Open-ended, real-world problem solving situations in a ‘work-place based’ situation, • Move towards various input devices to the online environment and smart-system support (e.g. – mobile touch screen, voice input, etc.) Research Questions When groups or organisations are addressing a mutual issue or solving a common problem it is useful to collaborate. Online systems have been used for years now to promote computer aided collaboration but, ‘How can a dynamic new media system ‘mentor help’ mobile web agent be informed by members of a professional social network to provide support to an online community of practice? ‘ What are the issues and problems the project stakeholders will tackle? What will the best new media type and platform will support collaboration in this context? The research mode will be a significant practical project plus a dissertation for this proposal. The project will include a social network website (e.g. ELGG), a web-bot support agent and new media resources. The dissertation will be composed of traditional text-based discourse and related multimedia files. Critical overview of the research topic Appendix A provides a set of related current projects and resources for this proposal to provide the framework from which the study can grow. At the Institute for Work Based Learning (IWBL) I am working with Alan Durant, of the School of A & E on a pilot study with his BA Arts students. We have forged an Association Agreement with the company, Emerald Publishing, who are pioneering an ELGG open source social networking server (See Appendix A). This system uses the expected Web 2.0 toolset such as; wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. We are interested in adapting and evolving the system to support a professional social network. The additions to the system will include features such as web video conferencing, Flash video induction resources and a web-bot natural language support system. So, this proposal looks at how the addition of these real-time and recorded ‘live events’ can support the collaborative network processes of the stakeholders. Appendix B of this document lists a collection of related projects by CORDIS. There are elements of eLearning pedagogy, various supporting and related online toolsets, new media platforms and variations of artificial intelligent or smart system agents researched in these studies. The gap, however, is that there is no synthesis of the variables from this proposal in any one single CORDIS project. 2
  3. 3. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel The very nature of this proposal’s epistemology challenges the traditional PhD proposition of a unique ‘contribution to knowledge’. That statement implies knowledge existing outside the mind of the learner. This study is more rooted in a Social Constructivist perspective where new knowledge will be created in the minds of the project stakeholders through online critical discourse in a professional social network. So, there is a new dynamic generated here. It is related to the move towards ‘learner generated content’ with the shift to Web 2.0 systems. Will this study make a contribution to the eLearning community; the answer is assuredly – yes. By its very nature from the start we will actively engage the project stakeholders and the research community at large. This research design has been built into the flexible or ‘organic’ nature of the investigation to promote an open forum of online debate. Definition of terms for the purposes of your research The main definition that needs to be ‘un-packed’ is the web-bot ‘mentor help’ support agent. This is a natural language real-time ‘help desk’ style ‘virtual assistant’ (Botspot 2008). A new media platform may use a mobile system with voice-to-text (and visa versa) interface. The key terms are: • Web-bot – this is a server-side program that runs over the web using a TCP/IP protocol over port 80. It uses a key-word search algorithm to find appropriate responses to queries made. The more the use then, proportionally, the more the data base knowledge-base increases. • Natural language – this means that the interface to communicate with the web-bot agent is real-time text sentences, • The input media may be as text and/or audio. This may be accessed via a mobile device. Research methods and related techniques An extensive review of research approaches was undertaken in my last study (Basiel 2007). I will take a blended approach to this study using: • Action research – using an iterative cycle of evaluation and modification to the online system based on stakeholder feedback. Also informed by: • Smart-system data (innovation), • Critical Incident Technique (Flanagan 1954), • Online surveys and WVC interviews for triangulation • Praxis – mix of theory and practice (Portwood 1995) The ‘mentor help’ web-bot itself will serve as a method of collecting research data for analysis. Additionally, surveys of the Professional Social Network (ProSocNet) members will be triangulated against their personal/professional profiles. Stakeholder interviews on/offline will inform the study further to help triangulate the dynamics of the engagement of the community. These interactions may be through text, voice and/or video conferencing. The kind of answers sought Data and feedback that can inform the dynamic design of the PSN (Professional Social Network) will be used to inform the system design. This information will be used to inform the system design principles which can be adapted and applied to the design and development of the next generation of PSN. So, we need answers that are applied and can be acted upon. These will then influence practice. This ‘ethnographic influence’ will explore the theory-practice relationship. We will start a literature review to ground our underpinning social media theory. This informs our initial design. Then, based upon our analysis we will distil the theory into design principles. This aposteriori (see Appendix C), or inductive, approach is an iterative process which links to the current Web 2.0 ethos. Truth is not seen in isolation. Our answers are relative. We must develop ourselves as critical friends so we can elevate the information we gather in the project to its relative context. 3
  4. 4. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel The research audience Members of the digital arts research community will be the prime stakeholders of this investigation. Others that would benefit from this study include: • eLearning technologists, • Social Media Theorists, • Related professional networks. Project requirements There are two main threads to this project. The first is the human requirements and the next are the technical specifications. The most difficult initial stage of the project will be to recruit appropriate partners. The second part of the project is to have a robust technical infrastructure. This part of the project has been piloted with the work done with Emerald Publishing (see Appendix A – part B). Back-up plans The following elements of the project will be monitored and risk strategies developed to minimise failure: • How do we get project stakeholders to commit to using the systems? - This is a key issue to the project! We must start with a strong blended project and system induction using engaging multi-new media. A work based learning style ‘learning agreement’ can be used to state organisation / members’ goals and desired outcomes / solutions. • When should support be provided to organisations and network members? - An agreed staggered schedule will be set by stakeholders to provided support services to the network members. • What are the mutual problems faced by the network members that the professional network can support? - We need to identify clear organisational issues from the start. • Stakeholder profiles need to be people willing and capable of using Web 2.0 social networking systems. - The goal is not to change ‘technophobic’ people into web savvy users. Project plan of action If the initial project proposal is accepted at this stage a full work plan and Gantt chart will be developed. The 3-year overall structure of the study will be: 1) Year one pilot – gather initial data from stakeholders. Conduct a literature review. 2) Year two – review and revise system based on research techniques previously introduced. Follow-up on literature review to monitor technology trends. 3) Year three – evaluate findings. Write up conclusions and provide recommendations. Following the theory-practice cycle these recommendations will lead to system design principles. References & web searches leading towards the literature review: Basiel 2007, http://www.elearning.mdx.ac.uk/research/index.htm#ePedagogy Botspot 2008, http://www.botspot.com/pages/chatbots.html Brock: http://www.cosc.brocku.ca/about/faq FAQ robotics : http://www.faqs.org/faqs/robotics-faq/part3/ FAQ: http://faqs.org/faqs/ai-faq/genetic/part4/ Flanagan J. 1954, ‘The Critical Incident Technique’, Psychological Bulletin Vol. 51 Pt. 4 p. 327 - 358 Garnett J, 2001 http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/mcb/119/2001/00000008/00000002/art00004 Google Search on Social Media Theory, Networked Learning, Professional Social Networks: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=Social+Media+Theory%2C+Networked+Learning%2C+ Professional+Social+Networks&btnG=Search Google Search on: Artificial intelligence, frequently asked help systems, FAQ, mentor help http://www.google.com/search?q=Artificial+intelligence%2C+frequently+asked+help+systems%2C +FAQ%2C+mentor+help&sourceid=mozilla-search&start=0&start=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox- a&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official Hathornwait: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/utis/2001/00000017/00000003/art00006 Jones: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0363-7425(199710)22:4%3C911:AGTONG%3E2.0.CO;2-P Metcalfe’s Law 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe's_law Portwood D. 1995 www.middlesex.ac.uk/wbl/research/docs/SEDACh1.pdf 4
  5. 5. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel Wellman : http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=VG0G3clyi0QC&oi=fnd&pg=PA179&dq=Social+Media+ Theory,+Networked+Learning,+Professional+Social+Networks&ots=w2OVsD7mli&sig=6q5FLxTLn6CPYfkIPKhW1jmVXrE Appendix A: a) Moodle - content (open source) http://www.ncwblp.org/vle/login/index.php ID & password: amoon b) Professional Social Network http://intouch.emeraldinsight.com/ ID & password: test contact: Paul Coyne c) Real-time web video conferencing - Adobe Connect http://breeze.mdx.ac.uk/ral/ Guest login - [enter your name - open access] d) AI web bot - virtual assistant (a 'mentor help system' informed by the members of the online community) http://www.elearning.mdx.ac.uk/research/Chatterbot/webbotframe.htm e) mobile platform > Adobe Ed. Leaders Programme - CS3 (rendering for mobile interfaces) > Google android project http://code.google.com/android/ f) Underpinning theory? Social media theory and a bit of my telepistemology at: http://www.elearning.mdx.ac.uk/research/index.htm#ePedagogy Appendix B: Technology Enhanced Related Projects – from CORDIS http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/programme/challenge4_en.html iCLASS aims to develop an intelligent virtual learning environment with distinct and innovative features – personalisation, dynamically adaptive learning objects, ontology-based architecture –, which pre-figure the next generation of learning systems for schools.(IP) CONNECT will exploit the potential of wireless communications and virtual and augmented reality to develop a new learning environment in classrooms. Pedagogically, the focus lies on supporting the integration of everyday 'free-choice' activities with the formal science curriculum map. LeActiveMath will develop a third generation e-learning system that adapts to the learner and learning context, featuring advanced personalisation, intelligent feedback and tutorial dialogues, open student modelling and interactivity to support active and exploratory learning. ELeGI aims at supporting a paradigm for knowledge construction that combines experiential, contextualised and collaborative learning approaches in a personalised and ubiquitous way. To this end, the project will define and implement a software architecture that brings together Grid, semantic and knowledge technologies.(IP) KALEIDOSCOPE brings together experts from many disciplines, the network integrates cutting-edge research in the fields of educational, 5
  6. 6. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel social, cognitive and computational sciences and emerging technologies. The PROLEARN Network of Excellence integrates the key areas of research most relevant to professional learning in SMEs and larger companies. It aims at bridging the gap between research and education at universities and learning at the workplace. The goal of APOSDLE is to increase knowledge worker productivity by supporting informal learning and teaching activities in the context of knowledge workers' everyday work processes. (IP) KP-Lab will create a learning system aimed at facilitating innovative practices of sharing, creating and working with knowledge in education and workplaces.(IP) PROLIX' objective is to align learning management with business processes in order to support organisations in improving the competencies of their employees. (IP) TENCompetence will further develop models and tools for the creation, storage and exchange of knowledge resources, learning activities, programmes and network data for lifelong competence development.(IP) COOPER's aim is to support individual and collective competency building in virtual project teams who work together remotely and need to solve complex problems. LEAD investigates network learning in classroom situations, i. e. the link between real-life group activities and computer support in collaborative problem-solving processes. L2C will generate a framework for the effective development of collaboration competencies, and design new generation interactive and experiential simulation games. PALETTE aims at improving learning in communities of practice by exploiting knowledge and competences of individual members, and by supporting social interaction and exchange of codified and tacit knowledge. (IP) ARGUNAUT investigates awareness and feedback mechanisms for facilitating the interaction in ediscussion environments, and the use of graphical argumentation maps and artificial intelligence components. • AtGentive investigates the use of artificial agents for the management of attention as a key factor of learning performance, and will develop a conceptual model for collaborative learning 6
  7. 7. A ‘mentor-help’ smart system to support a professional social network environment A research proposal by Dr. Anthony ‘Skip’ Basiel contexts that is rooted on cognitive science. iCamp will create an infrastructure for collaboration and networking across systems, countries and disciplines, pedagogically based on constructivist learning theories. • LT4eL will use multilingual language tools for improving the retrieval and accessibility of learning objects through semi-automatic metadata generation for use in connection with learning management systems. mGBL will prototype a platform for the cost- and time-efficient development and deployment of mobile games to trigger an emotional learning process. • Drawing from the socio-constructivist approach, UNITE is developing a ‘best-practice’ pedagogical framework which exploits the potential of new technologies to foster enquiry/discovery learning and autonomous learning. The technology and pedagogy research conducted by ELU will focus on the methodology, the design and implementation of tools required to enhance the multimedia home platform with e-learning facilities. LOGOS will develop and implement a platform that combines learning resources, communication spaces and knowledge-on demand learning services, and integrates web, digital television and mobile technologies. Appendix C: Figure 1 research overview 7